There are certain places a person feels lucky to belong in. Places you perhaps thought you could–even longed to–be part of. And when you open the door you think, How did I get this lucky? For me, a little shop in downtown DeKalb is that sort of place.
Cracker Jax has been open for going on 36 years. The first time I set foot inside I was taken aback by the sheer amount of things to see and experience. It was like being transported to a cotton candy-colored dream land, complete with books and statuettes, incense and vintage clothing. The thought (read: dream) of working at this shop didn’t really solidify for me on the trip during which I found myself first exploring it. I was just happy to have found such a curious place. Later, it would become an occasional weekend excursion, and I was always excited to see what new things there were to be found there. Somewhere along the line, though, I became more than a customer.
Last summer I left a job that was perfect on paper. It was in my degree field, had good benefits, and was at a nonprofit no less. But it was unsatisfying in many ways, and I determined that it wasn’t the direction I wanted to continue going. I quit and, after finishing up my substitute teacher certification, began to plant the seeds of my writing career. Approximately one month later, I found out that there was an opening at the shop.
This job is a different type of hard. A hard that feels satisfying. It is a job with physical demands of lifting, reaching, climbing, crouching, and standing for long periods. Given the choice, I’d take these tasks over sitting in an office in front of a computer any day. I’m thankful to be able to move my body in these ways, and I’m thankful that this job allows me to.
There is also a great deal of organization that goes on in the shop, which is one of my favorite aspects–from the details of alphabetizing vinyl records to the ingenuity of creating or updating a display. Creativity abounds at Cracker Jax. And the way that extends to the practice of bringing new life to old things is what makes me feel so connected to it. Vintage clothing has a place here, and like this beautiful red suit–a junior’s style according to the label–the things here don’t have to be forgotten and left to the past. If this vibrant piece, with its button details and shoulder pads, stands out to me in its sweetness and wearability, there is hope that something will similarly strike someone else’s fancy and spark inspiration.
This is all before mentioning the customers, both new and loyal, that make any retail job what it is. While I tend to be a more reserved personality, I genuinely look forward to the interactions I have with people who visit the shop. Having moved to Illinois from Oklahoma, I felt incredibly isolated our first year here. Now I help people find treasures for the ones they love, things that will brighten their days and bring a little sunshine into them. I hear comforting words from a mother whose own children live far from her and get excited with people my age after replacing batteries brings an old Furby back to life. I have the pleasure of letting myself see the shop for the first time with every customer I greet.
Since leaving my previous job, I have developed several writing projects, had two (going on three) poems and one essay published, substitute taught three days of school (now that’s tough job), and worked many, many shifts at Cracker Jax. In this time, I’ve rediscovered parts of myself I feared were lost. The ability to slow down, to create, to dream, to be awe-struck. I recognize the immense privilege afforded me so that I may be in this position. I’m thankful for my darling, talented co-workers and the little slice of heaven that owner Lauren Woods has created here. My only hope is that in reconnecting with people, with daydreams and sweet things, that I too can make the world a little nicer.