Mamacita says: Mary Hopkin was one of the few women signed to The Beatles’ “Apple” label, and I have always liked her “Those Were The Days.” However, I liked it better when “those days” weren’t quite so far back.
I grew up in a tiny house about three blocks from a neighborhood grocery store.
I shared a room with my two sisters, one of whom slept on a twin mattress that slid under the real bed by day. We didn’t know it was weird; we thought it was cool to have a trundle bed like Laura and Mary. My brother, of course, had his own room.
Laura and Mary made up their trundle bed and pushed it back under Ma and Pa’s big bed every morning.
Dad also bought him his own car when he was sixteen but we don’t dare go there.
I was in junior high before I realized that my friends who all had their own bedrooms weren’t necessarily ‘rich people.’ To me, anybody who lived in a house big enough for everybody to have his/her own room was rich.
I don’t remember Mom ever buying a lot of groceries at one time. She just sent one of us kids down to the ‘store’ every fifteen minutes or so, year round, to get thises and thats. When it was my turn, she often had to phone Jerry (the store owner, who was a super nice man) and ask him to tell me to stop reading the comic books and get home with the ketchup and onions. We never took money with us to the store; we just told Jerry to “put it on the bill.” There were four of us kids, and sometimes we passed each other going to and from the store. Every payday, Mom paid up.
My allowance was a quarter a week. It was enough.
Candy bars were six for a quarter. You could play six songs on the jukebox for a quarter. Thirty cents would buy a hamburger, fries, and coke at Little Jerry’s, next door to the ‘store,’ and not to be confused with Big Jerry’s, the restaurant franchise on the other side of town. I remember the teenagers in there playing “Sugar Shack” over and over.
You could get two comic books for a quarter, until they raised the price from twelve to fifteen cents. I was so outraged I wrote DC Comics a letter of protest. They answered, too. I was thrilled, until Mom explained to me what a ‘form letter’ was. I still have that form letter somewhere. Bazooka Bubble Gum was a penny, and I saved the comics in a cigar box, intending to redeem them someday when I got enough. I never did it, even though I had hundreds of Bazooka comics..
For 75 cents, you could bowl three games and have lunch at the counter.
A regular coke was a nickel. The dime coke was just too huge for a little kid to handle, alone.
Mom took me to Indianapolis several times a year to the eye doctor. In the fall, we would go to Block’s and Ayre’s to buy school clothes. She had charge cards there; I loved to watch the saleswoman get out the little machine, put the card in the space, and swipe the handle back and forth till the raised letters in the card were printed on the carbon paper. All the big department stores had tea rooms back then, and we’d have lunch up there where we could look over the balcony and see the store below. There were toothpicks on all the sandwiches, toothpicks with frilled cellophane at the top.
I have never outgrown my fascination with and love for elevators and escalators, which had its beginning in the big Indianapolis department stores that no longer exist. All elevators smelled the same: kind of like a doctor’s waiting room. There were elevators even in this small town, but escalators were a wonder I could ride only in the big city.
Sometimes we rode the Greyhound bus. It was on a bus that I saw my first drunk. The vending machine at the local Greyhound station contained candy so old, it was too stale to eat and often there were those little white worms crawling in the whitish chocolate. I was a little kid and I wanted to give the machine another chance every time. The machine betrayed me every time. I can only assume that my mom was using this lesson in futility as some kind of lesson.
I wore my skate key on a string around my neck wherever I went.
Mom had odd notions about shoes. We were always the last kids to get sneakers because Mom believed that sneakers were for summer, not spring, and she really didn’t care that, and I kid you not, we were the last kids in the school to get sneakers. She was also a believer in rain boots and those hideous rain bonnets worn and still worn only by old women. We walked to school from K-12, and even when it was pouring rain or the snow was knee-deep, I would walk around the corner and ditch the boots and hideous rain bonnet in a stranger’s hedges. We had school in weather that would keep kids today home for a week. Everybody walked to school except the kids who lived on the outskirts of town. In high school, the same rich kids who had their own bedroom were the only ones who drove to high school.
The penny candy at Brown’s grocery was kept behind a huge glass-covered case. We stood in front of the glass, pointed to what we wanted, and Mr. Brown would put it in a little brown paper bag. Usually, Mom gave us each a nickel for penny candy, but if Dad was home, we got a dime. Each. That’s a lot of candy lipstick, chalky candy cigarettes, paraffin lips, teeth, and moustaches, and, for me, the occasional lemon.
That’s “lemon.” The fruit. I’ve loved them since I was really little.
Sometimes I bought a lemon. No, I didn’t put sugar on it, but thank you for asking.
Our ice cream man drove a yellow pickup truck, and two high school girls made snow-cones and sold us popsicles from a freezer. We could hear him coming near from clear across town; the yellow truck didn’t play music; the high school girls rang a large bell. The popsicles were a nickel. The snow cones were a dime.
These experiences and prices seem so extreme now, even to me. It’s almost like something we’d read in a novel about the olden days.
Oh, scheisse. . . . .