Summer in St. Louis
I lived on a non functional farm thirty five miles from St. Louis, Missouri. We did not plant anything or raise any livestock. My paternal grandfather had farmed it before he moved to Louisiana. We lived there until he sold it. It still had ten acres of strawberries, cherry trees, peach trees, apple trees and pear trees. When they would produce their fruit it was a little kid's dream. It wasn't bad living on the farm except the only kids my age lived miles away and there was no one to play with every day. So I looked forward to spending time with my maternal grandparents in St. Louis every summer. We would visit often during the year but in the summer it was without my parents and it was usually for two weeks at a time. Also we were out of school and my friends in my grandparents neighborhood and I could play all day.
There was a knock on the door. My grandmother went to the door and opened it. "Can Gary come out?" Herby asked.
"Just a minute," my grandmother answered. "Gary, Herby is here."
"Okay Nana," that's what I call my mother's mother. "Tell him I need to put on my shoes and I'll be right out," I said. I put my shoes on and tied them. I found Herby sitting on the steps of the back porch.
"Let's go and get Richard," Herby said. We got up and went three houses over to Richard's house. Herby knocked on the door and we both shouted "can Richard come out."
Richards mother opened the door and Richard came out from behind her. "Where is Nick?" Richard ask.
I answered "We haven't got him yet." The three of us went to Nick's house. It was another five houses down. Just as we got to his house Nick came out of his yard onto the sidewalk.
It was a summer morning in St. Louis in 1952. All of us boys were ten years old. We did not work, so for money to by candy we would find soda and beer bottles that were littering the land and turn them in for two cents apiece.
The vacant lots were a good place to start looking for them. Our goal was to get enough bottles so we had ten cents apiece. In 1952 you could get a lot of candy for ten cents. You could get bubble gum with a baseball card with it. I am sure we had some rookie cards of players that are worth a lot of money today. I don't really remember what we did with them but I don't have any of them now. We would walk around the block looking for the empty bottles. Sometime we had to walk around the block two or three times before we found enough bottles to reach our goal. Sometime we just couldn't find enough bottles to give us all ten cents. Whatever money we received for the bottles we found we split evenly.
My grandparents and all of my friends lived on Indiana Avenue. The other streets that made up the boundaries of the block were Jefferson Avenue, Lynch Street and Sidney Street. Jefferson Avenue and Sidney Street had businesses on them. The other two streets were residential. There were two vacant lots on Jefferson Avenue and one on Sidney Street.
Richard said, "let's go to the lot by the service station first." We headed there. The lot had a lot of weeds on it and people passing by that were drinking would throw their empty bottles in the empty lot. They were too lazy to bring them back to the store themselves, but that was good for us. We spread out on the lot. "Here's one," hollered Richard.
Then Nick found one and then another one. Herby and I didn't find one. "let's go to the next one," I said. We headed to the sidewalk and to the next lot.
"Look at that," Nick said. There was two people riding on a bicycle built for two. We all gawked at it for a minute and then continued on our way.
The next lot was close by. It was a small lot but had very high weeds and a small tree on it. We spread out and started looking among the weeds for bottles. Herby said "come see what I found." We all went over to Herby. There was a burlap sack with a string tied around it's opening.
"Open it," I said. Herby took the string off and pulled the sack open. There was eight beer bottles in it. We don't know who put it there but we were glad that it was us that found it. We put the other three bottles in the sack and went down the street looking for some more bottles. Finding only two more bottles that search we headed to the corner confectionary store.
Sometime before we got to the confectionary store we would encounter the ice delivery man. Even though it was 1952, some people still had ice boxes. A delivery man in a truck would come by two times a week to deliver a large block of ice to some of the residences on Indiana Avenue. When he would go inside their home we would look in the pack of the truck where the ice was. We would look for a sliver of ice that came off one of the blocks of ice. When the delivery man would put his ice tongs in a big block of ice to lift it up sometimes a large sliver of ice would break off. If we found one we would grab it and take off down the street.
A confectionary store usually sold bread, milk, lunch meat, over the counter medicine, various other things and candy. The store usually was family owned. They would have the store in the front of the building and they would live in the back of it or they would have the store on the bottom floor and they would live upstairs.
They would have a variety of penny candy. Some candy was only one piece of candy for a penny and some would be two pieces of candy for a penny. We would load up on candy and then walk two block to the park.
"I bet you can't put six of those in your mouth at once," Nick said to Herby.
"I bet I can," replied Herby. Herby then proceeded to cram all six pieces of candy in his mouth. The rest of us laughed at him with his cheeks all pouched out. If we had any candy left we would sit on a bench in the park and eat the candy that we didn't already eat on the way to the park. They had a small pond in the park and we would chase the ducks until they went into the pond and would swim out of our reach.
When we finished messing around in the park we would head to the regular grocery store. They had a comic book rack to display the comic books they had for sale. We would take a comic book and stand there and read it. We were very careful to read it without bending or tearing it. The manager would let us do this as my friend's parents and my grandparents would shop at the store and we didn't damage the comic books. If the manager saw us he would come over to the comic book rack and say, "don't tear the books boys," then he would leave. When it was time for lunch we would leave the grocery store and head home.
Even though it was summer and the weather was hot, my grandmother would always have a hot lunch for me when I came in. I was an only grandchild and I got a lot of special treatment. When I had my tonsils taken out I stayed with my mom's parents. My grandmother would walk two blocks every day to get me a malted milk to drink until my operation was healed.
After we ate lunch the first one of us that was finished would go to the other ones house that was closest and get them and head to the next house. Richard's uncle was a beer salesman. Back in the fifties the bottle caps on beer had to be taken off by a mechanical device, not by the hand and a twist of the wrist. Most of the taverns that sold beer had a box under the beer opener that would catch the bottle cap when the beer bottle was opened. When Richard's uncle made his sales calls he would collect these and bring them to Richard.
We would play crowns with the bottle caps. We usually would play in an alley or vacant lot. We would find an old mop or broom that someone had thrown away. We would just take the handle and use it for a bat. You played crowns with as few as two people, a pitcher and a batter. A catcher was not needed as we had hundreds of bottle caps. If we had more than two people to a side, they would play the outfield. The pitcher would stand about twenty five or thirty feet away from home plate. He would sale the bottle cap toward the batter at home plate. If the batter hit the bottle cap and the pitcher would catch it you would be out. You only had one out. If the pitcher didn't catch it, the batter got one point. If the batter would swing and miss that would be one strike. Three strikes and you were out. We had a lot of fun playing this game and it gave us exercise and it cost nothing.
In the evening we would all get together again. We would usually go to a vacant lot and play kick the can. When the street lights started coming on it meant it was starting to getting dark we would all go home. And so would end a typical day for me when I visited my grandparents in St. Louis.
Sometime on the weekend we were allowed to go to the picture show. It was on the other side of the street on Jefferson Ave. On the week end they showed two movies and three cartoons. It cost us ten cents.
The next morning, about ten o'clock, we would start all over again. What a wonderful summer time for a ten year old. No work, no worries and no cares. Just a good time with friends.