Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Hard Workin', Pyromaniac, Duckin' from Dad Blues

I did odd jobs about the neighborhood after we moved back to Downingtown. Simple things an eight-year could do at first, such as run around to the Esworthy’s little store on Chestnut Street and fetch a loaf of bread. My list of services grew as I did, wash a car now and then, mow a neighbor’s lawn, rake leaves in the fall and shovel snow in the winter.  (The photo on the left is the building that once housed Esworthy’s little grocery on Chestnut Street as it looks today.) As my round shoulders became more intrusive and prominent I started finding money along the sidewalks as I went about. At first I considered myself very lucky, but I soon figured out why I found dropped coins that others missed. My backbone was curved and my head was always pressed forward and down. I wasn’t looking at where I was headed; I was watching the earth pass near my feet. This did inspire a short story as a teenager that I titled, “Gift”.
I had home chores to do at as well. My folks had seen to that early. These were simple, pick up my toys when I was done playing, that sort of thing. They were civilizing me more than assigning work. When we moved to the swamp I had to help with mother’s garden in the summer and some of her cleaning. My duties in Downingtown were the same as my little odd jobs, wash the car occasionally, fetch things from that Esworthy store, rake the leaves, mow the grass weekly as soon as I was strong enough to push the mower (no gas or electric mowers in those days it was all push power) and burn the trash.

I liked burning the trash. There was something perverse in my imagination I suppose, a latent pyromaniac perhaps. (I use to try and set some of my plastic racecars on fire after causing a crash. This never resulted in flames, only very smelly melted and blackened plastic.) When I dumped the combustible from our wastebasket daily I pretended the pile this made in the 55-galleon drum was a city under attack from the Nazis (World War II died hard in we children’s playtime imaginations). Then I would strike a match and drop it in upon a piece of paper, and another matches across from it and so on as if the bombs were dropping. At times, I hit a jackpot of long white tubes among the scrap paper. I pretended these were people trapped in the strafed city.
I had no idea what these tubes really were. They had two parts, an outer tube shell and a smaller tube inside, which slid back and forth in the larger. I eventually learned my burning people were tampon inserters. My grandmother would have been appalled.

I wasn’t always prompt in doing my chores though. Doing these tasks about the neighborhood for hire always seemed easier than doing them at home. My folks did give me an allowance of twenty-five cents a week.
Twenty-five cents was worth something in the 1950s. It could get a kid into the movie house including a large bag of popcorn. It covered the cost of a comic book, two toy soldiers and five packs of bubblegum with baseball cards. It could buy you a double-dip ice cream cone, a large Coke and give you change back.
There was a group of stores at the end of the shopping area downtown, between the main drag and the Bicking Papermill.. There was Joe Mfauewd’s Shoemaker Shop where I pointed out the man with the facial discoloration, a corner bar and Zittle’s Cigar Store. You could spend your quarter at Zittle’s and walk out with a brown paper bag full of goodies. Daniel Zittle sold candy for one cent a piece; some kinds you could even buy two pieces for a penny.  (The photo on the left is from an earlier day, but it shows Daniel Zittle standing in front of the building that will house his cigar shop, he is the man standing on the left. At the time of this photo, the building housed the Achieve Printing Office. In my youth in would have a Shoemaker Shop on the left, Zittle’s Store next to that and a Tavern on the far right.)
In 1953 the Downingtown Farmer’s Market and Auction opened just east of the town limit along the North side of East Lancaster Pike. It was a long building, with two large wings jutting off the back corners. Inside the long part was stall after stall of everything in the world for sale. Down one side it was all foods. The Mennonites and Amish of Lancaster County ran several of these stalls bringing in fresh produce and butchered meat from their farms. Down the other side was – well, pretty much name it and it was there, records to rugs, shoes to skin creams, clothes to closet organizers. The Farmer’s Market was to become a central place in my young life. To my friends and I it was the mecca of teenage paradise.

In one of the wings they held an auction every Friday and Saturday night (the Farmer’s Market was only open on those two days). They auctioned off all sorts of items. I wasn’t much interested in this activity at twelve years of age. I was interested in the contents of the opposite wing. Pinball machines and other coin operated games filled it wall to wall. It was like the Penny Arcade at Dorney Park and was destined to become a regular hangout for we Townies. (I was surprised I could not find any photographs of the Farmer’s Market except a few of when it caught fire in 1976. That is why you see a fireman squirting water on it in one picture and smoke and flames in the other.)
One of my friends, Gary Kinzey, suggested we walk down to the Farmer’s Market and see if we could get a job. The first stall we inquired at hired us. It was a greengrocer. There was no ID required, no permission slip from the parents requested, nothing bureaucratic at all in this hiring of child labor.
The owner assigned me to cleaning celery.  I really didn’t last very long at this position. My friend got to be at the counter waiting on people, which frankly ticked me off. I was envious because his job looked more fun and easier. He was up front talking with people, bagging up items. Meanwhile I was stuck in the back with a brush and an unending pile of celery stalks. Did people in Downingtown actually eat that much celery? The boss paid us an equal amount, twenty-five cents per hour. We worked four hours a day. It may sound like slave wages, but remember in 1953 you could buy a restaurant meal for fifty cents. Two dollars was a small fortune to us; that was 40 plays on a pinball machine or enough ice cream and candy for a two-week tummy ache.

I stood all night with my hands in cold water giving spa treatments to celery for a couple weeks, and then I quit.
The changes in my life were starting to have  a negative effect upon me. I had gained some acceptance at East Ward after three and a half years and the bullying had toned down from sheer boredom on the part of others if nothing else. I was still ducking from the Charles-Bird-Way Gang frequently because I was out and about the streets more each year I aged. (Pictured left: Jimmy Charles, leader of the gang.) My interest in school continued declining and my marks and deportment reflected my attitude.
Now being older, Dad was including me when taking mom places on the weekend calling these family outings, but that simply exposed me to more of his criticism. If we went to Hopewell Lake or Kirkwood Pool it was my not knowing how to swim with his threats to throw me off the diving board. If we went to the Auditorium in Coatesville for a movie he would be nagging me to stand up straight as we walked to the theater, thumping me on the back and making the thread of that brace. If we were at the stock car races it was my fear of height. If we just took a ride it was a threat to take me up on some tower. If we stopped in a restaurant to eat he would mimic my choice of food, plus make me embarrassed as he came on to every waitress.
Now I went into Seventh Grade at Downingtown Junior High School. At East Ward I had been with the same kids all day for four grades. We had come to something of a truce, besides I had made a few friends who I expected to be with me at the Junior High School.  However, I was also in the East Ward Band. Mr. Paltorne (pictured right) came to me in Sixth Grade and recruited me for the Junior High band, which he also led. I agreed. Since band rehearsals were schedule during a regular school period, all band members were assigned to the same section, 7A. None of my friends were in band at that time so they were all in a different section than I.

I was basically starting over with a bunch of strangers, many of whom came from the West Ward. I didn’t have classes with my friends and our lunch periods didn’t necessarily line up. Besides, kids didn’t look upon band members quite the same way as they did football players either. They considered us dweebs who sometimes put on funny looking uniforms that didn’t quite fit.

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