You wouldn’t think a place as milquetoast as Minnesota could be a land of extremes. Yet when it comes to weather that is exactly what it is. Regardless of the season the weather is always trying to kill us. Winter blizzards, Spring Tornado’s, Summer Swelter, the only thing we are missing is the Autumn Hurricane. I guess the trendy thing to do is to blame this on climate change, but looking into the history of the place it’s apparent that our weather has pretty much always been trying to kill us.
Mid-summer arrives today as we will hit 90 for the first time this year. I am trying my best to enjoy it for what it is, and not start complaining about it as I really am not in the mood to see snow for quite a while. So the air conditioner remains off, and the windows are still open at 20 Prospect, letting the pollen, and the swampy, malarial air float through on the breeze, until we are as sweaty as the toilet tank. Also, I’m cheap.
Growing up at 20 Prospect we didn’t have air conditioning. In fact, very few of the old houses in town had it. Our natural gas furnace was “new”, (meaning it was installed sometime in the 50’s to replace the old coal burning one) but luxuries like air conditioning were something from another world. So when it got hot we just opened every available window, got out the 2 fans that we owned, and suffered.
In retrospect, the lack of air conditioning probably had as much to do with us playing outside all day, as any cultural reason. On the little stretch of Prospect Avenue where we lived, there were over 20 kids ranging in age from 5 to 15, who could be found outside on any given summer day. Mornings began with riding bikes, followed by war games, and sports until the sun finally chased us up onto someone’s porch. By mid-afternoon, we’d be wilting from the heat. That was the point at which we’d go inside, and gather up whatever spare change would could find laying around the house, and head to the corner store.
Every neighborhood in town had a corner store, usually an old “house” who’s downstairs served as a grocery selling milk, bread, eggs, and the other staples of life. Our store was Rheinhart’s and was run by an elderly couple. Rheinhart’s was on Oak Street, but there was a vacant lot on Prospect right behind the store, which had a well worn path leading through it, so it was always considered “in bounds” when it came to our wanderings. (Every yard on Prospect was considered “in bounds” so long as you could hear your Mom or Grandma calling you from the screen door.)
A trip to Rheinhart’s in the afternoon to buy the paper was a daily occurrence for us, and Mom always let me take a few extra quarters along to get something for myself. The candy aisle at a corner store invariably stocked every tooth rotting, sugary treat known to kid-dom. You name it, they had it.
Did you want gum? They not only had the old classics like Juicy Fruit, Wrigley’s Doublemint, Spearmint, Beeman’s & Blackjack that the grownups chewed, they also had the good stuff. Bubble Yum (now w/Spider Eggs!), Bubbalicious, & Hubba Bubba, in all of their mouth watering flavors from pink bubble gum, to grape, cherry, and orange. If you couldn’t splurge for a whole pack of gum, you could always buy a piece of Bazooka Joe, or Double Bubble for 2 cents, and spend the rest on baseball cards.
Or… candy bars. That was the Cadillac of Candy. They didn’t just have the old staples like Baby Ruth, Milky Way, Snickers, M&M’s and Three Musketeers, they also had the obscure stuff like 5th Avenues, Clark Bars, Aero Bars, $100,000 Bars, Charleston Chews (in vanilla, chocolate and strawberry), Butterfingers, and Chunky’s. But on a hot summer day, I usually steered clear of the melty stuff, and went for the tart and chewy types of candy.
Sweettarts, Spree’s, Swedish Fish (penny a piece in bulk, they would fill a paper bag for you) Licorice Whips, Charm’s Blowpops, Tootsie Pops, Tootsie Rolls, Sugar Daddy’s, Sugar Momma’s, and Sugar Babies. Or if I just wanted straight sugar, I’d go for the Pop Rox, or Pixie Sticks. Then there was the old school stuff. Wax Lips, little Wax Pop Bottles filled with sugary syrup, and Candy Cigar’s and Cigarette’s. (Gotta get the kid’s interested in smoking at a young age you know.)
Given the massive amounts of candy that I ate I am amazed that I have any teeth left in my head. The end of my sweet tooth came in the 6th grade when I got my braces and had to give up the gum, and the hard chewy stuff. That was a sad, sad day. After that, I learned of the enticing world of salty snack foods, washed down with icy cold R C Cola.
After spending 15 minutes in the candy aisle, picking out our treats, we’d head back to someone’s front porch where we would chew, and slurp to our hearts content, as the sun beat down on the maples and left dappled spots of light on the asphalt. These were the languid late afternoon hours, where it was too hot to move, so we sat glued to the vinyl cushions of the glider, waiting for evening.
Eventually, the kids with paper routes would have to go do their duty, and the cars of parents would start arriving. Things would break up until after supper, when refreshed, and renewed, we’d get back to the serious business of play. We still had until the street lights came on to finish our games of wiffle ball, and prepare for the sacred ritual of kick the can.
As night fell, and the grownups came out onto the porches to talk, our worlds would shrink to the front yards, and the hoards of kids would come together for a whole neighborhood game like Flashlight Tag, Hide & Seek, or Kick the Can. Then one by one, in ascending order of ages, the calls would come from the front porches, until it was just the big kids left in the circle of streetlight, swatting mosquito’s, amidst the dying strains of cricket-songs. Another summer day, coming to a close.
I feel sad that our kids are missing out on this experience. There are few kids in our neighborhood, and the ones that there are, never leave the house. Even if they did, it’s several blocks to the nearest convenience store, and the reprobates, and miscreants that frequent the place don’t make it a suitable destination for unsupervised 10 year old’s. I hope that somewhere this little slice of community still exists. Like a lone American Chestnut tree, growing secretly in a deep dark forest, slowly evolving a resistance to the blight that destroyed them. Until one day it can spread it’s seeds far and wide, and cover the ridge tops, and we can become a Republic of Front Porches again.