Like all Wednesdays November 9th, 2016 is garbage day in my neighborhood. I got up early to take out the trash and recycling. I spent Tuesday in the Lion’s Club working as an election judge at my precinct. It was a long 16 hour day.
I had breakfast, made coffee and headed to the shack. There was frost on the shingles. Because the time changed the sun was already up. I walked through leaves. I’ll have to get the mower out and chop those leaves up again before long.
The shack is perfect for a day like this. I started a fire in the stove, plugged my phone into a charger putting it out of reach, and loaded the CD changer with classical music: Bach, Sibelius, and Strauss. Next I turned on my computer and went straight to Word. In Word I am safe from interruption. As long as I stay out of Outlook and off Face Book it’s just me, the music, the warmth of the stove, the light coming through the trees into the shack, and words. I want to finish a story I am writing about 1961. It seems like a good place to be this morning, 1961.
I wanted Mom to let me stay home but she wouldn’t. I was ten, Dad was in the field, and Mom had to go into Danvers to help prepare a meal at the church. Someone died and they were going to feed their family after the funeral the next day. Something like that.
“Margaret Melick is helping so Jeff will probably be there. You can play with him in the park.”
The tiny Danvers park, a bandstand surrounded by trees, was next to the church. Jeff was my age and we were friends. But he didn’t come. It was me and a bunch of old ladies in aprons talking all at once in the church basement. I went upstairs, walked around the empty pews, played chopsticks on the piano, thumbed through a hymnal and silently played the good songs in my head. Empty churches are big, quiet, and lonely. I couldn’t stand it for long. I went to the kitchen and found my Mom.
“Can I go down to the drug store and read comic books?”
The drugstore was a block away on Danvers’ only block of businesses. The druggist’s wife ran the soda counter and if you bought a fountain drink, or even if you didn’t, she let you take comic books from the rack and read them without buying.
“Sure. Here’s a quarter. And while you’re there, go across the street and give Aunt Dorothy this on our bill. She handed me a twenty dollar bill. It was so much money.
“Don’t lose that. And be there when I honk. No exploring. Just the drugstore and Aunt Dorothy’s.”
Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Harry ran a grocery store right across from the drugstore. One honk from our 53 Dodge would work for either place.
I was the only customer in the drugstore. It was a summer weekday afternoon and hot. I put my quarter on the marble counter, said hello to the druggist’s wife, and ordered a green river. I always got a green river. My friends got chocolate cokes, cherry cokes, phosphates, all kinds of fountain drinks but I always went for the green river. The druggist’s wife had white hair done all up high with black hairpins. As she pumped green syrup over ice cubes in a coke glass she asked what I was doing in town.
“You didn’t come all this way just to see me and buy a green river did you David?”
Danvers people want to know everything. And I was over being called David. I wanted to be known as Dave. Not wanting to talk but knowing I had to I said
“Mom’s at church working on a ham dinner.”
“I bet that’s for the funeral tomorrow.”
“Yeah, something like that.”
I smiled because it was polite and took my change and green river to one of two little tables they had by the comic books. I scanned the rack. They didn’t have many new ones. I settled on a Jug Head comic I’d read before.
Sometimes when I was alone on the farm I’d think how good it must be to be a town kid so you could see other people more and go into places and buy things. But when I got to town I realized it wasn’t much different. If you really wanted to be someplace different you had to go to Bloomington. But that seemed impossible. We hardly ever went to Bloomington. There was a Sears and Roebuck store there but we ordered things from the catalog that arrived to our big mailbox on the gravel road. There was no reason to go to Bloomington.
I read a few more comic books, put my empty glass back up on the counter, was careful to say good bye to the druggist’s wife, and went across the street to the grocery store. Uncle Harry was standing by the cash register. He was tall and skinny with hollow cheeks. As I came in the door he was shaking a Chesterfield cigarette from the pack he kept in his shirt pocket. With the unlit cigarette dangling in his mouth he smiled and said
“Well if it isn’t my nephew Davey McClure. What brings you to town?”
Of all my names I hated Davey the most. I liked Uncle Harry but he could get loud and a little obnoxious. But he was a Chicago guy. My Dad said Chicago guys are like that, so we tried to ignore it when he was rude. I figured he couldn’t help it. He loved Aunt Dorothy and we loved her so that meant we had to love Uncle Harry too.
“Mom’s cooking hams at the church. I’m just waiting for her to come get me.”
“Look out. Farm boy in town. You been chasing after the town girls Davey?”
I blushed. It was things like that he said which we tried to overlook. I acted like he hadn’t said anything.
“Is Aunt Dorothy here?”
“She’s back at the desk. Cubs are on you know.”
Uncle Harry and Aunt Dorothy’s store was narrow but deep. Two aisles. It had an oiled wooden floor that slanted. The shelves covered up the windows on one side, it shared a wall with the furnace and sheet metal shop on the other side, and the store room blocked light from the back. The sun only made its way in through the front door and windows. It was dark and smelled like old bananas. I walked toward the back of the store.
Aunt Dorothy smoked Pall Malls and always before she opened a new pack she slapped it violently against the palm of her hand. I heard that slapping noise as I headed back. When I turned the corner into the tiny little office, jammed with papers, she was just opening up the red pack of those long unfiltered cigarettes. She was a little woman with a big smile. She always had something good to say.
“What brings you here Dave?”
God bless Aunt Dorothy. She was catching on to my new preferred name. I reached into my pocket, pulled out the twenty, and handed it to her.
“Mom asked me to give this to you to pay on her bill.”
“Well isn’t that nice. You tell her thanks. Come here.”
I stepped up to her chair and she gave me a big hug. Her breath smelled like cigarettes and beer. I looked on the desk and there was an open bottle of Falstaff. I’d seen her drink beer with Uncle Harry at their house but I didn’t know she drank at the store too. We didn’t keep beer at our house. I heard Lou Boudreau’s voice coming from her little transistor radio on the desk.
“So what are you doing Aunt Dot?” My Dad called her Dot sometimes so I did too. I was studying ways to make conversation. I listened for how people did it. ‘What are you doing’ was one of the starter questions I was trying with people.
“I’m supposed to be writing checks but I can’t keep my mind off the Cub game. They got a chance to win this thing.”
“This is the last game with the Phillies isn’t it?”
“No they swept the Phillies three games. This is the second game of a double header with the Pirates. They won the first game 11-4. Then damned if they didn’t take the shortstop, Banks, out of the lineup. I don’t understand. They were ahead 2-1 in the middle innings, now they‘re behind 4-2. We need a base runner and a homer. They’re on a roll. If they win it will be five in a row. I think they’re going to tie it up.”
“Why do you think that Aunt Dot?”
“I just do David. I feel it in my bones.”
She forgot to call me Dave that quickly. Aunt Dot got very excited when she listened to the Cubs. She took a big slug of Falstaff. The beer must make her optimistic I thought. I looked at her face as she stared at the radio. I couldn’t tell if her teeth were bigger or her gums were smaller but something looked bigger about her mouth. She looked a little old.
“Who’s pitching for the Cubs?”
“Dad says they always lose when Brewer pitches. Isn’t he 0-5?”
“Yeah but he’s kept them to only four runs today.”
It was August 17th and the Cubs were playing in Pittsburgh. There were eight teams in the National League and the Cubs were in 7th place. The Phillies were in the basement and the Pirates were in 6th place. Cincinnati led the league. Chicago would finish the year in 7th place with a record of 64 wins and 90 losses.
Lou Boudreau was talking and I had looked past Aunt Dorothy at the stuff around us. On one side of the tiny office cardboard boxes were stacked tall; Wheaties, Chesty potato chips, Quaker oatmeal, Uncle Ben’s converted rice.
“Thank God, Tappe is pinch hitting for Don Zimmer. Zimmer can’t hit the broad side of a barn.”
On the other side were cases of cans, Chef Boyardee spaghetti, Del Monte peas, Welch’s grape jelly, Peter Pan peanut butter.
“OH FOR CHRIST’S SAKE HE’S BRINGING IN BOB WILL! HE’S GOT ERNIE BANKS ON THE BENCH AND HE PINCH HITS BOB WILL! WHAT IS WRONG WITH HIM?
Bob Will quickly struck out in the top of the 9th to end the game. Aunt Dot sat back in her chair with a look of exhaustion and lit a Pall Mall. I felt bad for her.
“They won four in a row Aunt Dot. That’s pretty good for them.”
“Yeah, David but they do stupid things. It’s bad enough they have mediocre players but on top of that they do stupid things. It makes me so mad.”
“Dad doesn’t expect them to win as much as you do Aunt Dot. Course he works outside and can’t listen to the radio like you. He reads about them in the paper. But he doesn’t get, you know, upset. He just shakes his head.”
“Yeah well your Dad’s a good Cub fan but he looks at things differently.”
I knew that. I tried to figure out how Dad looked at things. It was hard. He didn’t say much about how he felt.
“Aunt Dot can you tell me about being in Chicago? I mean I know you and Dad and your family lived in Chicago but I can’t picture it. What was my Dad like in the city?”
“He really liked Chicago David. He would explore, and find places, and take us all there. Ask him sometime about the Italian guy’s basement. He’ll know what you’re talking about. He was brave. He went everywhere.”
She took a big pull on her Pall Mall, held it a while, and exhaled. A cloud of smoke wrapped around her head.
“You know we were farm kids, your Dad, Aunt Fern, and me. Even your Uncle Eldon, though he’d been in the city longer. After your Grandpa was killed in a car accident our Mom had to sell the farm, and we all moved up to Oak Park. Uncle Wick helped us get decent jobs. Good thing too, because the recession hit and we were still OK. But I didn’t think your Dad would ever go back to the farm. Yep. Chicago taught us to be Cub fans and Democrats. And your Dad is the best of both. You know how much I love your Dad right?”
“Yeah I know Aunt Dot.”
“Go get yourself a bottle of pop. On me.”
She reached in the middle drawer of her desk and handed me a dime. I didn’t tell Aunt Dot I’d just had a green river. I went to their cooler, one of those where the bottles stood straight up in cold water and you slid them upright through a track of parallel rods to a place where you could pull one out after you put your dime in. I bought a Dad’s Old Fashioned Root Beer. I went back to where Aunt Dot was still sitting, recovering from the Cubs loss. We clinked bottles-her Falstaff and my root beer.
“So you really think the Cubs are going to win the World Series someday Aunt Dot?”
“Heck yes. They got to get a manager in there first. But you get someone with brains, keep Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, and Ron Santo together and put some pitching around them and they’ll go all the way. I think they’ll win it yet in the 60’s.”
“The 60’s? Jeez Aunt Dot it’s only 1961. The 60’s will last another eight years. You think it will take maybe eight years?” I was only ten. Eight years was a lifetime.
“Well these things take time David. It’s like politics. You wait till your time comes. We waited out that do nothing Eisenhower for all those years and now look. We’ve got a good young Democrat with a family in the white house. He’s a winner that guy. He’s got a plan. And your Dad loves him.”
“I know. I’ve never seen Dad so happy as when Kennedy got elected.”
“That’s cause your Dad’s a good Democrat David, on top of being a good Cub fan. Good things come to those who wait.”
I heard the honk of our Dodge Coronet from the street.
“There’s Mom. Thanks for the pop Aunt Dot, and thanks for talking.”
“You’re welcome Dave. Tell your Dad hello. And tell him his little sister said the Cubs are about to break it all loose.”
“OK. But he won’t believe you.”