Recently, I noticed a penny on the ground by my foot, and my thoughts immediately went back to the time when you could actually buy something with a penny. My favorite was a BB Bat, which was a taffy-like substance on a round sucker stick. It came in vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and banana. They cost a penny a piece and I loved them, not only for the cost but also taste. If that was not to your liking one could, if they wanted, purchase wax lips or bottle full of colored sugar water. Again, they only cost a penny and were lots of fun to eat. You would chew the waxy outside of the treat after you finished off the liquid. Even though these treats were only a penny, they were true treats at the time. A penny was something not everyone had!
Bussell’s Grocery on 11th Street, now Rushville Florist, was our main candy supplier of my youth. They had a good meat counter and lots of candy, many not at all that expensive. I must admit, some of the penny stuff was lousy, but I guess you get what you pay for. There was also a grocery at Seventh and Main; it was right across from Gibson’s Grocery and Macs Pharmacy. It was a family affair and run by an older gentleman and his wife. They were the entire staff and made a living off the school kids before, at noon and after school. I found my parents had an account there while I was in grade school and they allowed me to use it, Mistake.
I would head to the grocery before school and afterward too. My friends found out I was generous with my candy and helped me enjoy my newly found gold mine. This lasted until the grocery sent the monthly bill to my parents. I then found out just what it meant to charge something. The only thing I had not understood was that someone had to pay the piper eventually (and in this case it was me). Actually, I paid twice, monetarily and physically, for my indiscretion. I learned my lesson and if I wanted something I paid for it. It took me a long time to work off my $35 debt to my parents, who found it difficult to realize how one fourth-grader could run up a candy bill that large. I did notice that my list of close friends diminished rapidly after my charging was cut off.
I miss Danners, where you could actually buy a lot of things for a nickel or dime. I miss Cokes for a dime, ice cream for 10 cents a scoop. I miss watching them bottle the Coke in the Rushville plant. The Rehme family owned the local bottler and along with the Coke Company was very generous with the handout advertising available. I remember we had a new cardboard Santa with a Coke in his hand on our front porch every year. Santa proclaimed to all: Ice cold, wonderful. I miss the salt rising bread of Quality Bakery, Nickel Nook hamburgers and Louie’s Ice Cream Parlor.
I loved the Castle and Princess movie houses. Usually, what came to be called B movies and westerns as well as the ever popular serials were the Castle mainstay. The Princess had the A movies and, shall we say, more adult films. I loved the popcorn from either movie, and it was a nickel a bag too. There were so many more local utilities or even stores, especially in the downtown area, and I enjoyed just walking through and looking at all the wonderful things they had displayed. I loved the basketball games and football games of the high school. The cost was usually a quarter, then you had the classes that sold concessions as money makers.
The big event of the year was the county fair. Everyone went to the fair at least once during its run. I made it every night. I found if I could manage to save enough money so I could have $5 a night to spend I could do and eat as I pleased. What we felt were wild rides then are today, I am sure, considered very tame, but we didn’t know anything else so were happy with what we had. Not a bad attitude to have, even today. My family was what I consider middle class today, but we felt as if we were millionaires; we had what we needed and that was all we cared to worry about.
I miss the bowling alley above the Coke plant, and the garage that at one time was on the second floor of the Coke plant before it became a bowling alley. They even sold new automobiles up there on the second floor. We had Danners as well as Ben Franklin to spend our nickels and dimes. Eventually, we even had a Woolworth in town for a period of time. Not much is left today of my youth, but what is I treasure deeply. I love the history of our fair town, those people who made it a beautiful and friendly place to live. Many, including my parents, are gone now and I am fast approaching the age when I am history. I only hope that my children enjoy the long period of time I have written these columns and that they read them frequently when I am gone.