Yes, today is my natal day. When it rolls around, it often gets me to waxing philosophical regarding the passage of time and all. Of late I’ve been waxing philosophical a great deal in general. Let’s call it practice. There was a picture of my kindergarten class taken from the Park Falls Herald and posted on Facebook recently — now that’ll set one off on a philosophical bent like a rocket on the 4th of July. Caught a glimpse of my young self in the back row of that black and white and it set me to looking backward.
There’s a story on a flash drive in my office titled, “Growing Up Small.” It is a testament to what I’ve always considered an idyllic childhood. Park Falls was a bustling little burg in my earliest days. Everything one could want or need was near at hand. My family was on the poor side financially, but solid. Dad worked hard, Mom kept the home fires burning. Sometimes she wore red lipstick, he’d put on a dress shirt and they’d go out. She also wore high-heeled shoes and she could dance while wearing them. That awed me. Dancing wasn’t her only talent. You could eat off her floors — the Miller/Donner women being a house-proud lot. She was adept at conjuring food from nothing. No matter who showed up at the table, there was always enough — a handy talent when funds are tight. Her bakery was a thing of beauty — neat rows of homemade bread loaves and sticky cinnamon rolls. Yum. She smoked Winston cigarettes, whistled while she did the ironing, went barefoot everywhere and liked to chew on ice cubes. Who knew that could wind up being significant? No matter how hard she was working, she always had time for us kids — a game, a story, giving us a tiny pan to grease and make our own finger rolls in — a mom that was young enough to play with us was pretty cool. That she was wise enough to be a mentor and later a friend, as well as a mom, was just icing on the sticky buns.
It’s funny what one’ll remember: I recall that our house never smelled of cigarettes, even if Mom and her friends shared a smoke over a cup of coffee. Ladies had handbags they carried in the crook of their elbows back then. In fact, my mother never owned a shoulder bag in all her lifetime. Huh.
During the week she’d send one of us kids or walk the two blocks herself to the corner grocery. Every neighborhood had a corner grocery, since most homes only had one vehicle — the one Dad took to work. Friday night was for going to town. That’s the night all the stores stayed open late. Women and children frequented the downtown businesses, which were many and varied, while men enjoyed a beer and some social time at one of the local establishments. There were more taverns back then, as well as more churches, and as the saying goes, “there were enough sinners that all did a good business.”
Saturdays meant a matinee at the Park Theater, or, in winter, skating at the outdoor rink. Jeske’s Drug Store had a soda fountain where one could partake of a banana split or a cherry coke. Gambles had everything, since it was a department store. But there were a couple “five and dime” places, even before a Ben Franklin came to town. Special treats were going to the A&W on Highway 13 for a brown glass jug of root beer and a container of dairy whirl. Root beer floats were one of my dad’s favorite things all of his life. Once in a great while we’d get to eat supper there — with that tray attached to the car window. On Sundays, everything was closed but the aforementioned churches and taverns.
I miss those days of a simpler life. Miss my folks, and those others who inhabited my young days. Days of seeking four-leaf clovers in the yard, playing hide-and-go-seek around the junk pile, or riding my bike barefoot down to the creek. Can’t go back, but memory is a valued gift.
Wonder if I’ll get cake? You’d be able to see the gleam of the candles from outer space.