Worlds Greatest Popcorn Salesman

Many years ago, when my grandson was with his grandmother and me for several extended visits, became very close. We were in fact, “kindred spirits” and between the tow of us, we could do no wrong. This was especially true if his mother and grandmother did not know what we were up to. I think several times I told him, “Don’t let you grandmother know about this, otherwise she would get madder then “hell.”

We never did anything bad, but as kindred spirits, we realized that we would not receive a full nod of approval his grandmother of his mother concerning some of the things we were doing.

Critter and I were great friends, compatriots, and we had an almost perfect understanding with one another. He was great for me and I feel that I was beneficial for him. We were a great team.

One of the deeds he signed up for was to become a member of a Pee Wee League baseball team. His grandmother and I went to some of his practice sessions and to all of his games. In one memorable game, their catcher managed to pick up a ball that the batter in the box hit. The ball had a reverse spin to it and therefore came back to the catcher.

The pitcher, the first baseman, the short stop, the third baseman who wanted to take the runner from second: everyone was telling the catcher, “Throw me the ball!” The poor fellow was greatly confused as to where to throw the ball. He knew he needed to throw it – but where?

After turning in the direction to the teammates who were asking him for the ball and making partial attempts; in disgust, he slammed the ball down in the dirt right in front of him. The people in the stands had a great time, whooped, hollered, and applauded him. He was so proud of himself with all the recognition he was receiving.

Critter was having a great time with everything. What a wonderful experience for him and for me. Once on second base he really had some difficulty. His bladder was about the size of a peanut [so his mother said] and while on second base, two batters were to follow him. However, he was really dancing a jig out on second base. As a concerned grandfather, I interfered and went to his coach and had him observe the “goings on” of Critter on second.

The coach called time out and went to second base, Matthew, alias for Critter, took off like a shot to the bull pin latrine. If he could ran as fast around the bases as he did to the dug out, he could have made a home run every time he came to bat.

One of the agreements we had, concerned taking a bath – not one of his favorite things to do. The agreement was that if his team one a game, he would not have to take a bath that evening. Unfortunately, his team last every game but the last game of the season. He had forgotten the agreement but his grandmother reminded him. He certainly had a very big smile on his face when he took great pleasure of telling me that since his team won, he did not have to do the bath process.

He always took great pleasure when he got the best of me. What a wonderful grandson.

Another time when he really got the best of me concerned a fund raising project selling popcorn. I asked him if he knew how to sell popcorn and he said he did.

Let’s try you out. You go outside on the front porch, ring the bell and I will open it and you sell me some popcorn.

He did go out on the porch; I closed the door and waited. After a long wait, I heard the bell, I opened the door and asked, “May I help you?” He responded with, “You want to buy some popcorn?” I said “No” and closed the door.

Another long wait. The doorbell rang again; I opened the door and said, “Hi! May I help you?” He then said,”How do I sell pop corn?” I said, “Let’s go sit down and I will tell you how to do it.”

He sat the swing and I sat in a chair facing him when through the procedure.

First of all, introduce yourself with your name and explain that you are with a Pee Wee team and were given the responsibility to sell popcorn. Also, tell them that you really don’t want to do it but you want to support your team. Be honest! Then tell them that you probably have the best popcorn ever and that every kernel is guaranteed to pop.

He smiled somewhat and said, “I can’t tell them that.” My response was the he certainly tell them what I had suggested. You should then tell them, “All you have to do is keep the kernels that do not pop and give me a phone call. I will come back and give you two kernels for each one you have that didn’t pop.”

He was convinced what I told him was the thing to do, so off he went with his order forms to sell popcorn. My god, did he sell popcorn! He had all his lists filled and some buyers had more than one box purchased. I was so proud of him. It was great for him, but his job made a lot of trouble for me.

Sometime later, I was notified that the popcorn orders were in and I needed to pick them up. Between the time, he turned his orders in and the time they arrived for delivery, my grandson returned to his mother in California. I went to the pick up delivery point and there were five cases of popcorn for him [me], to load and deliver. I had to go back home and get my station wagon to load up his cases.

It took me three days to deliver his orders. At one home, the woman of the house said, “I had four boxes of popcorn on my shelf. However, the smile he had on his face and the story he told me, I had to order some more corn from him.

Rules to Live By

Small rural communities are great places to live in. There are limitations, needless to say, but overall, there are many advantages. These towns enrich those who live in them because of the caliber of the people, who have interesting lives and experiences. There were the town’s folk who went away, came back, and told of their exploits. The people had a rich and unique sense of humor, and had compassion to share amongst themselves. Philo was just such a town.

Philo at its’ peak had a population of around 290. The town boasted a small city park; numerous big two-story homes with large attics, huge trees in the front yards, wrap around porches and, it had no sidewalks. A main line railroad ran through the town so it had a station house, which the town used as somewhat of a storage facility for grader blades, saw horses, shovels, rakes, etc.

The tracks bisected the business district, which gave the town two main streets, North Main and South Main, both running east, and West.

One of the grain elevators was on the west side of town on the north side of the track; the second was on the east side on the south side of the track. The town had a train depot, which was almost never used. The town did have a post office, two banks, lumberyard, feed and grain store, hardware store, two grocery stores, two taverns, a Chevrolet/Farmal dealership and a sawmill.

Schooling was limited to one school for the lower grades from the first to the eighth grade, using five classrooms and a very large room for a general assembly.

The town had one high school; the largest senior class graduating was only 28. Philo had three Protestant churches and two three story buildings, which one of the top floors had a meeting room that was shared by the Masonic and Eastern Star lodges.

The completion of the town included one drug store with soda fountain and sandwich shop, a five and dime store, one hardware store, and two doctors and a veterinarian.

What community could want more?

Civil responsibility fell to a part time marshal, a volunteer fire department for the city and township farms, a town board that consisted of volunteers and a paid, and town clerk. The “street” department was a paid town marshal who also picked up fallen limbs, mowed the park, and cleared the street ditches in town and graded the gravel streets when required.

Three brothers and a close friend returned to Philo after spending several years “on the road,” playing banjo with various vaudeville circuits. They had been all over the “States” and even a couple of tours in Europe, and once to India.

The brothers purchased three buildings, side by side, where they operated their hardware, feed and grain, blacksmith, and tin shop and a grocery store.

They made a few changes with the buildings through the years, the biggest modification was opening the walls just inside the front doors so all the stores inside were easily accessed from any other store they had.

Each adjacent interior wall was cut back about twenty feet so if you were in the grocery and wanted to go to the hardware part, you did not have to go outside to do so. One just walked over into the store, which had the item one wanted.

Through the years there were a few little changes hear and there. Most of the changes were in combining services to make things easier for their customers. One could be in the feed, grain part, and buy a bushel of apples if it happened to be in that part of the building. The brothers used just one cash register, and one “on the cuff” book.

Often on cold winter days, men from the town and close by farms would go into the hardware store or blacksmith shop and sit around the big pot bellied stove with the Izen glass windows in the doors. They would swap stories, drink coffee, discuss local and world politics, gossip, and cover subjects for the best ways to plant and harvest crops and raise livestock.

At times, sitting around the stove, arrangements were made to get tools and materials together to fix and help local people with their homes that were unable to do for themselves.

The aided old Ethel Hartman’s leaky indoor plumbing, primed her water pressure tank. Her husband Walter had been dead a little over two years and she needed some help.

Though many had tractors for their farm, several still had only horses to get the work done. When a farmer was down or ill and unable to plant, harrow, harvest, or get big chores done, others would go over to his farm with their equipment and tools and fix things up.

If the wife were ill, many of the township women would go by, clean and sweep, do the canning if it was necessary and tend to her in many ways.

The children of this town always were looked after, guarded, and educated by the town folk. There were so many “eyes in the back of mothers’ heads.” No kid could get by with anything without the parents finding out about it. Many good, honest, and responsible citizens emerged from many such small towns. If a family had a young boy or girl that needed a little more income, women of the town would work things out to help.

The parents of the child in need, would get a telephone call and the kid would be hired to mow a lawn, dig a garden, pull weeds from a flower bed, help on a nearby farm to milk cows, feed pigs, build holding pens for new lambs and pigs, mend fences, or grub fence rows.

The daughters of such families were hired to help clean house, go by some homes once a day to do dishes and dusting and help catch up on a bushel or two of ironing. Every boy and girl was busy; all were looked after, cared for and were taught to help others for wages at times, and at times without pay, for “it was the thing to do.”

The blacksmith shop, the feed and grain business, the hardware store and tin shop, and the grocery had little signs tacked up all over the walls and some were hanging from the ceiling with life’s “rules to go by.”

Most signs were home made, letters burned with a hot iron or carved with a knife using all sorts of wood. They used old lumber planks, wide or narrow, long or short; whatever was required. The real fancy signs might have been a page cut out of a poster or magazine and attached to one of the planks with flour paste.

Little kids coming into these stores would stand and look at those signs and would ask someone what they said. There seemed to be someone around always at hand to help them.

One of the most favorite items was a statute of three carved monkeys, about eight inches high, painted faces, with brown bodies. Needless to say, the words on the base of the “art work” were: “See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil.” Other signs had: A bird in hand is worth two in a bush, A penny saved is a penny earned, when you go through a closed gate, close it behind you. There were dozens and dozens of such saying all over the stores.

Little Bill Williams, around five years old, was one of the town’s “projects and pet.”

He always ran wherever he went, even from one store to another. He wore patched and tattered bib overhauls, one strap hanging down; no shirt or underwear it seemed. He had freckles across his nose, very pail skin, and hair so red, it looked as if he had been struck by lightning and caught fire.

He was always barefoot from early spring until snow fell. In winter, someone always managed to find a pair of shoes for him; new or used. His feet were always scuffed up and often had a small narrow rag tied around one toe, which served as a bandage for him. He swore a lot but the women of the town [and some of the men] scolded him enough about it that he “toned down” his use of such words.

One summer evening around suppertime, the “hangers on” around the store were sitting outside on the wood sidewalk. The stores had a roof over the sidewalk, with posts at the edge of the walk to support the roof and were useful to tie horses to as well. There were some armed homemade chairs; some chairs had cane bottoms, which most often were split.

They used, round small barrels, wood boxes, and some items had metal seats on top, which were taken from discarded cultivators, tractors, and other used up farm equipment. Most often, the tops had a couple of feed sacks folded three or four times as makeshift cushions. The most sought after seats, which were the two that used a thick sheepskin for a cushion.

In the summertime, “Little Bill” was around quite a bit of the time and all the men would ask where he had been and what he had been doing that day. They also asked him what he had in his pockets, which seemed many times, more often than not, have some object that was causing a big bulge or had something and protruding from it. He would have treasures; old door knobs, telephone pole insulators, pipe tobacco tins containing marbles, shinny rocks, new horseshoe nails, rusty skeleton keys . . . most anything that struck his fancy.

One particular evening, spending time with the men, Bill was asking about the signs in the various stores and they asked him which ones he liked the best.

Carefully, slowly and deliberately he began reciting some of the ones he remembered. “If you have . . . . anything . . . . to say about someone, [and in a rush of words], saysomethingnice. A smile is better than . . . . a. . frown. Hear no evil annnn. .d , , , , see no evil and . . . . . . [and a voice would whisper softly the word “Speak”] and Billy would blurt out in another rush of words, “speaknoevil”.

The men praised him and told him he did a good job and then one asked: “Any others you know?”

Little Bill began again; “Don’t . . . . drink any beer and don’t . . . . drink any . . . . . . . .[and a voice from the side line whispered, liquor] don’t drink any liquor annnn . . . . . . . . . and with a loud, high pitched voice sounding like a blue Jay shooting out of an orchard toward a cat climbing a tree where she had her nest, . . . .. . . . . “And don’t eat any of Aunt Lottie’s pancakes with plumb syrup.”

One would have thought that all the doors of every asylum in the state had opened up and the patients transferred to the chairs in front of the stores. Everyone exploded instantly with laughter; men hooped and hollered, wiped their eyes, held their sides, slapped their knees, stomped their feet, and one even rolled on the sidewalk.

Aunt Lottie was probably one of the very best cooks in the county. She was known for her jellies, jams, custard pies, cakes, vinegar slaw, lime pickles, and vegetable casseroles. All who were in attendance at church pitch-ins, banquets, public picnics sought after food that she had prepared. It common that after the blessing was given, people got up to get in line. Quite few, who were in the know, would rush over to the opposite end of the tables to the desert end and snatch up a piece of her fabulous pies, cobblers, or cakes and some of her glorious vegetable casseroles.

Recently, Little Bill had some of Aunt Lottie’s pancakes with plumb syrup. The plumb syrup was his downfall, because he over indulged to such a degree that his system was in turmoil for a few days.

So, a legend was born from this incident. Years afterward, at any pancake breakfast held in the county, sponsored by any church, Sunday school class, Lions Club, Rotary Club or any organization that wanted to raise money for a “project”, the question was often asked by many who attended these breakfasts; “Are some of these Aunt Lottie’s pancakes?”

Some of the other signs that were hung: Keep skunks, bankers, and lawyers at a distance. Meanness doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t take a very big person to carry a grudge. You cannot unsay a cruel word. When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty. Silence sometimes is the best answer. Sometimes you get, sometimes you get got. Lettin’ the cat outa the bag is whole lot easier than puttin’ in back. Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly, and leave the rest to God.

I think that currently, our country needs many more small towns like this. What a lovely, gentle age.

Hard Times at the Claypool Courts

Many years ago, the Claypool Courts Hotel, located on the Monument Circle, in Indianapolis, Indiana was one of the finest hotels in state. The coffee shop was very first-rate. In this story, the hotel was the central location of the events that follow.

The weather was extremely cold, below zero and early in the morning of this particular day, a fine glaze of ice and hoar frost was on the landscape. My wife, Helen, had gone to Shreveport, Louisiana to visit her family and had taken my youngest son, Kevin, with her. Kevin, who was under five years old at this time, often stood behind the bus driver on the trip from Shreveport to Indiana. Kevin would tell the driver that he was going home because his father was missing him.

It was a Sunday and there was a strong sun out which was dissipating frost and ice. The bus was to arrive in Indianapolis around noontime and Rosemary, a woman from my work and friend of the family was with me. We had left early in the morning, taking time to avoid any mishap because of ice that was still in many places on our route. We arrived almost two hours before the bus was to arrive so I parked the car on the circle near the Claypool Courts, and both of us went in and entered the coffee shop and for some coffee and sweat rolls.

An hour had passed and we decided to go to the bus station, which at one time was Indiana Urban electric traction terminal, to check on the bus arrival.

cigsOn first entering the Claypool Courts on our arrival in Indianapolis, the weather was still below zero, and when we took a breath, the mucus in our nostrils froze a little. At this time, I was smoking menthol cigarettes and I knew that going outside in the extreme cold would cause a coughing spell. I had just lit a cigarette upon leaving the coffee shop and not wanting to smoke on the way to the terminal, I was looking for a place to extinguish it. The entrance to the hotel was a revolving door. Near the entry door were two elevators, which had a cigarette urn between them. I stopped at the urn and put my smoke in the sand.

We walked to the bus stop that was one block away, and I went to the dispatcher window to check on the arrival. The dispatcher told me that the bus would be late by one hour because of the road conditions. The bus terminal was really not a place to spend an hour; it was much cluttered with debris, dirty, and was not heated. Because of this, the two of us decided to return to the coffee shop.

On re-enterring the hotel, we saw two couples waiting by the elevator. They were dressed nicely, and being a Sunday, there appearance was more than proper. I also noticed that my cigarette was still in the urn. Therefore, when Rosy and I were abreast of the elevators, I stopped between the two couples, stepped between them and said, “Excuse me please,” and retrieved my cigarette.

Rosy was extremely embarrassed and continued into the coffee shop, leaving me way behind her. In a way, I do not blame her.