“Susan Duncan, your mother’s on the telephone?” head-librarian Mrs. List half-questioned. One of the sweetest ladies in town, she slowly wandered throughout the entire square footage of Mr. Peabody’s namesake “bibliotheque”, ducking in and out of the aisles among towering shelves of books and artifacts. Juvenile fiction, biographies, autobiographies, novels, reference works, globes, ship replicas, Indian dolls–you name it. I scampered about, hiding from her. Why? I have no idea. I never roamed far from home. Not even to this day. My friends might judge me as “over-protected”, I feared, IF I accepted the incoming call. Thus, I continued to avoid her approaching steps, and possibly stern visage, while I maintained my stealthy “rebel” status crouching behind stacks of literary paraphernalia in that multi-“storied” building!
Maturing in a small town, “where everybody knows your name”, carries the potential for both advantages as well as the accompanying disadvantages of life-time embarrassment. “Communication” in the 50s was facilitated not only by John and Hester Adams’ two daily newspapers, one Democratic and the other Republican, but also by frequent telephone calls completed with the assistance of local operators asking, “Number, plee-iz?”. The grape-vine aspect, sporadically aided and abetted by an intrusive “party-line” feature, meant that several locals might be eavesdropping on private intriguing conversations in addition to the caller and “call-ee”. Galloping gossip. Who in this world needed that? Branded forever.
Scrubbing behind my ears one evening prior to falling into bed on a “school night”, I turned off the bath tub faucet to hear my dad shouting, “Charlotte Fahl’s on the phone and wishes to speak with you!” Me? Why ever would a popular high school cheer-leader ring up a pesky fourth grader? Truth’s sometimes stranger than fiction. A grown-up person invited this goofy, klutzy, gangly, long-legged book-worm to proclaim at the top of my voice, “Eagles, we cheer for thee…” and “Two bits, four bits, six bits…a dollar!” as a type of mascot yell-leader for the very tall Columbia City Eagles whom my Southern mother curiously referred to as “Iggles”!
One of life’s high points, however momentary. (My “let’s do the splits if at all possible” career briefly endured, throughout a total of probably seven and a half varsity-caliber basket-ball games.) Now where to custom-order the maroon and gold outfit of my dreams which would sport a huge felt megaphone stitched onto my chest and a golden eagle swooping across the backside? Easy answer.
Blumenthal’s “elegant” ladies’ apparel shop, a glorious fixture for mothers and daughters, offered one-stop shopping throughout my “Betsy McCall-wannabe” elementary school days. Poodle or box-pleated skirts, angora sweater sets, party-girl organdy dresses, Princess-Style winter coats, corduroy jumpers, and fabled CAN-CAN crinolines (several of those to beworn simultaneously) cluttered the closets of most of C. C.’s “ingénues”. Ben Blumenthal, his wife Bea, and their kids lived about a block from us in a beautiful brick home. Their family dog bit me as I skipped home from school one afternoon. My badge of honor! Their store, divine and air-conditioned, seems like a fairy tale now …but I currently possess one of their purple-tinged cardboard boxes, emblazoned with silver printing, which contains my “mustard seed” necklace. Yes, Rod Serling, Blumenthal’s actually existed.
Driving home heading west on Van Buren Street toward the setting sun, I am transported to an earlier era when our quaint downtown never may have inspired the infectiously perky beat of a Petula Clark tune but most certainly resembled a village nestled upon the toy floor of a snow globe. Frank Capra captured our little Thornton WIlder vintage town in his film “It’s a Wonderful Life”, warts and all. Friday OR Saturday night-time shopping. Kroger’s, William’s, or Yontz’s Grocery stores. Raupfer’s or Schultz’s Dimestores for paper dolls, comic books, and mouth-watering cashews–within glass cases–funneled into white sacks via a silver scoop! Dropping by for a fancy, be-ribboned box of chocolates purchased from drugstore partners “Uncle” Walt Meyers and Garland Stickler, while ceiling fans whirred above our heads. Sugar cookies from Jones’ Bakery! Can’t you still hear that tinkling bell attached to their screen door? Devilled ham sandwiches enhanced by cherry cokes and potato chips in Seyfert’s ruffled paper containers at Hollis Peeler’s Walgreen’s soda-fountain, twisting our bar stools from side to side then twirling 360 degrees? Ah, “Memories are Made of This!”
Sadie Rush, with her son Allan, operated The Style Shop. Mr. Rush, who passed on his love of and talent for music performance to his son Michael, managed to contribute significantly to my outlook on life. His knowledge of jazz musicians, that droll sense of humor, and our mutual appreciation for the exact same television comedians all appealed to my inquisitive teen-aged mind. He honestly chatted with me while my mom and sister disappeared into “dressing rooms”. I always imagined that he, funnyman Carl Reiner, and talk-show host Steve Allen somehow got “separated at birth”.
WHENEVER I glance into a mirror, I am reminded of an “enchanted evening” encounter with seven year old Mike Rush “across a crowded room”. Rambunctiously, the two of us commenced sliding toward one another from opposite ends of the freshly waxed Elks ball-room floor circa 1952, immediately after viewing some black and white, reel-to-reel Abbott & Costello movie, courtesy of the Hancocks, while our respective parents partied downstairs. This cavernous “ice-rink” remaining darkened until an adult could switch on the lights, our two foreheads slammed together, and, personally, I never have been quite the same since. The resultant dent located dead-center above my eyebrows lends me a serious Clint Eastwood furrowed-brow scowl which rather sets me apart. For that signature look, I have Mike to thank…or was that Tommy Roe? Jury’s still out.