While reading the obituary of Mrs. Sarah Bates, a very talented piano forte teacher and wonderful person, I began walking down memory lane as I remembered her lovely smile when she would stop and speak to me. The sparkle in her eyes competed with her dark wavy hair and petite stature. Back in the early 50's when I was a student at Sophia Meyer Elementary School, my normal afternoon walk toward home would take me past Bates' Hardware Store, various main street stores and grand antebellum houses on 7th Street and on Broadway.
Going to school, my first obstacle was Swift and Company, a chicken pot pie manufacturer at Knox and Lafayette Street. The north side of the vast building was blistering cold in the winter and hotter than heck in the spring and summer, but at least there was a side walk. It bubbled in spots with cracks and crevices but it was better than nothing, except when it was deluged with rain. Then you couldn't be certain if it would devour you with its sharp concrete barbs or bury you in mud. The sidewalk took on a persona of its own and seemed to be alive and well just waiting for its next victim.
Walking under the Frisco train overpass on 7th street had its menacing grip on me. I wasn't certain if the train would come barreling from the tracks at break neck speed, the overpass would fall atop me, or the grease and oil would spatter me with smelly gunk. Anyway you slice it; I had to go under the blasted thing because I sure as heck didn't want to go over it. It appeared to be a monster of gaping wood teeth.
On the corner of 7th and Main was Citizens Bank with its ornate, double entry doors. Just down the way, between 6th and 7th Street, The Palace Drug Store was one of my favorite places. On occasion, while on my way to school, I would dilly dally around and peer through the windows taking in all the wonders of female perfumes. Delicate aromas of Chanel #5 or Coty's Emeraude colognes wafting through the air tempted this child to take in all the delightful breath of air I could muster. It had to be heaven because nothing could come close to the scents. Mr. Willis Campbell, the proprietor and smiling gentle soul, always waved at me knowing I would enjoy the pleasures as they chased me forward toward school.
Passing the post office, I knew my path would take me near a Magnolia lined, grand house—a house I was told held a laboratory to dissect young children. Needless to say, my footsteps quickly turned into a down right lope! However, another large, white, two story house glared at me, and my heart leapt into my mouth. It was Ocker Funeral Home, situated on the corner of 7th and Broadway and dictated where my feet would trod. I had no choice. Walk past the scary, monumental place with the black hearse's headlights glaring at me, or turn around and find myself in front of the kid eating house. It was a no win situation. I closed my eyes, darted across the busy Broadway Street, and ran the rest of the way to school. I was safe at last—that is, until the next day and the process would begin again. I don't know how I ever managed to get to school or go back home because the routes I had to travel held imaginable, heart pounding, gasping for air fears.
Deciding to venture in another direction to go home from school was not too smart. Passing by the dilapidated shanties with its comic book array and often times a stench from mustiness, didn't appease me in the safety mode. Some of the old men running the stores—if you could call them stores were not the safest place in the world to be because of the terrifying things I heard about those places. I learned to pinch my nose shut, pretend the old men didn't exist and run like hell. When I was small my feet never touched the ground because I was too busy flying past spooky things.
Going down Main Street, passing Tyler's Five & Dime, Dunn's Shoe Store, Bates' Hardware Store, Skinner's Drug Store, W.B. Smith Dry Goods Store, and waving to people from those delightful places, my next contact was in front of a bank. Now, in this six year old child's mind, the sidewalk was for everyone. Not so, according to one particular man. Every afternoon, like a clock work mouse, the man running the bank would come out and tell us kids to walk across the street and stay away from the bank. Once he had the audacity to grab me by the nape of the neck, and I kicked his shin so hard he hobbled on one leg. I swear I could hear his teeth rattle and it was the last time he told me to do anything. Perhaps the fear from all the other menacing places shoved me into a power zone because after the episode, none of the harbingers of doom scared me. It was a piece of cake!
On occasion, I would save pennies from my "morning milk break" at school and shove them inside my shoe. When I had enough pennies, my after school feast would be a giant red apple from Buster Brown's Market, situated at the bottom of Log Town Hill and Knox Street. Shoving the straps of my old, black and red, zippered back pack (yes, we had those sorts of things and I hated it) around my neck; the red apple succumbed to nothing but an apple core. Every other day, my shoes were emptied and the pennies were plopped into Buster's hands. I do miss those "hold'em with two hands" sweet, delicious, colossal red apples, but I don't miss the indentations of Abraham Lincoln's face on the soles of my feet.
Those days are gone and so are the fears seen by blue eyes of a child. No more antebellum houses with giant Magnolia trees, no cobblestone Main Street where you stub your toes on a jutting brick, no Tyler's Five and Dime, no Dunn's Shoe Store where you could buy refurbished cowboy boots for a quarter, no Bates' Hardware Store (if he didn't have it, you didn't need it), no Skinner's Drug Store, no W.B. Smith Dry Goods Store, no People's Bank, no Palace Drug store, no comic book strip shanties, no Buster Brown's Market, and alas, no Swift and Company on Lafayette Street where I walked everyday to and from school. So many different stores, in the time and place of yesteryear, aligned Main Street proper and it is sad to know they will never be again. It is a part of the past, a delicate piece of history in Van Buren's growing prosperity. Those places and most of the people who ran them and many more of the once proud mom and pop shops are gone, replaced in part by this person's memory and the smiles touching her.