FROM THE VALLEY: Back In My Day It Was Different
By Tom Valley
I was watching an old “Andy Griffith Show” and couldn't help but reminisce. Barney walked through the door at Andy's house and asked Andy “Wanna go up to the filling station and get a bottle of pop?”
The memory of such a carefree time brought me back to my days as a youngster in Ogdensburg, NY. We lived on Patterson Street. And kitty-corner from our place was the Seymour-family home. The home of childhood friends, Paul and Joe Seymour, along with their wonderful parents, seven sisters and five brothers. One of Ogdensburg's finest families, they still are. Right beside their house was Winter Park.
Winter Park was where St. Mary's Academy – almost five blocks away – held their football and baseball games. It was a far cry from what we know today as a well-manicured, carefully defined high-school athletic complex. For all intents and purposes, Winter Park was simply a field, an empty lot, about the size of a city block. And of note, the players walked to and fro for practice and games held there.
The aging ballpark had a semi-functional backstop in one corner, with some unkempt sand serving as an infield for the baseball diamond. In left field - running toward center field - was the designated football field. The only revealing factor which delineated it as a gridiron was a single goalpost. A crooked, bent goalpost like one you'd see in an apocalyptic movie as the very last vestige of a time before the earth was abandoned because giant fruit-flies had overrun the planet and had literally turned every city into “The Big Apple” and gnawed the bejesus out off everyone and everything in its way. Frightening.
And, apparently, the bugs weren't into football nor in the business of upkeep of such fields for historical purposes nor for any other purpose and had, thus, let it go to hell. Their choice, I guess.
Where was I? Across the street from Winter Park were the Hollis and O'Neil family homes. (Two more great families.) Mr. O'Neil was a kindly gent who would, seemingly, always be sitting in a rocking on his front porch. His friendliness, born of gratitude from the experiences of life, manifested into a warm, friendly smile whenever I passed by. His son, Mike – good friends with my brother, Mike - was usually in the driveway practicing his deadly left-handed jump shot at a rickety old basketball rim attached to the family garage. (Of note, that routine paid dividends for “Lefty” and the high-school team in the following years.)
A half-block farther up the street was Lisa Boyer's corner grocery-store. (And for point of emphasis about the commonality of these stores, there was another one right across the street from her's called Amo's.
Mothers relied on these businesses as an additional pantry. If they discovered that their cupboard was bare and their half-made cake was shy a cup or two of flour, they could send one of their kids up the street to fetch whatever it was she needed to make sure the family dessert would be ready for supper-time. Fathers used them as a source for pipe-tobacco, cigarettes and cheap cigars. And for us kids, it was an oases for snacks, sweets and Bazooka Bubble Gum. And of course, as Barney Fife mentioned “a bottle of pop.” The corner stores were mainstays, bastions of the neighborhood with a little something for everyone.
With 15 to 20 cents in our torn dungarees, my friends and I could satisfy our sweet-tooth-cravings by jumping on our bikes and making a beeline to the corner store to buy some chocolate covered treats, called Lady fingers, some wax bottles - with a thimble-full of sweet syrup inside - and a cold soft-drink. We'd chug our Mission Orange beverage on the front steps and trade the empty-bottle in for 3 more pieces of licorice as the crowning achievement of our dietary ignorance. Life was good.
That all changed in the decades which followed when the “filling stations” cleaned up their acts by eliminating their service areas, swept the floor and stocked their newly-installed shelves with Wonder Bread, pickles, motor-oil and cigarette rolling-papers.
The writing was on the wall for the corner-store when the writing on the walls at the gas-stations were painted over, tiled and a clean mirror was put up. The moniker, 'convenience store' - which was given to these hybrid amalgamations - was ironic in the sense that they weren't as local (to most) as the corner stores were and, for all intent and purposes, were less convenient. Whatever.
And for some reason, not hard to figure out, the ring of wanting to go to the convenience store for a bottle of pop, just isn't the same as it was in the good old days.
That's the way it looks from the Valley.