Hodgepodge, by Roy Hodge

Born in a Grocery Store?

When I was born, my parents lived in the house attached to the family’s Red & White Grocery Store in Syracuse’s Valley section, which is why I suppose, that during my early years I may have thought that I was born in a grocery store.

I lived there with my parents until I was almost 2.

Valley Drive is a long residential street, which was intersected one block from our store and the house where we lived, by the busy Seneca Turnpike corner.

I remember, while I was growing up, staying overnight with my grandparents at that house and being fascinated by the bright neon lights of “Club Candee,” the busy nightclub which was located a block from the family store.

When I was a little older, I earned my allowance by helping Grandpa keep the empty cardboard cartons in an orderly fashion, and by delivering small orders and advertising flyers to the neighbors.

Through the years, I got to know many of the store’s regular customers. My grandmother always insisted that even though I considered many of those customers my friends, I should always address them by Mr., Mrs. or Miss.

One of the exceptions was Fanny Chapman, who was a daily visitor to the store, and also worked there part-time through the years. I guess I thought it was OK to call her by her first name, because it made me giggle every time she walked into the store.

In a column I wrote several years ago, I was remembering those grocery store years:

“One of the stories I heard told over and over by my grandmother all the time I was growing up and much longer was that I learned to walk by picking up two glass milk bottles from the back hall of our house and carrying them into the store.

“My grandmother was also fond of sharing pictures of me when I was about six or seven wearing one of my father’s store aprons which hung down to the floor.

“One of my favorite toys from the store was a long pole with a pair of ‘grabbers’ on the end, which was used to pull items from the store’s high shelves.  Using those grabbers to knock things off the shelves and all over the store was probably how I got revenge for having to parade around in that silly looking apron.”

“Do You Have Prince Albert in a Can?

From Hodgepodge, Dec. 24, 2005:

“For several years during the time my family owned a grocery store in the Valley section of Syracuse, I was able to leave a special gift for Santa Claus each Christmas Eve.

“Every year my father brought home a tin of Prince Albert Tobacco from the store, and my brother, sister and I left the special gift for Santa along with a plate of cookies, under the Christmas tree.”

(I can still picture that special Christmas time can with Santa enjoying a pipe full of his favorite tobacco.)

“Every Christmas morning there was a plate of cookie crumbs, a note from Santa, and Prince Albert was nowhere in sight.”

Do you have Prince Albert in a can?  Well, let him out! My father said he heard that comment many times during his years at the store.

Thinking a lot about the store this week, I have recalled that the store had a “gum ball” machine. I remember it sitting on the counter at the front of the store where customers “checked out.” As you might imagine, the gum balls were small balls of gum with a thin candy coating.

I often went with my father to the store when he visited on Sunday mornings. While he went about his business, I was putting pennies in the gum ball machine.

There were one or two special gum balls in the machine; I don’t know if they were even gum. They were very colorful, which made it easy to distinguish them from the other gum balls.

Looking for a “Winner”

Those gum balls were “special” – they were known as “winners” because if one of them came out of the machine when your penny was inserted that penny would “win” five more pennies – which of course would immediately be put back into the machine.

It wasn’t long before I learned to try to outsmart that gum ball machine. I knew that the “winner” wouldn’t come out if I could still see it in the machine’s glass globe.  So I shook and I jiggled until the coveted “winner” was out of sight, hopefully ready to come out when my penny went into the slot.

I soon discovered that all the shaking and jiggling was an exercise of futility.  All I had to do was to ask my father for more pennies. But I am sure that it would have added a little more excitement to my young life if a “winner” had come out of the gum ball machine.

Those days spent long ago at the family store with my father and grandparents are among the fondest of many memories.

A Couple More Things

No matter how much you push the envelope it will still be stationery.

I got a job at a bakery because I kneaded dough.

I read a book about anti-gravity. I just can’t put it down.

And, here’s one from Henny Youngman:

“A drunk goes up to a parking meter, puts in a dime. The dial goes to 60. The drunk says, “Huh I lost a hundred pounds.”

                                        . . . Roy Hodge

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