The AG store was one block up and one block over from our house on 12th Street in Highland.
It doesn’t sound that far now, but when you’re 8 years old and 3-foot-something, that’s a lot of steps for little legs.
Especially when, right in the middle of a backyard tennis ball home run derby, Mom decided she needed a loaf of whole wheat bread for lunch. I wondered if Kenny Boyer’s mom ever called him at the ballpark to fetch groceries. Willie, Stan the Man, Yogi and the 50,000 imaginary but devoted fans in the backyard stands would just have to wait till I got back.
Obviously, I didn’t have time to walk two whole blocks. So I took the shortcut.
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It went something like this: Through the back door to get a dollar from Mom, down the hall and out the front door. Jaywalk across the street to the Becks’ yard, around the side of their house and through their yard to the alley. Diagonally across the alley to the loading dock of the Salvage store. Through the back door and the storage room, down the main aisle of the Salvage store, out the front door. Jaywalk across Broadway and into the AG.
Badda bing, badda boom.
I could be there and back before you knew it.
I figure that shortcut saved me at least a thousand miles growing up.
But it didn’t always save me time because there were a lot of good distractions along the way. That’s what made it a great shortcut.
Going through our house, I’d run into my sister. I’d just have to tease her about that new kid in her class being her boyfriend.
She’d chase me up down the hall and up the stairs. I’d have to wait till she lost interest in revenge to peek out, slide down the banister and sneak out the front door.
If the mailman was anywhere on the street, I’d talk to him. My brothers called him Tarzan. I think it might have had something to do with that jungle safari hat he wore on sunny days. I called him Tarzan, too, but not to his face. He didn’t mind if a neighborhood kid or two tagged along with him porch to porch. We’d look if there were letters from any far-away sounding places. Like New York or Indiana.
Back to the shortcut. Sometimes, Mr. Beck across the street would be out on his porch reading the paper after a hard day’s work. That was my favorite stop. He always liked to talk baseball, from how my Little League team was doing to why the Cardinals were in a slump to the time he actually saw Babe Ruth play. I always asked to hear the Babe Ruth story. And he liked to tell it.
Or, Mrs. Beck might be around back hanging out wash on the line or tending to the flower bed. If I looked hot, she always seemed to have something ice cold to drink. Or some cookies she just made that needed sampling. She never made a bad cookie that I can remember.
Across the alley at the Salvage store, if I was lucky, they would be unloading stuff from the big truck. You never knew what was in the big truck. It might be a big chair with one leg shorter than the others or 100 pairs of odd-size shoes. If you wore a 10 1/2 triple E, this was your lucky day.
Pop once bought an entire load of paint right off the truck. All colors. Didn’t matter. Pop would mix and match. That explains why our hallway was greenish yellow and one of the boys’ rooms was salmon pink.
Sometimes they’d give me a ride on a big chair it took two of them to carry in. I weighed a little less back then.
Inside the Salvage Store, I had to check out all the new arrivals and report back to Mom. Test drive a slightly dented dump truck in the toy aisle. And see what kind of candy was at the checkout desk. If I was lucky, the clerk might give me a sucker ... “Just don’t let the boss find out.” I didn’t think she’d get fired if I told about the sucker. But I didn’t. You never know.
Broadway was the busiest street in town, but it still wasn’t very busy. People would always stop for a kid with a sucker who wanted to cross.
The AG store was full of friends. My brother worked there, stocking shelves. The butchers behind the counter were like uncles and the checkout lady liked to talk ... about school, suckers, what’s new at the Salvage Store. Eventually, she’d ask why I came and I’d remember the loaf of bread.
Just in case Mom needed it right away, I took the shortcut home.