The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa


September 4, 2013

The neighborhood, the family, and grocery stores

In 1946, we raced over to Eddie Keefe’s store one fine day to get our first allotment of bubble gum. Some part of that product was necessary in the War effort. God knows what it was; we never figured it out. Kids hadn’t seen it for years. Bubble Gum and baseball cards took the place of ration books in the late 40’s, while the neighborhood grocer enjoyed one more decade of predominance.

Grocers always had a scary machine to cut cold meat like the famous “minced ham.” Today they call it bologna -- and I can’t stand it! Baloney to me meant the delectable, spicy sausage in a ring. Ed Keefe often showed me where his missing finger tips once were. I still shudder to think of it! I guess he talked too much while slicing cold cuts! Such accidents weren’t uncommon. I once had a teacher with missing fingers too, from a paper cutter. She would shove them in your face in a fist and say, “There’ll be two hits; I’ll hit you and you’ll hit the floor.” While she spoke, the rigid student stared at her stumps, and then looked up to see the twinkle in her eyes. The only present I ever bought a teacher was for her, a recording of her favorite song, “Always.” I still remember the words.

I liked baloney sandwiches with lots of butter. I learned to make my own, because my mother, with her strong farmer’s arms, would smash it to a pulp when she cut it. She’d put her hand firmly on it, with the knife under it and bear down something fierce. Out came a mashed sandwich. In that way, she taught us -- if you want it done right, do it yourself! I remember, too, how she cooked pork chops to cinder-crisps -- a precaution against trichinosis, which farmers had seen often and guarded against assiduously. I’ve always joked that if we dropped a chop of hers on the floor it would shatter!! NEVER did we have meat with any juice or redness within, except for pork roasts, which were marvelous and juicy but always done, always.

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