Senior Adult Orphan Reporting Sir!

Adult orphan, senior orphan, next in line to die…these are some phrases and ideas I have run across the past few months that resonated or at least tickled my fancy enough to prompt some thoughts. First, I apologize to actual orphans that never had the support of your biological parents from a young age…I hope you found some love and support at some point in your life.

Second, this rumination started from seeing others in the family dealing with the passing of their parents and loved ones and me wanting to offer some hope that it gets better.  I had thoughts on being, at least theoretically, the next one in my family to be in line to die…but as usual I meandered into a stream of consciousness over dealing with the death of parents, coping and getting through it all.  This message has sat for several months with me wondering if I even wanted to publish it, as I am by no means a therapist or sage, and cannot even begin to imagine ever going to a therapist being as independent and bull-headed as I am.  So, please think of this as entertainment with a smattering of hope if you are a member of the Dead Parents Club.

Senior Adult Orphan Reporting Sir!

My mother passed away in 2004, dad following her 2 years later in 2006.  It seems to be the time in my life where friends, cousins and acquaintances all start working through the process of dealing with the loss of their own parents.

I have had some time to process my parent’s deaths over the last fifteen years, but memories still flood back all the time.  I think you continue working things out until you give up the ghost yourself.

People that still have their parents may believe they understand the loss of a parent, but they really have no way to personally understand until it happens. They may offer you their sympathies and kindnesses for a few weeks or months, but after more time goes by they seem to just want you to get over it, which I think is human nature and I can’t blame them.

But you won’t get over it.  Your parents are the ones that gave you life, your name, sustenance, really everything you needed until you developed into an individual that can exist on your own.

Initially, you are consumed with dealing with the mechanics of their deaths, especially after the last one passes and you have to deal with settling their estate (estate seems too grandiose a word for what my parents had remaining at the end of their lives). Things like selling the home you may have lived in all of your life, the months or even years dealing with lawyers, insurance companies and settling medical bills.

After the initial shock of their deaths, all of this bureaucratic stuff steals time away from the thoughts of your parents, yet the thoughts still manage to sneak through when you have a spare minute, or when prompted by a scene in a movie or even just a stupid Barry Manilow song (mom loved Barry). They come to you in your dreams, some dreams reassuring you everything is well, some leaving you wishing you had just another moment or two with them.

I hope you don’t have any unresolved issues that needed to be cleared up before they pass away, that has to make it even more difficult.  I think I was in a pretty good place… I just want more info about specific points and places in time as documenting family history has become more important to me.

After a while, perhaps years, the sadness of their loss gradually loses its sharp edge and dulls a bit. But it always remains present, easily set off by the emotional booby traps of long standing family habits, rituals and certain words used by the family that have been there for a lifetime.

No matter how independent you are, and again, I am independent with a capitol “I”, the loss of the home you grew up in and all the “stuff” that surrounded you, stuff that felt like it was always there and filled with the memories they evoke, unanswered questions, not having them there for the milestones of your own family, all add to the chipping away of the solidity of your life and begin creating an enduring sense of loss. One at a time, maybe not such a big deal, but over time they just keep accumulating.

Unless you have been very unfortunate, your parents could always be counted on to be in your corner no matter what. I distinctly remember my mother telling me (many times) when I was a little feller and had gotten into trouble over something not even important enough to recall, “I will always be your mother and I will love you no matter what”. I think this is what she typically said after she busted my butt for some transgression. Dad’s wisdom was “if you wind up in jail, don’t call me to bail you out, but you’re still my son”.

Now, mom may have deemed it necessary to beat you within an inch of your life at the time but she still loved you and supported you no matter what…to give you a few bucks to help you pay rent. To send a box of food from home on a holiday when you are thousands of miles away. To give you a place to stay to get back on your feet and so many other things.

The list becomes endless over the years, but most of all, they were that lifeline to talk you in off the ledge when life seemed hopeless, or to be your biggest cheerleader to listen at the moments you feel most proud of your accomplishments.  You knew they would be as proud or even prouder than you are. Then all of a sudden your cheerleaders have suddenly left the game…and are not coming back. You wonder who will ever care as much as they did. And the honest truth is, probably no one.

Now, when I was young I thought I was a being a good son to call home once a month, not counting holidays, so it was not unusual to build up a list of stuff to talk to mom about, and check the weather back in Ohio so I had something to talk to dad about…he was not a big conversationalist until he got older. So when they first died I can’t even count the number of times I would think “I need to call mom and dad to tell them…” and remember half way through my thought that they were not there to call anymore. That is a very lonely feeling.

The void that is created when they die is like a massive black hole…emotions and feelings get sucked right in and you can feel alone even with all your family, friends and loved ones still around you. It feels like nothing you do matters much anymore, that the forces that have always mattered the most and served as your compass through life are gone.

The compass needle starts swinging wildly (can’t help the compass metaphors, I was an Eagle Scout, Cavalry Scout, mountaineer and sailor, I like knowing where I am!). You aren’t sure if North still points North and even if it does, what direction should I go now?

It gradually dawned on me that “I have become the senior adult orphan of 5 other adult orphans.” I am the next one “in line” to die in my family if the rules of life were fair. They aren’t fair of course, and I actually hope that I am the next one up and that myself and all of my brothers and sisters have long and happy lives.

That is how life should play out.  I’m really not one to get lost too deeply in an existential crisis, and the irony of my choice to write all this is not lost, I just hope to show that I stared this situation in the eye for a while and managed to climb over it as we all must, and do eventually. Your needs and your path will differ from mine, but it is a path we must all travel. Your route and mileage may vary.

At some point you have to do what every child has always had to do…go on living.  You think back to how your parents reacted when their parents died (although I never knew my mother’s mom) and what they did.  So you go on being the wise one for your children, giving meaning to your life by providing and sharing things that are important to you.

I do know that when your parents die you become part of “the club”. It’s not a club you want to be a part of, but eventually you will. It’s a club where you hopefully try to take care of the other club members a little more, even though your own loss, at times, can be as painful as it ever was. It’s a club where when a conversation comes up concerning parents passing away, members cast a knowing glance to other members without a need to explain.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to not let myself forget the stories that are important to me as well as to prompt other family to create their own stories. As the years pass it becomes harder to recall all the memories of them. The stories begin to fade a little more every year.

I scour the internet looking for stories, documents and connections to previous family members that all have stories to continue telling  I don’t want them to be forgotten, and I want to create new stories, a record, that can be passed down so grand children don’t have to wonder what tragedy and suffering as well as joy great great grandmaw experienced building her big family.

I want future family to know that great grandad didn’t just serve his country from this year to that year…that there are many stories showing he was tough and brave, a hero in every sense of the word, not only the school bus driver and janitor that some know him as.

Hopefully you can get to the point, as I feel I have, where you can remember the good stuff and laugh at the bad stuff.  Maybe you’ll write stories like I do, where you see holidays, birthdays or other milestones as a chance to remember and celebrate their part in your life. Or maybe you’ll be able to sit around with your friends and family telling the stories, laughing about how crazy it used to be without the stabs of pain.

I take after my father in the sense of being the strong, tough, silent, self-reliant type, not the kind of guy that plasters good thoughts of the day all over Facebook.  But I am rather sentimental.  I try to bring meaning by helping my friends and family when they need it or when they can just use a hand. By sharing the things I have found value in, whether it is discovering family stories, building or making things, fostering adventure in the mountains, sailing or simply sharing a good bottle of whiskey.

I try by remembering and telling the stories of my family, if for no other reason than some person down the line may be like me, looking at names and wondering “who were those people, what were they like?”

While I am not ready to hand the reins over to the next-in-line senior orphan yet, I have seen and done things I could never imagine as a young boy growing up in a tiny mid-western town named West Carrollton. I’m not done yet, I hope I have a few more good chapters to write.  To quote Jimmy Buffet (there’s a Jimmy quote for everything), “Some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic, but I’ve had a good life all the way…” You do the same.

One of those, three of these, please…

I know most of my brothers and sisters and older cousins can relate to the activities in this story, because we did them together many times back in the 60’s and early 70’s.  Like many things from our past, I’m afraid this experience is all but gone now. I’m talking about that classic kid activity: Going to the corner store for Penny Candy.

Penny candy galore!

This is my recollection of something that went on constantly over 50 years ago…your mileage may vary.  Please let me know in the comments what you remember.

First of all, you would be hard pressed to find anything for sale for a penny these days. In fact, a penny even costs more than a penny to make. It costs the U.S. Mint 1.55 cents per penny in 2016, even though all pennies since 1982 only have 2.5 percent copper, the rest being zinc.  That means that the U.S. government loses around $50 million a year making a coin that many people just toss in a jar or that is absorbed by their couch.

The poor penny is just not worth the trouble any more. Now, you might get lucky and find a 1943 1c Lincoln penny worth $5,450.00. Wouldn’t that be sweet (see what I did there?). I shudder to think how many collectible, high-value pennies and coins we mindlessly tossed on the counter for our sugar highs.

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Poor penny

Wait a minute you say, I saw an item on eBay or Amazon that only costs a penny. Sure you did…was it Amazon Prime, with free shipping?  Nope. Not at that price. That one penny item will cost you $5.01 with shipping. Such a deal.

Even when a penny was worth something you still needed to get those pennies into your hot little hand. So, if you wanted to get some penny candy the first thing you needed to do was conjure up some cold hard cash.

Need to make some cash quick!

We were basically slave labor as children at my parent’s house.  We didn’t get an allowance no matter how many chores we did.

We worked hard…but saw no cash!

Mow the lawn, trim the hedges, rake the leaves, wash the dishes, hoe the garden, clean the garage, weed the flower beds, watch your brothers and sisters… (mom) “You want an allowance?  Your allowance is food in your belly and a warm place to sleep, now get back to work!”.

So fund raising was key. And you had to be crafty. You couldn’t just beg from mom because she would ask “why do you need money?” Candy was not the right answer. We weren’t even allowed to go all the way to Ridges Carryout when we were young, even though we walked to school every day to Harry Russell elementary, which was right across the street from Ridges.

Made us walk all the way to school, but couldn’t cross the street to Ridges!. Also shows the bottle collection route down in Owl creek along Gibbons Rd

So still being stealthy, the first stop was to check all the furniture cushions. Everyone else had this idea as well, so it was not typically a big money maker. If you were really jonesing for a sugar fix, you might check out your brothers and sisters piggy banks, but these were usually well hidden or empty anyway.

There would be war if you got caught…

Not mentioning any names, but some of the clan may have stooped to pulling a Jesse James robbery by getting into the old metal cash box my parents kept in the back of their closet.

Weakest strongbox ever

This is where they “hid” (we all knew where it was) things like bonds, insurance forms, souvenir money from Germany, Italy, Vietnam, Korea and so on, along with my 2 dollar silver certificate papaw gave me and so on.

There was also a collection of dad’s blue coin collection folders for nickels, dimes and quarters. These folders were the kind that had a place for a coin for each year, so trying to not get caught you might just take one or two from each folder and other assorted loose change that included buffalo head nickels, wheat pennies, and other old coins.

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No bueno when too many coins were picked

The problem was that there were 6 kids, so 2 or 3 might have the same idea over time without thinking that others are doing it as well. The next time mom or dad looked into the cash box it might have been robbed blind. The end result was tanned hides for all, as no one ever fessed-up. Snitches may get stitches, but justice always prevails in the underworld of the sibling mafia.

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If no one speaks up, we all get a buff bustin’

The surest way to get your stake was to actually work for it and search the neighborhood for pop bottles. You could make 2 cents a bottle for returning them to the same place they came from…the stores selling the penny candy.  What a racket. It reminds me of the Hudson Bay Company, where they sold the trappers the flour, beans and other trade goods to live on, so they could bring back the furs and exchange them for flour, beans and trade goods to do it all over again.

Of course, every kid in the neighborhood was in on this secret and was doing the same thing…unless they were snotty rich kids whose parents simply gave them money or the poor, deprived, only-child that had no siblings to compete with. Does anyone even say only-child anymore?

Every kid had their own secret methods to track down bottles, kind of like the trapper had his trap-line.  You didn’t tell anyone your bottle route and if you ran across another kid on your line there might be a turf war over the bottles.

In those days you didn’t pull out a Glock or AK to fight, you just yelled or threw dirt clods at each other until someone gave in or their mother called them for dinner.  When I say called, there were no cell phones, they just yelled at the top of their lungs.  When’s the last time you thought of a dirt-clod fight?

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Dirt clod fight!

I liked walking the creek bed right along Gibbons road as it was on the way to Ridges.  People would drink their cold pop on the way back to their house, and finished up, huck them over into the creek so they didn’t have to carry the empty bottle any longer.

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I know there’s a bottle in here somewhere…

Some broke as they hit rocks in the creek bed, but bottles were thick and substantial back then as they were used over and over. Some would miss the rocks, hitting the water, mud or grass.

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Old school bottles…

If I didn’t have enough by the time I got to Ridges I would scour the dumpster or go into the neighborhood side streets, checking trashcans and other places where people leave trash.  Often down at the paper mill workers would leave a few empties behind where they had lunch.

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Two cents each please!

Depending on your mood…whether you just wanted a quick fix or a full bag of candy, it might take an hour or just a few minutes.  You might already have a start with a bit of birthday money or a quarter from papaw, or maybe you squirreled away some lunch money…who wanted to eat a deviled ham sandwich and succotash anyway?

So with your pocket jangling with coinage or your wagon rattling with bottles, you had to make it to your local penny candy emporium to redeem them.

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Money in the bank

Back in the days before corporate bean counters created “fun-size”, candy was very cheap…people actually handed out full size candy bars on Halloween. Every neighborhood or small town had a pharmacy, five-and-dime or small neighborhood market on the corner that sold penny candy.

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Where do I start?

We had a penny candy dealer staked out in every neighborhood, waiting for us like a corner drug pusher to show us their multi-flavored wares to give us that sugar rush we couldn’t live without.

Closest to our house in West Carrollton was Ridges Carryout, at the corner of Gibbons and Elm.  Today it is named Lynn’s but it is now a Trophy shop after several name changes over the years.

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Ridges as it looks today as Lynn’s Trophy Shop

This was a classic old wooden building that was raised up above the typical flood range of the creek along Gibbons road. The local creeks used to flood several times a summer back then. Sounds like they have fixed that with better engineering.

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I see on Google Maps that it has had a face lift with vinyl siding, and missing all the old metal signs (and charm). Probably sold them for a nice profit as they became rare and more valuable.

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I actually played on Ridges little league team for a year or two and after each game the team stopped in for some free candy and a coke.

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Playing left field, number 13! We beat Cox’s Army 6-2 and I got the game ball for 5 hits, including a double and 8 steals. Only game ball I ever received 🙂

You would walk up the wooden steps to the covered porch, past all the metal signs for Coca-Cola, 7-Up, RC Cola, beer and cigarettes and pull open the screen door, hopping inside before it snapped shut on your butt if you weren’t fast enough.

Once inside, it was like you had entered Willy Wonka’s factory, albeit on a much less grand scale and with a worn wooden floor that squeaked.  There you would gaze at the counter full of glass jars full of gumballs, jaw breakers and peppermint sticks.

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Too much good stuff!

There were wax root beer bottles, cherry lips and mustaches…

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candy cigarettes, Atomic Fireballs, Black Jack Taffy, Dum Dum suckers, Bull’s Eye caramel creams with that weird white creamy stuff in the middle, gum drops, taffy, Necco wafers,

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Typical goodies

Caramel cubes, root beer barrels, Smarties, Tootsie Rolls, Bottle Caps, Chuckles, various flavors of stick candy and the ever popular candy necklace…you just stretch it around your neck and chew a button off whenever you want, sticky neck be damned!

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Around, your neck, around your wrist…quick snack when you’re on the go

We had the usual spot figured out. If we wanted to range a little further afield from Ridge’s we might go to Reeds Drug Store or Bob’s Carryout.

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Good ole Bob

Bob was always super friendly but Reed’s had a “newer” more upscale vibe since it was a pharmacy, not like the old-school mom and pop stores with the humming and squeaking fan-belt refrigerators, old reach-in Coke coolers that you could barely see into and shelves crammed so full the aisles felt like canyons.

Find yourself over at Mamaw and Papaw’s house on Miami Chapel in West Dayton?  There was The Moraine Market, caddy-corner to Delco Moraine and across from George’s barbershop.

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Papaw Profitt on the porch of his old place with the Moraine Market over his shoulder

This was one of the first local markets to close down, I don’t remember going here as much as the other places.

Going to Miami Shores to visit Aunt Jean and Uncle Jim?  Before they rebuilt the Sellars Rd bridge, our favorite place for candy was the Tradin Post

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My favorite of all time…

You had to make a quick dog leg to the right as you came over the Shores bridge on Sellars Rd. The Benson’s house was right around the corner to the left.

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Showing where the old dog leg road and the Tradin Post used to be.

When the new bridge came in they expanded the road on both sides and renamed Sellars Rd Main Street.

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New bridge going in, old bridge on the right.

It was a sad day for everyone when the Tradin Post was torn down to make room for all the construction.

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Where the Tradin Post used to be

But we are talking candy so we easily switched our allegiances to the store down the road a block, called the Family Market.

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One of the versions of the Family Market

Today, after a tear down and rebuild, and a remodel or two, it’s called K&R Supermarket.

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K & R today

In between was also Buck’s, who moved here after Woody’s success chased him away from West Carrollton.  I don’t remember going here very much either.

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Where Buck’s Market used to be

If we were over at Aunt Janice and Uncle Ronnie’s when they lived on Orange Ave? We had to hoof it 3 blocks or so over on South Dixie to Speaks Market.

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Sneaking off to Speaks Market when the Crider’s lived on Orange

The hardest part of the whole process, and the most fun, was choosing what candy you wanted in your sack.  So many choices. You had to balance quantity and quality for the change in your pocket.  You might get several items for a penny, like simple hard candies, or 1 item might cost 2 or 3 cents, like chocolates.

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One of those, 3 of these, please…

I can only imagine how much patience it took being a clerk waiting for a group of 6-8 year olds to get done picking candy.

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Picky, picky, picky

But no matter what, you could fill a small paper sack for a quarter.

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Can I get 3 more Pixie sticks?

Decisions made, we would all go running out to play with our cousins and ruin our appetites for supper.  If we were at the Tradin’ Post we might grab some cardboard from the back and go up on the levee to sled down the dry grass to the river bank.

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High speed down the levee…no helmets back in the day

I remember sliding down and having a piece of broken glass slice through my cardboard like it was a devilish set-up to kill James Bond…the glass slicing closer and closer to the family jewels until I rolled off. I was careful to clear my slide path after that.

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Watch out for glass!

Where ever we were, high on sugar, we would run wild with our many cousins around whatever neighborhood we were in, playing tag, red rover or 4 square, chasing firebugs, climbing trees or playing hide and seek well after the street lights came on.

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Favorite summer activity, collecting firebugs

As the penny’s purchasing power was reduced to nothing, a lot of the mom-and-pop stores also disappeared as they were run out of business by the big chain grocery stores like Kroger super stores, Cub’s and Mega this and that.  Penny candy just seemed to fade away, tucked away in our dusty memory banks as we grew older.

Not for a penny and just not the same

In researching this story, I do see that there are candy companies selling bulk bags of old-fashioned taffies, wax-coated root beer bottles, Smarties and Dum Dum suckers. Can you buy any of this retro candy for a penny?  Nope. Even if you buy in bulk you need to bust out the nickels, dimes and quarters for each piece. Plus shipping.

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Not for a penny anymore!

But if you ask me, the most important thing missing today is the experience of running into that corner store a sweaty mess with grass stained bare feet, with a handful of pennies, looking at all the incredible choices and picking exactly what your pleasure was for that exact moment in time.

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As you recited each item you wanted with meticulous care and laid that sweaty money on the counter for the clerk to count out, you felt like a million bucks, all for a few pennies.

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