Memories from Economy's Fruit Store
When I was 10 years old, World War II was coming to a end. VE day on May 8, VJ day on Sept. 5.
I had three older bothers who were in service. Brother Richard was in the U.S. Army, brother James in the in the U.S. Navy, and brother Christy in the U.S. Marines. Christy who was named manager of our family store by my mother, was the last brother to enlist in March 1943. My mother agreed to his enlistment, providing he could find someone to manage the store until the war's end. A friend of his, Earl Cook, who was exempt from serving in the military service because of a physical disability, agreed to become manager. At 10 years old, Earl thought is was OK for me to help him in the store, after schools, vacations etc. or whenever I wanted to, seeing I was not paid for my work, it was a "family obligation."
Earl decided, my first function of duty at the store was to help operate the soda fountain. He got a wooden box that I could stand on, so I could reach the soda fountain control knobs. Then he taught me how to mix syrup, dip ice cream cones, mix soft drinks, like Cherry Coke etc., make sundaes, milkshakes, frappes, plus all the duties that a soda fountain could provide. After a few weeks of training, I became Rockland's youngest soda jerk. My mother made me a special apron that I wore with pride. I was allowed to serve regular customers as well as new ones, especially my friends who thought it was great to get a little "fountain extra" from yours truly.
My soda fountain training taught me on how to use the cash register, make change, add and subtract in my own mind, how to smile and the customer was always right. Soon after, Earl allowed me to do other duties in the store. Stack shelves, pile fruit, fill the beer and soda coolers, sweep the floor, wash windows, straighten the magazine and newspaper rack, make sure the cigar case was in order. And finally I could wait on other customers in the store when I was not busy tending the soda fountain. During slow periods I read magazines and newspapers. The store had a radio, and on Aug. 6, I heard the end of WW II by the surrender of Japan. That meant the ending of food rationing and the store would have more variety of products to sell. And best of all it meant my three older brothers would soon be coming home.
The fall of 1945, was my first World Series experience. The store's radio was broadcasting the World Series games between the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers. While the games were on, it seems most of the customers wanted to know the score. Earl encouraged me to listen so I could convey the score when asked. I would get so caught up in the games, sometimes I would forget to wait on customers until I heard Earl's friendly whistle.
When Christmas of 1945 came, the store had more food items to sell. The soda fountain had more than the standard four ice creams, and real ice-cream bars and sandwiches, Dixie cups, cream, fudge, Popsicles, Real Lemon blend, Coca Cola, Heresy’s chocolate syrup, Hire's root beer, Pepsi-Cola, Orange Crush and more. Earl had a full compliment of cigarettes like Lucky Strikes, Chesterfields, Camels, Pall Mall, Old Gold, Kools, and White Owl. King Edward, El Producto cigars. And talk about candies, along with our local St. Clair and Allen candy products, we had Schrafts Chocolates and chocolate covered cherries. I learned to make my first Christmas baskets that year with fruits, candy, and nuts.
Christmas 1945 had another special meaning, my brother James was the first brother to come home from the war. It was my best Christmas present.