The Vanilla Kid
During the 1940s there was a shoreline area in Rockland called the "Jungle." The jungle stretched from in back of the former Hotel Rockland all the way to where Park Place and Winter Street met.
The jungle was the place for the homeless, a place for where liquor was consumed without the threat of being arrested, and a place for those people who just wanted to get lost from the reasons of their own. It had tar paper shacks, wooden lean teepees, fireplaces made from brick limestone, stumps for sitting and small congregations. The jungle had two entrances. One, near the rear of the Hotel Rockland, which was on the corner of Park Place and Main Streets There were tales in those days that people would go into the jungle and some were never seen again. It was taboo for children.
But, the jungle had another side to it, a place for prominent Rockland citizens to escape, have an alcohol drink, and mingle with the other popular friends. One of Rockland's popular dentists made a good living by providing on-the-spot service. Another, a attorney was a regular visitor. A far as the local law enforcement agencies, the jungle did not exist.
At each entrance there was a volunteer watch person who sort gave or not gave permission to enter. Economy's Fruit Store catered to many jungle residents. Many would visit the store on a daily basis. A newspaper, cigars and cigarettes, antacids, and course beer and ale.
During my first two years of being employed at Economy's, I got to know the "jungle people." They were to call me "kid." Economy's Store was a place where messages were sent or delivered for jungle customers. I was one of a few youngsters who had permission to visit the jungle for important messages from family, friends, business associates. I remember on one occasion, the local judge called the store in seeking an attorney for a court case that was in the jungle. It was worth fifty cents, [two bits] to find him. I got on my bike and heading down the hill toward the jungle entrance, stopped and asked the "guardian" if he knew where the attorney was and he nodded his head and pointed in one direction.
I found the attorney and he was sound asleep. Upon waking him and informing the judge wanted to see him, he immediately straightened his neck tie, brushed off the dust on his coat, reached in his pocket and gave me a quarter and said "sorry that's all I've got." On my 12th birthday, I was working in the store after school. When my step-brother, Christy Demerit came into the store with a big smile on his face. I said to myself, "now what."
He gave me a hug and said, "happy birthday, I got a nice present for you."
With surprise, I looked around him and said "what?" He said "come with me and I'll show you." He grabbed my arm and we went out the front door of the store and walked up a few doors to Compton’s store. Once in Compton’s store. the owner, Bud Compton, saw us coming and headed to the rear of his store.
The next thing I saw, Bud was bringing out a brand new Schwinn bicycle. Christy said, "happy birthday, it's yours." I was so overwhelmed, there was a brand new Schwinn bike, red and cream color, headlight, front carrier, rear light, side carriers, bell on the handle bar. It was my first new bike!
Christy said I would have to wait until spring before I could use it. You can imagine, how excited I was. But I didn't know why Christy was so kind to me until a couple of months later. Around the first of May, I noticed a sign on the store's counter stating on the first Sunday of June, Economy's would be introducing a Sunday delivery service to our jungle customers. "Please sign up for the items you want delivered." Well, you can guess who was going to be the delivery boy. When I asked Christy about the sign, he said "why do you think I got that new bike for you and besides it will give you the opportunity to make extra money on the tips you will be receiving."
Sundays in the '40s you could not buy any alcohol beverages, except small bottles of vanilla and cooking wine. Christy had it all planned for me. I could carry two cases of vanilla in my front carrier. Three bottles of Virginia dare cooking wine in each side carrier. He had my mother make me a jacket that had inside and outside pockets for holding packages of cigars, aspirin, antacids, and other incidentals. Around my shoulder, I would have my newspaper carrier that would hold copies off the Sunday Telegram.
On my first Sunday delivery, I had about 15 customers. Upon entering the jungle, it would take three trips, I was told to ring my bike bell giving notice who I was. Then the "guardian" yelled, "the Vanilla Kid is coming...the Vanilla Kid is coming!" I had a pre-planned plan delivery map of the area, so, I sort of knew where to find my customers. My first delivery service was quite successful, I sold all of the vanilla and cooking wine, and made $5 in tips.
The second Sunday, I needed to make two trips to the jungle as my delivery service started to become popular to the jungle residents and so did my tips increase. I thought to myself, "Christy didn't have a bad idea after all."
The third Sunday, my customer base increased that a third trip was needed and my tips had doubled. The fourth Sunday, again my customers had grown to the point where a fourth trip was needed. I started to like my name "the Vanilla Kid" and the money I was making. Word had gotten around the corner of Park and Main streets about the Economy's Sunday Jungle delivery service. Enough so, that other merchants in the city selling the same items as Economy's started to complain to city officials. One day after the fourth delivery week, the police chief came into the store with a copy of a official document to end the part of the delivery service that included vanilla and cooking wine because I was too young to handle alcohol products. Christy decided without the sale of vanilla and cooking wine, it would not be profitable to continue the service.
So, the days of the vanilla kid had come to an end. That was the bad news. The good news was that I still had a new bike which I rode with pride. Years later whenever I heard someone riding a bike and ringing a bell, in my mind I could hear the jungle guardian yelling "Here comes the Vanilla Kid, here comes the Vanilla Kid."
The jungle, which was so secret of a place to many rockland citizens, came to end during the Great Rockland Fire of the corner of Main and Park streets on Dec. 8, 1952. But the many good memories I have of growing up in Rockland is that summer of 1947 for a few short weeks I became the Vanilla Kid.