Bobby and I and Hen House Helen played with the latest batch of kittens their mother cat had. That Kell cat had more darned babies than any other animal I knew of, including Mister Nelson's rabbits. Bobby tied a button to the end of a piece of string and dragged it along the concrete driveway. The kittens chased after that button like crazy. In no time at all, the kittens tired of chasing the button and returned to the garage. They wanted to play among themselves.
"Let's go to the Old Grove and smoke a ciggy butt," suggested Bobby.
“Can I go,” pleaded Hen House.
“No, you can’t,” said her brother.
There really was not much else for us to do. "Should we ride our bikes?"
"Nah, let's walk."
"You got matches? The last time we went, we forgot matches."
"Got something better." Bobby reached into his jacket pocket and showed me a chrome Zippo cigarette lighter. With a flick of his thumb, he clicked open the lighter's cover.
"Where'd you get that?"
Kreutzer Brothers was a second hand store on our side of the river where I bought a neat radio for five bucks. "Get that thing out of the house," yelled Mother. "It stinks." I have to admit the radio did smell like the Kruetzer Brothers' store. Which kind of smelled like Grand Rapids town dump. Things were stacked on other things. Against the wall, numerous things were stacked so high that they nearly reached the high ceiling. And if you saw something you wanted to look at, you couldn’t just pull it out. You had to ask a Kreutzer to do so. If you didn't, the entire store’s stock might fall in one big whoosh.
Even the Kruetzer girls in my school wore the store's aroma.
"How much was it?"
“Where’d you get the cash?”
“I got the money by loading the widow’s stoker and carrying out clinkers." Bobby twirled the wheel with a flick of his thumb. At once, the lighter sparked and a flame appeared.
"Wow, that's neat."
"Even this strong wind can't put it out."
"That's why soldiers in the war really liked Zippos," I said. I just said that. Nobody told me that nor did I read that. I made it up.
He closed the cover and then opened it again and sparked a new flame.
Soon, we passed by Turbin's Grocery and the Turbin house next door. Next was the Polansky home and next to that was where Haertel, the Banker, lived. His wife had a bad heart. I think she was more lazy than being sick. At least, that’s what Father told Mother.
On the end of the block was Tenth Street that met with Baker. That corner is where Sandy and Johnny Farish lived. We stopped and faced north. There was plenty of traffic on Baker Street. Which was usual. "Go," Bobby yelled a moment before we ran across.
The house across from Sandy and Johnny’s was owned by Candy Man and his wife. They didn't have any kids.
"A candy salesman without kids is like a cow without milk," Bob Martin, half owner of Peter's Grocery told us. My friends and I agreed. Even Dork and Crazy Annie had to admit what Bob said was likely true.
Candy Man owned an old green Dodge delivery truck. Every afternoon, he parked the truck outdoors and locked its singular rear door. We had seen its contents plenty of times and knew it was packed with Babe Ruths, Snickers, Butterfingers, Hershey bars, Almond Joys, Buns, Bit-O'-Honeys, Candy cigarettes, Chuckles, Dots, Candy Buttons on paper, Jujubes, Junior Mints, Good and Plenty's, Mallo Cups, Salted Nut Rolls, Snaps, Sugar Babies, Tootsie Pops and plenty of penny candy pieces.
His truck was filled with what heaven's portion set off just for kids who died might be like.
Jimmy, Bobby's older brother, told us Candy Man used a Master padlock to lock up his treasure. So, we started collecting Master lock keys. Bought most of them at Kruetzer Brothers, two for a nickel. When we tried them at night, not a one worked. Then we bought every other kind of key. They didn’t work either.
As we walked by Candy Man's backyard, we spied the fruit trees. "There's still plenty left," said Bobby almost in a whisper.
I nodded. We'd already relieved those trees of apples and pears—of course after it turned dark. Thankfully, Candy Man didn't pay much attention to those trees at night. And since he didn't own a dog, it was a cinch to help ourselves to those autumn offerings.
We knew we were stealing, but "kyping" apples was a venial sin, not a mortal one, according to Sister Mary Lawrence. Saint Peter would still let us pass through the pearly gates even though we stole apples and pears from Candy Man’s trees. That was a relief.
"By the looks of him, I'll betcha Candy Man eats plenty of his own candy," I said.
Bobby laughed. "His belly's as big as a hippopotamus's." Bobby then imitated Candy Man's waddle, similar to how a pregnant woman leans backward, holds on to her hips, and wobbles months before her baby arrives.
"What kind of smokes do we have?"
"What do you mean, ‘Yuck’? Those are the kind my dad smokes."
"The last time they were so old that one puff was just about it. They burned so fast, they darned near burned my nose."
"Don't worry. I put a new pack under a pile of leaves in the old power building. I took it from a carton that my dad had bought Monday at the A&P."
"They oughta be okay, then."
We crossed the next street. The corner house was where Jimmy Lokken and his older brother, Bill, lived. Across from them was Roger Aton's house. His older brother, Harold, sometimes gave us younger kids a hard time. He was not very nice. Jimmy Lokken and Roger Aton were my classmates at Howe School Annex, where the old library used to be.
Although we were Catholic, Father wouldn't let us attend Catholic school during regular school time. That's why we had to attend Catholic school on Saturdays. Added to spoiling our two day weekends, we wasted couple of weeks during our summer vacation attending Catholic summer school.
The Kells attended Saints Peter and Paul Catholic grade school. Kids I went to school with called SS. Peter and Paul students "Cat lickers." So, too, did I. Which was kind of funny, really. I was a cat licker, too.