What do you see out of your window today?


Our world was holding its breath in 1940. We were recuperating from the effects of the Depression and now we were hoping the rumblings of war would only be as distant thunder on a summer day. It was a golden bit of time in southwest Florida. Life was slow and peaceful. There were no malls, no brightly lit strips, no urban sprawl. There was, in Sarasota, the area called Five Points, the hub of the small town where people shopped and enjoyed the movie theatre with its banner which boasted Air Cooled. We later suspected this to be accomplished by a fan aimed at a cake of ice. The boys hung around the corner drugstore, waiting - not for drugs - but for a girl they knew they could tease and who might join the crowd for a milkshake or coke. The milkshake would be thick and delicious, the remainder bestowed upon the customer in the metal container in which it was blended-cool and so generous one could share easily. Down at The Smack, the local drive-in, after school drop-ins played the juke box and sipped cherry cokes while girls on roller skates took food orders from occupants of cars, fitting metal trays to the open car windows. There were conveniences we don’t enjoy today. Passenger trains went up into Maine and down into Florida, the Seaboard Railway pulling right into Sarasota. I had a berth overnight on the pullman car when I returned home from college in Richmond, Virginia, and it was always a thrill to wake early in the morning to see the first glimpse of orange trees. We enjoyed Lido Beach Casino on the Gulf of Mexico, and of course the miles of beaches on Siesta Key were beautiful and accessible. A bike ride to a little smoked fish shanty provided a hungry cyclist with a smoked mullet to enjoy in quiet reverie all alone on a vast beach with the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the sandpipers for company. This was my life just before the Second World War - just before everything changed, maybe not big changes right away, but many small changes which grew larger and gradually chipped away at that idyllic cocoon in which we lived. Longboat Key, today a string of condos and resorts, was then virtually a long empty stretch of road with beach and water on either side. We would drive to the end of the key with a portable record player and dance on the hard sand, our steps moving faster to escape the hungry mosquitos. Finally, dashing to the car, we rolled windows frantically to shut out the buzzing pests. McKinlay Kantor, the fine Civil War writer, lived with his family on Longboat Key and it seemed theirs was the only house on that long, lonely stretch. I was friendly with his daughter, Layne Kantor. Sarasota boasted many interesting residents: writers, artists and of course the colorful circus people from Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. I attended Sarasota High School and one of my best friends was Jane Ingalls, whose mother was a snake charmer, whose father was manager of the side show. Many afternoons we were picked up after school by a carful of happy circus people. These were the midgets who came to be our friends. The car was driven by a driver of normal size and he would invariably stop in town to talk to one of the giants who would bend double over our car to laugh and joke with the occupants. Eventually we would be taken to the circus grounds for the afternoon rehearsal. What a treat that was! There weren’t many of us on the bleachers and all the performers would say a few words to us. How special we felt! In school there were interesting classroom characters. If we had a cold spell, one young man would regularly fall asleep. The reason - he worked all night in the orange groves keeping thesmudge pots going to protect the fruit. Across from Jane Ingalls sat Bob Lopshire. He listened to the teacher, but at the same time he was sketching cartoon-like characters, clever illustrations to make us all laugh. He was so talented and so good natured. Even the teacher found it difficult to rebuke him. Years later, when I was working in our local library in Madison, Connecticut, a children’s book caught my attention. It was written by Jane Ingalls and illustrated by her husband, Bob Lopshire. I began to discover more beginning reading books by this team and wished we had not lost touch over the years. Another friend of mine in those days was Teddy Hamlin, a girl who represented a way of life completely different from mine and which, therefore, proved quite irresistible. Her father was V. T. Hamlin the author of the comic strip, Alley Oop. Teddy and her mother often modeled for Oola and other characters in the strip. They lived in what seemed to me to be a palatial home where Teddy had a beautiful room with a balcony. What fun and adventure when I was allowed to stay overnight with Teddy. She had a huge wardrobe of nightgowns, each lovelier than the last, and as we tried them on we could hear the alligators roaring in the ponds below. At least Teddy said the noise I heard was made by alligators. Her parents were often away, but Charles was there, a combination chauffeur and butler. We did amazing things on the spur of the moment, getting up in the middle of the night to make creatively huge sandwiches, washing them down with Coca Cola. In my household, such departure from routine and the proper nutrition was considered decidedly unhealthy. Teddy, however, was a free spirit and I loved it. She was voted beauty queen for the homecoming week at school and I was in her court. Our float adorned the football field at half-time on a day when the Sarasota Sailors gave their all. After an afternoon rainstorm we often experienced what I called a technicolor evening. The colors of the bougainvillea, hibiscus, palms and grass seemed intensified. On just such a late afternoon Teddy often wandered the few blocks over to my house, dreamily brushing her long lustrous red hair with one hand and sipping an iced tea with the other. How unconventional! How ideal! I still have the little silver heart given to me by Teddy when we graduated from high school with the words, Love, Teddy engraved on the back. Don’t you hate stories which appear to have no connection to the title? Well here’s that connection: When I think of those halcyon days I also think of my ride home from school in the school bus. Because I wore glasses, I was sometimes teased, and at twelve and thirteen that hurt. At my door, however, I forgot it all because a treat was in store. I could go to my room, turn on the radio, and be just in time to hear Ma Perkins followed by The Romance of Helen Trent. The acting was good, the stories improbable but delightful, and sometimes mother would have made a chocolate cake. My mother was very proud of her cooking, and if the cake was a bit heavy, and not up to her standards, she didn’t mind if it was cut into before dinner as an after school snack. I’d say, But I like it that way, Mother. It’s radio cake. And I’d eat a piece as I listened to Ma Perkins and Helen Trent. One Sunday afternoon mother was preparing dinner, my father was working in the yard, Grandma was doing her crossword puzzle, and I was on the phone, discussing boys with Teddy and using the Op language, a form of pig latin, so that adults wouldn’t understand. Suddenly Teddy broke in with, Pat, turn on your radio quick. The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. No radio cake was consumed that day.

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 Alley Oop,cherry cokes,Depression,jukebox,Lido Beach Casino,Pearl Harbor,Ringling Brothers,roller skate waitresses,snake charmer,Teddy Hamlin,The Smack,war
  Sarasota, Florida
Jun 18 2024


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