The sharp smell of ketchup still burns in my nostrils when I see this. It used to be a service counter for snacks sold in John Hay. The hotdogs came pouring out of those three windows to the right and with them red plastic cups with the words Coca Cola printed on them. Coke wasn’t bad yet, in fact it was at its heyday with people audibly going “aaaahh” after each deep sip.
There used to be tables set up in the nearby patio where families could sit, eat and tell stories. Each bite was followed by a laugh or a tiny glint of concern over children who had been set loose to play. The swings and slides and sandboxes seemed big enough for all of us who came to share it. There were glances offered by those like me who always marveled at the other kids who could make the swings go highest or those who could slide without a care in the world. We would while away the time just playing and feeling at best weightless and free.
Then there was the ice cream twenty flavors too much at least by my count. I only had ten fingers and could barely reach the counter enough to see the bucketfuls of creamy goodness–this was the only reason I liked milk. Otherwise I was loath to drink it despite attempts (threats, really) from dad to convert my palate. Bless him for being so patient as to sit with me after dinner with half a glass of milk and sweet words to affect compliance that later turned sour because I was maddeningly stubborn. But ice cream was manna from kiddy heaven which was never turned down and that was the only rule concerning milk.
But going back, this place was really pure magic. If you can look past the cars, motorcycles, cabinets and broken glass, past the graffiti on the walls and deep enough into the sparse remnants of wallpaper (as seen above) and hedges protected by wooden crisscross frames, then you’ll see straight into my childhood. You’ll catch me in Oshkosh overalls smelling faintly of the last hours horse. I’ll have stained my shirt in chocolate or whatever flavor seemed pretty enough to eat. My mother would have laughed or smiled widely at this terrible mess I’d made and my father would have stared quietly, half-happy and curious as to how he could have such a young runt after six childless years. The swings and things we played on would have creaked echoing our laughter.
Usually, it was a sharp chill and the fall of the sun that would send us home. The cold would make my cheeks red but never reach my bones. Too much sunshine packed in ’em bones to keep warm, I guess. I could’ve lit villages with that heat and all the happiness would have powered rockets straight to the moon.