It made me remember those places that I loved as a child and have now lost. I have heard several people talking about their memories of this ice cream, this or that person who owned it or worked there, Scott and Linda (you know who you are) kissing at the end of the check-out line.
I had just such a place when I lived in Miller Beach, Indiana, when I was eight years old. It was called Tuttle & Sons Grocery. I passed it on my way home every day from school when I was in 2nd grade. Mr. Tuttle was a very kind man who ran his store with great care for the community and great affection for the children.
In fact, Mr. Tuttle gave me my first “job” when I was eight. On Saturdays, I would give a “demonstration” on how to peel oranges in one piece. My grandfather, you see, was the owner and manager of orange groves in central Florida. Papa had told me “it takes a man to peel an orange in one long strand.” I learned the skill, after much practice, by the time I was five.
So, at the age of eight, I was in Indiana where “Hoosiers” had no such “expertise.” I found that such noble skills could fetch attention and payment that was worth far more than simple money.
One of my 2nd grade school chums was Jerry Kennedy. He was a bright kid that was happy and smarter than the average bear. I went to his house one Saturday morning to pick him up for baseball that we played every Saturday in the park. Jerry—and all my friends—lived in a government housing project. For all practical purposes, so did I by actually lived in an apartment in the back of a church across the street from the project.
When I knocked on the Kennedy’s door, Mr. Kennedy answered. He was a tall, good-looking, African-American man of noble features and manners. He greeted me warmly and told me that Jerry would be ready in a moment and he invited me inside. He offered me something to drink and I told him that I was not thirsty. He opened the refrigerator door which—beautifully, wondrously—was lined with ice-cold Dr. Pepper.
I changed my mind. He served up the nectar of the gods but apologized for having “no Moon Pies.” It was an old joke, maybe insult, that African-Americans loved “Dr. Pepper and a Moon Pie.” He made a joke to me at his own expense to which I replied, “Umm, I don’t really like Moon Pies, anyway.” He smiled at me and said, “No? Neither do I.” A joke made a bond of understanding between this young white boy and this wise man of color. I understood, even at eight, that universal descriptors are almost always wrong.
He asked me about life in Florida and the oranges that my grandfather grew until Jerry came downstairs and off we went for our Saturday baseball game.
The next week, I stopped into Mr. Tuttle’s grocery store where Mr. Kennedy worked as the produce manager. He showed me the fresh bags of oranges that had arrived and asked me if I knew how to peel an orange. Did I know? I was an EXPERT. I told him that “it takes a real man to peel an orange in one strand.” He gave me a knife and said, “Show me.” Sure enough, I peeled that Valencia orange in one strand. He told me to wait there. I sat on a table with my legs swinging.
In just a minute or two, Mr. Kennedy brought Mr. Tuttle, the owner, back to where I was sitting. Mr. Kennedy had me retell my story to Mr. Tuttle, who then handed me the knife and an orange (I was happy to oblige because I got to eat both oranges).
I peeled the orange and Mr. Tuttle looked at Mr. Kennedy and said, “Well. I guess we’re not real men, after all.” I told them how to make a juice cup from an orange by peeling half of the orange, cutting a drinking hole in the top, squeezing the orange just right to bring the juice to the surface of the hole and drinking it out of the orange itself.
Mr. Tuttle crowed, “By God, boy! I want you to show that to our customers!” It was my first job. Mr. Tuttle got the consent of the parents and I would give “demonstrations” in his store every Saturday for that month.
The next Saturday, I got to the store by 11 a.m. to show Tuttle’s customers how to make the juice cup and how to peel the orange without lifting the knife. They put a green apron on me and stood me on a crate. I was a star.
At noon, we took lunch in the back room and I got to have free Dr. Pepper with a sandwich. In fact, Mr. Tuttle said that he couldn’t outright pay me but I could come by the store every Friday after school for a free Dr. Pepper and a Twinkie. Are you kidding me??? Who needs money when your life’s desire is offered in exchange for peeling oranges?
For several weeks, Mr. Tuttle and Mr. Kennedy would keep trying to peel the oranges, usually with them concluding "I guess I'll never be a real man."
The month ended and the oranges were gone. There was no need to stop by Mr. Tuttle’s on Friday afternoon, I thought. But one day, Mr. Tuttle saw me walking by and asked why I wasn’t coming by for the soda and snack anymore. The demonstrations were over, I told him. He had already paid me. “No, no,” he said. “I told you to come by every Friday. Navel orange season is coming soon and we can do it again. A deal is a deal. Keep coming for your pay.”
He explained to me that what he paid me was really worth about 12 cents. But every week he was selling out of those big bags of oranges. He said that I was a big part of those sales. “If by paying you 12 cents per week I can increase my orange sales by $20 per week, don’t you think that is worth it to me?”
One day, on my way home from school, I stopped by and Mr. Kennedy saw me said, "Hey, Travis! I'm a man today!" It gathered strange looks from unknowing customers but laughs from those who were there for the demonstrations.
I loved my Saturdays at Tuttle & Sons Grocery.
When we moved away from Miller Beach, I stopped by to say farewell to Mr. Tuttle and Mr. Kennedy. These two kind and generous gentlemen got "wet around the eyes" and Mr. Tuttle said, "Well, I guess you will never see me become a man."
When I heard about the Indianhead building being torn down and heard people’s stories of it, I went to Google Earth and looked for Mr. Tuttle’s grocery store. Because of the “street view” available from Google Earth, I could virtually walk from my old front door, turn east on 4th Street and head to the corner on Lake Avenue where the store had stood. It was gone.