Monday, July 15, 2013

Candy Induced Childhood By: Karen Pilarski


A fellow writer was on social media discussing his upcoming article on my hometown of Bay View. When I started thinking about it, I realized it had a small town feel in the big city of Milwaukee. 

I moved to Bay View in third grade. I don't remember starting at Dover Elementary, but remember Mrs. Ritter gussying up after recess. 

Each day she would run the brush through her red coursed hair and apply mint scented lip gloss. My school chums lived near me and we could walk to and from houses. My childhood friend Tracey's mom would take us to school. 

Every morning "Video Killed The Radio Star" by the Buggles was played. We begged if she had any other song that could be played but she insisted on that song. From the year we were born, 1979.

When people think of their parents as youths it is often thought as malt shops, candy stores and flipped hair. Strangely enough I was exposed to similar experiences. Down the street was Gull Pharmacy.

Gull was a  poor man's version of Walgreen's. Penny candies and fun cheap toys that would break after one use.  The neighborhood kids would find any loose change and buy a bag full of of  Cry Babies, Atomic Fireballs, Candy Cigarettes and Laffy Taffies. I adored tart lollypops and Fun Dip packs. 

The Cry Babies were most fun as we tried to trick people into eating one of those sour candies. I didn't have flipped hair but my mom made me wear saddle shoes! On top of that, I had to polish them and the shoe polish sure was stinky!

In the summer my mom would haul out the bucket of ice cream and scoop out melted mounds of it. One of my siblings would run out on the porch and say "Ice cream, ice cream read all about it." This would cause the porch to shake as us kids would stampede to get at it. 

That silly chant was not just designated to ice cream. It was for any treat that would cause a commotion. 

From early morning until the street lights flashed on, kids were outside playing. No distractions other than Atari or Nintendo if it rained. Bay View had a rec center named Beulah Britton. We would play on the swings or buy Swedish Fish from the candy cart inside. If that was boring, a walk around the back alleys and railroad tracks would occur.

The Avalon Theater was a classic place to see a cheap movie. When I was a kid it was a buck to see a movie. I still laugh thinking about seeing "The Crying Game" with my friend Jenny. 

There was all these older folks thinking it was a good war movie. During the part when..the lady is… cough..exposed as a male, the older folks gasped. They all marched out in a hurry as Jenny and I howled with laughter. 

The Avalon had special effects props from older movies in a case. I wish the theater was still open. I fondly remember pelting my older sister's date with Nerds from behind them.

During June there was a church festival across the street from my house. Music shook the duplex until 11pm. It was amusing watching the drunks stumble and fall as they made their way home. 

The festival at the Tilt-A-Whirl which after a cherry snow cone became Tilt-A-Hurl.  When the festival was over, the lot was used for kickball and a game of horse.

My friend April (my brother's now ex-wife) lived across the street from us. My sister Rachel, April and I would make up dance routines and perform them for her mother. 

Bless her heart, she would patiently watch our geeky moves to Cyndi Lauper and Weird Al. Rachel and April would do splits and cartwheels. I never could do a cartwheel. I just 'supervised.' 

We disliked Anna, the show off in the blue house. She would go in front of her house and twirl her little baton. Often we would wish her to drop the stupid thing or fall on her butt as she twisted herself around. 

What do little kids do when green with envy? 

Compete and show off in the front yard as well. It was quite silly having a dance off. Ah, amused the elderly neighbors and the little ankle biters.

Speaking of elderly neighbors, we lived between the Cupertino brothers. We nicknamed them "Porch Men." 

They hated when a kid pressed a foot on their sacred lawn. They had pigeons and would teach them tricks. 

Amazingly enough the birds never pooped on our heads. We would hear clapping and see one of the Cupertino's toss around some robe type thing. The birds would circle around and go back into the bird cages. 

The bad thing about living by guys who spent much time on their porches was they would nark on us kids. I remember my dad becoming furious with me asking why I was making out with my boyfriend on the back porch. Gulp! In retaliation my friend and I jumped around on his lawn.

There were regular people who would ride their bikes or walk on our street. Oh and we had nicknames for them too. Cigarette lady notoriously bugged us for smokes. Yup, a preteen and this desperate woman was asking if I had a smoke.  

Then there was Gabby Hayes as my mom called her. She would just start yammering away. My mom became quite skilled at avoiding her by darting back in the house. 

I'm sure my childhood friends remember Mental Mike. It some scrubby guy on a bike that would cackle for no reason. We would scream at him "MENTAL MIKE!!!" He would do his evil laugh and pedal off. 

Sometimes the graffiti car would whiz by us. It was covered in papers and literature about God and abortion. There was a speaker on top of the car. It was a mission to see if we could spot the elusive driver. 
The wonderful part of Bay View was all those rituals that gave me a normal childhood. I didn't have the best upbringing but because of that community I felt a part of something warm and inviting. Home.