I certainly wasn’t wise to the ways of city life when my parents, with three young children in tow, moved into town for the first time.
Of course, there were lots of new things to experience and many more friends living in closer proximity. There were baseball diamonds, buildings with real basketball courts inside — and fresh popped corn with an aroma that filled the small gymnasiums and practically challenged you to walk past without buying a bag.
When my father started a new job as a gasoline delivery driver (he mostly serviced farmers in the area), we found ourselves living in a small wooden house on the west edge of Duncombe. It was the first time in my life I found boys the same age as I to play with every day.
Now, I’m not saying that Duncombe’s a city; I’m simply saying that was the first time I’d ever lived anywhere with streets lined with houses. To me, a lad of 7, Duncombe had everything that I’d never before experienced — grocery stores, restaurants, friends my own age, and all of them within walking distance.
Two years later, my family moved to an even smaller town. Alleman wasn’t even incorporated in 1953, but it had its own K-12 school and that’s where dad went to work. He was hired as janitor for the school and I wound up helping him a little and, I suppose, I can say that was my first job. Yup, dad paid me 20 cents a day to sweep the large study hall on the third floor of the school. It was directly over the school’s gymnasium.
The fact that dad worked there made it easier for my brother and I to get access to the gymnasium pretty much year around. Usually, though, it was just me, a pudgy little kid, playing basketball in the gym; I spent hours there when I could.
The big thing about Alleman, I thought, was that there was a Saturday night outdoor movie in what could loosely be called the downtown area. There wasn’t much there — a hardware store, a Chevy dealer (yes, we had a Chevy dealer in town), a small café, a small grocery store, and, of course, the Alleman Co-op, which took up one end of Main Street and went all the way down the other side of the street next to the railroad tracks. There was a gasoline station, an elevator and a feed store with all types of feed for all types of livestock — yup, they even handled rabbit food and I was the best customer for that once I started my 4-H project.
One other thing that takes my mind back to those years was that, on occasion, there was an outdoor movie shown in a vacant spot on Main Street between the grocery and the co-op. Maybe there was only one movie ever shown because that’s all I remember ever seeing — “The Babe Ruth Story” starring William Bendix.
There was a big street dance on Main Street, too, that I recall. I think it was more in celebration that Main Street had been paved than any type of community celebration. But, I remember it drew perhaps the biggest crowd of people I’d ever seen in Alleman; there was live music and dancing all night. And, of course, there was that awful smelling, awful tasting “Grape-Ade” that one of the kids brought and passed around to anyone who dared sip it. It was supposed to be alcoholic, but the kid hadn’t let it ferment long enough, it tasted terrible, and anyone who sampled more than a taste or two ended up pretty sick for a couple of days.
I guess, though, the greatest celebration in beautiful downtown Alleman, at least that I ever experienced, was held in a new Quonset hut built by the co-op. Before any sacks of grain were stacked inside, the folks who ran the co-op thought it should be somehow “christened,” or something and held a community dance there.
By then, I suppose, I’d nearly reached my teens and I stood among friends on one side of the building. Girls, of course, stood on the other side of the room.
But there was one little girl whom I thought was the cutest girl I’d ever seen in my life. As I grew older, of course, there were several other girls who’d fit that bill, at least in my mind, but here she was, at this same dance. I couldn’t help looking across the cement dance floor at her and noticed that she seemed to be alone — she didn’t even talk to most of the other girls lined up over there.
For the longest time, I stood and peeked in her direction, hoping she wouldn’t see me looking at her. Finally, I could take it no longer.
I walked over, trying to be as nonchalant, suave-looking as a 14-year-old could look. I stood in her area for a few minutes before mustering up all the courage a shy young lad could.
“Would you like to dance?” I finally asked, fearing she might turn me down. “Sure,” she said.
At once I was the happiest kid at the dance and also the most frightened. I didn’t know how to dance and I hadn’t given that much thought before I “popped the question.”
Then I remembered my mom had talked about the “two-step,” just two steps forward and one back, so I figured that would work. Of course, there was lots more to it than just shuffling two steps to the left, then one to the right, but that’s what I did and she didn’t seem to mind at all.
I was in seventh heaven that night in the new Alleman Co-op Quonset. I danced with her all night and couldn’t wait to see her in school the next week.
I never did.
Her family moved away that same weekend, moved out of Iowa, I think. So, I won’t mention her name here. I’m happily married now and I hope she is as well. Just in case, though, just in case she’s still in the area and in the remote chance she might read this, she just might realize how happy she made a pudgy young lad six decades ago.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.