“WILLOUGHBY, NEXT STOP IS WILLOUGHBY” (con't.)
By Ed Stout
In my memory I lived in a Willoughby-like Norman Rockwell
painting from the time when I was 7 until I was 9 (October ’55-July ’57).
That’s when we lived in West Milton, Ohio. It was a small town with less
than 2,000 people and in my mind, its tranquility increases with each
passing year. When thinking about my brief time there, I focus on the fun we
had in that world that is so very different than the one we now live in. We
lived a block from downtown so I was always right there for the 4th of July,
Memorial Day, etc. parades and all the numerous town activities and
In looking back, it seems that West Milton was filled with an inordinate
number of pretty girls. Two immediately come to mind. The first is Peggy,
who was a grade ahead of me. In the summer, Peggy was very tan and she
always carried her baton. Whenever she came down the street, the boys would
all jump around and do silly things in hopes of gaining Peggy’s attention. I
can’t say for sure if I ever spoke to her, but if I did, I’m sure I said
something very stupid. The second pretty girl that stands out in my mind was
Priscilla. (Yes, Priscilla-if that’s not a Willoughby name, I don’t know
what is.) She had short blond hair and she was in the same grade. I never
had the nerve to speak directly with Priscilla but I did have a bad
experience with her. During the 4th of July celebration, the town had set up
a road course with hay bales and had go-carts for the kids to ride. We all
stood in line and waited our turn. As my bad luck would have it, Priscilla
was next to me in line. The next go-cart that became available was a
two-seater. They put me in the driver’s seat and Priscilla was my passenger.
Well, I had never driven a go-cart before and I didn’t drive that one 25
yards until I wrecked into a hay bale. Thank goodness neither Priscilla nor
I was hurt but I was so embarrassed. They say that time heals all wounds, so
maybe one day I’ll get over that humiliation. Priscilla, if you read this,
West Milton’s downtown section wasn’t very big. There was a barber shop that
had a little room in the back filled with sporting goods that they sold. I
once had 89 cents and was able to buy a Wilson baseball that came in a
yellow and red box. They had a Nakoma baseball glove, Duke Snyder model, for
$12.99. I coveted that glove but it was way out of my price range and it
remained on the shelf.
West Milton had a 5&10 cent store. It wasn’t a Kresge’s or a Woolworth’s.
Instead, it was called Wertz’s. Still, all 5&10’s are pretty much the same.
Come to think of it, they all smelled the same: sorta like a combination of
carmel candy and floor wax scents. A few years ago it occurred to me that
there are no more 5&10’s. I didn’t think I’d ever taken my son to one and
asked him if he’d ever been. He told me that his grandfather Davis had taken
him to the one in the small town where they lived in rural Virginia. It was
good to know that my son had at least gotten a glimpse of that way of life
that is now passed and gone.
The thing I loved the most about 5&10’s was the candy counter. For 25 cents
one could buy mass quantities of candy. In order to do so, you’d select the
candy you wanted from the numerous candy bins. The clerk would scoop it out
and put it on the silver tray (bowl-shaped with one end open) that set on
the scales. After she weighed it, she’d pour the candy into a white bag. You
could walk out of the 5&10 with a sinful amount of chocolate covered
peanuts, red hots or my favorites, orange slices.
Here’s an important tip concerning those candy orange slices. If you have a
tooth with a temporary cap, don’t eat them. Those little orange devils will
suck that temporary cap right off. It’s happened to me a couple of times -
once when I was coaching baseball and another time when I was in Bozeman,
Montana. That time was particularly bad because it was a temporary cap on a
front tooth. Once the orange slice had finished with it, I looked like I was
from the cast of Deliverance. Luckily, I found a kind dentist who was
willing to put it back in on a Friday afternoon. When I sat in his chair, I
could look out a big picture window with a magnificent view of the Rocky
Mountains. That struck me as strange because when I look out of the window
at my dentist’s office in Bristol, I have a great view of a crack house. It
was quite a contrast. Now back to West Milton.
During the 3rd and 4th grades, we got a snack each afternoon. For 10 cents a
week, or 2 cents a day, we got chocolate milk and a graham cracker. They
brought the little bottles of milk into our room in those wood and metal
crates. The milk was cold and there was condensation on the outside of those
little glass bottles. You remember those bottles – they had a wide mouth and
a paper lid. There was a tab on the lid that you raised in order to indulge
in the chocolate milk that, along with the crisp graham cracker, really hit
It was in grade school at West Milton that I was introduced to my favorite
classroom game: 7-Up. The rules were simple. The teacher picked seven
students to come to the front of the room and directed the class to put
their heads down and close their eyes. The chosen seven would go down the
rows and tap someone. If you were tapped, you raised your hand and the
tappers returned to the front of the room. The seven people who had been
tapped then attempted to guess who had tapped them. It might go something
Mrs. Harshbarger: Eddie, who do you think tapped you?
Eddie: (pointing) Priscilla?
As a result, I rarely got to be one of the 7-Ups.
One of the things I’ve tried to convey about my childhood in general and in
West Milton in particular was the amount of freedom we experienced. For
whatever reason, that childhood freedom is a thing of the past. However, it
did exist in the 1950s. I had a red 20” Huffy bike that I rode all over. A
time or two I may have even ridden it down to the Stillwater River, but my
parents didn’t know about that.
Back then, baseball was foremost on my mind and there was always a game
going either in the field near our house or with the “big boys” at the high
school, which was three blocks away. Wherever the game was, I’d put the
strap of my glove over the handlebars and my bat across them, holding it in
place with both hands, and off I’d go on my little Huffy. It seems like we
played from morning until it got dark. In thinking about baseball, a couple
of other things stand out as well. First, there were the baseball cards
which we all collected and bought in Martindale’s Market. That market was
right across the street and was operated by Kenny Martindale and his father.
The second thing about baseball is that it seems like everyone in town loved
the Cincinnati Red Legs. (They changed their name from the Reds during the
Cold War-now it’s back to Reds again.) The radio announcer for the Red Legs
was an old Yankee pitcher, Waite Hoyt. On any given summer night when the
Red Legs were playing, you could walk through any neighborhood and never
miss a pitch from Hoyt’s play-by-play description. There was of course no
air conditioning and, as a result, everyone had their windows open and
everyone listened to the game. I never lost touch with what Big Klu, Frankie
Robinson, et al. were up to.
The World Series came on in the daytime back then and I remember running
home from school to see what had happened between the Yankees and the
Dodgers in the 1956 Series. My father and brother told me that a Yankee
pitcher named Don Larsen, had pitched a perfect game. I didn’t know what a
perfect game was, but if the Yankees won, little 4th grade Eddie was happy.
In casting my lot with the Yankees in that Series, I had gone against the
prevailing National League mode and I was somewhat of an outcast. Because
the Red Legs was a National League team, we were expected to support our own
kind. I didn’t know any better and plus, I loved Mickey Mantle.
As a result of being a National League traitor, I was given the nickname
“Yank,” and it stuck. For example, in 2000, I went back to Dayton for
Fairview ‘65’s 35th reunion. While there, we drove up to West Milton and I
went into Martindale’s Market. I found a much older Kenny Martindale and
said, “Hi, Kenny, I’m Ed Stout. I used to live across the street.” Kenny
looked at me for a moment and said, “Well, how ya doin,’ Yank?” Such is life
in a small town. Rest assured that I have extremely fond memories of the
small town of West Milton – my Willoughby.