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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 celebrations.

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, I’m sorry.

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 the spot.

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 like this:
Mrs. Harshbarger: Eddie, who do you think tapped you?
Eddie: (pointing) Priscilla?
Priscilla: NO!
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.