Connie Cook Smith: Ancient Days
Mid-century Canton seems like ancient days gone by. I was young – and I still am. My body isn’t. But I am!
I still think of the bricks. Rosy-red bricks were everywhere, glowing sweetly in the sun. Streets, sidewalks, buildings – especially church buildings and their soaring spires, and tall, symmetrical schools topped out with bell-towers – multi-thousands of bricks seemed to comprise most of the central part of town.
My parents’ big ol’ car rumbled down brick streets. Even my agile ankles twisted now and then upon bumpy brick sidewalks. And all those schools and churches stood like great, hulking, but dignified piles of warm and friendly bricks.
We’re lucky to have many restored brick buildings in downtown Canton now. But we’re equally lucky to no longer struggle along the often treacherous surfaces of so many streets and sidewalks made of the old days’ ubiquitous brick.
No one misses those hazards, I’m sure. But I still love and miss the beauty of all those deep red building blocks. I miss that city-wide blush they imparted equally on warm summer mornings and cold winter days.
An unlikely favorite place of mine as an eight-year-old girl in this brick-imbued town was Pfister’s – Pfister’s pool hall, tobacco shop, and grill on the northeast corner of Main and Chestnut. Yes! I was one of the rare females – and pretty much the only child – to have daily access to the man-cave known as Pfister’s. And that was because my dad and my grandpa owned it for a spell in the mid-1950’s.
I’d stop in after grade school and “help” Grandpa behind the tobacco counter. I’d help him push down the formidable keys on the big brass cash register that, by itself, was half as high as I was. Then I’d go over to the long marble counter at the grill and take delight in bossing Dad around, by making him wait on me with a scoop of ice cream or an order of fries. He’d smile, though, and wouldn’t even get mad when I’d spin around and around and around on the stool as I waited for my treat.
The rackin’ and clackin’ of the pool tables mystified me somewhat. Those guys seemed to think that game was so important. And I’d try to ignore the conveniently placed spittoons for the tobacco-chewers. I’ll bet Dad wished he could ignore them when he cleaned the place on Sunday afternoons!
It was in front of Pfister’s – in broad daylight there on the Square, amidst the busy-ness of traffic and pedestrians – where occurred my most humiliating childhood moment. Mom said she would pick me up there at 4:00 pm, so there I must be and there I must wait, no matter what.
Enter an elderly man. Okay – what a kid would call – an old man. He came out and stood a good ten feet away from me, perhaps waiting for a ride of his own. But I got nervous. This was – a Stranger! I had been warned about – Strangers!
Suddenly, to my horror, the Stranger reached down into his pocket and brought out a candy bar. “Don’t ever take candy from a Stranger!” resounded in my suddenly hysterical head.
I turned and shrieked at him: “I don’t want any, I don’t want any!” Whereupon the startled old gentleman noticed me, obviously for the very first time, and mumbled with a troubled scowl: “Just thought I’d have some myself.”
Just then, Mom came to the rescue – not rescue from a Stranger, but escape from my clearly uncharitable thoughts. I got in the car and scrunched down in the back seat, deciding to hide out there for the rest of my life. Meanwhile, Mom exchanged pleasantries with the gentleman, someone she clearly knew and liked.
I never knew if he told on me for screaming at him that day on the Square. In retrospect, I wasn’t wrong to be careful. But it’s amazing how vivid remains that embarrassing childhood moment – yet also how dreamy is the memory of a rosy-radiant town that was mostly built of brick.
And so it was, in Canton’s “ancient days.” DSS
Connie Cook Smith of Canton, IL. has been a musician, lecturer, feature writer and photographer for the Can Daily Ledger, and continues as a political activist and regional history researcher. She wrote this before the great fire of 2016 in Canton.
What a fascinating story! This memoir is very imaginative. Keep Downstate Story publishing stories like this by donating here.