Now that I’m past the three-quarter century mark, every once in a while I get this uncontrollable urge to do what we old geezers like to do best — tell how much things have changed since we were kids.
Take, for example, the days when nearly every store had coal chutes in the sidewalks next to one side of their buildings. They also might have windows in the basements to let in a little extra light. Seems they didn’t worry nearly as much about burglars back then.
I do remember there were a couple sets of steel grates in the sidewalk along Slater’s Main Street. Those folks must have been extra cautious. Whatever their purpose one thing’s for sure — they had a habit of gobbling up loose change that might come rolling along the sidewalk.
As anyone who has read this column probably realizes, my buddy Slick and I were the kind of kids who would never pass up an opportunity for a quick buck.
So one of our daily chores was to inspect the grates — just to make sure there were no innocent coins trapped in the depths below. We saw it as our patriotic duty.
Most of the time we’d see nothing but discarded cigar and cigarette butts, but occasionally we’d catch a glimpse of something sparkling.
That would bring on the real challenge. The grates were too heavy to lift, so we were forced to fish out the coin as best we could. Using the trial and error method, we came up with a real fetcher — a wad of bubble gum stuck to the end of an old broom stick.
The main problem with this form of treasure hunting is that it was on a first-come, first-served basis. In other words, the loot was the property of the kid who saw it first (if he or she was talented enough to fish it out).
That meant getting up early enough to cover Main Street before school. If a kid was lucky enough to spot a coin, he had the choice of trying to fish it out before school or trying to be the first after school.
Evidently, there weren’t many adults in town adventuresome enough to try their luck at grate fishing, because we never had any competition on the sidewalks. That didn’t prove true, however, when it came to heat registers.
This was back in the days when many homes and businesses didn’t have forced-air heat. Instead, some had pot-bellied stoves in the middle of a room, or a furnace in the basement — the heat would come up through a register directly above it. Usually those registers were fairly large.
The most popular of such registers was located in Mosey’s Cafe. It was strategically positioned in the middle of the floor, not too far from the cash register.
Often a coin or two would fall while a customer was slipping change back into his pocket after paying for a meal. Those coins would usually fall through the register to a wire mesh several inches below the grate.
There wasn’t a kid in town who wouldn’t have given his monthly allotment of bubble gum for a couple minutes of fishing in that register.
Like I said, that was a long, long time ago. It’s hard to believe how much work we kids would go to for just a couple of pennies back then.
I couldn’t help but think about that recently. I was walking down that same sidewalk, probably just a few feet from where that old grate used to be. There, within just a couple of inches of each other, were a couple of empty pop cans.
I reached down and picked them up, stuck them in my coat pocket and felt like I’d really made a haul.
When I bragged about it at the gas station, no one seemed impressed. “Kids today wouldn’t think of bending over for 10 cents,” someone chuckled.
Times sure have changed!
Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife, Sharon, live near Cambridge.