Twin Beeches -- an Illinois Love Story
Author: paul schoaff

Chapter 8
A child of the street in Woodland Illinois (falling in love with a linotype)

 

(all Martha Jo)

A Child of the Street in Woodland Illinois (Falling in Love with a Linotype)

 

Workaday Woodland

 

Enough "coupling".  None of us would be here if it weren’t for coupling, but most people are defined by a lot more than who they couple with, why, when, how, and where.  I, for instance, will only tell you, eventually, about my coupling experience so you will be able to follow the line of this story.  Now, let’s go back a bit to a time when I didn’t even know about coupling and I formed my idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up – an Investigative Reporter!

 

The year 1988 arrived.  The Argus weekly newspaper sat right on Main Street run by a man at least 3rd generation publishing the paper.  Grover Cleveland Bader had grown as old as I had stayed young, but he could see potential where others just saw a spoiled little imp who never minded her own business, thank you very much.  Grover Bader grew to be as much of a fixture in our town as the monument for soldiers of all the wars, where his name lay near the top of the long list of local WWII men who served and came home.  Thankfully, not too many were in the other list.   Some thought him a local sage, though he looked more the part of a judge or parson.  Some people bought the paper just for his weekly editorials, long Jeremiads carefully excluding local residents and business people at the expense of Big City politicians, trial lawyers, and other scam artists of all kinds.

 

His hair had grayed and thinned.  He remained unmarried, and Mama told me recently there had once been a story around about Mr. Bader dating a young music teacher in Lewistown almost 40 years ago, but  she had typed him a ‘Dear John’ note and lit out for California along with the fancy engagement ring he had just given her.    He always wore a starched white shirt with a clip-on bow tie, like his favorite politician, Paul Simon.  The town council asked him to be the man introducing the speaker at the Memorial Day Festivities, not the man giving the speech.  And, he knew everything about everyone in the whole southern end of Fulton County.

 

And now, because I don't know where else to put it, and it applies to my old friend, G. C. Bader, just as well as to anyone else in Woodland...one of the reasons Grover Bader was never married or mayor was because folks around there just didn't trust any man who spoke his mind freely.  A laconic, mild, lack of expression or emotion was greatly preferred in every man (and woman) around there.  Being too happy was an insult to people less well off than yourself; being too unhappy was an insult to God, who had given you so much to be thankful for.   Grover Bader elevated himself and his emotions about the rest of us, believing, in part I suppose, owning a newspaper was license enough to say things like "I was horrified when I saw what Senator Dirksen proposed yesterday at a speech in Havana...", or "Seeing Bob Casey slip and fall off the stage at the Republican Convention made me laugh so hard that...well, you know what it made me do...".   Folks just didn't trust other folks who had strong opinions that they were proud enough of to say them out loud.

 

And, too, God help a businessman in town who showed a preference for the Cubs over the Cardinals, or vice versa.  A good way to lose half your business.

 

But, back to the matter at hand.  Truth is, Mr. Bader seems to have thought very well of Mama, and she appreciated his wisdom and spirit; the difference in age, of course, ruled out any other sort of appreciation.  Besides, he spent all his time formatting the pages,  writing his editorial and  editing the exciting news from the various correspondents sending their columns into the Argus every week, no later than Tuesday afternoon for Wednesday night printing and Thursday distribution.  Correspondents sent in things like “Betty Burton and Letty McClure went to Canton on business Monday and stopped at the park to feed the ducks.”  But since a lot of news in the paper expressed similar things, there must have been no other way to keep up.  Except for party lines.  In the country, there would be 10 houses or so on the same telephone line.  When your special ring came through -- like three short rings, or 1 long and four shorts -- if you picked up and were very quiet, you’d hear three or four other folks pick up and listen quietly to see what the latest news happened to be.  Folks learned not to talk about having to pick up things of a private nature at the store, if you get my drift.

 

Another way people kept up – they listened to the hospital reports -- admissions and discharges -- and death notices on the radio from Canton or Beardstown.  Once, a local girl got the job of compiling and reading the notices every day but Sunday at the Beardstown station.  She got paid $50 a week for about 20 hours work and had to drive over 200 miles a week for the privilege.  But, she attained ‘fame’ in our parts and folks admired her as much as the celebrities on TV, because we knew Donna, and we didn’t know ‘Them’.

 

From before I could remember, Mama took me with her to the newspaper office to pick up their business and to put ads in the paper.  A giant bean of some kind from someone out near the strip mine had grown 4 feet or more long and about the size of a woman’s skinny arm.     Mr. Bader put it right on his counter and talked about it in his column in the paper, so folks came in and looked at it.  While they were there, some thought to go ahead and put their ad in the paper for the extra hay they had in their barn, or to let people know they could do 'custom garden plowing', or some such. I don’t think I can recall anything in my life earlier than the huge bean.

 

The 'child of the street' designation happens at about the age of 7 or 8.  In the summer and on Saturday Mama would let me run free on Main Street to anywhere I wanted to go, so long as I rushed home for lunch and dinner every day on time and didn't cause anyone any trouble.  Can you imagine doing such today?  Not MY kids, for sure.  My kids will be penned up in my family room watching cartoons all day, or no further than the safety-guaranteed swing-and-play set in our fenced-in back yard.   Since the sex offender registry became available on the internet, I learned there is a bona-fide sex offender still here in Woodland, a 45 year old man who had consensual -- I know, because of her age, such a term is meaningless -- sex with his 15 year old girlfriend…25 years ago.   Woodland doesn't seem quite as safe today as when it was my 8 years old playground.

 

There were lots of interesting spots and stores to attract me.  Mr. Price and his brother, Mr. Price, at the Rexall Drug Store and Bus Stop kept asking me to think if Mama needed anything and please not to read the comic books without paying my 50 cents for them first.  I never knew which Mr. Price was the warner.  They were just interchangeable to me, I guess.  When I got older, I loved their old-fashioned hand made cherry Cokes, and the town wouldn't have been able to get by without the small but acceptable selection of prophylactic devices they stocked.   But at eight, I enjoyed Nehi Orange from the Busy Bee and the occasional visit to a dentist for prophylactic devices.

 

Same with the Cigar Store.  They called it a ‘game room’ though, not a Cigar Store.  Maybe it just had the name of the proprietor.  But, and here is the reason it had to be a Cigar Store, it had a Cigar Store Indian next to the front door, and a big “Reagan for President” poster on the door.  I knocked knuckles on the Chief once and found him hollow and made from iron or brass and painted to look like someone carved it out of a block of wood.   It became my favorite thing of all to show little girls or boys who came with their parents to do business with Mama from out in the country.  We would run down there and stare at it until the owner shooed us away.  When I got older, I asked an older boy what went on in there?  A pool table, and a snooker table, and a table in the back room where men played cards for money, he told me.  Also, they served the best chili around with bowls of oyster crackers if you wanted them, sloshed down with Dr. Pepper.   Among the card players sat a man who worked with my Daddy Joe at the Vermont Foundry.  Mama introduced us one day on the street and told me Mr. Gail might remember my Daddy Joe.   First, she warned me in no uncertain terms to be polite and not to ask questions….  Mr. Gail didn't have hands, just hooks on the ends of his arms.  People said Gail could shuffle cards with his hooks just as well as anyone with two good hands.

 

“Are you Texas Joe's little girl,”? he asked. 

 

 “I am, I guess,” I twittered.  Bright child!

 

“Well, I'll be jiggered”, said he, “you know, of course,Joe cost me my hands?”

 

 “!”  I said. (a moan, perhaps?)

 

“Yup,” said Mr. Gail, “I laughed so hard at a story he told about a guy on his pipeline crew falling off the Quincy Bridge into the Mississippi River, I swung around with my shoulder and hit the button on my punch press while I still had my hands on the work piece.” 

 

When he saw the look on Mama's face, let alone mine, he quickly added, “It was all my fault!  All mine!  Please don't think I blame anyone else!”

 

The car dealer, intelligently, didn't think I looked like I was in the market for a new DeSoto or Studebaker -- the signs were still there, even if the cars were replaced by Fords and Chryslers, and they sure weren't about to let me wander around the shop, even with Mama.  For awhile, I sat at the front of the post office and watched a man load up the little boxes.  I would watch people come in and use the combination dial on the front of the box to open the door.  It didn't usually take more than twice before I could casually wander over and reopen the box after they left and look through into the back room.  It also didn't take long for the postmaster to catch on and to tell me to come back when I had something to mail.  Of course, I always picked up all the regular mail for Mama and let her know if one weighed too much for me to handle.  Even then she would sometimes send me back the four blocks with an old wagon to bring back those things.   Finally, I could come in and study the faces on the wanted posters all I wanted, though they didn’t allow me to take any of the forms or to look at the boxes when other customers were in the front.  Not much fun there, so I quit hanging out in that joint.  The smell of an old post office, though, will never leave me.

 

The old men playing checkers in the park played so well  playing a child was beneath their dignity. I’m sure they had become world class.  The horseshoes were too heavy.  There weren’t any swings or slides in the square park, for some reason, they were over at the school, too far from Mama’s office to find me when she felt like it.  Bicycles, for the while, were out of the question, since I had borrowed Judy Kolp’s and rode right out in front of Mr. Stewart’s junk truck one day.  His horn didn’t work, but the squealing from his brakes and the shifting of his load of scrap metal drew a crowd from all up and down Pearl Street.  He had to have his truck towed to the yard, but I just kept going, hoping, I guess, everyone would think it had been Judy on her bike.  No such luck, believe me.

 

No other businesses I recall but the Sunshine Store and the newspaper office.   I heard that the Sunshine Store was the same building as had been built and used by one of the Scripps family, the ones who got into cattle brokering and banking and wound up with their names on a west coast aquarium, among other stuff.  I never had any spending money to buy any of the neat things stocked by the Sunshine Store, so being there was literally like being the ‘kid in the candy store without a penny’.  At the Argus, Mr. Bader generally looked over his half-glasses at me for a bit before saying hello, like he always wanted to be sure he had the right name attached to the right face before committing himself. 

 

“Hello, Martha Jo Gonsalves”, he said to me, one day. 

 

“How'd you know my right name?” I protested.  “Did Mama tell you?”

 

After a pause, he responded, “No, your first grade teacher, Mrs. Jeffords, just dropped by to pay her subscription, and we just chatted about all the smart children she taught last year.  Your name happened to come up and, I must say, I remain as surprised to learn it as you were to learn I had learned it.”  He stopped then and thought back over what he had said to be sure he had said what he wanted to say.  Then, he slowly and slightly smiled.  Irregular, confusing sentences were not something for which a newspaperman wants to be remembered.  Strong opinions, maybe, but not confusing sentences.

 

“What are you doing today?” he asked, keeping it simple.

 

“Nothing.”, I replied, doing him one better.

 

“Bored?”

 

“Yes”

 

“Do you read the paper?”

 

“Nah, there isn't anything in there I like.”  If such a bold statement bothered him, he managed not to show it, and he didn't ask what he could put into the paper to get me to read it.

“Hmmm.” he glanced back over the wall into the back.  “Would you like to see the printing press running?”

 

I guess he took my saucer-eyed stare as a yes, because he got out from behind his desk to lead me through the maze of tables and machinery to the one machine currently operating.  It looked something like the windshield wipers on a car, picking up a fresh piece of paper from one end and dropping it onto a table covered with backwards letters where a roller came across the back side of the paper as soon as the windshield wiper thingy took off for another piece of paper.  Other rollers inked the print as soon as the finished paper was pulled out to the table next to the press.  The whole thing went through 10 or 12 cycles every minute, making an amazingly satisfying rhythmic clatter-chi-clatter-ti-rattle…  I went around, keeping a proper distance, and looked at the item being printed, an auction announcement destined for telephone poles all over one end of the county by the next morning.

 

The print went from being backward on the table to frontward on the paper.  With the blast of a trumpet, the Heavens opened and an angel handed me a golden book of knowledge.  Suddenly, the whole newspaper thing made sense, where it had been a mystery before.  Suddenly, there was no place on earth I'd rather be than in the print shop of the Woodland Argus.   I had seen typewriters, and I thought at the newspaper there were a bunch of men and ladies sitting around typing away, making newspapers.  Maybe, some vague idea of carbon paper?

 

At first, I dreaded telling Mama Mr. Bader let me go in back, but I knew she would find out anyway, and I wanted to show off my new information, so I proudly told her, “Mr. Bader showed me how he makes the newspaper today…”

 

 “Mm-hmm.”  She stopped using her crank operated calculating machine.

 

“Auction papers, printing some auction papers.”

 

 “MMM?  Something was running?”

 

“Yes, Mama.”

 

She frowned and shook her head slowly, but the next day, Mama made time to take me to the paper.  Tuesday, Mr. Laubeck was sitting at the linotype machine while it warmed up.  “Here's where the type you saw in the press yesterday was made”, said Mr. Bader. 

 

“I see you have someone new to take my job.” said Mr. Laubeck.

 

Everybody laughed, and Mr. Bader showed me the parts of the machine to stay away from.  He showed me where the lead bars and the old type fed in and melted and where the new type bars came out into a slotted rack.  Everything in between was a mystery to me then, and now.  Mr. Laubeck somehow read a piece of written stuff and phrased it and spaced it so every line of type had characters all the way across. 

 

“You can watch Mr. Laubeck for awhile, if you want,” said Mr. Bader, and Mama nodded her okay, so I sat in a chair next to Mr. Laubeck's little table of supplies.  Mama made sure Mr. Bader knew not to ask me to do any work or run any errands because having me 'work' wouldn't be legal.  Mr. Bader chuckled and said he enjoyed helping as best he could, whatever....

 

Mr. Laubeck had a whole section of his tray reserved for lemon drops.  Every so often his right hand would jump off the busy keyboard and pick up a lemon drop just long enough to toss it into his mouth.  Apparently, he would wait until his left fingers swiggled busily with a bunch of swaggers or adverbs or , the ultimate left-finger one, stewardesses….   He would sit at his keyboard for four hours at a time, and then stand out back and smoke cigarettes one after another all through his lunch half-hour, then another four hours, or more, before going home to Rushville.   He had learned to operate a linotype in Rushville, but had lost his job when the owner there bought some new equipment, 25 years before, and Mr. Laubeck had come, with the old linotype, to Woodland.  Mr. Bader's father had set the type by hand until then, one character at a time, and when young Mr. Bader took over, he bought the old Rushville linotype and Mr. Laubeck's loyalty with it.   When Mr. Bader retired, so did Mr. Laubeck, and a Mr. Stephens bought Bader out and built a big new beautiful plant where he printed papers and magazines from all over the United States.   Mr. Stephens died young, in a helicopter crash, but the company lives on.

 

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