Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | June 27, 2010

Ringside Seat IV: Growing Up In Smalltown America

When we are young, we think that things will always be the way they are. Growing up in a small town in Michigan, the Sinclair gas station was something of a beacon to a 10-year-old kid on a bike. On a hot summer’s day, I and a friend or two would hop on our bikes and head to the station for an icy-cold O-so grape pop, the grapiest grape soda ever to be found on the planet (or was it Nehi soda?—time takes its toll on the memory).

It was well worth the mile bike ride to arrive at the station and then play a puzzle-game with the dispensing machine, sliding glass bottles around the metal sliding rack to get to the bottle that I wanted to buy. It was like playing a one-dimensional version of a Rubic’s cube or one of those little sliding-squares puzzles that you could pick up for a single coin at the five-and-dime store so many years ago.

Once the bottle was in position for removal, things could get quite dicey. The trick to extricating your drink was to insert your dime with your left hand and then pull quickly upward without hesitation with your right hand. If you stopped in mid-course, or somehow allowed the the bottle to slip back even a centimeter, all was lost—the dime, the drink, and your rosy outlook on the day. If you didn’t have a second dime, you became one defeated— and thirsty— 10-year-old kid.

Across the street from the Sinclair station was the local bakery.  Always one to get the most mileage out of my mileage, I would often wash down my ice cold grape pop with a soft, fresh donut.  A fry-cake with chocolate frosting was my favorite, and still is.  And while I was out and about and “uptown,”  I would, of course, stop at the post office and check our post office box for Dad, which was probably a good idea since that was ostensibly the whole reason (or excuse) for going into town in the first place.

Time marches on, and nothing stays the same.  That is one of many things that we learn as the years gain on us.  A  parking lot for the local bank now occupies the space where the Sinclair station once stood.  And the old bakery is nowhere to be found.  But etched in my memory are those images of a simpler time, a quieter place, a slower-paced life, and the wonder-filled world of a 10-year-old kid.


  1. I don’t remember the type of soda machine you describe here. You must be REALLY old! We have the 2 old coke machines that were in the old gas station here in Carp Lake, the machines Dan grew up with. They both still run although one freezes the soda, so we stock it with long-neck bottle beer in the summer. 🙂

    I envy you, still living near the place you grew up. My childhood home is over two thousand miles away and lies behind a secure perimeter peppered with guards. (Almost sounds like a prison, huh? LOL) Even if I could go back, I probably wouldn’t. I’ve heard they razed our old neighborhood and built new housing.

    Thankfully, we both have our memories.

    BTW, I was exploring stuff in my father’s workshop recently and found one of my favorite toys tucked to the back of a drawer. I must have been around 9 or 10 when they were really popular. Do you remember Whizzers?

  2. Just traveling through some of your writings. I was wondering if it could have been my Grandmas and Grandpas bakery you are talking about in this writing? On the corner of 3rd and Pontaluna ? The house the bakery was in is now on Pontaluna……Oh, and I remember getting pop from such machines……must have been as they were going out of style cuz I am certainly NOT old…:)

  3. Hi Kathy,

    Yes, I’ll bet that was your grandparents’ bakery! There were two bakeries in town: Braaks across from the post office; and the donut shop in the house at 3rd and Pontaluna. I have fond memories of that donut shop/bakery.

    I sometimes think that I grew up right at the end of “the way things used to be”–I’m not old, either!

    Nice to hear from you.

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