A McKinley Neighborhood
Linda Wheat O'Connell '67 lived in a remote Alaska frontier town, where free-roaming buffalo and moose outnumbered people. After living there for two years, she returned to St. Louis and reared two children. Linda is completing her twenty-ninth year as an early childhood educator and still considers teaching preschool her dream job. Linda lives in south St. Louis county and is a member of St. Louis Writers Guild. She is a freelance writer with articles, essays and poems published in various magazines, newspapers, anthologies, literary journals and local press. The ocean tugs at her Midwest soul and her grandchildren tickle her fancy. Linda enjoys writing, camping and traveling.

In the mid ’60s, I lived near the wide intersection of Jefferson/Gravois/Sidney. On weekdays after school, I walked to Schmiemeyer’s Drug Store to purchase a newspaper for my parents. Outside of the drugstore there was a metal newspaper stand manned by a paperboy. If he wasn’t there, I simply took a newspaper from the shelf underneath and left the seven cents on top the stand, no slot, no locked box, just trust. On weekends around dusk, the distributor dumped bundled, 3" thick newspapers at the curb. Dozens of paperboys congregated on the corner to load their wagons; then they headed out on their particular routes. They tugged those wagons up and down the residential streets. The clanking of metal wheels, louder than the paperboys’ shouts, filled the night air.

Inside the drugstore, we swivelled on stools at the counter and drank fountain sodas with cherry flavoring. Late Saturday nights we hung out at the paper stand and “oohed” and “aahed”at the hot rods barreling down Gravois, headed to or from the drag strip.

Money was scarce, but we knew how to turn a dime. We’d scrounge around for glass soda bottles which often littered the ground. We’d turn them in at Mrs. Bean’s Confectionary on Sidney and Indiana and collect the 2 cents deposit on each 12 and 16 oz. bottle. We thought we hit a gold mine whenever we discovered a 32 oz. bottle; they were worth a nickel! When my future sister-in-law and I, both 15, came up with 50 cents, we’d head to Savorite Diner and order two Cokes and an order of fries to share. We thought we were cool in our pointy-toed Beatle Boots, white button-down shirts and turquoise stretch pants, our hair teased like a rat’s nest, peering out the plate glass window, hoping to get a glimpse of her boyfriend in his ‘57 Chevy.

Next door to the Jefferson-Gravois Bank, Hill Brothers Shoe Store had their slogan plastered across their front window. “Two for Five, Man Alive!” Those shoes wore out in less than a month. I bought flats in every pastel color imaginable, and also cheap white canvas shoes for P.E., where we wore those silly royal blue bloomer gym suits.

The Gravois Show provided entertainment - a cartoon, previews and three shows, all for 50 cents; 35 cents on Tuesdays. The tiny “greasy spoon” next door to the show permeated the air with the aroma of fried onions. Two doors south of the show was the record shop where we could listen to 45 rpm records in a soundproof booth before purchasing. The proprietor displayed brochures, listing the top 10 songs on the Billboard Charts, and we often just went in to pick up KXOK or WIL handouts with the words to a hit song printed on the back.

Mimosa trees fragranced the summer nights as teen-aged boys and girls hung out on front porches on my block and talked until the wee hours, dreaming of tomorrow, planning our futures, wondering what would become of us. It was an innocent time; we were safe walking the streets and hanging out. Here we are at age 60 - my goodness, times have changed!

Linda Wheat O'Connell '67
billin7@juno.com