Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ben and Me, Traveling Back Through Time

Happy almost-Independence Day to all my friends in the U.S. of A.! My husband and I celebrated the gorgeous day by driving down to East Fork Lake State Park in Bethel, Ohio. The lake is beautiful, the weather was glorious and we had a great time.

We decided to explore a little before returning home. Bethel isn't all that far from our home, but we rarely get down that way. We were intrigued by the retro look of the downtown area, so we stopped to browse through some of the stores.

That's when things got weird. There was a Ben Franklin 5 and 10 store on the corner -- when I was a kid, a lot of people called it the "five and dime." Now, as far as I knew, Ben Franklin had been out of business for a long time. Several people I know used to work at their warehouses, and I thought they'd all shut down. Shows how much I know.

Here's what Ben Franklin looks like now, Main Street USA-style:

Here's what the stores used to look like - this is one in Pennsylvania:

And this is the store we visited in Bethel today:

I even found a YouTube video about a Ben Franklin store in Oberlin, OH:

First, the backstory - let me tell you about Ben and Me. Not the famous book by the same name, which I read about the time this story starts, but good old Ben Franklin's 5 and 10 store in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.

(Yes, there really are elks in Elk Grove.)

My family moved to Elk Grove Village on May 18, 1959, shortly before I finished first grade at Armstrong School in Chicago. I went to Rupley School in Elk Grove for about a month, and by the time I started second grade Ridge School had been completed.

The town was just being built by Centex, and there wasn't a lot to do. My family would drive out by the cornfields and watch planes take off by the newly expanded O'Hare International Airport, and my friends and I would chase the mosquito-spraying trucks, probably inhaling clouds of DDT.

We had no lawns, but there was so much clay in our backyard, I was able to make a rather nice ashtray for my dad for Father's Day and some kind of bowl for my mom on Mother's Day. The sidewalks were built above the grade, and when a torrential rainstorm hit, all the neighborhood kids had the unusual opportunity to swim in our front yards.

Besides the elks, our other claim to fame was in nearby Des Plaines, where our local hang-out was the first ever McDonald's.

That first year, a tornado turned the sky green on September 20 and damaged 16 homes. It was an interesting introduction to the town I lived in until I got married in 1971.

Back to Ben Franklin. The big shopping area back then was on Arlington Heights Road, and included the Maitre'D Restaurant, Suburban Drugs, Elk Grove Bowl and a Ben Franklin 5 and 10 store. Jarosch Bakery was also there - and it still is today. (I worked there when I was 16 and they made my wedding cake, so I have to give them a plug.)

Things were different back then, so it wasn't unusual for my brother and I to walk the two miles to Ben Franklin to spend our (sporadic) allowance.

It was always a tough decision. I usually saved up my quarters until I had at least a dollar to spend. Sometimes I bought books; Big Golden Books cost a buck - Quick Draw McGraw and Huckleberry Hound were among the ones I bought - and Trixie Belden, too.

My brother sometimes bought model airplane kits, and I remember buying a small cardboard box filled with teeny, tiny pink plastic dishes, cups and saucers made in China or Japan - they cost less than a dollar, but I treasured that set more than any expensive toy I owned. Then there was the penny candy and other cool stuff - wax lips, wax syrup-filled Coke bottles, jaw breakers, Mary Janes, Boston Baked Beans. Ah, the days when I could eat that crap without feeling guilty!

Anyway, as you can see, Ben Franklin isn't a store to me, it's a piece of my childhood. So imagine how disoriented I felt when I walked into the Ben Franklin in Goshen, Ohio today and found I had stepped back in time. The first aisle had a big display of ladies' hair nets, in packaging that clearly hadn't changed since the 1950s. I think it probably was the original stock. Below those was a large display of flowered hankies, similar to the ones my grandmother used to give me when I was about six years old.

When we walked into another part of the store, I could practically hear the Twilight Zone theme playing. There were the boxes of model cars and airplanes my brother used to buy, and I swear some of them had been there since those days. There were paper doll books older than my daughter, and a child's ironing play set from the year my daughter was born: 1983. In the card section, they had vintage-looking cards and gift wrap so old they are back in style.

I love this store! I don't know how any store today can stay in business with a selection like this, but I guarantee I'll be going back there again -- with my kids, next time. I'm sure they would be as fascinated as my husband and I were by this flash into the past.

Thanks for the memories, Ben Franklin. And what a long, strange trip it's been!


dontcallmejessie said...

Wow, I loved reading this! :) I always love hearing about your childhood (tell Dad I want to read stories from him, too!). I remember when I broke my ankle, Terry & Brian came to visit and brought me a box of Jennifer's old Trixie Belden books to read. I had so much fun digging through them! Oh, and one more thing -- at least that tornado hit on a fabulous date! ;)

Becke Davis said...

It's weird - I remembered the tornado but not the date. I looked it up and was surprised to see it had happened on your future birthday!

The main thing I remember about the Trixie Belden books was that her best friend was named Honey. I always thought that was a cool name!

Anonymous said...

Hi Becke,
I went to Rupley too and remember the Ben Franklin at the end of the Elk Grove Park n' Shop very well. (my first job was busboy at Maitre'D) Your photo looks familiar, but if you had prom in 1970 you'd be 4 years older than me -- I graduated EGHS in 74. Anyway, thanks! I thoroughly enjoyed the memories.
Gary Poplawski

Becke Davis said...

Hi Gary - I'm the oldest of five. Two of my sisters are around your age, Connie and Laura Villars. Connie's five years younger than me, and Laura's seven years younger. You might also know my brother Thom, who graduated in 1972. Thanks for commenting!

Becke Davis said...

P.S. I doubt you'd recognize me from my picture here. I had red hair and was skinny back then!

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