Retirement Age Stories

The Sounds of the Street

The Sounds of the Street         by Octo G. Enario

“I grew up on a farm. You wanna talk about hard work?” said one gym-rat. “I’m from L.A., and we were married to our cars from the age of 16. I almost lost the use of my legs. Ha, Ha, Ha,” countered a well-tanned senior. “Hey, Brooklyn, I bet all you saw was cement and muggers,” came an anonymous comment from a grunting power-lifter (20 pounds), causing ripples of guffaws. I smiled and nodded, letting the ribbing go unanswered as I continued torturing my lats. But my thoughts wandered nostalgically to memories of my little world on East 2nd Street: 

            Clip clop, clip clop…So loud, and it’s too early…before dawn. Gosh, it must be that extra large dog…or whatever that creature is…that wakes me up every day at about this time. Yes, it is…and it’s pulling that big Sheffield Milk delivery wagon. Must it always come this early? I sure am glad the humans don’t make me do such heavy pulling. There he is, the milkman, walking alongside with his noisy metal basket full of clanking milk bottles. That big dog is pretty smart. He knows where the Sheffield customers’ houses are and stops automatically to allow the milkman to run up to the house to deliver his fresh milk. They make a good team. Too bad they’re so noisy. Thank goodness, as they make their way up East 2nd Street, the noise drifts away…and so do I…back to sleep….zzzzz

            Hey, what was it that woke me this time?!? Oh, it’s those two bakery delivery vans that motor down the street each morning. They work for fierce competitors, Krug’s and Dugan’s. When they enter the street, usually from different directions, it’s like an old Western shootout between gunslingers. They pass each other on the street, exchanging sinister stares, revving their motors in challenge. Now that WWII is history, they have plenty of gasoline for what used to be called non-essential home deliveries. What a variety of fresh baked goods they have in their large baskets…and they take them right up to the front doors of the houses. Now, the older female humans (sometimes called ladies, women, or mothers, I understand) — still in housecoats and curlers — pop their heads out and make their selections for the day. No money passes hands because the week’s total is collected on Saturday. Soon the pack (or families) will feast on the purchases for breakfast. What service these humans enjoy! I notice that the house across the street from me is a Krug’s customer, and I know why. It’s the influence of that chunky little male human, Octini. He knows that Krug’s offers its customers a free comic book about the exploits of its hero, Peter Wheat, and Octini lobbies his parents to buy from Krug’s and not Dugan’s. His lobbying pays off.      

            Oh, well, I might as well get up…the mid-morning parade is starting. First, the vegetable man drives up, parks in the middle of the street, and announces his arrival with a great bellow. Out comes the trickle of homemakers with purses in hand. They queue up as they look over the fruits and vegetables displayed on the open-sided truck. “How’s the fruit today, George?” is the unvarying query. As always, George answers, “Good, good!” Never has he admitted to any lesser evaluation. I notice that the ladies take this time to chit chat as they wait on line…a little social break from the drudgery of homemaking. I can relate to socializing…I too romp with my friends on the block when the opportunity arises.

            The parade continues with a variety of peddlers with pushcarts. They don’t stop and park but noisily amble down the street awaiting residents to stop them and make their purchases. There’s the hot pretzel pushcart; there’s one selling steamy, freshly roasted peanuts; another is selling ice cream. Each cart has its own distinctive bell, shout, or whistle to signify its arrival. The humans live well on this block.  Too bad they have to be so noisy about it.

            As the day goes on (and I try to snooze), the merry-go-round on a cart pulled by another extra large dog (still not sure what he is) arrives and parks curbside. The driver cranks up his hand-driven calliope, again interrupting my dreams (darn humans). The familiar music entices all the small humans (sometimes called kids or children)…here they come…rushing out to get on the ride. Each one pays and is strapped onto what they call a “wooden pony” (hey, it looks sorta like that large dog), and the driver closes the gate and starts hand-cranking the ride. Now the next wave of older male humans (also known as boys) rushes out and lines up behind the driver, awaiting their turn for the “privilege” of cranking. The driver turns over the crank to the eagerly awaiting boys, and each one takes a turn for a minute or two. That driver must have read those Tom Sawyer stories that I heard little Octini talking about.  After relaxing through two or three sessions, the guy packs up, and I listen as the cart goes clopping away.

            There is a transition going on in the neighborhood. The humans are replacing their kitchen iceboxes with electric refrigerators, and they are heating their houses with oil instead of coal. This has doubled the amount of street traffic.  While I find this irksome because my naps are interrupted more frequently, the kids seem to delight in all the delivery activity.

            Now the iceman is chopping his masses of frozen water into icebox-size blocks, while the kids watch attentively in anticipation of his departure into a kitchen. As soon as he is out of sight, they jump up on the wagon and search for nuggets of ice that have fallen from his sculpting. These little humans seem to love the taste of these morsels, as they walk away sucking on them contentedly. I licked up a drop from under the wagon, and frankly, I don’t get the attraction.

            Here comes the coal truck…no napping for me now. The coal deliverymen roll out their giant wooden coal barrels and fill them from chutes on the sides of the truck. The clatter is deafening. Then the ballet begins. These big, burly men tilt these full barrels slightly, then dexterously roll them 30 or 40 feet to the side of the house, then noisily dump the coal down a metal chute into the basement. The final act concludes with each man rolling two empty barrels at the same time, one guided with each hand. The brawny, barrel-chested men look down haughtily at the fascinated youngsters, who are enthralled by the ballet-like performance.

            Those homes that have converted to oil heat get deliveries from tankers, which are a lot less noisy than the coal trucks. I prefer them because they rarely awaken me. On the other hand, the children have only passing interest in the oil delivery operation…probably because it’s silent, and there is no strange ballet involved. They drift away bored after only a few minutes…maybe now I can drift off again, too.

            Oh, man (yawn)! One delivery vehicle after another interrupts my nap. The irregular convoy includes the umbrella/knife-sharpening truck with its piercing announcement bell, the strolling violinist playing classical music in hopes of tips, and the seasonal melon man singing “Wa-da-me-lown…” He’s from Naples and sings the word with a cry in his voice and accents the last syllable of the word pronouncing it “own.” Of course, now all the children begin imitating him, shrilly yelling, “Wadamelown,” but not nearly so melodically. Sure, they are reveling in the game, but I can’t sleep!

            It’s already afternoon, and the kids are enjoying the “industrial strength” vehicles. The city water truck drives down the center of the street, spraying its cleansing water out both sides. The bigger kids run on both sides of the oncoming truck and attempt to jump over the spewing spray without getting wet. Successful jumpers are applauded, and the others merely get very wet. The garbage collection trucks follow with their loud engines, noisy truck escalators, and the metal garbage cans clanking. The children follow along down the street, never tiring of this show.

            The young ones eagerly await autumn, when the city carts away the fallen leaves in large, open-topped dump trucks. Getting the piles of leaves into the truck is a magical operation that attracts all the children. One man drives an odd-looking vehicle with a plow in front, embedded with two rotating metal arms.  City workers shovel the leaves onto the plow, and the rotating arms gather the leaves to the center, where they are escalated up and into the waiting dump truck. The kids’ attention moves from the workers, to the plow, to the rotating arms, and up the escalator. What a show! Unfortunately, a noisy one.

            The least interesting vehicles for the children (but my favorites) come just twice a week. They are very pretty trucks, always with shiny fresh paint jobs — mostly green, with bright red wooden spokes on the wheels. Very eye catching! The big sign on the side of each truck has a mother holding a baby wearing a spanking clean white diaper. I have heard my female master read out the words as “Pilgrim Laundry.” I hear that they run on something called electricity. The children have zero interest in these trucks because they make no noise — the very reason that I favor them — they don’t interfere with my naps. The mothers welcome the uniformed drivers, who run up each stoop delivering freshly laundered diapers, then down again carrying bags of soiled nappies (as my British bulldog friend would say).  I could have used such service when I was rearing my own seven pups.

            On Wednesdays and Fridays, Charlie the fish man stops his truck halfway down the street and sets up business. He raises the cover on his fresh fish, laid out on a bed of ice, and yells, “Fisheeya” a few times at the top of his lungs. He exaggerates and stresses the last syllable, “ya.” While all the kids are imitating Charlie, chanting “fisheeya, fisheeya…” the housewives drop everything they are doing and walk trancelike toward the fish truck.  It looks like a scene from the movie, “Night of the Living Dead,” that my young master likes to watch.  Brooklyn homemakers respond immediately to a vender’s arrival announcement. After all, provisioning their families is a top priority.

            It must be Friday…Charlie is beginning his operation as the ladies line up for their turn. As usual, they chat, gossip, and talk shop while in the queue. “Have you heard about Mrs.  McNamara?”  “I don’t know what to make for dinner tonight. What are you making?” “How is your headache today?” Charlie takes each order, scaling and filleting the fish as he works. The children provide an attentive audience as he processes the seafood. They pay special attention to the whole eels that lie on the ice in one corner, feeling sure that they are still alive and possibly wriggling. All the women walk away with their purchases wrapped in paper from Charlie’s large, magical paper roll. Charlie closes up, and the kids wander away.

            My master has just come home from work and is calling, “Rover, Rover, come here, boy.” That’s me, so I must run now…maybe I’ll get some of the goodies that were purchased today! Ya know what?  I have a pretty easy life here, and so do all the humans on the street. After all, the world seems to come to us every day.”  

Retirement Retirement Age Stories

Dee Sowna Shines

Dee Sowna Shines        by Octo G. Enario

“The Marines, that was the best outfit. Boot camp made a man of you,” commented an exerciser working on the elliptical at impressive speeds. The other gym rats, mostly veterans of other military branches, were not about to argue the point. They knew of the Marines reputation for toughness. My story would have to be told at another time, when the ex-Marine was absent, and the testosterone levels were lower.  


 I was lost in a deep, deep sleep. In those days, I slept soundly and, if not interrupted, long. I began to hear an annoying voice, almost chanting. Slowly I ascended into consciousness as the demanding chant continued…Dee Sowna Shines, Dee Sowna Shines, Dee Sowna Shines. My eyes beginning to open, I saw the smiling and persistent porter looking down at me in my pull-out bed as he continued with his chant. The train had stopped, and apparently he was rousing us so that we could dress and detrain. It was dark outside. I checked my watch and saw that it was 5:30 a.m. I tried to pull my thoughts together. What was going on here?

Now fully awake, the situation became crystal clear. I was in Germany. After an 11-day sea voyage across the Atlantic on the William S. Rose troopship and then landing at Bremerhaven in the north, we had travelled overnight in sleeper cars to Frankfurt. The porter spoke virtually no English, and so he cobbled together some German with some English to create what he felt was a polite way to wake us up. His version of “the sun shines” was a mixture of idiomatic German and English that he used as his wake-up notice.  All my sleep-suppressed apprehension and awe about being on German soil bubbled up again. Is this the country we were taught to hate as a child during World War II? Is this the formidable foe that was reflected in war movie after war movie in the ‘40s and ‘50s? Is this the home of the people who almost took over the world, performing dastardly, unspeakable atrocities while trying to do so? My 19-year-old spirit was overwhelmed with awe and apprehension. This previously theoretical, larger-than-life place actually did exist, and I was here…shudder.

Unlike the American youth of today who bop around Europe on their own, footloose and fancy-free, with little apprehension about experiencing new customs and cultures, I, a naïve, parochial innocent, was comfortably under the protective and watchful eye of the U.S. Army. The Army clothed me, fed me, gave me shelter, and even threw in an allowance every month. Uncle Sam gave me a safe place to stand as I gradually overcame my initial awe of this foreign place.

My perimeter of social operation increased slowly (in the evenings, on weekends, and on leaves). Over time, I grew very comfortable with Germany and its people. For two years, I motored up and down the country, toured other European countries, visited old castles, medieval villages, beer festivals, battle fields, and many other interesting sites. One of my G.I. buddies married a German girl, and we all experienced an authentic German wedding followed by a congenial and very memorable wedding feast. By the time my tour of duty was up, I no longer was in awe of Germany.

Over the next 30 years, I progressed in life. I became a well-educated, well-travelled, successful businessman. No longer was I the shrinking violet that needed Big Brother (the U.S. Army) to help me ease into new, unfamiliar experiences. I felt that the world was my oyster, and I was in charge.

At this time, nostalgia for Germany, and especially for Wurzburg, my home for two years while in the Army, started to creep into my thinking. Why not plan a vacation to the old stomping grounds?  So, I did. I would need no Big Brother this time…I was a man now more comfortable with the World.

I was now very familiar with arranging travel. Airline tickets, hotels, rental cars; these had become commonplace for me. Everything was put in place, and off I went, not for two years this time, but for two weeks. After an 11-hour flight (not an 11-day sea voyage) I arrived in Frankfurt, not at the railway station, but this time at the airport. I picked up my rental car and began my second visit to Germany. The highlight of my visit would be my return to Wurzburg, so I saved it for last.

When I arrived in Wurzburg, my first impression was that it was a little smaller than I remembered, not so domineering. It certainly was still beautiful and picturesque. There was a castle on a hill, grapes growing on the slopes, the robust Main River flowing through the city, the old town standing on the other side of the Main, and two ancient bridges crossing the river. All the clay tile roofs gleamed up from the buildings. I checked my pulse. It was not registering awe. It was mere nostalgia.

Die Main Kuh (the Main Cow) was a river barge converted into, of all things, an upscale night club, permanently moored to the riverside.  When we soldiers saved up enough money, we used to go there to dance with the local German girls. I was a little intimidated the first time I went in. All the dancers were well dressed, and they were doing a new dance called the twist (they called it the tvist-tvist). I made it through the evening without embarrassing myself and was finally glad when I left.

On my return visit to Wurzburg, I looked for the Main Kuh. I almost missed it, although it remained on the side of the river, exactly where it had been 30 years ago.  But it had shrunk. Was this the club that intimidated me when I was a G.I.? This process of revisiting my old haunts continued, and everything seemed smaller.

As a G.I., I paid lip service to visiting all the cultural attractions of the town and its surrounding environs, although I did make some cursory attempts. This time, I spent many hours touring the Bishop’s Residence, the University, the many churches and museums. My tastes had changed over three decades. I realized that I did not even know these cultural attractions existed within the city during my first stay. Ah, perspective.

During both the first and second visits to Wurzburg, I fully appreciated the storybook setting and beauty of the city. It seemed shiny and bright, almost like a Hollywood set or a Disney movie.  Both times, I had a nagging thought about how Wurzburg was spared all the bombing devastation in WWII. I assumed it was just lucky.

Another 20 years rolled by, and I was watching a 1946 movie about the American occupation of Germany immediately after WWII. The movie was shot on location in a number of bombed-out German cities. There were flattened buildings everywhere. Berlin was hobbled as were the few other cities shown. In one segment, they drove through Wurzburg, and I was flabbergasted. The city was razed. What devastation! How could this be the same city I lived in for two years only 17 years later? Those Germans are certainly dedicated rebuilders. When I was there the first time, I did see one little corner of one building that was still rubble and had not been cleaned up. I thought it came from one lone stray bomb. Not so.

During my military tour of duty, my pay was modest to say the least. I wrestled with the idea of buying lederhosen (traditional German leather pants). I really wanted them, but the $40 price tag was too high for my G.I. budget. My desire for them never faltered. By the time of my second visit, my income had grown to businessman’s levels, and I bought a pair of the pants for $200. Inflation and the German Mark had caused the price to rise substantially, but my income had kept up.

I went by to visit my old military base, Hindenburg Kaserne (a small compound of barracks), and as I walked near, a U.S. Army captain was walking by, heading to the compound. He greeted me in German as he walked past. I did not know how to reply. Should I reply in German, in English? As a G.I. with American clothing and a buzz cut, I had always been taken for an American when walking around in my civilian clothes (in effect, I could not pass). In this case, he thought I was German. I finally mumbled a return greeting in German.

Years have passed since my second visit, and I am now toying with the idea of another trip to Germany. I am a little afraid of how I will react emotionally to seeing Wurzburg again. Will it be disappointing? Will it have changed a lot due to the influx of many non-German immigrants? Will the nostalgia have worn off? Will I be disappointed? Well, I guess the only way I will find out is to pack my lederhosen and go.