I’ve decided to step into my make-believe time machine, and travel back to a place where life would be unrecognizable to many people under the age of 40. It seems that I have landed somewhere in the late 1950s to the mid-60s. I’m standing on Indiana 32 West as I gaze across the street at the Lebanon Dog n’ Suds. I can see car hops, both young boys and girls hustling from car to car delivering frozen mugs of root beer and melt-in-your-mouth, sweet-tasting Coney dogs. The heavenly aroma of salty french fries creeps into my nostrils and causes my mouth to salivate. Even across the street I can hear the sizzling and popping of grease as another basket of fries is dropped into the fryer. Music of the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, Elvis and other musicians of that era plays constantly from a jukebox located near the screen doors leading to the kitchen.
There are carloads of ponytailed girls, who are glancing into mirrors making sure that their hair and makeup are just right for attracting the boys in the car next to them. On the other side of the lot, moms and dads are trying to pass miniature root beer mugs and hamburgers to their excited children in the back of the station wagon. Nearly every car has a tray with the familiar orange mat attached to the driver’s side window, loaded down with goodies of all sorts. The famous lighted sign with the dog welcoming all who drive in begins to fade away as my time travels begin to take me elsewhere.
Suddenly I find myself peddling my bike down a long gravel driveway lined with large maple trees. The drive leads to the two-story house of our dear neighbor Walt Dempsey. No matter who you might be, or what your age is, this kind-hearted man in his 90s makes you feel right at home as soon as you sit down on his porch swing. I spent countless hours as a young child, and even as a teenager, listening to the many stories that he recollected. Not once did he ever repeat the same story twice. Walt had a large, round water trough in his barnyard where he kept goldfish. Many times I would stand near it with a small fishing pole, trying to land one of those brightly-colored fish.I fondly remember Walt giving me my first ride on a tractor, and the yearly ice cream socials that he had for all of his neighbors. He would take the very same tractor that I took my first ride on and go around our neighborhood loading kids and adults onto the hay wagon that he was pulling and return us to his house for home-baked goodies and ice cream. This wonderful and gentle human being who treated me like I was his grandson, I would find out years later, was a black man. Many of us children growing up in those days did not seem to notice a person’s skin color, despite the many years of discrimination and hatred that were regularly broadcast on our televisions during the nightly news.