JOHN E. ARCHER
Just five years old and no one to play with; the new place we had moved to on Maiden Lane in Muscatine was not remote, but I hadn't met anyone my age yet. It was a warm morning in 1944, a good day for a walk for a bored five-year-old boy.
I decided to walk downtown. I knew I wouldn't get lost because I had done it once with Mama and Paul. It was about a mile and I would walk slow. I would go down Maiden Lane towards Roscoe, which I knew would lead me to Eighth Street, where I had to turn at the bottom of the hill onto Cedar, and Cedar would take me right downtown.
It was simple.
I was about two blocks from our house when I saw a man fixing his car. Daddy had said his name was Johnny and he was a good mechanic. I walked by blowing on my little harmonica that Paul had got for me by sending in ten cents and a Cheerios box top.
"Hey bud!" he yelled, "Can you play that thing?"
"Sure," I replied. I crossed the street to where he was working.
"Let me see that harp." he said, as he spit a stream of tobacco deftly over his shoulder. "Here's how you do it." Taking the harmonica from my outstretched hand, he pointed out how you had to hold your tongue over the holes you didn't want to play. He spit again and stuck out his tobacco-flecked tongue and covered two holes and blew on the others. The sound was a single note, not the jumble I had been playing.
"See bud," he said, "Now we'll see if thing's got any music in it." With that he played a short version of Yankee Doodle and then Oh! Susanna. He was really good. "Now you give it a try, bud."
I blew a few notes but the sweetish aftertaste of his tobacco made it hard for me to think about playing.
"Well, you just keep trying," he said, and he turned back to his car.
I blew a few notes and walked down the street. When I was out of sight, I stopped and spit several times to get rid of the tobacco taste. I wiped the harmonica off and put it in my pants pocket. Maybe I'd give it to Paul when I got home.
I watched squirrels playing tag on Eighth Street. They ran away when I got too close. On Cedar, I passed a postman who said, "Hi son," as he walked by. A fat lady smiled at me as she pushed a baby carriage past me. I wasn't tall enough to see the baby.
I came to the first traffic light of downtown. It was green. Mama had told me to only cross when it was green. The green one is on the bottom. I walked to a restaurant just past the Courthouse. It was painted red and white and had a big sign out front but I couldn't read. Paul had told me that it said "Maid-Rite." I could smell hamburger cooking so I went inside and sat on one of the high stools at the counter.
I was looking at the pies in the pie case behind the counter when a lady came up with a glass of water and set it in front of me. I took a long drink.
"Can I get you some pie, Hon?" she asked.
"What kind of pie is that with the white stuff on top?" I asked as I drank some more water.
"That's Lemon Meringue, Honey."
"I don't have any money," I said, "but I sure would like some of that pie."
"I can't give you pie without money, Hon." And she added, "Don't you think you should go home now, son?"
As I walked back up Eighth Street hill I wondered if Mama could make a pie like that. I was picking up buckeyes from under a tree about a block from our house when a police car stopped across the street.
"Hey kid! Are you John?" the policeman yelled.
"Yes I am!" I said proudly. I really liked my name.
"Well, you better get home quick. Your mother's been looking all over for you. She thought you were lost."
"I'm not lost," I replied. "I just went for a walk."
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Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.
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JOHN E. ARCHER
John E. Archer is an Iowa native, born in Centerville, who lives in West Liberty, Iowa. He has authored technical articles while working for several industrial firms. His latest project is a first-person account of growing up in Muscatine and Davenport, Iowa, along the Mississippi.
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