Happiness for a 9-year-old boy is a best friend whose father owns a drugstore. Pink, so nicknamed for his light red hair, and I spent hours sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the comic book rack, reading of the wonders of Superman and the antics of Archie Andrews and his pal Jughead. We whirled round and round on the soda fountain stools. We drank free cherry cokes and an occasional root beer float. Dowd’s Drug in Guthrie Center was a wonderland in the year 1947.
Always seeking additional adventures, Pink and I wandered into the backroom of the store on a day when his dad was absent. A sense of mystery surrounded us in the dimly lit, cluttered room of dusty shelves, cartons, and crates.
We lifted lids, opened boxes, peeked and snooped at everything within reach, including a package filled with round, flat, foil-wrapped somethings. Curiosity tugged. We opened one and found a tightly wrapped tube-shaped balloon with a wide thick mouth. Pink unrolled the flesh-colored discovery and inflated it with several hefty puffs. We had uncovered a treasure trove of balloons, or so we thought. Filled with gleeful excitement, we didn’t know what might lie ahead.
“Would it be stealing if we took a couple?” I asked.
“Nah, dad’s got plenty of ’em. He’ll never miss a few. Heck, if he was here, he would tell us to help ourselves.”
With that assurance, I stuck two of the prizes in my pocket, as did Pink. I thought nothing could top access to comic books and cokes. But now I had free balloons to boot, an absolute bonanza for a fourth-grader.
“You know, Pink, we could blow these up and put ’em on our bicycle handle bars. The wide ends will fit right on. You can’t do that with regular balloons.”
“Good idea,” Pink responded. “Tomorrow we can ride to school with decorated bikes.”
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And so we did, arriving triumphantly at the school bike rack with thoughts of wowing our classmates with our fancy J.C. Higgins bicycles. But no classmates were near. We didn’t hear the “oohs” and “ahs” we anticipated. Indeed, no one noticed us except for the playground teacher, Nellie Sole.
Miss Sole approached us, narrowing her eyes through horn-rimmed glasses for a better look at our cleverly adorned bicycles.
When she got close enough for a full view of the balloons she gasped and shrieked, “That is absolutely disgusting!”
The unhappy teacher drew a sharp pointed pencil from a pocket. Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!
Our balloons hung limply, but not as limply as our spirits. Why was Miss Sole so upset?
She grabbed us by an ear. “I’m taking you two to your teacher. Your gonna have to explain everything to her,” she snapped.
We were in trouble. But why? I had no idea, but assumed it must be something awful to upset Miss Sole. She panted as she led us by the ears up the worn wooden steps to the fourth-grade classroom.
Our teacher, Mrs. Watts, sat at her desk correcting papers. She looked up as Miss Sole finally released our sore ears. “What’s going on here?” she asked.
Miss Sole bent over and whispered with cupped hands into the ear of Mrs. Watts. I detected a bemused look on our teacher’s face, quite the opposite of the continuing frown of our accuser.
“I’ll let you take it from here,” Miss Sole snarled. “See that these boys are properly punished.”
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She then stomped out of the room, leaving behind two bewildered boys and a teacher who broke a smile as her colleague went out the door.
“What did we do wrong?” I asked.
“Never mind,” Mrs. Watts replied. “Just run and play.”
Those words I understood. “Never mind” I heard when delving into the mysterious world of adults. “Run and play” was a signal not to ask questions.
We did as directed, going to the playground scratching our heads.
• Carroll McKibbin is a native Iowan who lives in San Luis Obispo, Calif., as a retired Cal Poly dean.