A time before locked doors
Before World War II, when I was yet to turn 5 years old, my York Avenue neighborhood in good old Warren teemed with all sorts of people who provided services (or just needed or wanted something) to all who lived there.
Many just walked in to our homes or just showed up on our doorsteps. Who needed door locks or security systems?
The person I liked best may have been Finch’s grocery boy, who would pull into our drive in a beat-up International panel delivery truck with Mom’s order, which she had placed over the phone earlier in the day. He would barge in, unannounced, unload the groceries onto the kitchen counter, maybe tease me about my lack of a haircut, fold up his wooden box that carried the groceries, and be on his way.
The Finch’s grocery store building still stands at the corner of Ohio Avenue and West Market.
The egg man (or lady) would walk through the back door and say, in a loud voice, “Egg man!”— or lady, which ever applied. That got either Grandma or Mom into the kitchen to pick out a dozen eggs. I liked the brown ones that were always present. They seemed to be bigger, and sometimes were double yolkers!
Hobos, who came from riding the railroad cars on the nearby train tracks, appeared one at a time at our door to talk Grandma into a handout — Mom was a tougher sell. Those poor, scruffy, bearded men would sit on our front steps to eat whatever handout they got. I had to stay indoors until they left.
The gas meter reader man would knock on our cellar door. Even I could let him in, and he would go down into the cellar and read the meter with a flashlight. He seemed to be in a hurry, and I couldn’t get him to talk to me.
The water meter man was about the same — always at the cellar door. He was friendlier and would talk to me. My cat would sidle up to him.
The paper boy always caught my interest, because when he would come in our front door (he rang the bell), he would have this fascinating silvery device called a coin changer that he wore at his waist. Mom or Grandma would pay him for his week’s delivery of the Warren Tribune Chronicle. He would go chicka chicka with his coin changer, hand back a few coins, and be on his way.
Nobody ever seemed to complain about the few neatly folded Tribunes he threw onto the porch roof instead of onto the porch.
Back then, the paper was an afternoon edition.
The milkman usually delivered two quarts of Warren Sanitary Milk’s glass-bottled milk with the top shaped to hold the cream. Sometimes, Mom would change her order with a rolled-up paper note that she stuck in the neck of empty bottles that were out for his pickup. He usually drove a small cream-colored van on his route.
It wasn’t until the World War II gasoline shortages that owner Les Stauffer had those vans converted for horse-drawn use.
The insurance man was a kindly elderly man (he must have been 60!) who would park in our drive with his black ’39 Ford coupe, come inside to sit down and visit a bit, accept the check that Mom gave him and be on his way. Sometimes, he would give me a tablet to scribble on. It had a picture of one of Santa’s reindeer at the top of each page. Later, I learned the insurance company was The Hartford.
This ends part 1 of a two-part column about services in the neighborhood before World War II. Part 2 will be published on Friday, February 15.
Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org