There was a Ben Franklin store in the middle of Broadway. It was right next to the theatre. They sold penny candy. Before the matinee, we would take our quarters and buy full sacks of candyand take them to watch the feature movie.
As a kid, I didn’t think there could be anything better. But my grandma did. She loved the Ben Franklin too, but more than the candy. In the middle of summer, the local merchants held Crazy Days. Often spelled Crazee Daze, or with a backwards“c” – maybe a crooked “d” – anything to promote just how crazy these deals were going to be. They lined the sidewalks with all kinds of product. It looked like a carnival when you were a kid,or a grandma who was waiting for the next big deal! Most likely it was just the unsold merchandise they wanted to get rid of before the next season, but that reality had not yet set in – for either of us. I’m not sure for my grandma, if it ever did.
At Ben Franklin they had “grab bags.” Brown paper sacks filled with mystery merchandise. Each had a small price written in marker on the front, and you had to buy it sight unseen. Now, some told of the great surpises that were found, for only a nickel, only fifty cents – why it just can’t be – how lucky! My grandma told of these stories too, but had never actually experienced such a thrill. “But maybe this time…” she wouldalways say. I walked the crazy sidewalks with her and we finished at Ben Franklin. She gave me a quarter to pick out any sack I liked. She picked out many.
You have to know a little bit about my grandma. She loved to play games of any kind. Cards. Dice. She wasn’t the kind of grandma to let you win. No, she enjoyed beating you. Not in a mean way, but like in a kid-like way… like your older sister of brother would. She loved to play. She wouldn’t teach you the rules, she said you’d pick it up as we played – meaning she would beat you and beat you until you finally caughton. There was a dice game. You had to roll the numbers in a certain sequence, and if you didn’t, you lost your turn. And the pure joy she got when you lost your turn was beautiful. She would swipe in with her swollen farm hands and scoop up those dice before you knew what happened. “Ooooooo, she lost it!” she would say, almost giggling. She loved to play so much that it was infectious. You never felt hurt or sorry, just watching her play, made you want to play. So we rolled the dice. And we kept rolling.
We brought our Ben Franklin sacks to her car and opened them one at a time. With such anticipation I removed the top staple. Unwrinkled the sack. I pulled out a plastic face that was knitted into a cover for a kleenex box. It was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. “Ooooooo,” my grandma said, “She lost it!” And oh, how we laughed. My grandma knew how to laugh. She knew how to play. We would go back the next year, and roll again.
My mother loved Frank Sinatra. We listened to the same records over and over on our giant stereo. It looked like a piece of furniture. About the size of a small sofa. Speakers on each end.On long Sunday afternoons, we would each lie on opposite sides of the stereo, our heads in front of a speaker, and Frank would sing. Sunday afternoons were long. My father was gone. My mother was sad. The sun went down early on winter days. In the dark. No money. No company. We lied beside Frank and he told us, with such certainty, we had to believe, “Maybe this time,” he sang, “I’ll get lucky… all of the odds are in my favor, something’s bound to begin… maybe this time, maybe this time, I’m gonna win…”
Was it the American spirit? The Hvezda spirit? The spirit of women? Something made us believe. Something made us keep rolling. Keep trying. Something made us believe beyond the season. Maybe this time it’s going to last. Maybe this time we might win. We believed. We all kept rolling.