I was uptown on the square the other day at noon. There were no signs of life anywhere to be seen. I got to thinking, there was a time when the old town square was crawling alive with activity. When I was in high school between nineteen fifty five and fifty nine, the noon bell would ring and the students swarmed out of the front and back doors of the school building like a swarm of hungry locusts.
Some would run to Hyatt’s across the street on the corner of High School and Maple street or down the block to the Seven Gables on the corner of Maple and Vermont. My choice of feeding places was the Shamrock Cafe located where the Fast Mart is now. There were about 15 or 20 of us who were regulars there.
A lady name Aggie and her sister operated this cafe. So we all just called it Aggie’s. For thirty five cents at Aggie’s you could buy a burger basket which consisted of a large hamburger and homemade fries, made with what they sell for baking potatoes today, and a Coke.
A burger buns were toasted on the grill and always had a nice layer of grease. The fries were plentiful and almost as long as the basket they were served in. Aggie’s sister Margaret was the only waitress.
This cafe was only about fifteen feet wide and about twenty five feet long. It had about four tables at one end and a jukebox in the corner next to the tables, a cigarette machine and four or five barstools at the counter. Needless to say, it was mass confusion when about twenty teenagers came crashing through the doors at noon.
A lot of kids smoked back then, so the little eatery filled up with a thick haze of cigarette smoke. This, combined with the smoke coming from the kitchen made it difficult to breathe. All of us would shoot our orders to Margaret, who would relay them to Aggie through a square hole in the wall.
Someone would always play the jukebox, and turn it as loud as it would go. Over everyone talking at once, the jukebox blasting and Margaret shouting orders, you could hear Aggie laughing. She was a large woman with a large heart, and a loud laugh. She seemed the happiest when she was cooking.
Aggie and Margaret must have the patience of Job to put up with this invasion five days a week for nine months of the year. They will always have a place in my heart. I think of them quite often.
Now there were times when I craved a real man’s meal, so I would pass Aggie’s and swagger on up to Ridley’s Pool Hall. Ralph Ridley served up a fine meal of pickled sausages and pickled eggs with a stack of saltine crackers. Both of these delicacies were saturated with garlic and hot peppers. Combine these with a large Coke with a package of peanuts in it, and you could count on a condition called acute flatulence in less than an hour.
I had, with much practice, perfected the art of releasing this distress into the classroom silently. I remember a girl sitting across from me as I was practicing my art after one of these lunches. She looked to be in shock, and with trembling fingers was frantically stuffing large wads of facial tissues into her nostrils, trying in vain to stop the flow of putrid vapors that was invading her air space.
Meanwhile, a couple of boys in back of me were making exaggerated gagging sounds. I heard one whisper, “Did you eat at the pool hall today?” The other said, “No, but someone did.” All my hardwork paid off when the teacher staggered over and opened the window. It made all the belly distended agony worth every second of it.
These noon hour trips to the town square were a welcome respite for the students and teachers alike. I have no idea why the second decided to close the campus in thee mid-sixties. I doubt any of the faculty remembers now.
The students and the town also are missing out on a big part of life in a small town by having a closed campus at the high school. The pool hall is gone, and I don’t think you can find a pickled sausage or egg in town.
There are plenty of eating places in town, and I’ll bet the owners would welcome a swarm of hungry teenagers every day at noon. I’m not trying to cause any problem at the high school but I have been known to raise a little stink now and then.