A Newsletter of the White River Valley Museum

July 2004


by C. W. Malesis

Connie in high school
Constantine H. Malesis

Born in Auburn, Connie published short-story compilations With Tongue in Cheek and Where the Trilliums Bloom and wrote articles for his column ãBoomerâs Cornerä for Your Auburn Community. Connie retired as a real estate appraiser, and enjoyed downhill skiing, fishing and of course, writing. He was a Board Member of the White River Valley Museum and was married to Barbara Malesis, who lovingly cared for him during his extended illness.

You live in a town but you belong to a neighborhood. In many ways the neighborhood gives the town its flavor; the essence you will remember all of your life even though you move away. It will always be the ãold neighborhood.ä

For years, espionage agencies the world over have been wasting millions of dollars setting up elaborate networks of spies. All the marvelous technical mechanisms, cameras and listening devices they use are not necessary. All they have to do is listen to the kids in any neighborhood and they can find out everything worth knowing about everybody and everything therein.

If you live there long enough its geographical contours and human peculiarities will become as familiar to you as your face. The physical characteristics of every house, garage and shed will be known. The occupants will be sorted out and filed away in your brain. The intimate facts of their lives will be common knowledge to you and all the other neighborhood children. Whether they own or are renting and often how much the rent is per month. Where the breadwinner works and how much he is paid. If he drinks to excess, occasionally or rarely, is grist for the mill. And on and on and on. No secret is too trivial to escape the inquisitive notice of neighborhood children.

We lived just on the edge of town and our neighborhood was an irregular shaped territory that ran from our house to the alley between Second and Third Streets N.E. It extended from the road leading into the City Park to about ãCä Street N.W. Within those boundaries, those of us who lived there felt we had a full vested territorial interest. A sort of ownership on the alleys, fruit trees regardless of whether they were on private property, berry bushes both wild and cultivated, curbs and gutters, vacant lots, sheds, ponds, creeks, billboards and any other unusual feature of the terrain.

Trespassers or strange faces were investigated quickly. Those passing through were one thing but a newcomer, or someone visiting for more than a weekend, had to be fitted into his, or her, correct niche or the whole social machine was soon in complete disarray.

Delivery men and their approximate schedules were well known. The postman, milkman, breadman, iceman, laundry drivers and dry cleanerâs man were regulars. Any disruption in their schedule was noted and probably became a topic for discussion the next time a group of kids gathered in the shade of a big old tree. A change in drivers required inquiries as to where the regular driver was, what the new driverâs name was and if the change was temporary.

Icemen were favorites of ours, especially in the summer. Ice companies distributed cards displaying the numbers ten, fifteen, twenty and twenty-five to homes along the delivery routes. Housewives would put the appropriate card in the front window to advise the truck driver. He in turn, seeing the card, would break off the required amount, dash up to the door, rap on the door jamb, holler ãIcemanä and go on in. Putting the ice in the ice box he would dash back to his truck and continue on his way.

Icemen had the tendency to be big, burly fellows, capable of manhandling two hundred pound blocks of ice besides the extra effort required to run in and out of different houses all day with deliveries of lesser amounts.

Icemen shared a place in popular mythology with traveling salesmen. The epitome of virility, they were cast in the role of being the answer to an old maidâs prayer or a lonely housewifeâs lack of male companionship. The territory a driver covered in a day was called his route. This gave rise to a jingle of the day that used a play on the word ãrouteä to give it double meaning. As we sang it, the words sounded like this, ãOh, the icemanâs got the longest root in town.ä

We would sometimes sing it as we ran beside the ice truck imploring the driver to give us small chips of ice to suck on. I sang it one time on the porch of a neighborhood house and got into a lot of trouble. The lady of the house was married to a traveling salesman. She made excellent root beer from extract purchased from the Hires Root Beer Company. Occasionally, she would invite all the neighborhood kids up on her porch for a glass of this ice cold delight. Besides knowing something about making good root beer, she was apparently young enough to get lonely while her husband was out of town. She was also enterprising enough to do something about it. It didnât take us kids very long to realize ice deliveries at this particular house took a long time. We were not so young we couldnât form an opinion of why. There came a hot day when the lady of the house invited a bunch of us on her porch for root beer.

Why I did what I did, Iâll never know. I can only blame it on an impulsive nature that prompted me later in life to jump out of airplanes and take up downhill skiing as a sport. What I did was quite simple. I downed my root beer and rising to my feet, looked the lady of the house right in the eye and sang, ãOh, the icemanâs got the longest root in town.ä Lightning struck me almost before I got started. That woman just about slapped me clean off that porch. And I mean right now. What was even worse, she never ever invited me to have any more root beer.

Young Connie in traditional Greek costume
Young Connie in traditional Greek costume.

There was a pecking order that kids sorted out by themselves. Being handy with your fists was important but so was not being too handy. Using force to get your own way would make you very unpopular and this could lead to a very lonely lifestyle. Being diplomatic widened your social group immeasurably.

We played and snooped our way through the neighborhood. The basements and garages yielded up their secrets to our curiosity. On long summer evenings we played ãKick the Canä on 4th Street and roasted potatoes in the ashes of a big bonfire in the old river bed. We roller skated on the smooth tar street surfaces and shared a skate key. Apple and fruit trees were automatically ours.

We ran through the alleys, vacant lots and nearby fields. The little creek running from the White River springs to the Green River was where we caught tadpoles and frogs. We spied on nesting ducks, quail and pheasants. Baby cottontail rabbit were elusive prey. The wild strawberries, salmonberries and blackberries were well known to all.

The boys did not have it all their own way in these endeavors. Some of the girls could run faster, jump higher and spit farther. I knew one who was pretty good with her fists and not a damn bit reluctant to go a couple of rounds.

We were polite to the grown-ups and parents of all the other kids. We didnât destroy property. We did smoke when we got the opportunity. We smoked all kinds of leaves, corn silk, Indian tobacco, smoke-wood which is the root of cottonwood trees, Bull Durham, Dukesâ Mixture and any kind of pipe tobacco we could roll in a piece of paper. All of the tobacco was stolen from parents or other family members.

Except for the tobacco there was only one other occasion when the kids in my neighborhood stole anything I knew about. I was up to my ears in that escapade.

Connie and Barbara Maleses dressed to volunteer at the museum.
Connie and Barbara Maleses dressed to volunteer at the museum.

Arthur Ballard lived in a house on 3rd Street N.E. A civic leader and son of Levi Ballard who filed the original plat of the town of Slaughter in 1886. The public library west of the family house sat on ground donated by the Ballard family.

On a warm summer evening, in 1935, Francis Ballard was to be married in his fatherâs home, an imposing two story structure. The house backed up to the alley between 3rd and 4th Streets. The children in the neighborhood soon became aware of the activity. They hung around the alley at the back of the house watching the coming and going as friends and family decorated the home for the happy occasion. The arrival of beautifully wrapped gifts and the three layered wedding cake drew some interest. A late afternoon delivery got all their interest. A large delivery truck from the Fulmer Ice Cream company pulled into the alley and the driver, Delmar Dutcher, proceeded to unload five gallons of high quality ice cream. Swathed in insulated blankets it was deposited in a cool place on the big back porch.

That evening a gala assembly of family, relatives and guests filled the home. The bride was enchanting, the preacher ready, the groom nervous. Old ladies present said what old ladies always say at weddings, ãOh, mercy me. This marriage was made in heaven.ä

The preacher did his thing, Francis Ballard kissed his bride and it was time to serve the wedding cake. Someone went after the ice cream. It wasnât there. The whole five gallons was gone.

For fifty-six years a shroud of mystery hung over the crime.
As Auburnâs one hundredth year dawned, the Cityâs Centennial Commission felt it would be appropriate for a representative of Levi Ballard to be present at the celebrationâs commencement. Dr. Ballard was invited and consented to return for the occasion.

At the Mayorâs Centennial Ball, a lifelong resident of Auburn approached Dr. Ballard and introduced himself. After discussing old time residents of the neighborhood for a bit, the subject of that wedding was brought up. Dr. Ballard remembered the missing ice cream very well. A true gentleman, he had the good grace to laugh when I confessed to being one of the five neighborhood children who absconded with his wedding refreshments fifty-six years ago.
What I didnât have the heart to tell the good Doctor was what happened later.

Hearts racing, adrenalin pumping and short of breath, we made our getaway into Tomio Hirabayashiâs pea field just across ãAä Street from the scene of the crime. Settling down between the rows we proceeded to eat vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream as though there were no tomorrow. And we discovered something. Five gallons of ice cream, even good ice cream, is more than five kids can handle. Before long, we were sated with the treat. I suppose it was inevitable someone would flick a dash of chocolate, or a bit of strawberry, on somebody else. That was only a start. In no time at all ice cream was flying all over the place. Gobs of ice cream, handfuls of ice cream, chunks of ice cream. A total binge of ice cream is probably the only way to describe the situation.

Later, we made our way to the city park where immersion in the wading poolâs tepid water, clothes and all, got the bulk of the evidence off our bodies. The warm summer air made quick work of drying us before we wended our individual ways home. We made no pledges of secrecy to one another. The sheer enormity of our crime insured our silence, until now.

All of my confederates were well known to the victim. Bonnie Logan, a daughter of a Presbyterian minister; Robert Hopkins, brother of an Auburn Globe Republican reporter; Glenn Peterson and Stanley ãTagä Giffen, who both turned out pretty well despite their obvious criminal tendencies when younger.

It was my pleasure to present Dr. Ballard with a copy of my book dedicated as follows, ãFebruary 23, 1991. For Dr. Francis Ballard, in part payment for five gallons of excellent ice cream.ä

[Where the Trilliums Bloom is out of print, but due to the generosity of Barbara Malesis, we have With Tongue in Cheek for sale in the Museum Shop.]

Front cover: With Tongue in Cheek
Front cover: With Tongue in Cheek

Back cover: With Tongue in Cheek
Back cover: With Tongue in Cheek

by C. W. Malesis