This morning I set
out on my Tuesday walk without the company of the neighbor who
is my usual partner. He was again off in Palm Springs, California.
Although it's pretty darn hot in Palm Springs these days, he
still leaves our wonderful city to go there because he has a
beautiful lady friend whose attractions are greater even than
Because I was by
myself today, I decided to deviate from my usual route. Instead
I took a stroll down Memory Lane.
The path I chose
came to mind because of the recent wedding of two of my former
Santa Fe classmates, an event I attended with several other
old friends. During the reception we began reminiscing about
our school days. I asked if anyone remembered an old green shack
called Della's, which was right next to the playground
at our Wood-Gormley Elementary School. From that shack a woman
named Della sold kids hot dogs and various other things not
necessarily good for us to eat. All my friends remembered Della's
and the wonderful and funny things that happened at that old
Della was a portly
lady with carrot-red hair and enough matching rouge to pull
her cheeks down to her chin. She wore what I called widow
shoessevere black things with short, stubby heels,
a style often chosen by elderly women in those days.
With Della's on my mind this morning, I walked over to the Wood-Gormley
school, not too far from my current home in the South Capitol
neighborhood. I meandered through the old neighborhood until
I got to Booth Street, where the school still operates. I'm
not sure when the school was built, but probably in the late
20's or early 30's. Della's came to be not too many years later.
But now that old food stand is long, long gone.
Across Booth Street
from Wood-Gormley back then was Harrington Junior High, for
grades seven through nine. Harrington is no longer there, replaced
by a big playground.
Kids from both the
elementary school and the junior high were frequent customers
of Della's. Wood-Gormley had its own cafeteria for lunch, which
cost 25 cents in those days; but it was more fun to eat a hot
dog on a dry bun at Della's than a balanced meal at the school.
Dellas hot dogs were 15 centsbut if you had only
a dime, you could get the weenie without the bum.
Della bought mustard
in gallon jars, and if you got a weenie only, you could dunk
it in the mustard jar yourself. We would dunk the end of the
weenie by hand, then bite off the end, then stick the remainder
of the weenie back for more mustard after each bite. Heck, everybody
did it, with never a worry about sanitation.
Not only that, but
the boys played marbles and the girls played jacks, and with
the same unwashed hands that scraped up the marbles and the
jacks off the ground, we dunked the weenies. As the mustard
got low we had to push our whole hand into the jar; usually
brushing the rim. By the time the jar was empty, the rim was
adobe brown. We didn't care.
Della was quite an
entrepreneur. She would soak toothpicks overnight in cinnamon
oil and sell them to us the next day for a penny apiece. We
thought they were terrific. We kept a toothpick in our mouth
all day, by the end of which our lips would be purple, and burning
like crazy from the cinnamon oil.
Della's shack remained
on the edge of the playground for several years after I graduated
from Harrington Junior High. But like most things it finally
went away, never to return.
As I walked by Wood-Gormley
school this morning I wondered what Della did with all those
quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. I'm sure Uncle Sam never
saw any of that money. But I don't begrudge Della one cent of
it. Not only did she sell what we thought was the best food
in town, but she also was a surrogate mother to all us kids
who were learning to be away from home for the first time.
She was the one we
ran to when we fell and scraped our knees. She would hold us
while we cried the pain away, and when we felt better, she would
send us back to the playground to test ourselves again. Most
parents who sent their kids to Wood-Gormley did not realize
that Della was our mother-away-from-home. Had they known, maybe
they would each have given her a quarter a day for helping raise
As I walked along Booth Street this morning I could almost see
that green shack at the edge of the playground, with Della standing
outside in her apron and her black stubby- heel shoes, checking
on her surrogate children, making sure we all were OK.
Have a great day.