Every farm kid who grew up before the change-everything 1970s changed almost everything will recall that Friday evenings meant quick chores, a quick supper and a family night in town.
Back then, nearly every store in nearly every rural community remained open for business until 9 p.m. on Fridays so everyone — but mostly farm families — could shop, stroll the storefronts or just visit friends.
On the loose
On the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth, my parents loved “going to town” on Friday nights because it was a cheap, tire-them-out method to entertain five children under the age of 10.
Shopkeepers, however, had to dread seeing us tumble out of our dull green, late-1940s Chevy station wagon and head for their stores, prepared to touch everything from candy jars to BB guns to cowboy boots.
You could trace our tornadic path from Schrieber’s General Store on Market Street to Mr. Kirsch’s Western Auto store on Main Street by following a not-very-high trail of smudged glass, stainless steel and tin.
My mother, who had kept us roped and corralled since the last great Friday night breakout, gladly turned us loose on town as she slowly — and most importantly, alone — examined sewing patterns and the “material” each required to make us school shirts, jackets or dresses.
Most times, my father just “stayed with the car” in hopes of having a quiet conversation with someone other than a cow, kid or hired man. Failing any, silence served his purpose, too.
Money to spend
The Friday night trips took a wonderful turn when my two older brothers and I began to earn a twice-monthly paycheck for farm work like baling hay and milking cows.
The earnings, accrued at 50 cents per hour, were usually combined into one “farm” check to all three. This single-check payout required us to collectively present it to the bank teller the following Friday night for any of us to get a penny.
But, boy, when we did, off we ran — rarely with more than $10 apiece — to buy BBs, black licorice drops, Levis jeans in any color but blue, or, if particularly flush, a baseball to replace the old one invariably lost in the corn (or wheat or alfalfa…