The forlorn, former home of Cans 'n' Stuff
The street on which I was raised runs nearly three quarters of a mile, a straight line along its entire length. We lived almost dead center, whence I could pedal my bike a satisfying distance in either direction. On the west end of the avenue lived Big Ed and Little Ed, a father and son whose nicknames reflected their seniority but not their relative size. Big Ed, as I recall, was a quiet, gray-haired man of small stature. Little Ed, however, was bigger in every way, from his large frame to his frizzy, black hair, which framed a happy-go-lucky countenance. They would have been an odd couple under any circumstances, but for a brief period of time they were business partners. They ran their unique venture from a tiny and disheveled storefront at the eastern terminus of our street.
Cans 'n' Stuff was surely one of the stranger establishments to have emerged in my hometown. Its eclectic stock was an outgrowth of its proprietors' respective hobbies. Big Ed collected beer cans, a fad of rising popularity in the seventies. Little Ed collected record albums, singles and related memorabilia. Naturally, they opened a shop that sold used records and beer cans. It was, perhaps, one of the greatest moments in the history of entrepreneurial zeal executed without so much as a shred of market research. What, after all, was the target demographic of Cans 'n' Stuff? Whom did Big Ed and Little Ed envision as their customers?
A scene from a Hollywood classic? No, it's only Mom and Dad.
On September 27, 1952, a young couple from Lima, Ohio boarded a Pennsylvania Railroad Company train bound for Chicago to celebrate their honeymoon. Mature enough to marry yet still literal teenagers, the 19-year-old newlyweds must have felt very grown up as they sped toward the big city. They had reservations for seven nights at the upscale Conrad Hilton on Michigan Avenue, from where they would be free to set forth and explore any Windy City attractions that caught their fancy.
Back then, they were just Frank and Jackie, she an only child and he the youngest of six. In less than four years, they would be the parents of two toddler girls and two newborn twin boys. Their productivity would decrease with the birth of just one more son at the end of a further four years. Then, like a surprising afterthought, they would add yet another boy eight years later. Little did they know in 1952 how short-lived and unique was the whirlwind freedom they were to experience on honeymoon in Chicago. Soon they would no longer be just Frank and Jackie; they would adopt the permanent monikers of Mom and Dad, and as those are the names by which I have always known them, that is how I shall refer to them here.
"We kept getting jostled from all the kids dancing with wild abandon."
This Monday will be the tenth anniversary of one of the most improbable and unusual adventures experienced by my parents, and I am the one to blame. By the time it was all over, our quirky story had been covered twice by the local newspaper. Mom and Dad became small-town celebrities for a brief time, recounting the incident for everyone from fellow church parishioners to Dad's doctor. They came across favorably as loving parents who gamely went along with a bit of outrageousness solely to indulge their youngest son. I was 32 at the time; they were 67.
The story began more than 20 years earlier, though none of us could have known that at the time. Who would have thought that a few nonchalantly expressed words from my father would have such a long-range impact? Who could have foreseen how the longevity and vicissitudes of an aging rock star's career would one day illuminate those forgotten words with the intensity of an enticing marquee? But that is what happened, and Dad saw to it that he was a man of his word, even if it meant fulfilling a casual promise decades later.