“Even numbers on the right…”

It’s funny what can trigger a memory: a song, a photograph, perhaps the face of a stranger who reminds you of someone you knew in your childhood. I’ve read that, provided you are of a mature age, if you pick up an over-sized #2 pencil and a tablet of rough, blue-lined paper and deliberately begin printing out your name, taking care not to go above or below the designated lines, you will experience grade school memories your brain had long since labeled as “Inactive.”

For me, last week it was a simple house number. It didn’t matter what the number was, only that it was an even number.

“Even numbers on the right hand side of the street,” my grandmother had taught me. “Odd numbers on the left.”

It was 1962 and we were cruising through the streets of Galesburg, Illinois, the closest large city to our rural village of New Windsor, population 850. It was early on a Saturday morning and we were doing what Grandma Hickok loved to do best: go to yard sales.

My grandmother had a regal air about her, a sort of Midwestern Queen Victoria. She and my grandfather (middle picture) were simple farmers, raising corn, soybeans, and hay for their feedlot of Angus cattle on a thousand acres of loamy Illinois prairie. Without fail, ten percent of what they made each year went to the First Presbyterian Church, where we all met – without exception — every Sunday morning. My grandfather taught many of their ten grandchildren how to drive, starting with a red Farmall tractor then working our way up through various farm trucks, straining to press the clutch to the floor and grinding a few gears in the process, until finally we were deemed ready to drive their mammoth, shiny, four-door Chrysler — within the safe confines of a flat horse pasture.

And so, early on Saturday mornings my grandmother would pull up in front of our house, toot her horn but once, and I would bounce down the steps from our porch where my mother had me fed, ready and waiting. Grandma did not tolerate tardiness. Secured to the dash of their Chrysler with a small Farmers’ State Bank magnetic calendar would be a sheet of paper with the classified yard sale ads from the previous day’s Galesburg newspaper cut and taped in the order she wanted to hit them.

Her basic rules: go the the finest neighborhoods first, and go early.

And so while she drove, I would balance a worn, creased street map in my lap and peer out the window, reading street signs and house numbers aloud to her while she watched for the best parking spaces. It was always a bonus when we could park once and walk to two or three different houses.

By noon we were finished and driving back into New Windsor, but not to her house. Instead, we stopped at the homes of my aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, and neighbors, sometimes of people I didn’t even know, where grandma would send me scurrying up to the door to deliver one of our finds of the morning. Our last stop, but the one with the largest designated pile in the backseat, was the church, where we would fill cardboard boxes destined for an overseas mission with children’s clothing, toys, and games, each with the yard sale tag first removed.

She had infected me with the collecting bug, and so I would rush up to my room clutching a new batch of baseball cards or perhaps a semi-rare Lincoln penny or Jefferson nickel to be pressed into an empty slot in my blue Whitman coin folder.

As for my grandmother, well, she often arrived back at the farm in time for lunch with my grandfather with nothing remaining in the car for herself, except the knowledge that she had brought a little joy into someone else’s life.

Until next Monday,

Give it a try,