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Remembering days gone by in Hastings

I remember ...

Carving our names in the picnic tables at Roadside Park.

It was the ultimate step for a boy and girl who fell in love.

We wanted the world to know it and this was our one eternal symbol that we would not stray nor allow others to interfere.

You put the boys name down, then a plus sign, and then the girls name.

For the kids with a little more artistic side to them they circled it with a heart.

The tables all over the parks in Hastings were ordained with them.

All one needed was a sharp pocket knife and of course a member of the opposite sex who shared the same feelings.

Back in those days the tables were made out of wood, not cement.

In the fall we would rake the leaves into piles and many times right onto the culverts lining the streets. We would burn them and the odor would spread throughout the town. It did not offend us, it would come into the homes and remind us that winter was around the corner. Nobody back then considered it air pollution. We would build huge piles and jump into the middle of them.

One only had to be careful for the occasional dog droppings.

We had hundreds and hundreds of huge elm trees all over the city. They were on each side of Vermillion Street, going all the way up from the bridge to the grain mill.

When you came into town you drove up the hill, a canopy of beautiful colors overhead.

The squirrels would be playing tag above you as you drove by.

Once in a while you would here a thump from an acorn hitting the top of your roof.

Our summers were spent swimming at the old pool. Mom would buy us season patches that she sewed onto our suits. We would hang out at the parks and a lot of times hitchhike over to the Prescott beach. It was all sand then, no rocks, and we used to jump off the bridge. If you jumped off the span you were a hero and if you jumped off the wheels, you were a legend.

At the Friday night football games, the hot chocolate would burn your mouth if you were not careful. There was an old tunnel that led from the school under Vermillion Street to the football field.

There was a shed they used to store equipment in right next to the field, and they forgot to lock it often.

I kissed my first girl in there. I still remember her name.

We had gangs, too. We were the Hastings Hells Angels on our bicycles with banana seats and high handlebars. We would put playing cards on the spokes of our wheels to create sounds similar to real motorcycles. A few even had sissy bars.

We rode the streets of Hastings for hours, taking turns leading the pack.

Lake Rebecca was our wilderness getaway. We grew up spearing carp and swimming in the smelly water. It was just a backwater of the Old Miss then.

Muskrats and even beaver were trapped and sold. We had BB guns, slingshots, air rifles and the occasional .22, pilfered from your dad's closet.

We built our forts in the woods and stocked them with canteens of Kool-Aid, candy bars, potato chips, matches and sometimes a few stolen cigs.

As we grew older and a bit more curious one might even find an old Playboy magazine that miraculously appeared out of nowhere.

We mowed yards and had paper routes. During the winter we shoveled snow.

Some of us received an allowance from our parents.

Your school report card could put a few bucks in your pocket or in some cases, a few bruises on your behind.

We had the Truax little store up on Fourth and Maple.

Pop was a nickle. A pack of Twinkies was 12 cents and they took pop bottle returns.

There was a penny candy store down on Sixth Street. An older lady ran it and we used to count out our pennies to her spread out on the counter.

She never wavered, never complained as we studied the goods and concentrated on what we could buy.

We had one theater downtown and the same movie played for a week. Mom would make huge bags of popcorn which we were allowed to bring in.

The old armory down by the bridge was used as a roller rink on Saturday nights.

Also the occasional dance and the local Golden Gloves would use it for boxing matches.

The eastern part of the city was called Cow Town.

The small police force knew every family by name and when the windows were open in the old jail the few inmates interned could converse with their friends walking by.

As we grew older our places to gather changed.

We would go to the drive-in at Cottage Grove, an icon that still is in use, and one or two of us would hide in the trunk so we wouldn't have to pay full fare.

There was of course M&H, which was just a little hamburger stand then. It had a huge parking lot and we could show off our cars here.

You could get a huge meal of burgers, fries and a Coke for around a buck and a half and they even had fish burgers.

There was the Pizza Villa at Midtown. The A&W Root Beer drive-in up by the Vermillion River and the old bowling alley that was moved a couple of times.

These were the central hangouts in town.

We had a tradition called taking a whip. We would pile into the lucky owner of a car or in most cases the drivers parent's car and drive up and down Vermillion Street, starting downtown under the bridge, heading up the hill and turning around at the circle of Highway 316 and 61, and then head back down again.

Over and over, hour after hour. We had not heard of O.P.E.C. as of yet.

If you had a girlfriend she would be sitting as close to you as humanly possible.

Seat belts were rarely used.

The word "shotgun" meant you had dibs on sitting in the front seat.

Nobody wanted to sit alone in the back. That was considered not cool.

You did not kiss or smooch or neck with a girl. You "made out with her."

If you dated a girl steady you were "going" with the girl.

You did not play "hookey." You "skipped" school.

Your buddies were guys, not dudes.

Chilling meant you were cold and being buffed out meant you were kinda goofy.

I see old friends now and we smile.

We share the memories of growing up in small town America.

The city has grown, but we have grown old with it.

It has been good to us, it has been good to our children.

My travels have led me in places so distant.

The periods of time have been measured in years.

But always, always, I return back to this little town called Hastings.

I remember.

Daniel Condon


(Editor's note: Daniel Condon is a 1973 graduate of Hastings High School.

He is a 10-year veteran of the United States Air Force and lives in Hastings.)