News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

February 8, 2010

The Off Season: Temptation sometimes comes in a 12-cent package

TERRE HAUTE — The comic books in Wilbur Hickman’s grocery store always sat in a spinning, white-metal rack that was tapered like a Christmas tree, and no less inviting than one. The rack stood just a few feet inside the glass doors that led into Wilbur’s Rosedale IGA when I was a kid, and it was a monument to boyhood temptation at 12 cents a copy.

I used to spin and read and spin and gawk and spin and peruse the comics on that stand, the grating squeak of its ungreased pedestal undoubtedly annoying the ladies who manned the nearby checkout stations. The rack was just about my only access to comic books when I was 10 or 11 and still going to the grocery with my mother in hopes of getting a box of candy cigarettes (there was no stigma about those then), a Zero bar, or red paraffin lips in exchange for helping with the overstuffed paper sacks laden with cereal boxes, canned goods and milk cartons.

Those were the days when Peter, Paul and Mary were “Blowin’ in the Wind” and the war in Vietnam was raging, of Lyndon Johnson and Walter Cronkite, and which my Great Uncle Bill summed up by saying that our country was “going to hell in a hand basket.” My older brother wore a leather jacket and listened to Bob Dylan on his 8-track tape player, my sister was into knee socks and horn-rimmed glasses, and I undoubtedly sported a pair of skinned knees and a flat top haircut.

The sound of Hickman’s still resonates in my head — the cha-ching of the brown, push-button cash registers, the ringing of a rotary dial telephone in the background, the whirring of the huge open refrigerated cases filled with turkeys and head-sized hams.

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