Friday, December 12, 2008

Where I Bought Cigarettes For My Parents...

This probably seems appalling today, but, yes, kids used to be able to buy cigarettes for their parents. I did it all the time. Oftentimes, my mother would stay in the car while I ran in the store or the gas station and bought the cigarettes. My mother smoked Winstons; my father, Lucky Strikes. And so I would run in and buy two (or sometimes four) cartons.

From 1973 to 1974, we lived in the apartment building on the north side of 79th, between Normandy and Natoma. Across the street was White Hen. I was in the third grade in 1973, and at least once a week I would dash across 79th to buy cigarettes.

I loved White Hen. The first thing I would do is go to the magazine rack, which was located in the right corner of the store. I usually checked out Mad Magazine or one of the music magazines, like Cream.

But the highlight was buying Wacky Packages. If I was lucky, I could afford a package.

I was obsessed with Wacky Packages. Literally. A few years after I started buying them, my father, my brother, and I drove to Maine, where my aunt and uncle owned a small country grocery store. I must have stared so longly at the box of Wacky Packages that my aunt gave me the entire box. Imagine: An entire frickin' box of Wacky Packages! I was like an alcoholic, except with stickers. And gum.

I loved these things. Loved them! Here are a few from my day. Enjoy!


Pete said...

Sadly, White Hen is no more, having been bought out by 7-11 and having all its stores converted over to 7-11s. My hometown (Cary, IL) was so small when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s that we had no fast food outlets and only three chain stores - Ben Franklin, True Value Hardware and White Hen.

Wacky Packs were the best. You're aware, aren't you, that Art Spiegelman drew Wacky Packs for Topps back in the day?

Anonymous said...

Back in the 1930's when my parents were kids they used to go to the neighborhood tavern and get a pail of beer for their fathers, they were little kids then, under 10 years old. Also, I was told by my parents kids would drive cars too..

Scott Batzel said...

That White Hen played a huge role in my childhood. It opened about 1970 when I was 5 years-old. It was only 2 blocks from my house. At first I wasn't allowed to go there by myself, my older brother would walk me there, but it wasn't too long after that my mom relented and permitted me to go it alone. Could you imagine any parent today allowing their 5 or 6 year-old to do that?

My mom often gave me a quarter to spend. The one side of the counter had the big candy bars for 10¢ and the other side had candy for 5¢. Although I was young and didn't know much about money, I knew I could get 2 big candy bars and 1 smaller one for my quarter (no tax on a $.25 purchase those days).

My mom was a smoker back then. She too sent me to buy her cigarettes with a note that read "Please sell my son Scott one pack of Virginia Slims." Sometimes I forgot the note but they still sold them to me anyway.

I was enthralled with the rotating Matchbox Car display on the counter. When I scraped together the $1.25 it cost, I would spend a half hour agonizing over the decision of which car to buy. It inevitably seemed that whatever car I chose was out of stock. I also loved the magazine section but you couldn't spend too much time browsing or the owner would yell at you. I bought the Universal Monster magazines and lots of Richie Rich comics.

Just before the 4th of July the fireworks would arrive. Smoke bombs, snakes, Whistling Witches, Flying Satellites, poppers and punks! That was the most exciting time of the year at the White Hen. We would buy the fireworks and light them off at Newcastle Park. I remember when an errant smoke bomb set the Cottonwood fuzzies ablaze there. We beat feet when the lady across the street came out and threatened to call the police on us.

My first real job was working at that White Hen. I turned 16 in February and started there in March. I worked 3 days a week after school from 3:30 - 5:00 p.m., Saturday afternoons and every other Sunday morning. I would stock the cooler, take out the trash, sweep the sidewalk and parking lot, empty the trash cans, replenish the paper bags behind the counter, and take out the empty soda bottles that had been returned for a deposit and lock them in the back shed. On the weekend days I'd stuff the ad sections into the Sunday newspapers which were delivered separately. I worked there until I went to away to college then worked there another year on my holiday and summer breaks.

Today it is still owned by the same family that operated it when I worked there. Several years ago they ended their franchise agreement with White Hen and opened it as an independent store, 79th Street Deli and Liquors. I still stop in from time to time to visit with my old boss.