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Remembering those sweet childhood memories

“Childhood memories are the sweetest memories of the past” – Unknown

Children’s laughter, incessant talking, and the sounds of numerous activities relating to school — these are for me the memories and snapshots of precious reflections about the times of my youth in Caspian, Mich. It was this way for me, as once again I began to embark on another journey back in time to events and places from decades ago. I imagine that many of us encounter a certain spark that triggers a past recollection, which serves as a catalyst for a cascade of memories. Gone are some of the unpleasant moments, and what lingers are jovial ones. Some of these, having been exaggerated by the passing of time, more often than not carry the truth.

One of the reawakened memories harkens back to the school I had once attended — the Caspian School. The school consisted of two buildings connected by a partial underground corridor. The lunchroom was located in the basement of one of those buildings. It was there where I was first introduced to peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Hmm, I still enjoy them today.

Located at the school, for safety purposes, was an enclosed fire escape slide (with the bottom end opened) that extended from the building’s second floor to the ground floor. There were times in the summer, when we would climb up the inside of it and slide down — against the rules. One occasion when we were in the fire escape, the school janitor, Tango, caught us. We knew that we were in trouble when we saw him, grim of eye and thin of lip. I can still picture Tango — who was small of stature and quiet of personality — walking, enjoying a cigar, and wearing a worker’s cap complemented by his bib overalls.

Who could forget Roberg’s Bakery? I remember that their delivery truck would stop at the school to deliver bread, usually in the morning. I don’t know how it started, but a number of students would gather around the truck and purchase jelly rolls for a nickel. (Some would wear the jelly in more ways than one.) What a treat!

Another memory from the early 1960’s was witnessing, with my classmates from our classroom windows, the demolition of the head frame of the Buck Mine. I can still recall the smoke and sound of the dynamite exploding, and the slow descent of the head frame following the tenacious pull of gravity. At the time, we were unaware that this was the beginning of the end of mining iron ore in Iron County.

Some of our classmates were bused (the South Brule children). They were the Makis, Kezerles, Petroffs, Keliins, Kadulskis and Bonels, to name just a few. Although we were together in school, when summer came, friendships were on a hiatus. I remember how much I couldn’t wait to see them in the fall. These friendships linger to this day.

Diagonally across the street from the school was the Caspian Community Center. Its purpose was for both youth and adults to gather and socialize. The Center was where friends were made, and sometimes first love was discovered. Johnny and Olga Coco were the caretakers (Johnny would run bingo, and Olga would clean the center) and lived above the Center in an apartment with their children. Johnny and Olga were always so welcoming and understanding with us. They guided and encouraged, thus adding to the lives of all the children they supervised. We played board games, bumper pool, and, yes, even basketball in the basement room. I still remember banking a basketball off the room’s ceiling for a basket. Who could forget Pia Lowden, who would work the candy counter and supervise the children, and, if need be, lay down the law — sometimes with just a look?

Another local establishment was not located in Caspian, but in Gaastra. It was known as Balducci’s Supper Club. My first memories of the supper club were when my father would deliver Paul’s Pop; I at times, would accompany him. As we drove near, you could smell that fragrant Italian food being prepared. All of their food and their special sauce were fantastic. Mama Balducci and her husband would be in the kitchen, working while they greeted us. She was always smiling and gregarious. We enjoyed it so much that when my sister Narissa was married, her reception was held at Balducci’s Supper Club.

Sadly, many of these buildings and people are no longer with us, but they continue to exist in our memories. These are reawakened through old photos, discussions with others, reading social media posts, or items from the establishments. It is the intent of this article to reignite your personal remembrances. What are your favorite childhood memories of people and places? Enjoy and God bless.

Special thanks go to Tom Elliott, Karen Cocco Benson, and Mary Remondini Butorac for providing additional background material for the article.

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Daniel J. Paul is a retired school administrator. His columns focus on education, old-fashioned family values, relationships, and other topics. To submit comments or find archived columns, go to meaningfuldifferences.net.

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