It’s this hot Sunday morning in August 1944. I’m sitting in the dining, room on the floor in our Hartley Avenue home listening to “Uncle Don” on WOR. Uncle Don reads the funnies every Sunday morning.
I can read just fine, but there is something fascinating about following along as Uncle Don reads the funnies all the way in New York, and I am following him way down here in Hamilton Township, New Jersey; it’s just great. “OK boys and girls, that was this week’s adventure of “Tim Tyler’s Luck.” Now let’s turn to this week’s “Smilin’ Jack” adventure. Look in the first panel, kids. Jack’s in his airplane. It says, ‘I sure hope I can get this plane to Archer field before I run out of fuel. And kids, look in the next panel! His plane is out of gasoline! It says ‘Oh no….no more fuel! Archer field is at least 23 miles due north.’ Oh boy, kids,” said Uncle Don excitedly, “can you imagine being 3,000 feet in the air in an airplane with a broken radio and running out of gas? Let’s see what happens.
“In the next panel, it says: ‘Jack slides the cabin hatch back on the cockpit of his monoplane, and gets out on the wing.’ And then, in the next panel kids,” said Uncle Don, as breathlessly excited as I, “he’s jumping out of the plane….and the last panel says…. ‘Jack tumbles toward earth at better that 100 miles per hour, little knowing that his parachute has been tampered with by one of Count Von Schilling’s Nazi henchmen.’”
“Gee kids,” said Uncle, “what do you think about that? I sure hope nothing happens to Jack, don’t you? Be sure to be here next Sunday morning, and we’ll see if he makes it. And let’s not forget Tim Tyler. He’s lost in the ‘Cave of Kalimar.’ And will Dick Tracy be able to escape from the burning building, and if he does, how will he ever get past the ‘Mole’ and his gang? See ya next week kids. This if your friend Uncle Don reminding you to back the attack and eat everything your mom puts on your plate, and you will help the war effort. See you next Sunday, same time, and same station.”
I turn the radio off and eat that last bit of bread and butter with sugar on top. I sweep up some of the sugar I spilled on the floor while I was listening to Uncle Don read that Smilin’ Jack episode. I walk to the door, turn toward the kitchen and holler to Mom: “I’m goin’ over Don’s, Mom; I’ll be back in a little while.”
“How many times do I have to tell you Tommy, use the back door!”
“Sorry mom, I forgot. See ya later.”
Quick as a wink, I am around the corner and in view of my best friend, Don Slabicki. He is just coming out his back door. “Hey Don, there must be a picnic at Plaag’s Grove today. Let’s go take a look.”
We head for Plaag’s Grove. A big truck is turning into the grounds as we approach the entrance. On the side, in big gold letters, it reads, “Trenton Old Stock Beer.” There are already many cars parked in front of the place, and others are coming from all directions. We sit on the grassy area near the first base line and watch as the driver of the beer truck backs up to the rear of the wooden stands.
He gets out and rigs up two planks and begins rolling big beer barrels out of the back of his truck, lining them up along the back of the building. Soon, the beer truck is joined by another truck. This one is emblazoned with “Mercer Bottling Company” in big red letters.
Still another truck arrives. It is much smaller, and as it drives past us, we see that it is the familiar Tilton’s Bakery truck. Tilton’s is no stranger to our neighborhood. Tilton, Bond, and Freihofer’s are about the most popular baker trucks we see out in the sticks. We are so engrossed watching the trucks that we don’t realize how rapidly the cars are arriving. Soon, there is a crowd of eager city folk, just raring to go.
Inside the big Plaag’s Grove dance hall, an orchestra is tuning up. Here an accordion, there a violin, then a drum, a piano and the accordion again. The guy with the accordion seems to be impatient to get started. He plays a few bars, and on a scale of one to 10, our recognition factor registers a nine: “Stata baba nema gochi, I don’t give a damn…”
“Hey Don, I bet this is a Polish picnic?” I said. “I don’t know,” came Don’s reply, “we gotta get in and find out.”
We get up and start to case the joint. I notice that there are a lot of pretty blonde-haired girls going in with their sunsuits and sandals. Sure, I think to myself, this has to be a Polish picnic. All the girls are pretty, most of ‘em are blondes, and they all have blue eyes…..wonder if it’s free…wonder if we can get in?
The band began….a pleasant baritone voice came over the speakers as the band played, and the man sang: “Oy don a oyda na, oy don a oyda na, oy don a oyda na, ma rutka, pa putka.” This is going to be a great outing! I hope we can get in.
We do indeed get into that wonderful Polish picnic, held by one of Trenton’s Polish churches. And best of all, the soda, hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream are free during those many summertime picnics! Summer goes by so very rapidly, and as August gives way to September, be here for next month’s “The Way We Were” column, where I will remember all those sandlot baseball games we played on the sandy and dusty Plaag’s Grove field.