Rhino's Ramblings: Hawkins Cheezies and Orange Crush
As a young child, downtown Moose Jaw seemed like a world of wonders, a bustling metropolis which seemed to have so much to explore.
I remember sidewalks filled with people who seemed to simply while away the afternoons, dressed up in their fancy downtown clothes, as they went about shopping. It seemed like people never had to worry about money and there never were any concerns, it seemed as if it magically appeared.
This was the world for me in the early 1960’s. One in which you pulled up at the gas pumps and there was a man who would come out and ask you if you wanted amber or red gas. And you felt kind of cool, for some strange sort of reason, when you knew the response was always going to be the super-duper red gas.
You had no idea that amber gas was regular and red gas was premium. And that purple gas; that was the stuff of legend. The stuff people burnt as a rebel and when you knew it was in the tank as a child you felt you were riding shotgun for James Dean. You really didn't understand it was to avoid taxes you just knew that it was a secret and not to be bragged about.
The big highlights of downtown seemed, for most kids, to be the coffee shop and the Kresge's.
The coffee shop in the hotel was run by a really nice man who always could make everyone laugh and the place always seemed full with people from everywhere. I remember calling him Mr. Stern once and he reprimanded me and said "no; my name is Mel."
Kresge’s was an institution downtown and for most kids it was the place you hoped you ended up in, because in the back was the lunch counter. With it's glass display cases full of pies, sitting right in front of you, ever enticing that impulse buy. Or, at least making your mouth water for that raisin pie.
And Cherry Coke; did you know that was really invented in Moose Jaw? Or at least I thought so, because back in those days you couldn't buy it pre-made, they had to mix it right in front of you. But as a little kid you never got to order your own Coca-Cola; that was forbidden. If you were lucky, an older relative would give you a sip of theirs. Nope, you were “stuck” with a root beer float; another Kresges invention, with all apologies to A&W.
And the mayor? Oh him? He was like 10 feet tall, a superman and a giant who everybody knew by his nickname, Scoop Lewry. A man who truly was legendary in his time, at least locally - Moose Jaw’s greatest defender and promoter. Considered by many to be Moose Jaw’s best mayor ever.
And yes, as a cub reporter for the Moose Jaw Times-Herald, Scoop Lewry really did figure out how to get around the secret meeting stuff at City Hall and he reported on it. It earned him the nickname Scoop, the admiration of his readership and the disdain of the council of his day.
But there was one special place I really loved to go in downtown Moose Jaw and that was the hardware store. It wasn't because the place was filled with nuts and bolts and hammers and other stuff a small boy would like to get into. That kind of stuff was secondary. The real attraction was something else.
But what could be more exciting to a young boy than free run of a hardware store? Simple, and one word – Cheezies.
I can vividly remember walking into that place and the owner would always say “Here comes Cheezie.” Although it might sound sort of strange in today’s terminology, those three words, to me, were like saying I had won the lottery.
I remember being allowed to sit up on the counter and like magic a bag of Hawkins Cheezies would appear and when it was done another and then another. If my mouth got dry, out would come a bottle of Orange Crush much better than Fanta I thought.
And as I sat there, I would hear my grandfather and others talking to the man who owned the hardware store as they discussed the big issues of the day. Stuff about roads, factories and trees all lined up along the highway all the way to some place called Regina.
People would come and go and they really respected the man who owned the hardware store. Some would come in to discuss their problems, while others would come in to thank the hardware store owner for other things. I vaguely remember one man thanking the guy who ran the hardware store for a new highway. Others would comment about something called growth, jobs and major industry. Things I never could understand back then.
It was sort of a place where magic happened amongst the smell of bulk nails and brown paper bags. For me, as a child, through that really boring talk it seemed anything could happen if the man who owned the hardware store said so.
Even Moose Jaw’s legendary mayor would pop in and speak to the man who owned the hardware store. For me as a small child it seemed like going to a hardware store you could find what you needed to fix anything.
I heard stories about the dreams of new factories for the city stretching all the way to far off Regina, jobs and enough money to buy a mountain of Cheezies if I wanted to and Orange Crush by the jug, just like the root beer from A&W.
But then my grandfather passed away. The trips downtown ended and so did the stories at the Hardware store. Later, the man who owned the hardware store passed away, as well, and so it seemed, did his dream.
The last I would remember seeing him was riding bikes one day with a buddy and a big car honked it's horn and the man in the back seat said “hey Cheezie, I've got something for you and your friend.”
And you guessed it, out came a couple of bags of Hawkins Cheezies.
I replied “thank you, Mr Thatcher.”
And that was the last time I ever saw Premier Ross Thatcher.