Written by David Novell –
Orangie wanted a popsicle in the worst way. It was over a hundred degrees for the ninth straight day, and he could just taste the ice cold treat, delicious grape or maybe luscious root beer flavored this time.
Walking into “the Little Store”, Orangie could tell right away that something was wrong. Very wrong. The huge and usually grumpy old lady that ran the store was bending over the freezer chest rendering it inaccessible, and the shelves that two days earlier had held cereal, bread, beans, tuna, and mayonnaise were nearly bare.
Orangie turned uncomfortably around to see if the store was closed or something. Had he walked in at a bad time? Would he get in trouble? Horrified, he saw clearly the sign on the door: CLOSED!!!
He felt a thrill of terror run through his seven-year-old body. But wait! The side of the sign facing DeWitt Street, from where he had entered, said OPEN, so maybe a frozen treat could still be his.
All of this happened quickly – in the half-a-minute or so that it took the behemoth of a human being half buried in frozen depths to stand fully upright and acknowledge his presence. Mustering a tiny bit of composure and courage, he asked her. “Do you have any popsicles?”
“No, we’re closed anyway, honey!” said the woman in a surprisingly kind voice that had a sad edge to it.
“Okay, I’m sorry,” responded Orangie politely.
“Oh, that’s all right, I must’ve forgot to turn the sign around,” the old woman said finally after a heavy sigh and a moment or two of reflection, as if she was trying to bring herself into the present moment.
“You’re closing forever?” asked Orangie.
“Yep, I’m afraid so. I just can’t afford to keep going now that the Supermarket’s going great guns down the street. Everyone wants to shop there these days.”
Not knowing what else to say, Orangie ran out the door onto DeWitt Street, past the rows of houses all the way home. This was about a three-block jaunt, so by the time he hit the front porch at #914, he needed that popsicle even worse than in the worst way. Being pretty good at math for his age, he calculated that his need for it was approximately three-and-a-half times his original craving.
Suddenly, Orangie was swept away with a memory of and desire for a swim in the cool muddy water of an orange grove irrigation ditch. It had been three long years since his last such experience, but he could still smell the fresh plowed earth of the orchard and feel the oozing mud around his fingers and toes. What a way to cool off! And the oranges themselves, when fully ripened made the most juicy and tasty treat!
Actually, that’s how he got his nickname, first given by his mother for his seeming incessant consumption of the fruit. His real name was Adlai Stevenson Nolan, named for his father’s favorite and most eloquent person on the planet, the greatest president never elected and former governor of Illinois, Adlai Stevenson himself.
But back to the business at hand- that of getting his thirsty mouth around a popsicle somehow before he keeled over and croaked. Orangie pictured himself in one of those cartoons where the guy is crawling across the desert and the old cattle skull warns him against trying to reach an apparent oasis off in the distance. “You’ll be sorrrry!” it would always say.
Because he knew the closest store now was the new supermarket, which was five blocks, at least, and he didn’t think he wanted to go there because it was so big and he didn’t know any of the people there, plus they only sold popsicles in boxes of six or eight. With the twenty-five cents he had, he couldn’t afford that anyway. So the next closest was Phil’s Cash Market, which was another three blocks; but Phil was a great guy and always made Orangie laugh with his stories about how he used to be in the circus a long time ago.
So that was it. It would have to be the long trek to get a popsicle, or do without. It was okay, his mother was “off her rocker,” as the less-than-generous neighbor old Mr. Johnson put it, and his dad was still at work for at least another three hours. And it was July, and no school for six more weeks, so he was pretty free to do as he pleased these days. But he would have to go it alone, since his best friend Butch was away at camp, his second best friend Carla was at her grandma’s in Delano, and most of the remainder of the neighborhood was made up of old people and little babies.
Orangie’s mother had been a teacher of second and third graders until one day in the classroom at about two o’clock in the afternoon she just lost it – “it” being whatever keeps anyone from going completely bonkers for no reason instead of enjoying or at least tolerating everyday life.
She was in a mental hospital now, and all she talked about was how the little silver men had taken her into their spaceship and used her body for medical experiments until she had escaped by singing Broadway tunes without ceasing to where the aliens couldn’t stand it anymore and let her go.
Orangie thought this not at all plausible, although it sounded awfully familiar, a bit too much like the Twilight Zone episode where Andy DeVine’s character gets abducted by aliens who think he’s the greatest possible human to be taken, all on account of his bragging and telling whopper lies, and they don’t have the distinction “lie” in their culture.
Then he escapes by playing the harmonica; then of course none of his checker-playing buddies believe him on account of all the lies he’d told before.
Anyway, Phil’s Cash Market beckoned Orangie to a haven of probable popsicles and conversation, so he pressed ahead in his cheap sneakers and resolved not to stop for anything.
Orangie sprinted down the block, imagining that he was running like Darryl Newman in the hundred-yard dash when Newman had won the event in the West Coast relays two years earlier.
Then Orangie strode down into a loping pace, like Billy Mills in the Tokyo Olympics when Ron Clarke, the world record holder from Australia, Michel Jazy, the racy Frenchman, and Mohammed Gammoudi, the durable and courageous unknown from Tunisia, had set the pace in the 10,000 meter race, Mills lurking at their heels, waiting for the right time to forge ahead and take the gold.
“Phil! I gotta have a popsicle!” Orangie blurted out breathlessly as he ran into the market.
“Hi, Orangie! How are you today, besides hot and tired? And whatever happened to ‘Good afternoon, Phil, how are you this beautiful day?’ ”
“Oh, yeah, sorry, Phil. I ran practically all the way from my house, ‘cause the Little Store is closed down, and I desperately needed a popsicle right away!”
“Sure thing, Orangie! Right there in the freezer, I got ‘em all! Cherry, root beer, grape, orange, even lime if you feel like a change of pace. Help yourself, kid!”
“I sure will, thanks, Phil.”
“You say the Little Store is closed?”
“Yes, sir, old Mrs. What’s-her-name said on account of the new supermarket. I sure hope you don’t have to close! You won’t, will you?” Orangie said as he brought a root beer popsicle to the counter.
“Well, Orangie, I’m sixty-seven years old, but I don’t look to retire soon. And I don’t suppose the supermarket will force me out. After all, I still have the best meat department, and I always have popsicles. I think I’ll be here for quite a while!”
“Goody!” exclaimed Orangie between sucks on his popsicle, which he had already begun to enjoy, even though he normally would have waited until he was out on the sidewalk out of respect for Phil’s old but highly polished wood floor. But this was, after all, bordering on being an emergency given all he had gone through to get the popsicle.
David Novell was born and raised in and around Fresno, and has lived in North Fork since 1978. David is a local building contractor and has been part of the musical group “Sugar Pine,” entertaining around the area and at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad for over 35 years.
“Like any kid growing up in the little San Joaquin Valley towns of Centerville, Sanger, Reedley, Selma, Kingsburg, Exeter, Dinuba, and all the rest, I was privileged to have many innocent ‘adventures.’ Overgrown back yards, vacant lots, and deserted storage sheds were magical places where anything was possible.
“To follow, in this and subsequent issues of Sierra News Online, are some stories loosely based on my experiences as a young boy. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them.” ~ David Novell