There are only a few personal
directives for kids – have fun, explore, and
find treats as often as possible.
I did them all and kept to the Kiddie Code of Justice. Treats came in many
forms. Candy was one of the best. It came in two kinds, chocolate and anything
without chocolate. Then there were cakes, pies, donuts, pastry, cookies, and
ice cream. All these treats were had by any and all means possible. That’s
another part of the Kiddie Code, under sub-heading 4, “You will search out
and eat any and all treats.” I’ve noticed as I have grown older a number of
my friends have carried this code into adulthood. Well, maybe even myself.
days were filled with lots of
play. We ran around, jumping into pools, creeks and the ocean. But a lot of
time was spent near home just playing with friends. About 2 PM we would all
keep our ears peeled for the Helmsman! Now you may be thinking, “What was the
Helmsman?” Well, it was not Chairman Mao. It was a mobile treat palace on
wheels. In Los Angeles we had for many years yellow Helms Bakery trucks that
roamed through our neighborhoods selling the best baked goods anywhere. You
would step up into the front of the truck and there would be drawers full of
cakes, cookies, bread, pastry and pies. They had the best banana cream pie this
side of heaven, made for Thursday deliveries. We kids waited anxiously after
lunch for the sound of the Helmsman’s whistle. We would first hear it in the
distance, and then it would draw closer and closer. This allowed us to run home
and beg some money for a treat. Then Toot, Toot went the whistle, and he would
turn the corner. We could hardly contain ourselves. He moved the yellow truck
closer and closer. Then he stopped the truck in front of us. We were all
smiles. “Hi boys, what ya want today?” came from a short man with graying
mustache and hair. His name was Sammy, but we called him the “Helmsman.” The
joy of the day for me was the three cookies, my choice, for 5 cents. Sammy had
something good to say every day and always joked with us boys. Then off down
the road he went. We would all pick a curb to sit on to munch our treats.
knew when people were sick or
something was wrong. Sammy would show up cake or pie in hand. He was a part of
our lives. If some of the old ladies in the neighborhood didn’t come out to buy
he would check on them to see if they were OK. That’s how Sammy was, a friend
and neighbor at all times. Sammy cared for us all. He kept an eye on us
kids, and if stopped by a parent a few blocks away he reported the whereabouts
of their child. He also let them know the treat we bought! It was a time when
mothers were at home with children and children played outside.
when Sammy was ill and a new guy
was on his route, people were calling the bakery to make sure Sammy was doing
well. When Sammy was gone it was like a void and then a panic. He was our Helmsman,
and he was not leaving us for any reason. Our Helmsman was a tie to ourselves
and our community. He was part of our daily cycle of life. We could count on
day while walking home from
school – yes we had neighborhood schools – I saw the Helmsman’s big yellow
truck outside our house. “Weird,” I thought to myself. I walked in and saw my
mom and Sammy sitting on the couch. My mom was holding a cake box and looking
very sad. Sammy said “Hi,” to me and I nodded. He stood up and said, “I’m
retiring, Donnie, just too much work for me anymore.”
was stunned and said “uh huh.” Not
really knowing what to say.
mom walked to the truck with Sammy
and myself. He pulled one of his drawers open and handed me a few cookies, and
patted me on my shoulder. “Be a good boy. I’ll miss you young man!” He said.
going to see you again?” I
I’ll stop around to say hello.”
He smiled at me as he released the brake of the truck and waved to me, and my
mom as he pulled away.
new Helmsman was in his early
20’s. He didn’t stop often for us kids, even if we waved and ran after the
truck. Kids were not important business to him like with Sammy.
never saw our Helmsman Sammy again.