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FIND ANOTHER STORY BY DR. DON HERE!

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The Last Helmsman
LA 1950's
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By: Dr. Don Noyes-More Ph.D.

      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.

Summer 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.

Sammy 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.

Once 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 him.

One 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.”

I was stunned and said “uh huh.” Not really knowing what to say.

My 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.

“We…we, going to see you again?” I asked.

“Sure 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.

The 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.

We never saw our Helmsman Sammy again. 

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