An old friend of mine recently posted on Facebook a photo of a bottle of Coca Cola with a bag of peanuts floating on top. He asked, “How many of you remember this?”
Well, I do. But, rather than Coke, I preferred to dump a bag of salted peanuts into a Pepsi. It was one of those youthful pleasures that, for one reason or another, disappeared with the onset of adulthood.
Still, the sight of my friend’s Facebook post sent the old mind wandering back to those pre-teen and teenage years, an innocent time growing up in a tiny Iowa community. Like most youngsters, I found spendable income a rarity. Sure, I had my $1 weekly allowance, but I earned it by sweeping the large study hall floor in the old Alleman school every day.
It was the better part of that dollar, plus the coins spent by my friends and others in the small town, that kept the B&F Café’s doors open. The “B&F” stood for Bessie and Fritz, the proprietors of the café. Bessie and Fritz Culp were legends in the town and it was Bessie who operated the café almost all the time. Fritz was rarely seen, although he did umpire the home games for the Alleman high school team, standing in the middle of the diamond behind the pitcher, calling balls and strikes and making rulings on plays at each base.
We could make a dollar go a long way in the 1950s. It cost a penny for a baseball card and a sweet piece of chewing gum in each pack. For a nickel, you’d get a packet with seven cards and a piece of chewing gum, but most of the time we’d buy the cards one at a time.
To enjoy those colas and peanuts, it wasn’t much costlier. A bottle of pop (don’t call it “soda” please) was, if memory serves, seven cents and a bag of peanuts was a couple cents more. I’d enjoy one of those concoctions at least once a week – it’s funny, I guess, that I now never have any pop at all, although I still enjoy a bag of peanuts.
I imagine Bessie sometimes tired of seeing us pop through the front door of the café, but she never let on.
There were times we’d pop in for a single baseball card and there wasn’t much profit in that. Other times, though, we’d stop by for a bottle of pop, and those three-cent candy bars were also favorites of mine, as well as for my friends. Once we found out that Bessie’d also fix you up a chocolate sundae for 15 cents – and boy she’d pile on the chocolate syrup if you asked – we’d order up those on special occasions.
The few adults who stopped by the old café, I’m sure spent far more money. Bessie served up delicious home cooked meals during the day to farmers who’d hauled grain to the co-op elevator and a few others who were in town for one reason or another. I never did eat a full meal at the B&F Café, but I knew from talk that they were plenty tasty.
After my high school days had passed, I soon moved away from Alleman.
It wasn’t all that long, however, that I returned. I was surprised, and a little sad, too, to see that the B&F Café had changed hands. Bessie and Fritz Culp were no longer running the place and, I believe, Fritz had passed away. Bessie didn’t live long after that, either.
The old café had a couple owners for a few years, but one day it closed forever. Fritz and Bessie had always lived in the back part of the building and new owners had converted the old café part of the building into living space, as well.
It’s still there.
On the rare occasion that I drive though Alleman, I always pause at the house that once was the B&F Café. It’s the house west of where the railroad tracks once passed through town. I always remember the many trips my friends and I made there to spend our pennies, or nickels when we had them to spend.
I imagine climbing up onto one of the four stools and seeing Bessie sitting behind there behind the counter, slowly rising and fetching a baseball card, a three-cent candy bar or a Pepsi and a bag of salted peanuts.