Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Southside Drug Store’s One-Arm Wonder

When I was a young boy in the mid 1940s, if I had an extra dime to spend, I went to the Southside Drug Store on Jefferson Street. Mr. Alex (Sandy) Stewart owned the store. Above it, on the second floor, were the offices of Dr. Hoyt Starks, dentist, and Dr. James Stewart, who took care of many in the Southside. At the entrance to the drugstore, the word DRUGS was inlaid in the tile. Even though the drugstore is now gone, that word is still there today when “drugs” has another meaning than medicines.

The Southside Drug Store had a soda fountain with rotating stools on the right side when you went in and newspaper and magazine stands with comic books on the left side. Close to the magazines was a pinball machine that took nickels. I didn’t play it much, but I watched older boys play to see how many free games they could win before they tilted it and lost everything. Toward the back of the store were the other items common to drugstores, like stationery, bathroom things, perfumes, and cosmetics, none of which had any interest to a boy.

Comic books were the main attraction for me, and they cost a dime. However, I really didn’t need a dime, because I could stand and read the comic books there without buying them, if I didn’t stay too long or didn’t get too loud laughing at them. Mr. Stewart had a son my age, Jimmy, so he knew all about boys. Sometimes I bought gum and candy bars, putting my nickel down at the end of the soda counter, where there was always a soda jerk standing to take it.

The Southside Drug Store had another attraction for all the neighborhood kids. Mr. Ferdie Artz, who was missing his left arm, worked in the back, where prescriptions were filled at a counter and where the store’s cash register was. One day years ago, as Southside parents repeatedly told their kids, Mr. Artz had his left arm hanging out a car window. Another car came by in the opposite direction and ripped his arm clean off, which I had absolutely no trouble at all visualizing in gory detail—a detached arm lying in the middle of the street with blood pouring out of it and Mr. Artz’s bloody stub still on his shoulder in the car window. So, when they were riding in cars, all Southside kids were warned by their parents, “Don’t hang your arm out the car window! See what happened to Ferdie Artz!” The lesson was very strong and real. No Southside kid ever hung his arm out a car window.

Mr. Artz didn’t let his misfortune get in the way of his work. He retrieved items from high shelves by knocking them off with his good right hand and catching them between his left stub and chest, placed them on the counter, and wrapped them in paper, leaning over and using the stub end of his left arm to hold the string in place while he deftly flipped the package over and tied a knot with the other, again holding the knot firmly with the stub end. We kids watched and watched and marveled at Mr. Artz, the one-armed wonder of the Southside.

Copyright 2011 by Walter A. Schroeder.


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