"We're going to take your dad some supper," said my mother fetching my coat. "Here you go. Put your coat on while I bag up the sandwiches."
A trip to Armour Star was always an adventure. Sandwiches bagged up, we headed for the car. Mom cranked old Jezebel up, our cars always had a name when I was young, slipped the gear shift on the column into reverse and backed into the road. Clutch, shift and off we went.
"Do you suppose the ladies in the freezers will be there?" I asked leaning forward to see out the front window.
"Not this late. Why?" During daylight hours the ladies would sit at tables behind huge metal doors that slammed shut like a bank vault. On the inside the air was frigid enough to produce a frosty plume out of exhled breath. Their job was to package the weenies, or frankfurters as the package called them. To us kids they were weenies whose lives came to fruition when they were jammed on the end of a straightened coat hanger and held out over an open flame to sizzle and drip grease into the fire with a tssst and an upward blaze. We would place them in a bun slathering on mustard, ketchup, and relish, then stuffed into our pie holes.
To get back to the ladies in the refrigerated rooms I had always been a favorite of theirs when dad would take me in with him to pick up his check for the week.
"Oooh look at you," they'd say. "Such a handsome boy. Takes after his daddy."
I'd blush and stammer as they fawned over me.
"Here, Rickey. I've got some extra coins you can have." There were coins made of plastic with pictures of baseball players that were sealed in the packages as enticements to the kiddies who went along with the mothers to the grocery store. They were thought to be a lure for children, as the cereal boxes offered toys, to beg mom's all over America to buy Armour Star weenies. It wasn't such a popular extra. I don't know of any kids who collected them. The ones I was given at each visit usually found a place in the trash before the trashmen visited the area. But I would always take them with a smile and a thank you, slipping them into my pocket.
"Do you want to try sealing a package?" One of the ladies would ask me every time I came by. Eagerly I'd climb into her chair and fold the cellophane over the cardboard atop the weenies like a Christmas wrap and run it under the hot iron which came down by means of a lever. The heat would make a sizzling sound and the celephane would fuse, sealing in the future hot dogs. After about three or four times the huge thick door would make a loud clack as the heavy lock was thrown back. It would slowly swing out. In would walk my dad looking for me.
"I thought I'd find you here," he'd say. The ladies would praise me for my "work' and tell him what an adorable son he had along with other comments that I would come to know as flirting when older. Dad would just blush and hurry me out of the cold locker, down the stairs of the loading platform and off to Jezebel.
"Here we are," mom would say pulling Old Jez over the railroad tracks leading up to one of the loading docks. I'd jump out carrying the brown bag filled with sandwiches. Mom's door would slam behind me as she shouted, "Wait for me."
We'd ring the bell at the door which brought dad. He'd let us in.
"I'm cooking the bologna. Come on back."
We'd follow up the stairs of the loading dock, into the mixing area which was comprised of several large vats. The floors were of red brick which slanted in areas into drainage holes covered by small iron gratings. Small bits of fat along with scraps of meat would be littered around the floor which had not been swept yet. The mixing vats were like huge grinders into which all the leftovers from the buthchering would be dumped. This would all be ground together and encased in a mesh. This had been done earlier in the day. The mixture had been extruded into the mesh and hung on large trolleys which could be wheeled into the walkin ovens.
They would hang on poles which lay horizontally atop the trolley. When cooked they would be called bologna, or, in kid speak, baloney
Occasionally one or two of the bolgnas would burst through a weakness in the mesh cocoon. These could not be sold in the stores so we were able to take them home. If one did pop through, dad would cut a chunk out of it and hand it to me. It was the best tasting bologna ever. Until I acquired a microwave oven I had not tasted anything so good until I placed a slice in the MW oven. The taste was exactly what I recall. When I first discovered that i was inundated by the wonderful memories of those visits. Yay technology.
After I had finished my sandwich and my folks were talking I'd wander around the open area. I'd chase cock roaches across the floor trying to squash them under my shoes. They would find a multitude of hiding places to stay execution. In my exuberance I'd often slip and fall on the slippery brick floor only to be told to get up off that nasty floor by my dad. When the oven's ringer clicked on signalling the rack of bolognas were ready to be removed, dad would put on his gloves and open the double doors, grab the trolley and roll it out and into the cooling area. The next batch would be pushed into the oven. He'd adjust the temperature gauge and the timer. This done he'd remove his gloves and turn his attention to us.
While walking us to the car he'd pull out a packet of Luckies, retrieve one putting it between his lips. Back would go the pack into his left breast pocket and he'd retrieve his lighter from his pants pocket. A flick of the wheel against the flint would result in a small flame. He'd touch it to the end of his smoke with a deep inhale. It was so much a part of life back then that all of that was not even noticed. He plucked the Luckie from his lips holding it between his finger and thumb keeping the red flame hidden in his palm. I often wondered if that was a holdover from the war when the lit end could be noticed by the enemey, but that was a child's musing.
Dad would walk us to the car. After a kiss from mom we'd climb in. He's watch and wave as we pulled onto the street. Another drag as he watched us leave then he'd drop it to the ground and crush it beneath his boot. I would fall asleep on the way home.