I miss those Woolworth days

Published 11:59 pm Friday, February 13, 2009

A friend sent me a picture of a lunch counter menu from F.W. Woolworth and Company the other day. That menu is a treasure if for no other reason than to remind us of some of the prices back in the 50s. But it also reminded me of the years when I made my monthly visit to my orthodontist’s office.

I don’t know about you, but beginning when I was around 12 and throughout my teens, I often sat down at a Woolworth lunch counter for a mid-day meal.

Here’s an example of what was offered: A bacon and tomato three-decker sandwich cost 50 cents. If you preferred a three-decker ham and cheese, it cost you a dime more. You could get really extravagant and order a chicken salad sandwich for 65 cents. A piece of apple pie or a slice of layer cake cost 15 cents each. A super delicious dessert like an ice cream sundae was available for a quarter or a banana split for 39 cents. Oops, I forgot a drink. Ten cents, one dime, would get you a king sized Coke in those days.

Ah yes, I remember those days. I made a monthly Saturday visit to the orthodontist in Birmingham. It was about 25 miles from the rural community where I lived. I stepped onto the passenger car of the train that paused at the depot right across the road from our house. It arrived there around 10 o’clock every morning to take on passengers and drop off the mail. Upon my arrival at the Birmingham Terminal Station, I boarded a city bus for downtown Birmingham.

My appointments with the orthodontist were always around one o’clock, so I had plenty of time to catch a city bus, ride downtown, browse around and shop a little and have lunch. Many times, I took a seat at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s. There I enjoyed one of those triple-decker sandwiches. Then I walked the several blocks to the Protective Life Building to board the elevator to the orthodontist’s office.

Emerging from that office with sore gums after having my braces tightened, I went back downtown to a movie at the Alabama Theater. When it ended, I rushed back to Woolworth’s lunch counter. Despite my sore mouth, I ordered one of those refreshing ice cream sundaes. I can almost taste it now; two scoops of vanilla ice cream covered with hot fudge sauce, and topped with whipped cream and a cherry.

Afterwards I had the choice of boarding a bus back to the terminal station or taking a leisurely walk. The train departed at four o’clock. It depended on how much shopping I’d done as to whether I walked or took a bus.

My mother almost always asked me where I’d had lunch and what I’d had on those Saturdays I spent in Birmingham all by myself. A lot of the time, my answer was the same — a triple-decker sandwich and a Coke at Woolworth’s lunch counter.