He’s Coming!

“I’d like two packs, please.”

To be honest, I can’t be absolutely sure which song was playing.

But I was somewhere around 7-years-old, growing up in a place called Torrance, California.  It was my hometown, not too far from the Del Amo Mall, offering some of the coolest stores around, 6 days a week.  Yes, they were closed on Sundays.  There were rotary dial phones with party lines, Sandy Koufax pitched for the Dodgers and there were nights around our house where the TV wasn’t turned on and we spent the evenings listening to the Dodger game on the radio.

I just assumed it was normal for your local baseball team to be in the World Series more years than not.  It was such a major event, teachers allowed us to have the games on in the classroom.  Back then, most of the games were played during the day.  In 1963, the Dodgers went and swept the Yankees, 4-0.  In 1965, the Dodgers lost the first two games of the World Series to the Minnesota Twins, then came back to win it in 7 games.  In 1966, the afore-mentioned Koufax finished the season 27-9. He had become my childhood hero.

Back then, kids didn’t have multiple sports to sign up for, like soccer or even football.  There was Little League baseball and that was it. So I played four years of Little League, plus some street baseball with the likes of Kelly Toman, Mike McClaren, Kenny Vaughn and Mike Cobb.  But even in the middle of a tightly contested tennis ball game, when I heard that song–I’m pretty sure it was the Captain Kangaroo theme–I’d call time out, dig deep into my pockets, grab my change and brace myself to buy more baseball cards.

There it was, coming down the street–the Helms Bakery truck.  Others may recall the loaves of bread or pastries, even the bottles of milk–but I was there for the Topps baseball cards.  I’d impatiently wait my turn, then present my quarter and say, “Five packs of baseball cards, please.”  It was as if he was handing me bars of gold.  All the guys would open up each pack and look for new cards, ones they were missing or perhaps a double they could trade.  With every pack, a piece of stale, pink, powdered bubble gum was included that you’d stuff in your mouth and begin chewing.  On those five-pack days, you’d end up with quite a mouthful.  Just like some of those major leaguers you’d see on TV.

Thanks to the land of Wikipedia, I see that the Helms Bakery folks went away in 1969.  I knew they just stopped coming one year.  By that time, my interest in baseball cards was beginning to fade.  After all, I was an 8th grader and there were bigger things coming up, like high school.  So, I stashed those several shoe boxes full of semi-organized cards and, fortunately, my folks never tossed them.  They sit neatly displayed in albums, like photos of family members.  Every now and then, I’ll grab one of them and take a stroll down memory lane, recalling fondly those precious days of nickel baseball cards, home runs that reached the neighbor’s roof across the street and the sound of the Helms Bakery truck.

Tim Hunter

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