Bella Fontana

A weekly column about life in Bellefonte, PA, reprinted from the Centre Daily Times

Friday, September 02, 2005


Writer and critic Henry James once said that the most beautiful words in the English language were "summer afternoon." To James and his aristocratic friends, the words must have called up an image of shaded lawns and sedate conversations. For me, growing up, the setting was different but the mood was the same. My summer afternoons existed in a kind of suspended torpor which I hoped would never end.

We didn't have the organized activities and tons of toys that kids have today, but we were never bored. We could catch minnies and crayfish in a nearby stream, make boats out of walnut shells, strip bark from birch branches to chew, blow choke cherries through pea shooters, make dolls out of hollyhocks and wreaths out of maple leaves. Nature was our playground.

And when it rained we could read comic books, which transported us from our small town surroundings to an urban underworld, a foreign country or a mythical kingdom. My favorites were Classic Comics with their artistic renderings of works like "The Count of Monte Cristo" and Wonder Woman, who, with her bullet-proof bracelets and magic lasso, represented a unique figure of female power.

When we had the cash, we could walk to the neighborhood store and deliberate over penny candy: spearmint leaves or Tootsie pops, sour balls or rootbeer barrels? For a nickel boys could get a baseball card in a Fleers Dubble Bubble gum pack, and for a little more girls could get a picture of a movie star on the back of a Dixie cup lid.

Since they are no longer on newsstands, where, I wondered, do kids buy comic books today? A search led me to Steven Tice on Valentine Hill Road who owns Calliope Comics. Here The Green Lantern, Spiderman, Superman, Batman, compete with each other in all their garish glory. But what used to sell for a dime starts now at $2.25. I was relieved to know that Wonder Woman is still going strong.

Do baseball cards still come in bubble gum packs? They do at Jake Tibbens' shop Sportscards Plus on West Water Street where Gheen's store used to be. Most of Jake's stock is in the form of loose cards, of which he must have thousands, but you can still get a pack of Topps with a baseball card for $4.00.

And for candy, there is Jabco's across from the park where some of the candy, sold from antique jars, is still actually a penny.