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Guest Column: Trouble (with a capital ‘T’) in a tiny town

I was just 9 when my family moved from Duncombe to Alleman in 1953.

There was no movie theater, but there were a couple of outdoor movies (I remember I saw “The Babe Ruth Story” starring William Bendix) projected onto a brick wall. There was no swimming pool, but there was a place we called “Old Buttment,” where a kid could take a swim. There were no street lights, but we could still toss a baseball back and forth until dusk turned to darkness.

What there was, though, was Ben Alleman’s basement.

By the time my family moved to Alleman, the school was K-12. A few years earlier, however, high school kids in the town attended class in Ankeny, where they had lots more things to do than in Alleman.

That included a football team. Ben’s son, Barney Alleman, played football for Ankeny High School; he played it so well he earned a scholarship to Iowa State and played there, too.

By the time my family arrived in town, Barney Alleman was long gone. Just his name, though, gave us all a real honest-to-goodness hometown hero of which to be proud. “Yup, Barney Alleman lives just a couple of houses away,” we’d tell anyone who’d listen, stretching the truth just a little.

But, Ben Alleman still lived in that house. That was the truth.

And, there was Ben’s basement.

I don’t know if Ben liked us – we were certainly nuisances at that age – or if he was just a little lonesome after his son moved away. (If memory serves, Ben’s wife had passed away by then.) Maybe Ben was just of a nature that he’d tolerate a couple of pesky kids.

Whatever the reason, Ben gave us access to his basement on occasion. It was about the best basement a kid could imagine. Right smack dab in the middle was a full-sized pool table.

Playing pool, I reckon, wasn’t the pastime our parents would have chosen for us. But, it was something to do and it did keep us out of trouble.

Let’s face it, shooting pool got a bad rap in Meredith Wilson’s “Music Man.” (“Trouble, oh we got trouble, right here in River City! With a capital ‘T’ that rhymes with ‘P’ and that stands for Pool.”). Even though that musical didn’t hit Broadway until 1957, shooting pool had a bad rap, even before then.

But, ol’ Ben would let us down in his basement to shoot pool when we were only 10 years old.

My boyhood chum and I became pretty adept at the game, especially for pre-teens, and it wasn’t long before we took our act on the road.

Charlie Davis (he’d later be Alleman’s mayor) operated Charlie’s Barber Shop. Ironically, that, too, was in a basement. Charlie had two rooms, one for cuttin’ hair and one for shootin’ pool.

Charlie charged a nickel a game, and every time my pal and I could scrape together five pennies, we’d head downstairs to the barber shop and shoot a game.

A few of the older men in town got quite a kick out of these two young lads bangin’ the cue ball into the eight ball.

I’ll admit, we kind of enjoyed the attention we got, too.

But, it all came crashing down around us the fifth or sixth time we went to the barber shop to shoot a game.

“I can’t let you use the pool cues,” Charlie said. “You can play, but you’ll have to roll the cue ball.”

We were crestfallen.

Seems the second time we went down to shoot a game in the barber shop, one of the men who watched was an elder at the local church. He “tsk tsk’d” to the preacher, the preacher had a word with our parents, and our pool shootin’ days came to a screeching halt. Wow, word got around fast. Even Ben made his basement off limits.

We were blackballed before we even knew what it was.

Oh, well. It was fun while it lasted.

And there was still a hole full of water at “Old Buttment,” where a kid could go skinny dippin’.

(Bill Haglund is a writer for Stephens Media Iowa.)

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