Thinking back on ‘Old Troy’

By David Lindeman

Contributing Columnist

I have a friend who is turning 80 this month. He’s good to have around for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that he can make me feel at least a little bit younger.

We got to talking about “Old Troy” the other night. We were in a mixed group, which means there were “immigrants” who were not born in Troy but ended up living here. A couple of them have lived here for 50 years. We told them in another 10 years they might almost be accepted as real Trojans.

At any rate, my friend is proud of his hometown, as he should be. He regaled us with stories about when he was growing up in the 40s and 50s.

The place to get a good hamburger was Frisch’s on County Road 25-A (back when it was just U.S. 25, before there was an interstate highway) across from the fairgrounds. He said back then the bet was that if you ate two Big Boys your pals had to pay for them. Hamburgers were a lot bigger back then.

He worked for a while at Garfield’s Shoes in downtown Troy. Garfield’s was one of many clothing-related stores in downtown Troy. He said whenever there was a big snowstorm, Garfield’s was a busy place – people would come in to buy galoshes or those rubber boots with the metal snaps on front.

The thing I remember about Garfield’s and David’s and Penney’s was that they all had shoe salesmen who would whip out those metal foot measurement contraptions when you came in the door. They would take your foot (a brave thing for a man to do when the foot belonged to an 8-year-old boy who was not concerned about clean socks or feet) and then adjust all the slides on the contraption, which was called a Brannock Device, until he came out with a shoe size. My friend said it often was for show – they could pretty much tell what size your foot was and always made sure your foot fit the sizes of shoes they had in stock.

I was always impressed by shoe salesmen – I thought they must be really smart to be able to use one of those Brannock Devices. They looked more complicated than a slide rule to me. I thought it was pretty neat to see how much bigger my foot was each year when I went in to get my one pair of school shoes for the year.

My friend spent a lot of time at the Mayflower Theater. We reminisced about the Mayflower Restaurant, which was in the Mayflower building, and the days when the theater was packed for matinees.

On one of those days, one of the patrons had too much to drink and was making things miserable for the rest of the crowd. Finally, one man had enough and he kindly asked the drunk to quiet down so everyone else could watch the movie. The drunk responded with a loud outburst of colorful language.

“Excuse me, what did you say?” the first man asked.

The second man repeated the insults, only louder.

Thwack! One punch and the drunk was out. The first man went back to his seat and in a few moments a policeman and another young man arrived, picked up the unconscious man and dragged him out of the theater. The movie never stopped running, and everyone was satisfied that justice had been served.

All the memories weren’t so cheery. My friend said when he was a kid he wondered what made the back rows on the right side of theater so cool. For some reason, all the African Americans always sat back there. It wasn’t until later he learned the truth. Not everything about the Good Old Days was good.

But for the most part, Old Troy was a pretty good place. I get my shoes online now and there is no movie theater, but somehow I think young people growing up in Troy today will have their own stories to tell.

David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected]