When you ask "What time is it?" you don't want to know how to build a clock.
However, there are times when a simple question can not be properly answered with a few simple words. If you wanted to tell Christopher Columbus how to get from New York to London, and you mentioned flying on an airplane, he would have no idea what you would be talking about. Words such as aluminum, jet engines, rubber tires, and airports, would mean nothing to him.
I have been asked about the name of the "candy store on the corner" and there is no easy answer to that question. I feel it necessary to go back to the Bible that mentions merchants and market places. To go back to a time before public schools, telephones and radio, before supermarkets and chain stores, to a time when very few people could read and write. The population of the world, and of the state of Ohio, was a fraction of what it is today and most people lived on farms, not in cities.
A supermarket may have started when a farmer traded a pitcher of milk for a head of cabbage, or a dozen eggs for a dozen ears of sweet corn. There was no need of handling money, or of advertising. Neighbors knew where to get what they needed and they traded what they had for what they wanted.
As a business grew, if there was a need for advertising, putting up a sign saying there was milk for sale didn't do any good in a community where people couldn't read. The next best thing was to put up a "sign." That would not be a sign with printing on it, but some "thing" that would get the message across. If the farmer put a milk can out front, people passing by would know that's where to go to buy milk.
Even now, many old timers know that a red and white striped pole meant there was a barber shop ready for business. A mortar and pestle mean a drug store, and a wooden Indian would be standing in front of a cigar or tobacco shop.
The head of a bull, with big horns, would signify a butcher shop and three golden spheres was the sign of a pawn shop.
I have pictures of a large clock, with its face 8 feet off the sidewalk, installed and kept in running order with the correct time, in front of a jewelry store that sold clocks and watches.
Shoe stores would have a great big shoe or boot as their "sign."
A popular way to tell the public what kind of merchandise was being sold was to display some of it out in front of the store.
When Emil Lisy owned and operated a hardware store on Libby Road, he would have snow shovels, wheelbarrows, stepladders, rubbish cans, or other items on the sidewalk. I remember when the A&P store in Mapletown had a big pile of watermelons on the sidewalk. There was no need to haul them into the store and no need to advertise watermelons for sale.
There was no need to have a name for such stores. There probably would be only one meat market in the neighborhood. Very few people owned a car. If you wanted to talk about buying a pork roast for supper, you would say you're going to the butcher shop and everyone would know what you mean.
I visited my cousin in Attica, Ind. in 1937. Attica is a small town on the banks of the Wabash River. I went into town with cousin Tony to buy groceries. He told the clerk what he wanted and the clerk got it for him. When Tony asked for rice, the clerk said they were all out of rice.
On the way back to my cousin's house, Tony turned to go up the hill to his home and I reminded him that he forgot to get rice. He said the store didn't have any. I suggested going to another store and he told me there was no other store. I'm sure the store didn't have a name.
Stores and other places of business were known by a description of the kind of store or business they were. There would be a bakery, a bank, a doctor, a dairy, and that's how they were identified. If there happened to be more than one, then they would be known as maybe the barber shop on Libby or the one on Broadway.
Sometimes, a store would be known only by the name of the owner. In the early days of Maple Heights, everyone in the neighborhood knew about Soika's and Sykora's and Faflik's. There were no stores like A&P or Fisher Foods. Those came later.
I've been asked, "What was the name of the Putt-Putt golf course on Broadway?" It had no name. It was known simply as the Putt-Putt golf course on Broadway. The same goes for the little candy store on Granger Road. It was known as the little candy store on the corner.
The Little Red Schoolhouse in Maple Heights never had a name. When it was built in 1871, it was "the public school." It was the only one in the neighborhood. Without cars, some of the farmers nearby maybe never knew where the next nearest public school was. If they did, it would be known as the public school on the east side and the Little Red Schoolhouse would be the one "on the other side of the bridge."
Talking about names reminds me of the young man about to be married. He approached the mother of his soon-to-be wife and asked how she would like to be addressed after he became her son-in-law. She told him to just call her "Hey, you!" for the first year and after that he could call her "grandma".
Names, signs and numbers, for identification, are used only after there is a need to do so. People didn't have last names until there was a need to distinguish between two or more people with the same first name. That's when Joe the blacksmith became Joe Smith. The same goes for stores and businesses.
Editor's note: Straka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.