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Jack’s Mid-Missouri Memories: “Walking Ohio”

Ohio Ave.Sedalia seemed huge before everyone owned a car or had access to one. Most people took a bus or walked to town in the ’40s and ’50s. There were cars then too, of course, but not enough to cause traffic jams in Sedalia. There was not much need for personal transportation, when a bus ride was a nickel and a transfer would let you ride all over Sedalia for that one fare. My uncle Bill Wickliffe drove a bus in those days, and I liked sitting right behind him so I could watch him maneuver that big machine around tight corners without running over everything.  Riding the bus was almost a social activity in those days, and a lot of gossip was shared on those slow rides to downtown Sedalia.

A lot of other people preferred to walk to town, not only for the exercise, but also to socialize with the people who sat out on their porches a lot more in those pre-couch potato days.  A friendly wave then could result in satisfying conversation. Today, that might be thought of as invading someone’s space (a phrase we hadn’t heard of yet in those days).

Sedalia really began shrinking in the ’50s when the car became a “necessity” instead of a convenience.  The bus was tossed on the junk pile next to the horse and buggy, and everything for better or worse began to speed up. Important things, like mom and pop stores, neighborhood cafes, sidewalk conversation and some very good exercise, started to disappear when you could drive from one city limit sign to the other in a matter of minutes.

One of the hardest things for me to watch disappear were Friday and Saturday nights downtown.  Many of us can remember when not only Ohio, but every street downtown was full of people walking up and down, gossiping, shopping and socializing.  It was a real event, and some people’s bright spot of the week (including mine). This was especially true at Christmas time, when the streets and stores were decorated for the holidays, and crowds of shoppers were so thick they spilled off the sidewalks onto the streets. This was shopping at its best, because it was a family affair that even fathers seemed to like.

The thing I recall the clearest of that time, was standing in front of Knight’s TV on 3rd Street just off Ohio with a crowd of people who apparently did not own a television set of their own either, watching in amazement as that magical box showed us pictures from faraway places that most of us thought only existed in geography books. We didn’t know it then, but that little box, along with the automobile would change our lives and downtown Sedalia completely in years to come.

The people that intermingled on Ohio street were from all walks of Sedalia life, and lot of couples met and fell in love while walking Ohio street in that pre-shopping center era. It was what kids today would call the “In” place to be, where young boys and girls could interact while their parents were busy shopping or catching up on the latest gossip. It was probably true, as my mother once said, that if you stood at the corner of Third and Ohio for a whole day back then, the entire population of Sedalia and most of Pettis County would walk by.

It’s hard for young people to relate to the sense of loss our generation feels when we remember those days, probably because their world is Wal-Mart and convenience stores, while ours was Crown Drug and the Uptown Theater. But they don’t know what they missed!

Tune in to Jack Miller on Newstalk 1050 KSIS every Monday morning to hear excerpts from his book of Mid-Missouri memories, titled ‘Unhurried Days.’

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