This story started way back in the ’40s. There may be a few people who still remember the times I write about. They opened a place for young people, called Teen Canteen, in a building behind the City Auditorium. When they opened the door on Saturday night, I was there.
The place was chaperoned by grownups and you didn’t have to worry about someone jumping you. There was one girl who was very popular and all the boys wanted to dance with her.
She would dance with several then come over and sit on the bench with me. We talked like young people did back then.
One night she said, “Come dance with me.” I would have given anything to have been able to dance with her. I slowly shook my head saying “I don’t know how.” She took my hand and pulled me up. We moved over to a place where no one was and she began to show me how to do the two-step. When I left there that night I thought I had really done something.
I went to the Teen Canteen and would get on the floor with her. I was not the best two-stepper but she didn’t seem to mind. I got to noticing that several times during the night she would go outside. When we got back on the dance floor she would smell like peppermint.
One night I followed her outside. I watched as she ducked around the side of the building and walked around to where I could see her. She stood there smoking a cigarette. I went back inside, not letting her know that I had seen her smoking. She came back in and we got on the floor and I smelled fresh peppermint.
It went on until finally I let her know that I knew what she was doing. I had began to call her Peppermint Sally.
Sally was not a bad girl but she felt that if people saw her smoke they would call her bad. The first year the Teen Canteen was open I was there every Saturday night. Then I got with a buddy who had a car and finally quit going. When you are young, you go from one phase to the next.
There was a long period of time that I did not see the girl that I called Peppermint Sally.
I worked on construction but still remained a mischievous teenager. I never liked being around someone who was always criticizing someone. It has always been my belief that I was not put here on earth to judge people. When the day comes for judging people it will be from someone higher than all of us. The way that people live their lives is not my business.
When I came out of the Army, I was a different person. The mischievous teenager came back a man. But I still had my morals that I had grown up with: speak no evil, see no evil and say no evil of any one. I went on the police department thinking that this held true.
I had worked the street for the first few months that I was on the police department. I was placed in the car with the Whizz. He and I got along without any problems. Then the shift captain decided that since we worked with the public without having complaints filed against us, we would be the ones to teach the rookies.
It worked for a while — then what was going to happen happened. I got one of those rookies who knew everything. No one was right and the people that we were dealing with were nothing but scum.
Our first run-in was over a young girl running a red light and involved in a wreck. He called her white trash and that set me on fire. I had the reputation of being one who never lost his temper. I told him to get in the car. After finishing the report, I took him to the captain with the understanding that I would go home before I would work with him. He never made his probation period.
He always told everyone that I caused him to lose his job. I may have been responsible but it saved the department a lot of headaches. The job did not give you the authority to judge and criticize people. It gave you the right to enforce the laws, that’s all.
At that time, there was a beer joint at the corner of Walnut and East 12th. Every Saturday there was usually a knock-down and a drag-out. I was working the patrol car with a seasoned officer I will call Darrell. He was one of the nicest people that I have ever met. He treated all he came in contact with like they were somebody, not trash.
When we got to the beer joint, the owner told us that it was a fight between two of his women customers. We talked for a minute and one of them came out to where we were. Then the owner said, “here comes the other one.” I turned and you could have knocked me over with a leaf.
It had been years since I had seen her but I knew who she was. She knew me; I could see it in her face. Darrell and the first woman were talking. We stood and looked at each other. I could not believe that this was the girl I had called Peppermint Sally back in our Teen Canteen days. She looked a lot older than she was.
I turned as someone entered from outside. A man that I also knew from the teen years came in. He looked at her and said, “Now what have you gone and done? Come on, we are going home.” She followed him out the door. The owner shook his head. “Her husband will take her home and beat the hell out of her.” I turned and went to the door but they were nowhere in sight.
Years passed and I made shift sergeant on patrol. I came in one night and the radio dispatcher wanted to see me. I went in to find that some undercover men had set up a sting for prostitution. One of the men who had worked the sting met me in the hallway. “Lonie,” he said, “there is a girl in your office who wants to talk to you.” I opened the door and started in. There, looking old and tired, was Peppermint Sally.
She looked like she was going to cry. “I know what you must think of me,” she said, “but I wanted to tell you why I am what I am today.”
She had married young. Her husband made her go out with men because he would not work. I listened.
When she got through I said, “What I think does not matter, but what you think of yourself matters.” I got up and Larry took her back to book her in. That was the last time I saw Peppermint Sally.
Years later I led a funeral procession to the cemetery. When I had arrived at the funeral home I was surprised to find out that the person who was dead was Peppermint Sally.
I blocked the highway at the cemetery and stepped outside of the car as the hearse went by. I remembered a teenage girl who was full of life and afraid of being judged a bad girl. I hope if what she told me was true, that when it’s her time to be judged it will be taken into consideration.