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Dear Readers,

As children, my sisters and I enjoyed dyeing Easter eggs almost as much as hunting for our Easter baskets.  I say almost because one year I found my basket in the bath tub, of all places.  Anyway, back to our egg dyeing.

Mom purchased Paas Egg Dye because she thought it was the best brand for producing vivid colors.  Two  tablets were placed in each deep bowl, along with a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar and boiling water.  We delighted in stirring the water until the tablets completely dissolved.

Our family dyed about five dozen eggs each Easter.  (It’s a good thing we loved egg salad sandwiches!)  The colors were red, green, yellow,, orange, purple and blue.  My favorite were the  purple eggs.  The eggs were left in the solution for a long time to achieve a deep tone.  That meant we were constantly lifting them up with a large spoon to see if they were dark enough.  No pale eggs for the Weickel family.

Once they reached the desired hue, they were carefully placed on the cardboard drying rack that was converted from the Paas box.  After the egg was dry and cool, Mom used a soft white cloth to apply a small amount of shortening.  The egg was then buffed to produce a glowing finish.  On a few eggs, we drew flowers, crosses, or printed our name with the small clear crayon that Paas provided.  But the final egg was the special egg!  It was placed in each color and the end result was always the same:  a brownish, grayish egg we named the “Weickel” egg because we were certain that we were the only family that had created this particular Easter tradition.

Happy Easter and remember to always

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

The other day my sister and I viewed the movie, The Butler, which chronicles the life of a black White House butler, Cecil Gaines, who served eight presidents. Forest Whitaker along with Oprah Winfrey, who plays his wife, Gloria, portrays the story of a middle class black family in Washington, DC where one son becomes a freedom fighter in the south and his brother volunteers to serve in the Vietnam war.  The history of the civil rights movement together with the violence and race riots of the 60’s are vividly depicted in the movie.  It is a deeply moving story of this loyal White House butler and his personal struggles with civil rights.

At the conclusion of the movie, my sister remarked that we were pretty sheltered from the civil rights movement and all that it entailed.  I quickly agreed but then on the drive home I remembered an incident caused by racial strife that I will never forget.

It happened like this.  My Dad and I stopped at the neighborhood filling station to get gasoline for my car.  It was a warm sunny, Saturday afternoon in Louisville, Kentucky during the summer of 1968.  (Starting in May of that same year, race riots and protests filled the streets of the West End of Louisville, following news of a possible reinstatement of a white policeman for beating a black man.  Stores were looted, cars were overturned and fires were ignited.  But we lived in the East End of Louisville and were not touched by the riots.)

In the 60’s gas was pumped by an attendant, so we waited in the car as the owner, a man we had known for a long time, came out to fill up the tank, along with checking under the hood and finally cleaning the windshield.  While he was pumping the gas, a young black man drove up in his car and asked for the keys to the men’s restroom.  The owner refused to hand over the keys and soon the two men were arguing loudly.  Suddenly the owner called the young man the “N” word and pulled a handgun out of his jacket and pointed it directly at the other man.  My Dad and I felt like we had a front row seat in a horror movie.  The scene played out like slow motion when the gun was being drawn, as we sat and watched in stunned silence.

It seemed like an eternity until the young man turned around, headed to his car and left.  But as he drove off, he shouted “tonight you will burn, baby, burn”.  The owner finished pumping the gas and I paid him.  Not a word was uttered by any of the three of us.  I couldn’t drive out of that filling station fast enough.  I just wanted to be safe at home and away from that scene.  My Dad and I couldn’t believe what we had just witnessed.  We were both scared to death!

As I recall that incident of more than 40 years ago, I wonder why my Dad and I didn’t ask the owner why he felt he had to draw a gun after a simple request by the young black man.  We knew he was a “hot head” but never thought his anger would drive him to point a gun at another human being.  Thank God no one was shot or filled on that warm Saturday afternoon in Louisville in 1968.

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Dear Readers,

In June, 1963 I graduated from Ursuline Academy in Louisville, Kentucky.  Three of my former classmates are organizing a 50 year reunion in October.  I share a particularly strong bond with one of these organizers as we were neighbors for 10 years.  Only two homes separated us on East Breckinridge Street.  We were born 10 days apart at St. Anthony’s Hospital in September, 1945.  She was baptized in St. Therese Church on the Sunday I was born.  Her maternal grandmother, Mrs. Schneider, was my next-door neighbor.  We attended four years of grade school together until her family moved from the neighborhood.  Luckily, we reconnected as freshmen at Ursuline Academy.

We are currently renewing an old friendship via e-mail.  She recently confessed that she was irked that she had forgotten a lot of details about our old neighborhood.  So I’m writing this post to refresh some memories for her and to give you, the readers, a slice of life on East Breckinridge Street during the 1950’s.

At the beginning of the block sat Seidenfaden’s Cafe, which we kids referred to as the “corner beer joint”.  It was an interesting establishment and I wrote about it in detail on the blog on July 23, 2010 in a post entitled “The Cranberry Man”.  (To read this post, just scroll down on the right margin to July, 2010 and look for post on July 20.)

My friend’s yard was the center of many neighborhood activities and since it had the biggest backyard, it was a natural place for kids to congregate to play.  And play we did – games like “peggy” a kind of softball, “red rover” and “hide-n-seek”.  The older boys, Danny, Lonnie and Joey would let us girls play when they felt benevolent.  I can remember wetting my pants as a 6 year old in my neighbor’s garage because of the excitement and anticipation of possibly being “found”!  If a ball from “peggy”sailed over the bordering fence, Mrs. Wahl never returned it.  She contended that we were making too much noise and that was just punishment for her inconvenience.  We also played “swing the statue” where someone (usually a boy) swung us around and wherever we landed, we had to freeze.  It was almost always an unusually awkward position.  The swinger was blindfolded and had to walk around and try to guess where and who we were.

The Connells’ yard served as our neighborhood park.  One minute it was a baseball diamond, the next a “jungle” where we climbed the trees to avoid the lions and tigers!  The yard sparkled on hot summer nights with flashing lights of fireflies while kids tried to capture them in a wide-mouth jar.  We always knew when to return home.  St. Therese Church bells tolled at noon for the Angelus and that was our cue to rush home for lunch (a bologna sandwich on white bread with mayo and potato chips).  At sunset the play stopped and we retreated to our upstairs un-air-conditioned bedrooms exhausted and ready to rest for another day of endless summer fun.

Well, Martha, I hope you enjoyed reliving these precious memories and that the rest of my readers have a better understanding of a kid’s life during the summers of the 50’s on East Breckinridge Street.  I will try to record more memories in the months to come.  In the meantime, be sure to

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

The other day I noted a bumper sticker that read “Well-Behaved Women Never Make History!”  The implication was that one has to be loud and possibly somewhat rude to be remembered and acclaimed.

My Mom was neither loud nor rude but she has left her mark on the world in a quiet and unassuming manner.  In fact, one small act of kindness by her is still being remembered and saluted more than 50 years after it happened.

It occurred while I was a high school student during the early 60’s.  My fellow classmate, who is organizing our 50th reunion, wrote and told me how she still remembered my Mom and her thoughtfulness.  Let me quote from her recent e-mail:

“I was thinking about your Mom the other night when I was taking out some baked potatoes.  Remember there were 8 children in my family.  I loved and still do every minute of that.  But one time I went home with you for a while and your Mother invited me to dinner.  And she served baked potatoes.  Boy I loved them!  At home we did do a lot of potato dishes but never baked.  Just the recipes that made them stretch. I did a lot of the home cooking in high school.  One night I wanted to make them for the family and surprise Mom.  I really didn’t see what your Mom did to them to make them so good.  So I called her and asked her to talk me through the recipe.  I had a pencil and two sheets of paper ready for her words of wisdom.  She was so kind and calm while we talked.  She went step by step.  She was a dream.  Well can you believe it.  You just wash them and put them in the oven!!  Julia Child, eat your heart out.  I bet your Mom had a few good giggles out of that one.  But you know she didn’t patronize me and took my request seriously.  I loved her for that”.

I’m sure my Mom sensed my friend was in need of a little motherly attention and freely gave it to her.  It was never forgotten.  So you see, you don’t have to misbehave to be remembered.  Her one small act of love and kindness lives on long after she has left this earth!

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

The highlight of a summer Sunday in my family was Sunday dinner.  (When I refer to “dinner”, I mean the mid-day meal because we called the evening meal “supper”.)  Sunday dinner was served at 11:30 AM, which meant that Mom attended the 5 AM Mass at St. Therese Church on Kentucky Street.  As soon as she returned from Mass, meal preparation was begun.  Crispy fried chicken was the favored main entree along with fresh green beans cooked for hours with a ham hock, and creamy mashed potatoes that were mashed by hand with an old metal potato masher.  (After Mom died, it was one of the treasures I retrieved from our family kitchen on Breckinridge Street.)  Summer meant fresh “combination” salad, which was a mixture of chopped fresh tomatoes, cukes and green pepper combined with mayo, salt and pepper.  It was cool and refreshing.  Mouth-watering homemade pies were offered for dessert.  In early summer, Mom baked strawberry and strawberry-custard pies.  During the months of July and August, peach and peach-custard pies graced the table.  One pie was not enough for the family as we craved the cold pie leftovers for breakfast the next morning.

After dinner, when the dishes were washed, hand-dried and put away, Mom would relax on the back porch swing to read the Sunday newspaper and Dad would retire to a pallet on the floor for a summer nap.

At least once a month, my Mom’s sister, Martha (Aunt Tubby) arrived for Sunday dinner in her light blue Studebaker sedan.  After dinner she would drive our family (we didn’t own a car) to Calvary Cemetery to visit the graves of Grandma and Grandpa Harris, where we offered a prayer for the repose of their souls.  My sister and I loved playing in the parked Studebaker, pretending we were driving.  We didn’t even mind the inferno-like temperature of the car as it sat in the summer sun.  A little sweat was a small price to pay for an afternoon of entertainment.

Some Sundays my Dad would take us to the “Broadway” picture show to see a couple of movies.  The theater was dark and cool with frosty air-conditioning.  Dad treated us to a large box of popcorn.  It was a great way to spend a hot Sunday afternoon.  We begged Mom to join us but she said she would rather stay home.  We felt sorry that she was missing a movie.  As kids, we didn’t realize that this was her only time all week she could spend without children and she was enjoying every minute of her afternoon alone!
If I could go back in time to relive just one of these summer Sundays, I would savor every second.  But since that isn’t possible, I’ll have to be content with these unforgettable memories!

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

I can still remember the long lazy days of summer as a kid.  June, July, August – three whole months of no school seemed like an eternity to me.  It meant freedom from homework and studying for tests, sleeping late and endless mornings and afternoons of nothing but fun and play.  As a kid, I foolishly thought those summer days would last forever!

Here are a few special memories I’d like to share with you.

On Barret Avenue in Louisville, Kentucky next to the Altenheim (that’s German for home for the aged) was a large open field called O’Leary’s Field.  It was probably named after the owner.  Every summer the area overflowed with blooming violets.  My Mom allowed me to accompany the neighborhood kids to pick violets.  We arrived early in the morning while the field was still partially shaded from the hot summer sun.  I picked as many violets as each hand could hold and walked a block and a half home to present them to my Mom.  She welcomed the fruits of my labor with open arms and searched for drinking glasses to hold the blooms.  I was so proud of those small bouquets.  Violet-picking was a pleasant summer ritual; that is until the year the open field disappeared beneath a paved parking lot for a nearby church.  O’Leary’s Field was gone but not the memories of picking summer violets.

One of the best treats of summer was shedding my shoes to go barefoot.  The feeling of the grass tickling my toes was heavenly.  The grass was cool and refreshing; much different than running across the hot concrete sidewalk.  The grass in our backyard was studded with clover.  And with the clover came lots of small honeybees feasting on the nectar.  Sure enough at least once each summer I stepped on a bee and suffered a bee sting.  I would holler and cry and then run into the house to find Mom.  She tried to extract the stinger but it was usually too late.  My foot would turn red and begin to swell.  A paste of baking soda and water was applied to the area to draw out the stinger.  Then a bandage was applied.  A few hours later the horrible itching would start.  There was no Benadryl in our medicine cabinet.  I had to tough it out for a few days until the swelling and itching subsided.  Despite the inconvenience of a bee sting, I couldn’t wait to run barefoot again in the back yard.

My final summer memory is catching fireflies on a warm summer evening.  As soon as the sun went down and the fireflies appeared, my sister and I hurried to get our jars with holes poked in the lids.  They were the perfect place for the captured fireflies.  We usually only caught one or two of these insects and then decided to let them go.  It just didn’t seem right to imprison them.  They were so beautiful and so much a part of summer.  I haven’t seen a firefly in years.  I wonder if they are still around.  They were a very special part of my summers in the 50’s.

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Church picnics in the 50’s in Louisville, Kentucky were the main fund-raising event for many Catholic congregations.  And St. Therese was no exception.  Actually they were more like festivals than picnics, which suggest people eating a meal together outdoors.

Every June St. Therese held their “picnic” and I attended every one while growing up.  But the picnic of June, 1959 was special.  This picnic was an extravaganza for the entire neighborhood.  Part of Schiller Avenue was closed to traffic for the event which started around 3 P.M. and lasted until well after midnight.  Pony rides were given in the alley behind the school and along the side of Beargrass Creek, with a large merry-go-round in the middle of Schiller Avenue.  A “tilt-a-whirl” was assembled in the yard next to the priest house and a giant ferris-wheel was erected next to the side of the church.

In addition to amusement rides, there were games of chance called “wheels”.  A wheel with numbers printed around the edge was spun.  Picnic-goers laid a nickel on a board on a particular number.  If the wheel stopped on that number, you were a winner.

Each wheel had different prizes such as fruit-baskets wrapped in colored cellophane, pound boxes of Muth’s chocolates, hand embroidered pillowcases, dolls, stuffed toys, hams, baskets of groceries, homemade cakes and cartons of beer.

The ladies of the parish donated the pillowcases with beautifully stitched flowers or birds in pastel colors.  The border of the pillowcases was crocheted with matching color threads.  The cakes were “out of this world”!  The ladies baked their best recipes for the picnic.  The tiered shelves behind the wheel were laden with chocolate iced layer cakes, pineapple up-side-down cakes, creamy frosted coconut cakes and rich, dense pound cakes.  The cake wheel only had 60 numbers on it.  So if you really wanted one, you could cover every number with a nickel and you were guaranteed to win a scrumptious homemade cake for only three dollars!

A fried chicken dinner with all the fixings was served in the basement of the school.  Many people ate their supper there and then spent the evening trying to win a prize on the picnic grounds outside.  Bratwurst sandwiches and cold beer could be purchased on the grounds as well.

Here’s a true family story concerning the 1959 picnic.  My parents were scheduled to work at the picnic while my younger sister and I wanted to try all the amusement rides.  My older sister who was 21 at the time, thought the idea of going to a church picnic on Saturday night was dull and uninteresting.  I can still remember my Dad saying “You never know, you might meet your future husband at St. Therese’s summer picnic”.  My sister laughed heartily but she and her girlfriend decided to stop by the picnic later in the evening.  Sure enough she ran into some guys that she attended grade school with and struck up a conversation with them.  One of those guys who had just returned from active Army duty in Germany asked her out.  They continued dating for the rest of the year.  Kenny proposed to her on Christmas Eve, 1959 and on September 3, 1960 they were married at St. Therese Church.

Our family often wondered what would have happened if Martha hadn’t heeded Dad’s wise advice.  I guess some things are just meant to be!  I also wonder if any other romances started at St. Therese’s Summer Picnic?

Keep smilin’!

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