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Posts Tagged ‘Way back when’

Dear Readers,

I was probably 12 years old and all I wanted for Christmas that year was Nancy Drew mystery books.  Nancy Drew was my hero!  She was 18 years old, beautiful, and a fearless amateur detective who drove a convertible sports car.  She embodied everything I wanted to be and do.

My sister and I received about four books for Christmas, including “The Scarlet Slipper Mystery” and “The Secret of the Old Clock”.  Our best friend, Darlene, also received a couple of Nancy Drew books.  The three of us spent the entire holiday week reading about our hero.  As soon as we finished one book, we would trade around and read another one.

Our reading area was our “front room” where the Christmas tree was displayed.  The “front room” was the room facing the street and it was a special room that was only used for celebrating Christmas.  It contained all the fancy furniture my Mom inherited from her parents.  There was a lovely velvet black with maroon trim Victorian sofa with two matching chairs, one of which was a wingback chair.  A stately china cabinet filled with dolls on display anchored one corner of the room.  There was an oil painting of two ladies in long dresses and matching bonnets enjoying a cup of tea, centered above the mantel.  Dad had a clock encased in a glass dome resting on the mantel above the fireplace.  Three gold balls rotated round and round at the base of the clock to show the passing seconds.  The clock was so delicate and graceful.  No wonder this room was off-limits most of the year.  Mom wanted to keep the area as a showplace.

So you can imagine how thrilling it was to read about Nancy Drew, lounging on the special sofa in the glow of the Christmas tree.  Mom determined that we were old enough to be allowed to drink ginger-ale garnished with a red maraschino cherry from an elegant glass.  We pretended this drink was a real cocktail.  We wanted to be as sophisticated as Nancy Drew.  True, we had no exciting mysteries to solve nor a convertible to drive, but it was still a Christmas worth remembering, even after all these years.

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

After experiencing 65 Christmases, quite a few pleasing memories linger in the back of my mind.  Permit me to dust off a few of these recollections and share them with you.

“Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” is a church hymn sung during Advent (four weeks of preparation before Christmas).  Singing this song reminds me of a holiday cantata I sang in as a freshman at Ursuline Academy in Louisville, Ky.  Every Christmas this pageant featuring the entire student body was produced and presented as a fund raiser for the school.

The first song of the show in 1959 was “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel”.  The entire freshman class was chosen to sing all six verses of this hymn by heart.  We practiced daily for weeks but somehow none of us put much effort into memorizing all the words.  We stumbled and mumbled quite a bit after the first verse.

About a week before the performance, we were still not sure of the words.  Sister Vincentia, the cantata director, was so exasperated by our lack of interest that during this song, she suddenly banged on the piano and shouted “dammit”!  You could hear a pin drop on the stage.  That comment sure caught our attention.  Did Sister really utter “dammit”?  She was so irritated with us that she demanded we memorize all six verses that night for homework.  You better believe that at rehearsal the following day, the hymn was sung perfectly.  Sister Vincentia never had to raise her voice again and I realized for the first time, that nuns were human too!

Another Christmas memory involves ice skates and a big surprise.  On one particular Christmas my sister and I no longer believed in Santa but Dad wanted to surprise us with a special Christmas present.  He chose our gift from Speier’ Hardware on Barret Avenue, where every December a large area of the store was dedicated to a Christmas toy display.  Shelves were overflowing with all types of dolls, trucks and games.  Shiny new bikes were lined up in a long row.   There was even pairs of ice skates on display.   All the neighborhood kids loved to wander up and down the aisles and dream of what toy they would be receiving for Christmas.

A few days before Christmas, Dad came home from Speier’s carrying a big box under his arm.  It was gift-wrapped and the tag had both our names written on it.  He carefully placed it underneath the decorated Christmas tree.  We were intrigued.  We would pick it up, shake it and speculate on the contents.  After much jiggling and shaking, we decided that the box contained a pair of ice skates.  We pictured ourselves skating on ice in beautiful costumes just like the girls in the Ice Capades.  Can you imagine the dismay in our eyes, when we opened the box and pulled out a regulation-size basketball?  I’m sure my Dad thought it was the perfect present for two young girls.  We tried to hide our disappointment because we didn’t want to hurt Dad’s feelings.  Bouncing a basketball was enjoyable but it would never match the thrill of skating across the ice!

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

In the 1940’s and 50’s coal was delivered directly to our house.  It was burned in the stove to provide heat during the winter.  Each fall Dad would order at least a ton of coal and the truck would dump it onto the street near the curb.  Dad then had to fill a wheel barrel with the coal and empty it into the coal bin in the basement through a small window.  This whole procedure created lots of black coal dust.  My older sister loved to help Dad by picking up small pieces of coal laying in the street.  By the end of the day, she was covered with coal dust and had to spend a long time in the bathtub while Mom scrubbed the coal dust from her scalp.

The loud noise from the dumping of coal scared me to death.  Mom said I cried and cried.  I was so frightened as a toddler that for about three or four years, I spent the day at my grandmother’s house whenever coal was scheduled for delivery.

During the 50’s two different newspapers were delivered to our home daily.  In the morning we received the Courier-Journal and at 4 PM, the Louisville Times.  Every Friday night around 7 PM the paperboy came to collect money for the paper.  We had a payment card and as each week was paid for, he punched a hole in the card by the appropriate week.

Every other week Mr. Lawson, our insurance man, would visit our home and collect 25 cents for the life insurance policy my parents had purchased.  He would pencil in “paid” and the date in the line next to our name in a large, thick payment book that he carried with him.  Mr. Lawson told Mom that if she had a two dollar bill, she would never be broke.  I guess the reasoning behind that remark was that two dollar bills were pretty rare even then and that if you had one, you would never spend it.  When I recently asked my sister about Mr. Lawson, she informed me that she always carries a two dollar bill in her wallet.  Both her son and daughter do the same!

At the time, I guess we thought those home deliveries would continue forever.  Sadly they didn’t.  By the early 60’s, coal was no longer used for home heating, insurance bills were mailed out and the home delivery of bread and milk was no longer profitable.  But it’s awfully nice to remember those delivery people and what a big part they played in my childhood memories.

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Today if we need milk or bread, we just hop into our car and drive to the nearest grocery or convenience store.  This wasn’t the case in the 1950’s.  These food items were delivered directly to your doorstep at least once or sometimes twice a week.  Let me tell you more about this great service.

Donaldson’s Bakery in Louisville, Ky. carried “Peter Wheat” bread and delivered it by truck door-to-door.  (My older sister remembers when their delivery truck was horse-drawn in the 1940’s.)  I can recall the Donaldson delivery man knocking on our door early Saturday morning with a large metal delivery tray of assorted bread and baked goods.  Mom always purchased a loaf of bread for making school lunch sandwiches.  In addition to that, we were allowed to choose something for Saturday morning breakfast.  There were sweet iced cinnamon rolls, streusel-topped coffee cakes and even tender doughnuts.  It was difficult to decide which baked goodie to buy.  Some Saturdays, Mom went out to the delivery truck to procure an iced layer cake or fruit pie for a special occasion.  My favorite was a yellow cake covered with creamy caramel icing.

Twice a week milk was delivered to our door in quart-size glass bottles.  There was a metal box on our side porch where the bottles were deposited.  It kept the milk cold until Mom could move the bottles into the refrigerator. The top two inches of the bottle contained heavy cream.  Mom would skim it off the top and beat it to produce real whipped cream for special desserts.  Empty milk bottles were also stored in the metal box for pickup by the driver.

Our milkman dressed in a uniform of white shirt, white pants and a white hat and was named “Duffy”.  I suppose that was his last name.  My younger sister and I would call him “Ducky”.  He always laughed at that and when Mom paid the weekly bill, he would give us old order pads to play with.  We used them for writing food orders whenever we played “grocery store”.  Each order sheet consisted of two different pieces of paper.  The top sheet was white with carbon paper on the back and the “customer copy” sheet was yellow.

We had the same mail delivery man for at least 15 years.  He was so kind and always waved “hello” to us.  Mail was delivered twice a day in the weeks preceding Christmas.  As soon as we heard the clank of the mailbox being closed, we rushed out to collect the Christmas cards.  By the way, stamps were three cents!

To Be Continued.

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Here’s the final post on my September memories.

In September, 1982, my son, Andrew, started kindergarten.  Dollie, the Methacton School District bus driver, drove the little school bus up to our driveway to pick up my little student.  He insisted on walking to the bus all by himself.  As I watched him board the bus on that sunny September morning, I realized my youngest child was growing up and things would never be the same again.  We were entering a new phase in the life of our family.

Every September from 1974, when Jude was 5 months old, until 1987, my parents came to visit and stayed the entire month.  I loved having my family nearby and Mike enjoyed all the home repairs my Dad made during the visit.  We kept every weekend open for family fun.

There were day trips to the PA Dutch Country, where we feasted at family style restaurants, beautiful autumn walks through Longwood Gardens to look at the last blooms before cold weather arrived, and outlet shopping in Reading, PA where Mom purchased clothes for her two grandchildren in Louisville.  As the kids got older, we planned weekend trips to New York City, Washing, DC., the Pocono mountains and Baltimore.  We had wonderful times on these excursions, eating at special restaurants and staying in different motels.  One stormy Saturday night was spent in a couple of train cars in the Red Caboose Motel in a small town in rural PA.  My Dad remarked how cozy it was to hear the rain hitting on the metal roof of the train.  There was always plenty of good laughs together.  Those Septembers were golden and I wanted them to last forever.

The final chorus of my favorite song “Try To Remember” sums it up pretty well:

“Deep in December it’s nice to remember

Although you know the snow will follow.

Deep in December it’s nice to remember

Without a hurt the heart is hollow.

Deep in December it’s nice to remember

The fire of September that made us mellow.

Deep in December our hearts should remember and follow”.

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

This is a continuation of distinct memories of past Septembers.

In 1965 The Brothers Four recorded a hit song entitled “Try To Remember”.  The ballad began with these lyrics:

“Try to remember the kind of September

When life was slow and oh, so mellow.

Try to remember the kind of September

Where grass was green and grain was yellow.

Try to remember the kind of September

When you were a tender and callow fellow.

Try to remember and if you remember, then follow.”

I loved that song and the images it brought to mind.  Years later on a September trip to visit our daughter in NYC, she treated us to a performance of the musical comedy “The Fantasticks” where this melody was sung.  She had no idea how much I truly treasured this song and sharing it with her on a September afternoon.

In September, 1979 our daughter started kindergarten at Visitation BVM School in Trooper, PA.  Jude rode on a small school bus to and from school.  At the end of her first day, I waited for her at the end of our street.  I must have stood there for over an hour waiting for that bus. Fear started to well up inside me.  Where was the school bus and where was my little daughter?  Reluctantly I decided to leave my post on the street and return home to call the school.  (There were no cell phones in 1979.)

The school informed me that they had been attempting to contact me for about an hour.  What a feeling of relief; Jude was safe and sound waiting for me in her classroom.  Her teacher apologized profusely.  Jude had forgotten what her school bus number was and didn’t leave when her bus was called on the loudspeaker.  I’m surprised I didn’t get a speeding ticket as I raced to her school to pick her up.

More memories of other Septembers will be continued in Memories of Septembers Past, Part 3 to be posted on Tuesday, September 20, 2011.

Until then remember to

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Having lived through 65 Septembers, there are distinct memories that stand out above the rest.  Let me share with you a few of these random impressions.

In September, 1951, on my first day of school, I remember walking to the first grade classroom with my fellow classmate and neighbor, Martha Connell.  We strolled to school under the watchful eye of Martha’s older sister, Kathleen.  During the 50’s the whole neighborhood would walk to school together, with the older kids looking out for the younger ones.  Our walk wasn’t very long; only about three blocks.  But the kids from Breckinridge Street stuck together.

Fast forward to September, 1953 when my sister, Nancy, started first grade.  Mom gave me the duty of watching and protecting my little sister and making sure she entered the correct classroom. Every day I gave her a hug and a kiss of encouragement before she stepped through the door.

On September 3, 1960 my sister, Martha, got married.  As a 15 year old, I had the proud honor of being her maid-of-honor.  My younger sister and I wore aqua dresses with a sheer white overlay embroidered with tiny white flowers.  A bouquet of dark red, yellow and purple flowers cascaded over our arms.  We even wore shoes dyed to match the dress.  September 3 was a very hot Saturday, the temperature was in the 90’s.  The noon reception was held at the Keswick Democrat Club, where a record number of kegs of beer was served.

There’s a cute little family story about the reception.  My Aunt Roberta did not want my Uncle Henry to drink too much beer.  So every time he took a glassful, she would sample a good amount in an attempt to keep him sober.  Well he stayed sober but at the end of the party Aunt Roberta was pretty tipsy; so much so that her hat sat cock-eyed on her head as she waved good-bye from the car.  We still laugh about that!

To be continued on Tuesday, September 13, 2011.

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

I couldn’t let August pass without recalling memories of Mom’s birthday and buying presents for her.

It was August, 1960 – Mom would celebrate her 48th birthday on the 22nd of the month.  That summer I was a 14 year old working my first job at St. Anthony’s Hospital.  My job description was tray girl in the pediatric wing.  My duties were to deliver and retrieve meals from the patients and then transport the dining utensils to a central dishwashing room in the basement of the hospital.  My salary amounted to $9 a week and for a 14 year old girl, I suddenly felt rich.  This would be the first August I could buy Mom a really special and luxurious gift.  And I knew just what I wanted – an expensive nightgown.

On a shopping trip downtown, a frilly pink gown adored with delicate ribbons was selected.  It was pricey – $5.  But nothing was too good for my mother.  For an additional 50 cents, the piece of lingerie was gift-wrapped in shiny pale blue paper with a large pink ribbon bow attached.  My Mom was going to absolutely love this present!  After all, I loved it!

On her birthday, she unwrapped the gift, saving the paper and bow for another use, and declared it was beautiful but perhaps a little too special for everyday wear.  Mom carefully placed it in the drawer for use on any future hospital stays.  (This was probably the product of a frugal German upbringing.)

The following August I took a more practical route and chose a set of eight drinking glasses decorated with tiny pink flowers and cradled in an ornate metal glass holder.  She again remarked that they were beautiful and displayed them on a kitchen shelf.  They were off-limits for everyday meals.

From then on my gifts to her were of a much more practical nature.  I learned a great lesson.  I stopped buying gifts that made me happy and started giving gifts that made her happy!

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Have you ever noticed the photo of the Campbell Kids at the top of my blog and wondered if there’s a story attached?  Well, there is.

But first here’s the history behind those cute kids.  They were created in the 1930’s by illustrator, Grace Drayton, as part of a marketing campaign for the Campbell Soup Co.  Campbell’s of Camden, NJ was founded in l869 and by the 1950’s their canned soups,  including tomato, was a familiar staple in many family pantries.  I can’t tell you how many Friday nights my Mom served grilled cheese sandwiches with Campbell’s tomato soup.  (She tried Heinz’s soup once or twice but it just wasn’t as flavorful.)

It was on one of these soup cans that my nine year old eyes spied an offer for a set of Campbell Kids salt and pepper shakers.  I was determined to purchase a pair for my mother.  It seemed pretty simple.  All I had to do was mail in three Campbell soup labels and 50 cents (2 quarters scotch-taped to the order blank) along with my name and address.  The offer said it would take 6 weeks for processing.  I waited patiently for the box to arrive; after all, 6 weeks seemed like an eternity to me.  Some days I would check the mail box two or three times.  When they finally arrived, I was so proud to be able to present them to my mother; even if they were plastic and not as big as I had imagined.  Mom proudly put them on display on a small kitchen shelf.  She didn’t have the heart to tell me they were difficult to fill and not very practical for everyday use.

When I got married, Mom gave the shakers to me and they were displayed in a place of honor on my kitchen counter.  They traveled with me from an apartment in Kentucky to three different homes in Pennsylvania and now finally to a downtown condo in Raleigh, NC.  Those kids stand right next to my stove and are a constant reminder of the happy times spent in my childhood kitchen on Breckinridge St.

The website of L & J Antiques & Collectibles Mall lists the Campbell Soup Kids Salt and Pepper Shakers for $80.00.  It’s quite a bit more than the original price of 50 cents.  But guess what – I wouldn’t sell my set for any price!  They hold too many precious memories for me.

Keep smilin’!

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Dear Readers,

Early Saturday morning was story telling time in my family.  My younger sister and I aged 4 and 6 years old, were allowed to climb into bed with our Dad, while Mom prepared a weekend breakfast.  Dad would entertain us with the same stories every week.  He told of a man making soup in a most unusual manner.  He would open cans of corn and peas, throw away the vegetables and toss the empty cans in the soup pot.  Potatoes and onions were peeled but only the peels were added to the mixture.  The cook even threw in a dirty old shoe just for good measure to season the weird soup.  My sister and I would laugh and squeal in protest as my Dad described each new ingredient.

Both of my sisters recall the legend of Dobbin the horse and how he wandered away and got lost during a frightening rainstorm but was finally rescued and returned to his very worried mother.  We both laughed and cried during this narrative.  It was story telling at its finest!

My husband remembers his paternal grandfather’s exaggerated tales of super-human athletic skills.  Papa Stewart once told him and his cousins about the time he pitched a double-header where he pitched right-handed during the first game and left-handed the second game.  Can you imagine the look of astonishment on the faces of his grandchildren?

We see our grandchildren at least two or three times weekly and my husband has fallen into the most enjoyable habit of telling stories to our four year-old granddaughter.  I love to observe the changing expressions on her face as her grandfather relates the story about a little boy with a long leg and a short leg and how he came to be accepted by his schoolmates.  Or the elaborate saga of an estranged monster family who was finally accepted by the entire neighborhood after a courageous boy on a bike stopped to say hello to a monster boy his age.

I think every family needs a story teller; someone who can stir our imaginations and make us laugh or cry.  Our family now has one and it began with a toddler who loves hearing a story, both read and told.  What my dear husband doesn’t realize now is that his wonderful tales will live on long after his is gone!

Keep smilin’!

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