For those readers who don’t know, my mother, Lillian Applegate Westfelt, the Lillian in “Lillian’s Cupboard,” passed away on November 11, 2018. I wanted to make an announcement post before this but just couldn’t face it. Now, with the old year running out, I thought it was a good time to pay tribute to a great woman.
My mother was 86 years old and didn’t start her blog until right before her 70th birthday. She jumped in with both feet and made a terrific success of it. (I only wish I’d had the number of hits she racked up on her worst day.) If you take a look around the blog going back over the years, you’ll see what an accomplished woman she was. A great cook and baker, talented quilter, and enthusiastic knitter; and a fine writer, a compliment she never really accepted. (I AM a writer, and an editor as well, and I know good writing when I see it.)
We’re hoping to leave Mom’s blog up indefinitely. It’s a wonderful archive of information, recipes, and memories; a true legacy as well as a fitting tribute to who “Lillian” was and what she cared about.
If you’re here only for the recipes or the quilting, someday take some time to read her memoir posts about life in the 30s and 40s and as a young mother in the 50s and 60s. She also was a tireless chronicler of life as it happened. If I ever need a refresher about a birthday celebration, holiday, or other event, I know I can go to this blog and relive the whole thing.
The day after she died, I posted a tribute to her on my own blog here and more about that night here. Frankly, we’re still reeling. We had a good Christmas, though, which would have made Mom happy. She insisted we go on celebrating no matter what and not become morose or bitter when she was gone. She adored Christmas.
To all her readers and followers, thank you for supporting her over time. She valued each and every one of you. Even though she slowed down in her blogging over the past year, she remained dedicated to it. There’s a wealth of reading on “Lillian’s Cupboard.” I hope you’ll stop back now and then to relive special moments in a long and happy life.
My mother died in 1991 – she would have been 91 years old on this November 28th. When she was 72, she made a tape, telling all of the family stories she could recall. She gave this accounting of the day she was born in Morrow, a small railroad town in Ohio.
“On Thanksgiving Day my father came downstairs and he told my mother, he said, ‘I dreamed we had a little girl and we named her Martha’ and she said, ‘Well, you better go get the doctor because I think your dream’s going to come true’ and he went for the doctor and I was born before the doctor got there. He went running down and said, ‘Hurry up, hurry up, doctor, the baby’s already here’ and old Doc said, ‘There’s no use hurrying if your baby’s already here.'”
So, we always associated Mother’s birthday with Thanksgiving and occasionally…
By the time I was born in 1932, radio was available, but not to people like my family who had no money for frivolous things, sometimes barely enough for necessities like food. My father was always fascinated with radio and by the time we had moved to a one room flat in 1935 and he had a job with the WPA, making enough to feed his family, he started building crystal sets. As he progressed in the WPA, going from the lowliest laborer to time-keeper, we came up in the world and moved to a two-room flat and had a pretty nice radio. I can remember one playing while we sat at the kitchen table in the morning. I liked the jingle that four young guys sang (lyrics the way I remember them):
Shine your shoes and you’ll wear a smile Shine your shoes and you’ll be in style The sun shines east and the sun shines west But Griffin polish shines the best. Some folks are not particular How they look around their feet, But if they wore shoes upon their heads, They’d make sure their shoes looked neat. So, keep your shoes shining all the time, All the time, it’s the time to shine When you hear this familiar chime (ding, dong, ding) It’s time to shine.
Forty years later, I found out it was the young Williams brothers singing the jingle, including the youngest, Andy Williams, who would become one of my favorite singers in the 1960s.
We listened to the Farm Hour, with reports on grain futures and cattle sales, along with weather reports. The broadcast came from a model-farm type operation and they always talked to the farmer about what he was going to do that day on the farm and sometimes to his wife about her cooking and housekeeping tips.
Mother kept the radio on all day while she did her housework, favoring the country music of Mother Maybelle and the Carter Family, Cowboy Copas, and Mac Wiseman, learning songs that she later sang to us. The sadder the ballad, the better, as far as Mother was concerned. She never complained, never cried, always had a pleasant smile on her face, but she loved the most doleful, tragic ballads where people died and roses twined around their tombstones.
My father liked sports broadcasts – baseball, football and the boxing matches. I can still hear the tinny sound of the announcer from Madison Square Gardens in New York, announcing the name of Joe Louis and his unlucky opponent. We all listened to the news broadcasts and shows like Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly, and Lux Radio Theater.
Just before World War II, we could afford to move to a four-room apartment and my father managed to get a wonderful radio that had a green eye that vibrated and pulsed with each sound coming out of it. The radio was glorious and my little sister and I loved to watch the magic eye do its gyrations. It was on this radio that we heard the news on a wintry Sunday that Pearl Harbor had been bombed and we were now in the middle of World War II. Throughout the war and for several years afterwards, the radio continued to be the major form of information and entertainment in American homes. Our family gathered in the living room around the radio, everybody doing something besides just listening – my parents reading, my sister and I lying on the floor with puzzles or coloring books or paper dolls.
On Saturday nights, we usually listened to a barn dance show, probably the precursor of Grand Ole Opry, and heard someone “calling Rattler from the barn – Huyh, Rattler, Huyh, Huyh” and some guy saying, “I’m going back to the wagon, folks – these shoes is killing me”.
I can remember sitting in the kitchen with the radio playing Fred Allen while we ate a supper of leftovers from a big Sunday dinner – fried chicken, potato pancakes made from the mashed potatoes, the remaining meringue-covered chocolate or coconut cream pie.
Of course, we loved The Shadow – “Who knows what evil lurks in the thoughts of man — The Shadow knows!”; Bull Drummond; Your Hit Parade and the latest song by Frank Sinatra (a young, skinny kid at that time); The Lone Ranger and Tonto; Little Orphan Annie and Jack Armstrong and so many others. We always wound up each New Year’s Eve listening to Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.
Radio was so important to us until one day in 1946 when figures appeared on a tiny screen in my father’s workshop as he built our first television set and radio was never a very big deal again.
In 1950, I started working as a secretary for Procter & Gamble in their downtown corporate offices. I worked in the very interesting TV and Radio Advertising Department when television was becoming more and more popular. I loved the job, the beautiful old Gwynne Building where P&G was located then, and being in downtown Cincinnati every day.
Long before Pawn Stars was popular on TV, there were several small pawn shops in downtown Cincinnati. Although my parents never went to pawn shops, one of my aunts was a steady customer. She was always in trouble financially, yet each Christmas we were amazed to see the gorgeous gifts she received. I remember one year she showed off an enormous dresser set with elaborate brushes, mirror, manicure tools – all in a satin lined chest. We only saw it once because it was immediately pawned and not redeemed. That’s what happened to all of her elaborate gifts.
This was the first Christmas that I was out of high school, working for the grand sum of $30/week and paying $10 board. I felt I was flush with money and wanted to get my mother something really special. Mother had never owned a wrist watch in her life and I thought this would be the best gift I could give her. I don’t know why I didn’t go to one of the big department stores in town, but for some reason I chose to go to a pawn shop to buy her watch. I had never been inside this kind of store before but the gentleman was very nice to me and sold me a lovely watch for, as I recall, $15. I could hardly wait until Christmas Eve to surprise Mother.
I haven’t been in a pawn shop since that first visit, but I have a soft place in my heart for the little store tucked away on Vine Street in downtown Cincinnati in 1950 where I bought a special Christmas gift for my mother.
In 1938, my parents, my little sister, Shirley, and I were living in a rented flat on Elm Street in downtown Cincinnati. The building is still standing and I posed for a picture back in 2002.
My father worked for the WPA as a timekeeper and we were finally coming out of the depths of the depression. The living room of the flat had huge sliding wooden doors and on Christmas Eve, my sister and I (3-1/2 years and 6 years) sat with our eyes glued on that door and imagining what Santa might be bringing us. As we sat huddled together in the kitchen, I heard a tinkling of sleigh bells. My father argued a little bit with me, but I swore I heard sleigh bells so Santa must have arrived. Finally, he pulled open the doors and it was like walking into the toy department of a big store (like the Fair Store or Rollman’s or Shillito’s). My parents didn’t wrap any of the gifts but rather had them set up all around the room, ready for fun. The first thing Shirley and I spied were beautiful baby dolls for each of us in little metal strollers. The dolls were dressed identically in white dresses and white flannel coats with bonnets. We were able to tell them apart because my doll had dark brown eyes (as I had) and Shirley’s doll had her shade of blue eyes. They were the most beautiful dolls we had ever seen.
I named my doll Mary Dorothy after two of my classmates at old Raschig School – Mary Louise McFarland and Dorothy Sutton. Shirley just called her doll Baby until later on when we had a new cousin named Carol Ann and then the doll became Carol Ann, too.
Twenty-five years passed and Shirley asked for Mary Dorothy to add to her doll collection. I knew in Shirley’s care, Mary Dorothy would be dressed impeccably and would be in elite company in my sister‘s collection. She stayed there for over 40 years until 2004 when she was given to my youngest granddaughter, but I had to promise to sew the clothes to dress her as she looked on that first Christmas Eve.
Before Shirley passed away in 2010, she gave my granddaughter her doll, Carol Ann, as well as the rest of the collection.
The first time I ever heard the word “television” was during World War II when my father showed me an article in one of his radio magazines about this new invention which would change the world after the war was over. I was interested (anything my father showed me was interesting), but I didn’t hold out too much hope for it – a lot of things were promised “after the war”.
Then one day in 1945, the war was over and within a year, my father was in the workshop he had built on the back end of the porch of our little red brick house on Gotham Place, fiddling around with trying to make a television set. He had always been interested in radios and my image of him throughout the 1930s-40s was of him reading a radio hobbyist’s magazine. He had made small radios and was a HAM operator during the war. One hot Saturday afternoon in 1946, we were called to the workshop to see a screen about 5×5 inches and on it was the rather faint image of two men wrestling. It was the first time my father had been able to access one of the few local broadcasts.
I understand there were kits available around that time to build a primitive TV set, but my father built his from parts he accumulated as he could afford them. He continued to work and finally built his own set – very rough – all of the innards showed and the small screen just sat there without any kind of cabinet, but it was magnificent because there was a moving, talking picture on it. We were among the first residences in Cincinnati to own a television set. He eventually put a huge magnifying glass in front of the tiny screen to make the picture bigger and on Saturday nights he drug out his masterpiece to set in the front yard of the red brick where the folks on Gotham Place could bring their folding chairs and sit clustered around, watching wrestling. By the following summer, most of the families had their own TV sets.
The most popular show at the beginning was wrestling and little by little other programs were added, although the day was far from being fully scheduled. When an actual live broadcast wasn’t on the screen, there was a kaleidoscope test pattern so people could adjust and readjust their sets to hopefully get it right before a real show came on. I also remember some kind of an Indian head image with rays going out from it to help with getting the sets adjusted. My father ran for the set every time any kind of image was being broadcast and fooled with it continually.
Eventually, we bought a small TV set with a 7-inch screen which required a humongous aerial on the roof and a lot of adjusting with that, but aesthetically the little cabinet looked a lot better in our living room. There were still problems with “snow” – a hazy snowstorm that appeared over the picture; getting “out of synch” – the screen rolling around and around; the adjusting of the black and white screen; the logistics of getting everybody in a position to see the tiny screen – but there were never any serious complaints (except from my father who had to fix everything) since everybody was just enraptured by the sight of that screen and the wonder of it.
Programming continued to improve. In 1947, the first Cincinnati Reds baseball game was televised and for the first time in my life, I skipped school to come home and watch the afternoon broadcast. I had taken the streetcar to Withrow High School but got off and got on another one coming back home so I could see that game. It was a little disappointing. I guess I had thought even on the small screen there would be close-ups such as there were in newsreels, but they apparently only had a couple of cameras in the stands and we got nothing but long shots. This was before the zoom lens that at least brought home plate into focus, but I was still glad I got to see that piece of history.
Sporting events were always big on television, and lots of local shows – Midwestern Hayride; cooking shows, Ruth Lyons (a show for housewives by a Cincinnati legend), news broadcasts, comedy shows, Bride & Groom with local star Bob Braun singing “Oh, Promise Me”, etc. A favorite was Paul Dixon’s Make-Believe Bandstand with pantomiming to music by Paul, Dottie Mack and Bob Braun. Dottie Mack was a young, pretty model who was an expert at pantomiming and had a gorgeous wardrobe. For Christmas in 1948, Mother made my sister and me matching outfits based on one of Dottie’s – black faille skirt and tie, white blouse and rhinestone pin. (*See picture, above)
Eventually, we got feeds from the networks with big time broadcasts like Show of Shows with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coco, live theater, Ed Sullivan’s show, soap operas and variety shows. My father usually scoffed at the variety shows, saying they were just a bunch of vaudeville acts – and he was right, but most of us had never seen a vaudeville act and we thought they were wonderful: Milton Berle, Burns & Allen, Ed Wynn, and scores of animal, juggling and miscellaneous circus acts.
In a few short years after the war had ended, television was truly the marvel my father had said it would be.
As I celebrate my 81st birthday, I look back on some notes I made in 1983 – 30 years have passed, unbelievable!
Tomorrow I’ll be 51 years old. Life for 50 years has been at times joyful, frustrating, exasperating, full of hope, full of despair, happy and peaceful, exciting, full of promise, loving, surprising (sometimes amazing), full of achievement and fulfillment, always holding the idea that I didn’t know what wonderful things were yet to come.
I think of other years in the “1” category – when I was 11 and in the 6th grade – the girls at school somehow found out my birthday was coming up and when I went to school on that day, each of them had brought me a little gift. I don’t think any of the gifts were new – just things they had found at home. I remember a Grimm’s fairytale book, a picture of the Sacred Heart – little things. I was completely surprised and it was especially nice since that was my last year at that school.
At 21, it was a very special birthday because I was expecting my first baby. Grandma gave me my last winter coat as she had promised for every year until I was an adult. She also gave me a camera which I was able to use for years while the kids were little.
At 31, we were in our own home in Oakley and the three oldest kids were 3, 7 and 10. I remember that particular year counting off all the many reasons I was so much better off at 31 than I had been at 30…maybe trying to rationalize for being over 30.
At 41, it would have been the first year we had our dog, May, on my birthday and that was the year my three-year-old youngest daughter made a birthday cake for me with her brother’s help and it seems to me that May got part of it.
So, now we’re at 51 and looking ahead. L – September 29, 1983
In the 30 years that have passed, I lost my husband, mother and sister, but I have my four children, a daughter-in-law and son-in-law, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. One son lives with his family in St. Louis, but two of the children and their families live in the area and my oldest daughter has come back to live with me.
Of course, May, the dog, has been gone for awhile, but in the passing years there were several dogs plus a couple of cats – and now, we have little Addie to keep us company.
I’m happy and grateful that I have reached the age of 81 and still look forward to good things yet to come.
Throughout the years while I was raising my four kids (beginning in 1954), I kept a journal where I periodically made notes about holidays, school, vacations, etc. As an occasion arises where I think one of my journal entries would be pertinent, I’m going to post it just as I wrote or typed it back in the day (except for an explanatory note or correction of a typo).
The children will be known here by the nicknames their grandfather used when they were toddlers: The oldest daughter will be Newsie (because she was as good as a newspaper for finding out the latest happenings), the oldest son is Bar (because he called Grandpa’s truck Bar and Grandpa called him Bar), the youngest son is Jackson, and the youngest daughter is Shanty (as in Shanty-Boat).
Summertime and the living is pretty hectic most of the time. The days are filled with sounds of kids out playing – riding squeaky bicycles, fighting over possession of the sand pile, hitting baseballs off the garage roof, playing “mudders and fadders”, slamming screen doors, protesting the boys’ teasing.
The days are filled with the sights of wet bathing suits, soggy footmarks on the floor, barefooted and bare-chested boys, tan and healthy looking faces, dust two inches thick in the backyard and grass two inches long in the front, blooming petunias and marigolds, a veritable forest in the back hollow with lush trees, squirrels, birds, chipmunks and a family of raccoons.
The days are filled with the smells of summer – the harsh chlorine smell of a carful of wet kids coming home from the pool, the smoky fragrance of wieners and hamburgers on the grill, the smell that permeates the neighborhood when someone bakes a cake, the fresh fragrance in the air after the grass has been mown.
Summer is filled with knothole games and the undefeated Sweeneys in their green and white uniforms, the much defeated Reds whose progress is followed avidly on TV and transistor, the harness horses at the night races and soon at the fairs, the neighborhood pools swarming with kids, the parks filled with families and picnic baskets, the roads overflowing with people and paraphernalia.
Life is hectic, true, and fun and as the song says, “lazy, hazy and crazy”! L – July 11, 1964
In 1965, my oldest son, Frank, was 9 years old and his one desire was to play baseball. His father was a coach on a very successful and competitive knothole team sponsored by the Sweeney car dealership. He got on the team and got a uniform (probably because of his dad’s coaching job) but rarely got in a game and served mostly as a batboy. This is my journal entry for July 26, 1965.
“Frankie gets dressed right after breakfast and takes off. Sometimes he goes to Oakley Park by himself and has a one-man ballgame, without bat or ball. He spends most of his time running bases and sliding – his forte – and his clothes are so dusty he leaves a trail behind him. He goes around with a ball in his hand most of the time.
He loves baseball – his favorite is Frankie Robinson (Cincinnati Reds) – and he wears number 20 on all his uniforms and even draws it on his regular shirts if I don’t watch him. He’s never too tired to go to the knothole games and is perfectly happy retrieving bats and helmets if he doesn’t get in the game. The first game that the Sweeneys played, they lost and we were all pretty low about it, but Frankie said, ‘Well, what do you think! We wouldn’t have lost the game if I had been in it!’ He wears his green and white Sweeney uniform with complete pride and confidence and doesn’t seem at all perturbed that he doesn’t get in the game until they’re several runs ahead. 7/26/65”
In 1966, Frankie didn’t make the Sweeney team but in 1967, a Cub Scout league was formed where every boy was on a team and had a chance to play in every game, where winning was not as important as having the boys learn some skills and have some fun. Frankie’s team was managed by a Cincinnati Police Sergeant (last row center) and one of the coaches was his father (last row left). Frankie is #4 in the second row. Apparently, Frankie Robinson’s #20 uniform wasn’t available.
It was so much fun that summer with the mothers sitting on the sidelines in big straw hats, watching all of the boys do the best they could (one mother noticed that her son was chasing butterflies in center field instead of focusing on fly balls), and stopping for ice cream cones on the way home – win or lose.
Summer on East Court Street (downtown Cincinnati) in the early 1940’s was hot and devoid of trees and shade, but my little sister and I were happy there and grateful to have a nice big third-floor apartment next door to my favorite aunt, Mabel, and her kids. We didn’t have a yard to play in – rather a big flat-top roof with plenty of space, provided you didn’t get too near the edge. To visit my aunt, we would climb out of our kitchen window onto the roof, walk a few feet to the portion that connected with my aunt’s apartment, jump down and go in her kitchen window. It was very convenient and much faster and safer than going down three flights of stairs and onto a busy city street.
One summer my sister and I had a large wooden box on the roof and Mother let us plant radish seeds. We were fascinated, especially when we got an invasion of caterpillars and we spent one entire day watching, picking up, putting down furry black and yellow caterpillars. That night we both dreamed we had fuzzy critters crawling all over us and I don’t recall ever bothering with the “container” garden again.
There was no swimming pool nearby, but sometimes Mother let us go out in a summer shower and splash around in the puddles on the city pavement. My mother dreamed of the day we would be able to move from the inner city. She was a small town girl and told us endless stories of how she ran all around Morrow (Ohio) when she was a child, how she played in the cemetery, knew everybody in town, went wherever she wanted while her widowed mother worked in a munitions factory during the day. She used to draw pictures for us of the house we would have some day with trees, grass and a picket fence running all around the house and “kids running around the picket fence”, but it was during World War II and housing was scarce. (We did move to a little brick house with a picket fence and a rose trellis in 1943).
One year, a daughter of my father’s boss at Dayton Acme invited us to go swimming at a pool at Guilford School near Lytle Park in another part of downtown Cincinnati. Mother made us red and while polka-dot swim suits and we were so excited, although after I got there I really didn’t care for the confusion and noise of a very public pool. I preferred splashing around in the puddles on the sidewalk in front of 20 East Court Street during summer showers.