My Radio Days – 1930s-40s

TextLillian1936

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.

My parents - 1940
My parents – 1940

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.

Mother - 1945
Mother – 1945

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.

Lillian and Shirley - 1940
Lillian and Shirley – 1940

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”.

Shirley and Lillian - 1943
Shirley and Lillian – 1943

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.

The Pawn Shop Christmas Watch

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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.

gwynne

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.

My Aunt Annie
My Aunt Annie

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.

The watch in this picture is the way I remember the pawn shop watch
The watch in this picture is the way I remember the pawn shop watch

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.

Mother
Mother

Television on Gotham Place – 1940s

My sister, Shirley, and I are standing in our front yard in 1949.  I was a junior at Withrow High School and Shirley was in the 8th grade at Highlands (Cincinnati).  Mother made our “Dottie Mack”* dresses
My sister, Shirley, and I are standing in our front yard in 1949. I was a junior at Withrow High School and Shirley was in the 8th grade at Highlands (Cincinnati). Mother made our “Dottie Mack”* dresses

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.

My father and mother standing in front of the back porch where my father had his workshop
My father and mother standing in front of the back porch where my father had his workshop

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.

My sister and I are standing in front of the gate where my father would set up the TV set for the neighbors
My sister and I are standing in front of the gate where my father would set up the TV set for the neighbors

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.

A television set similar to the one we owned
A television set similar to the one we bought

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.

I'm standing with my mother and sister at the back porch where my father built his workshop and first TV set
I’m standing with my mother and sister at the back porch where my father built his workshop and our first TV set

Click pictures to enlarge.

Summer Sundays on Gotham Place – 1940s

My sister on her bike in front of the red brick house, with Gotham Place in the background
My sister on her bike in front of the red brick house, with Gotham Place in the background

From 1943 to 1950, I lived with my parents and younger sister in a little red brick house on Gotham Place in the East End section of Cincinnati.  To the east was the gas works, to the west was the water works, to the north was Eastern Avenue and to the south, the Ohio River.  The red brick was the very last house on Gotham Place, then came a garage and then came the riverbank.

Shirley and Lillian - last day of school, 1947
Shirley and Lillian – last day of school, 1947

In the seven years we lived there, we had to completely move out of the house three times during flooding.  In the summertime, however, the Ohio River was beautiful and filled with pleasure boats and happy people.  Several times a day, the Island Queen steamboat made the trip from the downtown river landing to Coney Island and back, playing lively calliope music all the way.

The Island Queen
The Island Queen

On a typical Sunday morning in the summertime in the 1940s, my sister and I would wake up in our second floor bedroom and have the leisure of not hurrying so much as we might on a school day.  The room was fairly small, as were all of the four rooms in the house.  The bathroom adjoined this room and the stairs leading downstairs were along one wall.  The odd thing about this room is that there was a door that led nowhere.  In the warm weather, Mother tacked up screening material but we still had to be careful that we didn’t walk through it and take a big step down one floor to the yard below.  My sister and I slept together, as we always had, and at this time had a tan metal double bed.  There wasn’t too much else in the room that I recall – probably a chest of drawers of some kind.  Linoleum was on all of the floors of the house, due partly to economics and partly to the fact that the river covered the first floor quite often and had gotten to the second floor in 1945.

Mother would be in the kitchen downstairs, getting breakfast.  On Sunday we would have pancakes with homemade brown sugar syrup.  During the week we ate cold cereal or oatmeal, but on weekends we enjoyed Mother’s pancakes, made from scratch  We all preferred the homemade syrup and I particularly liked the white sugar syrup which Mother made when she was out of brown sugar.

Mother
Mother

We would put on our Sunday dresses, which were only slightly better than what we wore to school.  Mother prided herself on keeping us supplied with pretty, homemade cotton dresses which fit perfectly because she fiddled with them until they did, no matter what kind of odd seams and darts had to be taken.  We would put on our nice Sunday shoes and wait for Mother to fix our hair.  I had long hair at the time which Mother put into broad finger curls, my sister sometimes had curls and sometimes pigtails because her hair was fine, thin and had no natural curl.

Shirley and Lillian in the Victory Garden (Water Works in the background)
Shirley and Lillian in the Victory Garden (Water Works in the background)

We walked out the front door, through the trellis covered with pink tea roses, and started up the cobblestone street toward Eastern Avenue.  We might have passed other people walking to St. Rose Church because most of the people on our street were Catholic.  It was 6 or 7 blocks to our First Federated Church, but we both liked walking and avoided streetcars or friendly rides from neighbors.

First Federated Church was a nice little stone building which had  a flight of stairs leading up from the street.  It was an old church, a combined Methodist/Presbyterian, and we considered ourselves Methodist because Mother was raised Methodist.  The hymnals were both Presbyterian and Methodist, and they alternated the hymns during the service.  There were pretty stained glass windows, nice pews and the fascinating holders for tiny vials of grape juice for the people who took communion on the rare occasions they offered it.

The choir would file in, wearing their black shiny robes with white collars.  Julia, the ancient and sweet organist, was banging away on the nice pipe organ for the processional.  She was a trained musician but still played something in the style of my grandma, not being too concerned if she hit the wrong keys.  The choir was a group of neighborhood women, none of whom had a particularly good voice.

The minister was a nice looking young man who had a tall, thin, gaunt wife who didn’t appear to match him at all.  Their daughter was my age and they had two sons, one a cute toddler who gave his mother fits.  The sermons weren’t too long or too tedious, but everything in church was tedious for my sister.  She twitched, scratched, moved her feet, did everything I thought was unseemly in church and I was constantly correcting her.  But we both loved to sing the hymns and I always sang the harmony, although probably too softly for anybody to notice.

My sister's wedding at First Federated in 1955
My sister’s wedding at First Federated in 1955

After church, we’d make the long trip back home and by then I was absolutely famished.  Mother would be frying chicken with that wonderful smell filling the house.  There would be mashed potatoes with cream gravy, maybe creamed peas or another canned vegetable (my father didn’t care much for vegetables), and as a salad – some lettuce on a plate with sliced tomatoes topped with mayonnaise.  I’m not sure that anybody except my father had the salad – I didn’t care for the mix and particularly I didn’t want the mayonnaise.  For dessert we usually had pie – mostly cream pies with a small amount of meringue stretched out over several pies.  Mother never seemed to have enough eggs and was always skimpy with them in her recipes.

After dinner, we might help with dishes or not, depending on Mother’s mood.  Then my sister and I would have the afternoon to just spend together in the make-believe world we had invented with a lot of teenage characters, male and female.  Or we might get together with some school friends and make the long walk up Eastern Avenue to the Jackson Theater to see a second-run film, a serial, a cartoon and a newsreel.  Then, we’d make the long trip back as the sun was starting to go down.

In the evening, Mother brought out the dinner leftovers – a few pieces of chicken, mashed potato pancakes, and pie.  We’d eat in the darkening kitchen while listening to Jack Benny or Fred Allen on the radio.  The rest of the evening was spent quietly writing, coloring, or doing jigsaw puzzles while listening to the radio.

By nine o’clock my mother and sister were always ready for bed, but I was never sleepy.  Most of the time I was allowed to stay up and quietly read along with my father until I felt I could fall asleep.

My memories of those Sundays are always of peace and quiet.  If there had ever been an uproar over something, that unhappy memory has faded over the years.

Daddy, Mother, Lillian, Shirley in front of 247 Gotham Place
Daddy, Mother, Lillian, Shirley in front of 247 Gotham Place

Click on pictures to enlarge.

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An Old Time Picker – The Ragman

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The popularity of American Pickers on TV reminded me of the “rag pickers” of the 1930-40s era in Cincinnati.  There was the occasional horse-drawn cart that rumbled through the streets of our small working-class East End neighborhood with a picker shouting in a sing-song style, “Any rags or old iron”.  They were the pickers looking to buy; in our neighborhood we also had a picker who wanted to sell.  On hot summer afternoons, a big grey 1930s Packard would turn from Eastern Avenue and make its way down the slope on Gotham Place toward the river bank.

My sister in front of our house with the beautiful pink tea roses.  Gotham Place is shown in the background
My sister in front of our house with the beautiful pink tea roses. Gotham Place is shown in the background

A tall older man with a day’s growth of beard would maneuver the car to a clear spot in the large area outside our little red brick house and set up shop.  The car doors would be opened and from every house on the narrow street women and children would hurry out the door.  Mothers would call out, “The Ragman is here” and everybody would gather around the car to see what treasures might be available that day.

The Ragman drove a very raggedy version of this car
The Ragman drove a very raggedy version of this car

I never learned what the man’s real name was, but he made his rounds of the better homes in Hyde Park, Indian Hill, Mt. Lookout, Mt. Washington, etc., to pick up  castoffs which he sold at very low prices on his various stops throughout the East End.  Customers would pick up an item and ask, “How much?”  The Ragman would think a second or two and give a reasonable price which we could take or leave.  There was a constant stream of questions and answers going back and forth between customer and seller.

Daddy, Mother, Lillian and Shirley  - pictured in the big area in front of our house where the Ragman used to park
Daddy, Mother, Lillian and Shirley – pictured in the big area in front of our house where the Ragman used to park

There was something for everybody – pots and pans, dishes, glassware, clothes, toys, and my favorite – movie magazines.  For a nickel I could buy 3 or 4 slightly outdated publications and read all about Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, Lon McAllister and all the other “stars of the silver screen”.  There might also be an occasional Seventeen magazine which was interesting for a pre-teenager to read to get news of the latest styles of clothes and tips on dating.

My mother tended to pick up old pots and pans which could be made new again with her addition of little round metal pieces that she always had on hand to patch worn-out utensils.  My little sister might buy a small doll or toy.  One year she bought a doll’s china tea set with a teapot and creamer that had pouring spouts shaped like elephants’ trunks.  I had been irritable with her when I came home from school that day and Mother said, “Oh, be patient with her.  She worked all afternoon cleaning up a special gift for your birthday.”  It truly was a special gift – I wish I still had it.

y sister and I in our Victory Garden.  In the background is the Cincinnati Water Works
My sister and I in our Victory Garden. In the background is the Cincinnati Water Works

These were the early to mid-1940s World War II days before television and shopping malls.  It was a wonderful treat to be able to do some shopping almost in our front yard on the banks of the Ohio River on a clear blue summer day.

Is it any wonder that my favorite stores now are antique malls and thrift shops?

Click on photos to enlarge.

The Significance of September 8

After 61 years, I still think twice when I see the date September 8.  My father hadn’t allowed me to date in high school, but in 1951, I had graduated from school and was a secretary at Procter & Gamble.  I had been dating a little bit – never more than one date with the same person and never feeling it was a successful outing.  On September 8, 1951,  my sister suggested I come along with her to the neighborhood St. Rose Bingo.


We didn’t go to St. Rose Church, but my sister was the best friend of a girl named Cecilia who was a member.  I didn’t really want to go but it was Saturday night with no plans and I gave in.  Besides, there was a possibility that a boy who was being suggested as a potential date might be there.  Cecilia’s boyfriend Peanut had a pal who had moved away while in the 6th grade at St. Rose – Buddy – and everyone thought we would make a great couple.  So, I went to the bingo and sat at a long table with the rest of the group and sure enough, in came Buddy, dressed in nice slacks and a maroon corduroy jacket.  He sat across the table and was very sober and serious but he had pretty green eyes and seemed pleasant enough.  There wasn’t a word of conversation between us that night but it was an introduction and later in the week we did meet again, made a date and on my birthday on September 30, we agreed to go steady.

“Buddy” told me immediately that he hated the nickname and wanted to be called Frank and his pal “Peanut” also insisted on being called Rich.  We double-dated with Rich and Cecilia all the time – mainly because Rich had a car and Frank didn’t have a license (or a car) yet.  We had some really nice times – Rich and Cecilia were both outgoing and funny and they usually made the plans on where we would go.  We went to football games, drive-in movies, Frisch’s for Big Boys (which were really huge then and I had never tasted one, plus they were served by car-hops on trays that hooked to the car door), a hayride in the back of an old farm truck, lots of house parties, and many, many evenings playing poker with Frank’s family where the only outlay of cash was for a jug of beer and whatever money we might lose playing cards (Cecilia and I nursed a soft drink for the evening).


We even went to one of Cecilia’s high school proms which was good for me since I hadn’t gone to my own.  I picked out heavy gold satin fabric and Mother made the dress for me.  Frank wore his standard blue pinstripe suit.  The prom was predictably boring but at least I could say I had been to one.


Dating came to an end pretty quickly when Frank left for the Navy in February.  By the time he came home on leave in May we were getting married and dating was over, but for a short time I experienced what the kids talked about all through high school – going to movies, eating hamburgers in the car, watching football games, going to parties and proms – some of it was nice, some was boring,  but at least I got to try it.  And it all started on SEPTEMBER 8.

V-J Day in Cincinnati -1945

In August of 1945, I was 12 years old, enjoying the last month of vacation before entering the 8th grade at old Highland School in the East End neighborhood of Cincinnati.

I was obsessed with the Cincinnati Reds who were just terrible that year, but I followed them on the radio, listening to Waite Hoyt’s expert calls interspersed with his stories about the 1927 Yankees where he had been a star pitcher and teammate of Babe Ruth.

V-E Day (the end of the war in Europe) had occurred in May and everyone was hoping and praying for the end of the war in Japan.  I remember seeing pictures in magazines of how things would be once the war was over.  I was particularly impressed with a picture of a candy store display that actually had chocolate bars along with the Chuckles gum drops, taffy and hard candy we were used to seeing throughout the war.

My father showed me a picture of an early television set in one of his radio magazines and promised that soon we would have one of those contraptions in our house where we could watch all kinds of shows, movies and sporting events.  It seemed like all the good things would never happen, but then on August 14, 1945, we got the radio announcement and the headlines in the Cincinnati Post – the war was over!

After supper, it seemed like we ought to do something to celebrate.  My parents weren’t big on celebrations or crowds, but my father thought it would be appropriate to ride into downtown Cincinnati and see what was going on.

My father had a succession of cars throughout the war, patching them up and trying to get them to last the duration.  The one we had in August of 1945 was a coupe with a rumble seat, rare even in those wartime days.


My parents got into the coupe and my sister and I got into the rumble seat.  We drove to downtown Cincinnati and the hub of the city around Fountain Square.  The night of V-J Day was absolute bedlam with people crowding the streets, hanging out of windows, cruising around in their cars wasting valuable rationed gasoline, and screaming at the top of their lungs.   This seemed to be a purely spontaneous celebration – no speeches, no politicians, no music – and when we came rolling down the street in our aged car with the rumble seat, we immediately got everybody’s attention.  At least, here was something to watch – not a parade or band – but something different to see.  Even with all the old automobiles in use during the war, rumble seats were a novelty.  My sister and I smiled, waved and enjoyed the attention.

My sister and I – 1945

Then we made our way out of town and back home to hopes of a bright tomorrow with the return of three uncles who had been on various battlefronts for almost 4 years.

Soon, chocolate bars began appearing in the display case of Schreck’s delicatessen on the corner of our street, and the uncles were all back with their families.

In a few years my father built one of the first television sets in the city (extremely primitive with a tiny postcard sized picture).  The war was finally over.

Last-Day-of-School Dresses

When I was going to school in the 1930s and 40s, the last day of school was in mid-June.  I always associate the day in Cincinnati with very hot weather, tiger lilies blooming, and my mother making me a “last-day-of-school dress”.   In the first grade (above), the dress was yellow silk with accordion pleated skirt and brown bows.  It was a beautiful dress and all the little girls in my class gathered around me to touch and admire the silky smoothness – before World War II when silk was a common commodity in dress-up clothes.

In 1942, Mother made a more grown-up dress of a beautiful light blue fabric.  She often made a dress of the same fabric for my little sister and we’re shown here with my cousin, Dixie, just after her First Communion.

 

In the sixth grade, my sister and I had dresses of a lovely blue voile.  We had just moved from downtown Cincinnati to the East End area where there were small well-kept houses with Victory Gardens.

I graduated from the 8th grade in 1945 and Mother made a beautiful white outfit with a flared skirt and eyelet top.  It was the fashion in our school that year to wear white socks with white sandals.

 

In 1946, I was finishing up my freshman year at Withrow High School, a prestigious school at that time where my classmates were way higher economically than I was.  As you can see, I was very unhappy with my dress that year.  This was very unusual for me – I normally wore anything Mother lay out for me with no complaints, but this dress was of a matronly rayon-type fabric and all the girls in my upscale school were wearing sleeveless pastel shirtwaist dresses to class.  I knew I was going to look completely out of style in my grandma-goes-to-church dress.  In spite of my scowl, I wore the dress to pick up my report card and found that the stylish girls were all in shorts and casual clothes, ready to take off for swimming pools and tennis courts, and paid no attention to me at all.

 

Mother always talked about her favorite last-day-of-school dress which she described as being so beautiful.  After she passed away, I found this picture of her and understood better why she made me such a matronly, out-of-style dress.  It looked a lot like her favorite.

I felt bad that I had disappointed Mother by not liking the dress, but apparently I made an impression  because she never made another one like that for me.  For my senior class day at Withrow, she made my sister and me these beautiful light blue dotted Swiss dresses which we both loved.

I don’t believe the tradition of last-day-of-school dresses was active in my era (except for my mother) and it certainly wasn’t alive for my daughters or now for my granddaughters and great-granddaughter.  Pity.

Celebrating St. Nick

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In 1943, when I was 11 years old, we moved to a neighborhood on the banks of the Ohio River called the East End.  Our area which included the gas works, the water works, St. Rose Church and School, First Federated Church and Highlands Elementary School, was made up of various ethnic backgrounds – German, Hungarian, Irish, African-American, and “Americans” who were a mix of a lot of nationalities.  Many of the grandparents were immigrants, many of the parents were first-generation Americans.  Everyone generally got along very well, although some families fought amongst themselves or were disdainful of other nationalities.  An immigrant German grandmother who lived next door to us spoke disparagingly of the Hungarians in the neighborhood, one of whom was her daughter-in-law.  Many of the Irish families had their own battles between the Collins, Breen, McCarthy, Hathorn and other assorted families.  My sister and I were accustomed to being with children of diverse backgrounds when we attended Raschig School in downtown Cincinnati.  My sister had her picture taken in Kindergarten with children who were Greek, Chinese, Hungarian, and African-American.  She stood at the front of the line and under her picture was a caption, Shirley Applegate, American.  Of course, they were all Americans, but they were proud of their heritage, too.  The picture appeared in the evening newspaper and that clipping was framed and hung in our home until after World War II.  A copy of the picture with all of the children is on display in the World War II exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center in the old Union Terminal.

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The despised Hungarian daughter-in-law lived three doors up the street from us and she was a lovely woman with a houseful of kids.   This is a picture of my sister and me behind one of the German/Hungarian daughters in our front yard.

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Despite our exposure to lots of nationalities, we had never heard of anyone celebrating St. Nick (Nicholas) on December 6.  The first year we were in the neighborhood, we were surprised to receive a gift from our Hungarian neighbor.  It was a small square tin with calla lilies on the lid and inside was a hand crocheted, old-world-looking ear warmer.

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I was so impressed and the lady told us how they always celebrated St. Nick with small gifts, candy and nuts for the children.  I vowed then that if I ever had children, I would have them hang up their stockings and St. Nick would come during the night and fill them to the brim.

Since my first daughter’s birth in 1954, we’ve gone through the routine each year and I still give St. Nick gifts to all four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.  My two daughters also loved the tradition and there is a very generous exchange between us of gifts and sweets for St. Nick.

We’ve used various stockings through the years, usually handmade, and these are the stockings that are hanging on my mantel right now, awaiting a visit from St. Nick.  My oldest daughter  requested a country-style quilted stocking when I first began quilting 5 years ago.

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When my youngest daughter was a teenager, she made this crocheted stocking for me.

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She also embroidered this stocking for me a few years ago.  It’s a Mary Engelbreit pattern which sums up my feelings for this season perfectly:

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I love Christmas! (and St. Nick)

Halloween in the 1940s

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Until I was 11 years old, we lived in a third-floor flat in downtown Cincinnati.  Those were the war years when any kind of housing was hard to get and we were lucky to have a large apartment that looked out on the huge Court Street Market.  On market day, tents took up the entire wide street and the sellers hawked their fresh produce in loud voices.  We were within walking distance of every major movie theater in downtown Cincinnati, numerous 5 & 10 cent stores and large department stores.  Those were advantages but the disadvantages were not being able to enjoy small town or suburban activities such as beggar’s night or penny night or the big Halloween celebration itself.  I understand huge crowds gathered on Halloween night on Fountain Square but they were for older people and considered too rowdy by my parents for two little girls.

We dressed up in costume for our Halloween party at school and once I was invited to a friend’s nearby apartment for a party for the girls in our class, but otherwise Halloween passed by pretty much unnoticed.  Occasionally, a scraggly little boy would make his way up three flights of stairs to beg for pennies but begging (or trick or treating as it was later known) was not an activity that we knew anything about.

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When we moved to the East End of Cincinnati in 1943, it was like going to a small town where there were a lot of German, Irish, Hungarian and black families, neat small houses with tidy gardens and BEGGAR’S NIGHT.  I wasn’t at all sure about this new event that all the kids in school were looking forward to.  The thought of traipsing up and down the streets, in and out of strangers’ houses, asking for candy just seemed so strange.  But my friends were all going out, my little sister wanted to go and surprisingly my parents agreed, so out we went.  We had orders from our parents to not even look into the saloons along the way, let alone go in one, but otherwise we were free to tramp up and down steps, go into the houses if invited and to come home with a bag stuffed with candy, gum and apples.  Nothing was prepackaged in those days and we were grateful for wrapped candy like peanut butter kisses which didn’t get all gummed up with everything else in the bag.

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I remember one year when word was passed from one gang of kids to the other that someone was giving out hot doughnuts.  By the time we made it to the house, they were out of doughnuts but I loved the idea.  In 1953, my first year giving out treats as a married woman, I used my wedding gift deep fryer to make homemade doughnuts and gave them out to amazed visitors.  And I had plenty so I wouldn’t run out before the last beggar.

I never was quite comfortable with the affair, but my sister loved it and I continued to go begging until she was old enough to go alone with her own friends.   Now, I’ve been through the trick or treat years with 4 children and 4 grown grandchildren and this Halloween, I’m looking forward to throwing some candy into the bags of my two youngest grandchildren, aka the Mummy and Glynda, the Good Witch.

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