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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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