Barbecue in the Old Neighborhood

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Medical problems are going to keep me from going on my normal vacation trip this fall, but I wanted to do something special and decided to take one day a week during the month of September to go some place a little different for lunch and then browse in an antique store.  This week, we went to a restaurant called Eli’s Barbecue .  It’s located in the East End section of Cincinnati where I grew up on what is now called Riverside Drive (in my day, it was Eastern Avenue).

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The decoration is funky and fun ….

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…with old LP records being played on a turntable inside.

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There’s a big tent for outdoor dining, but my daughter and I prefer to eat inside and see the traffic going by the front windows on busy Eastern Avenue (oops – I mean Riverside Drive).

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Barbecue is the specialty and the heady smell of the outside smoker fills the entire neighborhood.  We like the pork barbecue and baked beans – and an Orange Crush goes well with this meal.

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The restaurant sets one block from the Ohio River bank.

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The back view of the building shows the changes that have come to Eastern Avenue and the things that have stayed the same.
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After lunch we went to a small town called Milford and I found this pretty plate at an antique shop.

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It was a perfect vacation day.

Click on 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.

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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

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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.

Mother’s Brown Sugar Brownies

In 1945, I was 13 years old, in the 8th grade at old Highland School in Cincinnati’s East End.

I especially loved my home economics cooking class and our teacher, Mrs. Geoghan.  We spent a lot of time chatting together and she would show me a few vintage (even at that time) cookbooks she had on her desk.  I especially coveted one called All About Home Baking published by General Foods in 1933.  There were a few pages in color that I really enjoyed…

….and loads of black and white how-to photographs along with their great recipes.

I wasn’t in the habit of asking for things, even of my parents, but for some reason felt comfortable in asking Mrs. Geoghan if I could have this book – and she gave it to me!

It was an absolute treasure to me – I read and reread the recipes and gazed at the pictures, imagining myself making all of these wonderful baked goods.

My mother didn’t own a cookbook and normally didn’t keep recipes, but she did write a favorite brownie and frosting recipe on a back page in the book.

These brownies were in her repertoire of brunch-type foods to make in the summertime when my sister and I would sleep until almost noon and come downstairs to a baked treat of some kind.  She didn’t include instructions for the brownies, but I made some recently to see if they were as good as I remembered them.  They are.  I omitted the frosting this time but it’s also delicious and easy to make.

I baked mine the way Mother always made hers – in a 9×13 pan which results in a very thin bar.  We only had butter in the house for Thanksgiving, so I’m sure she used margarine (oleo) for her frosted brownies.

MOTHER’S BROWN SUGAR BROWNIES

  • Servings: 12-16, depending on size
  • Print

  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1-½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • ½ cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Grease and flour a 9×13 baking pan

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar, add the egg.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Stir into the butter mixture just until blended.  Stir in vanilla and nuts.  Spread and pat into a greased and floured 9×13 pan.

Bake @ 350 degrees for approximately 12-15 minutes.  Bars should be slightly soft when removed from oven.  Place on a rack to cool.

Serve plain or with Mother’s Quick Caramel Frosting.  Cut into bars to serve.

MOTHER’S QUICK CARAMEL FROSTING

1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
2 Tblsp. butter
2 Tblsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla
1-½ cups confectioners’ sugar

Put brown sugar, butter and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Cool slightly.  Add vanilla and confectioners’ sugar.  Beat well and spread on brownies. 

This wonderful cookbook often turns up in antique malls and in various versions on a lot of websites such as Amazon and eBay.

My Mother, 1945

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.

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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