Labor Day in the 1930s-40s

All the years when I was growing up, Labor Day meant a two-hour trip in the back seat of a rumbling old car (or what we called a “machine”) to the outskirts of Dayton, Ohio.  When we passed a little road sign that said “VANDALIA” and saw a big billboard, we knew the next right hand turn on a country road led back to Grandma’s house.  There were just a few other houses on the road and lovely country scenery on both sides – something foreign to us, coming from Cincinnati’s inner city.  Finally, we got back to the little cottage with the screened-in porch, the big flagpole with the stars and stripes patriotically flying, and the dirt area that served as a driveway.

Sleeping arrangements were creative – people slept on couches or big chairs or sometimes on an ironing board between two kitchen chairs.  We always seemed to sleep well, listening to the crickets chirping and feeling a breeze blowing in the open windows.

We would be awakened in the morning by Grandma starting a fire in the kitchen stove so breakfast could be prepared.  There would be a trip down to the outhouse – along a path and far from the house.  The chickens were chased out and we used the smelly hole-in-the-board toilet before walking up through the chickens and wild flowers to have our breakfast.  We all took turns pouring very small amounts of cold water into an enamelware basin and washing up the best we could.

Breakfasts were hearty – bacon, ham, eggs, toast and real creamery butter, plus Grandma’s delicious blackberry preserves.  There was a glass bottle of milk – not the evaporated variety in a can which we usually had at home – rich milk with a layer of cream at the top.  In those days, the bottle was shaken vigorously before using to distribute the cream, but since I was undeniably the favorite granddaughter (mainly because I was named after Grandma), she would pour me a little glass of pure cream right out of the top, leaving milk for the rest of the group that was more like 1%.

Grandma Lillian

After breakfast it was time to get spruced up for the big Labor Day Montgomery County Fair.  The fair was an important event back then – we wore our best dresses and had our hair curled to perfection before starting out, crowded into the car with Grandma and any assorted relatives who were there at the time.

My parents – ready for the fair

We drove to the fairgrounds and each time it was a thrill to see the ferris wheel loom in front of us as we approached the gate and drove into the huge centerfield in front of the grandstand.  In that 1930s-40s era, Dayton, Ohio, was very prosperous and the fair was considered one of the best in the area.  Everything seemed large and modern and clean.

One year it poured down rain not long after we arrived and we had to huddle in the car for what seemed like hours.  My father had gone to the horse barns to wait out the storm, but Mother, Grandma, my little sister, my cousin and I were stuck in the car, dressed in our finery, waiting to go out and see the sights.  We were told to sit quietly and not get dirty which my cousin and I did, but my sister, Shirley, got down on the floor and got herself all tousled and grimy (at least in Mother’s eyes) so that when the rain finally stopped she wasn’t allowed to go on the grounds and had to stay in the car with Mother.

Grandma set out with my cousin, Dixie, and me and we looked around the exhibits and walked gingerly through the water-soaked midway.  Grandma had bought all three of us identical yellow silk dresses with brown bows and accordion pleated skirts.  She stopped at a a dime photo booth to have pictures made of Dixie and me and later Mother got Shirley straightened up, went out on the grounds and had her picture taken, too.




I liked walking around the fairgrounds and  looking at the canned goods, baked items and various needlework exhibits.   I didn’t care for the rides at all.  My sister lived for the rides and I can remember her sitting in one of the little cars going around in circles and calling out to Mother, “Look, Mommy – I can let go and scratch!”.

What I loved was going to the grandstands and sitting by my father watching the harness races.  Just the sight of the horses and sulkies with the drivers in bright-colored caps and coats was exciting.

We started back home late in the evening,  riding along in the dark, looking forward  to passing through Lebanon because I knew that was the halfway point.  I just prayed I wouldn’t get carsick on the way home because my father was in a hurry and in no mood to stop.  He had to go to work the next day and it was our first day of school.

The fair on Labor Day was a glorious ending to summer and a new beginning to the school year.

Vintage Doily Holder

I posted the last couple of weeks about vintage handkerchief holders here and here.  I thought I might use the idea to make a holder for two crocheted doilies that my grandmother had made back around 1945.

The funny thing at the time was that no one in the family knew that Grandma could crochet.  Then, one day, without a pattern, she picked up a crochet hook and a ball of thread and made a beautiful doily that was flat in the center and had huge ruffles that stood up all around the edge.  Of course, each daughter and granddaughter clamored for one and soon we all had a gorgeous doily or two in our homes.  The problem was that none of us knew how to starch and iron the doilies to make the ruffles stand up, so periodically, Grandma got one of our doilies back to launder and iron for us.  She was always amazed that everyone loved the doilies so much and we were amazed that she came up with this skill in her late 60s.  We figured she must have learned to do it as a child, although she didn’t remember where she might have picked up the knack for crocheting.

The two doilies I have are in such delicate condition that I’m afraid to put them on a table, much less try to starch and iron them.  Instead, I insert them in their holders and hang them safely on the wall.

I printed a vintage snapshot of Grandma on fabric along with a note about when the doily was made.  This was appliqued onto the quilted circle.  I embellished the piece with a couple of vintage buttons and I like to use drapery hooks to display my wall hangings.

A pocket holds the doily without damaging it and also hides some of the worn and unsightly places.

I especially like this small doily as a Fourth of July or patriotic decoration.

I love to look at the old photo of Grandma and her pretty doily and remember all the good times.

Mother and Grandma Helen, ca 1945

Wednesdays with Grandma

From the time my youngest granddaughter (known here as Dolphin) was a baby, I’ve had her at my house on Wednesdays while her big brother was at school, to give her mother a break.   For the first couple of years, I spent most of the time pushing her around the neighborhood in a stroller.

Then, as she grew older, we spent more time in the house and she made friends with a small stuffed Moose and ate popsicles.  Her first word was “yellow” and that’s the kind of popsicle she wanted.

We tried to spend an hour every week at the park, trying out the big tire swing and slide.  We made bread, we made cookies….

Finally, the day came when Dolphin went to pre-school

and then to kindergarten, and I only had her until lunchtime on Wednesday.

Now, the school year is drawing to a close and she will be spending the summer with brother Jellyfish enjoying all the good warm weather activities.  In the fall, she’ll be going to the first grade all day, so today was her last Wednesday with Grandma.

It’s been so much fun.

The Great-Grandkids Bake Christmas Cookies

My two great-grandchildren have never come to my house before to make Christmas cookies, but this year their mother thought they were old enough at 2 and 4 years to have the fun she used to have with all the flour and butter and cookie cutters.  Here’s their mother baking cookies when she was nine years old.

I supervised as great-granddaughter measured flour and sugar, and even broke an egg.

The two-year-old wanted to do anything his sister was doing and got right into the spirit.

Great-granddaughter soon caught on to the art of rolling cookie dough….

….and great-grandson let his mother help him, his only comment being, “Bite, bite” for bits of the cookie dough which we didn’t want him to have.

They each brushed milk and sprinkled colored sugar on a sheet full of wonderful cookies.

We used the same recipe from all those years ago – it’s a good one.

Grandma’s Sugar Crisps

Grandparents’ Day and a New Dessert


Yesterday, on Grandparents’ Day, my two youngest grandchildren showed up at my front door, bearing handmade gifts as usual …. six-year-old Dolphin ….


…and ten-year-old Jellyfish (currently in training as a “Ghostbuster”).

joshsuitJellyfish had taken my picture last week and printed out a frame and mounted it plus he made a great bookmark.


Dolphin had promised me a hundred times on Saturday that she would make my favorite Scottie, which she did, along with a colored picture of a grandma and granddaughter baking.  She even made her own wrapping paper and a paper bow.

gifts_0002Their mother has always had a mug made up with a picture on it for Grandparents’ Day.  This year, number 11 will join the others on my special shelf.


I fixed a roast beef dinner for the family and for dessert tried out one I had seen on All Recipes, Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball.  I called it a “girly” dessert but my son-in-law and grandson managed to enjoy some of it, maybe not as much as my two daughters and I did.


  • 8 oz. package of cream cheese (not low-fat or Neufchatel), softened
  • 1/2 cup butter (butter only, no substitutes), softened
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tblsp. light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup toffee bits
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

In a medium bowl, beat together the softened cream cheese and softened butter until smooth.  Mix in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Cover and chill in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, shape the chilled cream cheese mixture into three balls.  Wrap each ball in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Before serving, roll one ball in toffee bits, one in pecans and keep one with just the chocolate chips.

I served these dessert cheese balls with honey pretzels, thin cinnamon wafers and Golden Delicious apple slices.

The comments on All Recipes indicated some people had problems getting the mixture to form a ball.  Other people suggested storing the beaten cheese mixture in a metal bowl and refrigerating overnight.  They also stressed using only full-fat butter and cream cheese.  I followed these suggestions and had no problems forming the balls.

It was a fun dessert and a nice ending to our Grandparents’ Day dinner.


Grandma’s Chocolate Pie

In the World War II days when gas was rationed, cars were kept running many times by wishful thinking, and the drive from Cincinnati to Dayton, Ohio, was a two-hour journey over country roads, our family made the trip several times a year to visit my paternal grandmother.  My little sister and I called her “Grandma-up-Dayton” and looked forward to leaving our inner city apartment behind and spending some time in rural Vandalia, just outside of Dayton.  I have a feeling our visits were unplanned most of the time with my father coming home from work on a Friday and suggesting we run up and see his mother.  I can still see Grandma standing at the door of her little house, wearing a dark dress and white apron, peering out into the twilight to see who had pulled onto her property on a secluded country road.  As we got out of the car, she would smile broadly and say, “Oh, it’s Johnny!”, acknowleging in that exclamation that it was Johnny, his wife and two little girls.

Many times as we came into the house she would say that she had just made a few chocolate pies.  She worked as a cook in a high school cafeteria during the day and came home at night to bake a few treats.

Cooking at all wasn’t easy in her small kitchen.  There was a large table, some chairs, some cabinets against the wall and a coal/wood burning kitchen stove.  Grandma must have had an ice box of some kind, but I don’t remember seeing it.  There was an outside door that led to a slope and the water pump.  On a stool by the door was an enamel washpan and towel so we could wash up in stone-cold water after making the long trek down the slope and on down the path to the outhouse.   There was a 3-foot tall metal lard can in the kitchen which I used as my chair when I was there.  There was a small window near the stove and tin cans were tossed out and onto a dump in back of the house.  No actual garbage was thrown away – scraps were given to the chickens – so the dump wasn’t really dirty.  Sometimes my little sister and I would wander around through the dump looking for different can labels and seeing brands that we didn’t get in Cincinnati.  We had to be careful – the real danger was in picking up a can with the rough sawtooth edge that the old can openers used to make.

There was various framed artwork on the kitchen wall, but the one I always loved was one in sepia tone of chubby pigs leaning on a fence with a frame that had tiny metal pigs running along the bottom.  At some point Grandma gave me the picture and I had it hanging in my dining room for a good while.  Finally, the frame came apart and the picture was damaged, but I still have it and enjoy seeing those cheerful little pig faces.

Grandma always had cream on hand to whip and add to the big slices of pie which already had a 2″ layer of meringue.  She was an excellent cook and to taste a freshly-made chocolate pie in that little country kitchen is a lasting memory.

I don’t have the recipe for Grandma’s pie but my version won a ribbon at the Ohio State Fair in 1987.


  • 9″ baked pie shell (see here for recipe)
  • Two one-oz squares of unsweetened chocolate
  • 1-1/2 cups milk, divided
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 2 Tblsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar (for meringue)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla (for meringue)
  • 6 Tblsp. sugar (for meringue)


Combine chocolate and ONE CUP OF MILK in 2 qt. heavy saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until chocolate is melted.  Stir in brown sugar.

Combine REMAINING MILK with flour in a small cup, mixing until smooth.  Gradually stir the milk/flour mixture into the chocolate mixture.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens.

Beat 3 egg yolks slightly, stir a little of the hot mixture into the yolks, blending well.  Stir yolk mixture into hot mixture.  Cook over LOW heat, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.  Cool for 5 minutes.  Turn into baked shell.  Cover with meringue and brown in 325 degree F oven for approximately 10 minutes.  Cool on wire rack.


Beat 3 egg whites with cream of tartar and vanilla until soft peaks form.  Add sugar, a small amount at a time, and continue beating until mixture forms stiff peaks but is not dry.  Spread on top of pie, sealing to edge of pastry. 

We usually just stayed overnight and headed back home the next day.  My father was always irritated that Grandma loaded up our car with food but Mother was so grateful for the canned blackberry jam, produce and boxes of candy bars bought at the school kitchen.  I remember one time Grandma sneaked in a full chocolate meringue pie for our trip back home.  Along the way, one of our tires went flat and since my father was never prepared with a spare, my mother, sister and I waited for an hour or so in the car along the side of the road for him to come back with the patched tire.  We were getting hungry and here was this beautiful pie, but we didn’t have a knife to cut it.  Then, my mother thought of the car key, wiped it off carefully and used it to slice up the pie to eat out of hand.  Nothing ever tasted better.  My oldest daughter was always intrigued by this story and wrote her own blog version of it.

I inherited my grandma’s love of cooking and baking pies is one of my favorite pasttimes.

choc pie-2