My Radio Days – 1930s-40s

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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.

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 on East Court Street in the 1940s

Shirley and Lillian - in our WAC uniforms
Shirley and Lillian – in our WAC uniforms

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.

Aunt Mabel and cousin Buddy.  Vine Street going into Over-the-Rhine in the distance
Aunt Mabel and cousin Buddy. Vine Street going into Over-the-Rhine in the distance
Aunt Mabel and cousin Carol on the roof.  Central Parkway is in right hand background.
Aunt Mabel and cousin Carol on the roof. Central Parkway is in right hand background.

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.

Sister Shirley, cousin Dixie, Lillian in front of Scotti's Restaurant on East Court St.
Sister Shirley, cousin Dixie, Lillian in front of Scotti’s Restaurant on East Court St.

Eggs a la Goldenrod

goldplt2In the spring of 1943, I was in the sixth grade when we moved from downtown Cincinnati to the neighborhood known as the East End.  I went to school at old Highland Elementary on the banks of the Ohio River where every spring there was a threat of the river flooding the playground, although it never reached the school in the years I was there.

highlandAs we walked along the hall leading from my sixth-grade classroom, I would try to steal a glimpse of the wonderful home economics room.  It was a huge area with sewing machines lining one wall – one electric machine and the rest foot-treadle operated models.  One section of the room was outfitted with individual cooking stations with small burners, a counter and a supply of cooking equipment.  There were two ranges with ovens for baked treats.  I couldn’t wait to get into the seventh grade and begin my adventures in cooking – I wasn’t that anxious to sew.

In the fall of 1943, the girls of our class trooped into the room, taught by a very nice middle-aged lady.  We had to start out with sewing lessons so that we could make an apron, a potholder and a dishtowel to use when we began to cook.  Finally, sewing classes were completed and we were ready to learn all about cooking.  The cookbook that I remember seeing in the classroom was a 1942 Wartime Edition of the American Woman’s Cook Book, edited by Ruth Berolzheimer.  About 40 years later, I found a copy of the book at an antique market.

victorycbThe book was unusual for that era to have so many color plates.  I especially liked one that was used on the inside covers of the book.

frontisIn those wartime years of extreme patriotism, there was a large picture of General Douglas MacArthur at the beginning of the book….

mcarthur…and on page 371 was the recipe that began my cooking experience – Eggs a la Goldenrod. It was a simple recipe, appropriate to the age group, very bland and not especially tasty.  We went on to make other food items that year and I was so anxious to get into the big girls’ eighth grade class to see what fabulous dishes we would make.

In the fall of 1944, once again we had our sewing classes first and made an apron, a potholder and a dish towel.  Finally, it was time for a roomful of more experienced cooks to begin a new season.  The teacher got out the trusty blue cookbook, turned to page 371, and once again our first experience of the year was Eggs a la Goldenrod. The dish hadn’t improved as far as a bunch of 12/13-year-old girls was concerned, but again we went on to do more ambitious projects – we even baked bread.

In the fall of 1945, I left my neighborhood, got on a streetcar and went to what was then a very large and prestigious high school, Withrow in Hyde Park.

easthi-1923The grounds were beautiful, there was an arching bridge and a clock tower at the entrance, and a large room was devoted completely to sewing with only electric sewing machines – no waiting in line as we had done at Highland.  I wasn’t that ambitious about sewing but did assume that two years of experience would enable us to make an interesting project right off the bat.  We made an apron, a potholder and a dishtowel.

Then, at last came the day we could go into the spacious, modern 1940s era cooking room.  The stations were wonderful and a big change for all of the girls (there were never boys in my home ec classes) was that we all had to wear hairnets while we cooked.  We looked expectantly at our teacher – she didn’t pull out the blue cookbook, but you guessed it, our first dish was Eggs a la Goldenrod.

Fast forward 66 years from 1943 to 2009.  I was leafing through some of my vintage cookbooks and happened to pick up a blue-bound book and almost by magic found myself on page 371.  There it was – Eggs a la Goldenrod.  I couldn’t resist – I had to make it for breakfast for my daughter who had heard the story many times.

EGGS A LA GOLDENROD FOR TWO

  • 1 cup thin white sauce (see recipe below)
  • 2 hard boiled eggs
  • 2 slices of thick, hearty bread (I used homemade)
  • Salt/Pepper to taste

Thin White Sauce

  • 1 Tblsp. flour
  • 1 cup milk, divided
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 1 Tblsp. butter

In small saucepan, place flour, 1/4 cup cold milk, salt and pepper.  Whisk until smooth.  Heat remaining 3/4 cup milk and add to the milk/flour mixture.  Cook over medium heat, whisking continually until mixture thickens.  Continue cooking and whisking for an additional 2 minutes.   Remove from heat and stir in butter.

Peel eggs and separate yolks from whites.  Chop the whites very fine and add to the white sauce along with the salt and pepper to taste.

slicedbrd2Toast the bread and place one slice on each of two plates.  Pour over the toast the white sauce mixture.  Press the egg yolks through a sieve and sprinkle over the top.  Serve immediately.

Makes 2 servings

Unfortunately, the dish doesn’t taste any better now than it did back in 1943.  Even using good home-baked bread rather than the thin white bread I’m sure we used then, it was pretty ordinary.  But now my daughter knows exactly what I mean when I mention Eggs a la Goldenrod.

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)