1950’s Dime-Store Shopping

One memorable Father’s Day shopping trip… I can still see, hear and smell those neat downtown dime stores.

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Evans Street looking west, 1937. Postcard. Evans Street looking west, 1937. Postcard.

The 100 block of West Evans was a shopping mecca in the 1950’s. Downtown Florence had everything a kid could want, all in one block. Of course, we had our share of department stores and grownups did a lot of shopping in those. But for us kids, the five and ten cent stores were the place to go.

Saturday when the movie was over and it was too early to go home, you went dime-store window shopping. And if sometimes you had to go present shopping, naturally you had to make the rounds to be sure you got the best thing.

One Saturday in early June, I declared my desire to pick out daddy’s Father’s Day present all by myself without mama tagging along looking at every blooming thing in the store. With a smile and shake of the head, she gave me some…

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Minding the Store

Summer’s coming up, bringing back fond memories of Minding the Store at Mimi’s.

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CountryStoreShelvesMinding the store was one chore I didn’t mind, the summers I spent at Mimi’s house during my teen years. She always kept an ear out for the little bell hanging outside the store, but occasionally it rang when she was busy with more important chores, like removing the innards from a soon-to-be-supper chicken.

When the bell jingled at such times she’d call out, “Betts, go mind the store, please.” I enjoyed the responsibility that gave me, acting as store-keep for a while. It might be a farm wife looking for canned goods or gossip, or one of the local kids looking for an after-school soda pop and penny candy.

CocaColaDrinkBoxMimi and Da had built the little country store next to their house on Stagecoach Road out in Florence County. It served near-by neighbors and farm hands with one gas pump, one kerosene pump, one cold drink box, one large…

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All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten

Good stuff like buttoning my coat and tying my shoelaces, “One, two, button my shoe.” That didn’t make sense to me but we learned it anyway. I also learned to say Please, Thank you, and May I. To share even when I didn’t want to, and to say sorry even if I wasn’t. Good safety habits like “Look both ways before crossing a street” and “Never hit back.”

The kids at Mrs. McIntosh’s learned to bow our heads and say a blessing before eating, and to be quiet and still on our little mats at nap time. I seldom fell sleep in the daytime but my imagination could keep me plenty occupied while waiting for the other kids to wake up.

I learned to count to ten and to write my numbers in big broad strokes. I learned how to grip the fat pencil and stay inside the ruled lines as I wrote my ABC’s in block letters. How to draw an almost square, a lopsided circle and a tilted triangle. How to put puzzles together, and the difference between red, green, yellow, blue, brown and black.

Some of our lessons were social, some academic and some practical but it was all fun. Us kids thought we were playing, but the learning flowed into our little heads like osmosis.

I attended Mrs. McIntosh’s kindergarten from age four to almost six. Her big two-story red brick house, big yard and a circular gravel driveway was on Edisto Drive close to Cherokee Road. A private home now, the house is still there behind the brick fence, tall trees and thick shrubbery. A glimpse of the house riding by brings back such wonderful memories.

I don’t remember riding to and from kindergarten, but I distinctly remember the finger paints. In the bright sunroom with many windows, a dozen or so of us kids got a hands-on lesson in primary colors. A gob of red plus a dab of yellow – orange! Red plus blue – purple! Blue and yellow made green, red and white made pink.

The slick paint squishing between my fingers felt so cool. “Let’s paint a flower today,” she would encourage. Swirl, swish, zip, “Don’t get it on your clothes,” swoop, swish, swirl, “Keep it on the paper,” zip, swish, swoop, “Don’t wipe your hands on your (fill in the blank: nose, hair, neighbor).”

Browns and blacks didn’t appeal to me much. I used them for outlines only. I preferred fire-engine red and cornflower blue. My flowers were colored like tulips but shaped like asters, zig-zaggy and shaggy around the edges. I carefully kept my colors inside the lines, carefully held the paper by the edges, and fiercely protected my drying masterpiece until I could take it home to Mama.

Making potholders was another creative pastime at Mrs. McIntosh’s. Little metal looms with toothy edges were handed around the room. A sack of stretchy fabric circles like cloth rubber-bands was passed around. “Get you a big handful, there’s enough to go around.” Some kids picked all yellow or all green. I picked mostly red and blue bands with a few greens and yellows mixed in.

We proudly presented our creations to our mothers, so colorful, so practical. (Mama used mine until they were too scorched or too thin. Then she dug out my little loom from the bottom of the buffet and we made some more.)

Some days we made music. The clear high-pitched tone of my triangle went “dingggggg” when I struck it lightly with the little metal rod, “DINNNNG” when I gave it a good swat. I learned that I could create an interesting combination, “dingggg-dink” if I grabbed the metal with my hand before the second sound died out.

Another kid chose a wooden block and mallet. His “clonnnt, clonnnt” soon dueled with the “clannnkk, clannnkk” of his pal’s cowbell. “Use the mallet on your own block, not your neighbor’s bell,” Mrs. McIntosh admonished sternly.

The “scritch, scritch, scritch” of the sand blocks made a nice fill between the “clack-clack, clack-clack” of the sticks. Our band was rounded out with “cling-clings” of miniature cymbals, “bom-boms” of a tambourine-shaped hand drum and “jin-jingles” of tiny bells fastened to shaker sticks. “All together children, One, Two, Three, Play!” We practiced like mad for our spring concert and I’m sure our parents clapped enthusiastically in praise of our joyful noise.

By the time first grade rolled around, I knew my numbers and the alphabet and could read simple Dick and Jane story books for myself. Mrs. McIntosh’s instructions in courtesy, safety, academics, and above all how to get along with my fellow kid stood me in good stead when entering McKenzie School.

Come to think of it, they still do today.

The Blizzard of ’73

Wonder if we’ll get any snow this winter? I’m recalling one memorable snow storm from 1973…

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HogInSnowSooooie, pig, pig, pig!

Sooie was a friendly pig, at least we called her a pig, even though she must have weighed close to 300 pounds. We fed her grain, sometimes weeds, and housed her in a nice, roomy electric fenced pen with a soothing, cooling mud hole.

The children didn’t really look upon Sooie as pork chops, sausages and bacon, but that’s what she was. Groceries on the hoof.

Of course, it helped that the children weren’t as attached to Sooie as they were to the yard dogs and house cats, but to save everyone’s sensitivities, we never referred to hog-killing time around Sooie herself.

Things were going very well, Sooie was gaining appropriate poundage and we were anticipating sugar-cured hams and real hickory smoked, vinegar and hot sauce-based barbecue, when it happened.

The Blizzard of ’73. One February morning we awoke to a wonderland of snow, and ice…

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1954

Do you remember 1954? I sure do. Hurricane Hazel, among other things.

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Moving seemed to be an annual event when I was small.  We went from small apartment to large, then to a duplex, and by early 1954 we had a whole house to ourselves at Coles Crossroads. The large frame house had a tin roof which made for interesting sound effects when it rained, and it had huge yards front and back.

I think dreams of being a gentleman farmer had attracted daddy to the place; an already-constructed, fenced-in chicken pen occupied a prominent position behind the house.  A visit to Kirby’s Hatchery downtown was in order and soon little yellow bitties were scratching their hearts out for store-bought chicken feed.  Several setting hens and a strutting red rooster completed daddy’s menagerie and we were all set to enjoy our own fresh eggs and delicious fryers.

To the left of our new town-and-country home was a fascinating new “playground” for Harold…

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Mama’s Christmas Room

I can still see that room…

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ChristmasCandlesAround 1955 my mother had a brainstorm about Christmas decorations. She loved them. And she wanted to make them. Lots of them! Lacking any other space, and seeing as how it wasn’t heated and wasn’t used in cold weather anyway, the living room became mama’s workshop. This was no small room, mind you, probably 12 by 20 feet front to back.

The living room was so big and so cold with the door kept shut, it was easy to store greenery of all kinds in there. Holly branches full of red berries piled in a corner. Long lengths of ivy stretched beside a wall. Pine boughs bunched up beside the sofa, and leaves — magnolia, mainly — overflowed a large box off to the side. And then there were the twigs of mistletoe ready to be thumbtacked overhead in each doorway.

In the middle was the work area, the floor…

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Mimi’s holiday dessert crew

A holiday dessert work crew made up of cousins, aunts and uncles usually assembled the weekend before Thanksgiving at my grandmother Mimi’s house. Mimi always prepared both Thanksgiving and Christmas desserts the week before Thanksgiving, and the lengthy menu required many helpers.

Most menu items not to be served at Thanksgiving would be wrapped, labeled, and deposited in the freezer or pie safe, delicious desserts like presents waiting to be opened.

My grandfather Da was an essential helper in the preparation of one ingredient. He brought a large, for-real coconut into the middle of the living room and presented it for inspection to us kids. We passed it around, each one hefting and guessing how heavy it was. Placing it on the floor in the middle of a spread newspaper, “Stay back,” he warned before whacking the coconut with a hammer.

Often it took several smaller whacks before he could pry the outer shell away. His pocket knife then became a chisel as Da drilled a hole into one end, then drained the coconut milk into one of Mimi’s measuring cups. Soon he was sawing off little chunks of fresh coconut for us to snack on before we started on other pre-baking assignments. The rest would be grated for at least two large pies and one multi-layer cake.

A navy blue and white roasting pan sat on the floor in the living room, overflowing with pecans picked up in a neighbor’s orchard. A smaller pan full of store-bought walnuts sat nearby, and in between us volunteer laborers, paper sacks waited for the empty shells. Hinged metal nutcrackers and clean mixing bowls were distributed to the crew and a-cracking we went.

Of course, you can’t crack pecans and walnuts and not sample the goods. You have to be sure the nuts are fresh and tasty, don’t you? But there were always extras, and Mimi didn’t care if we snacked a little on pecans — our appetites were soon satisfied and set into competing to see who had the most “whole” pecan halves. The pecans that weren’t would get chopped up for the fruit cake, of course, but we needed a lot of “whole” halves for pecan pies.

Once the nuts were finished, it was time for egg gathering. Mimi’s chicken yard was a large wire-fenced oblong with the chicken house at the very back of that space. In between the front gate and the chicken house were several dozen red and white hens and one ornery rooster. Sometimes that rooster took a cockeyed look at me and just knew I was his mortal enemy. Those days I did not enjoy getting selected to collect the eggs. I had to go armed with a broom or a tobacco stick to fend off beak and claw while I made my way through hens who clucked around my feet, thinking I was bringing them some fresh chicken feed.

Keeping an eye out for the rooster, I’d edge my way into the chicken house, perhaps shoo away a hen or two, then carefully place the eggs into a small basket. The reverse course wasn’t much more fun either and all the time I was having to watch where I stepped — you know how neat chickens are, I’m sure.

While Mimi created the batter for the fruit cake, I helped mix the fruit and nuts. Red and green candied cherries, watermelon rind, currants, chopped pecans and walnuts went into a clean foot-tub, stirred with a heavy metal spoon. I’m sure I’m forgetting some ingredients, but I’ll never forget how tired my arm got in the mixing process. Mimi used a pound cake recipe for the base cake, real butter and sugar. Lots of eggs. Almond, lemon and vanilla flavorings went into the batter. Then it was time to add a whole jar of Damson plum jam for color, extra moisture and flavor.

Combining the cake batter and the fruit mix was no easy task, considering how much of each one there was. It took two five-pound tube pans and one two-pound loaf pan to contain the batter, and then several hours to bake. Once the fruit cakes were done and cooled, Mimi wrapped one up in tin foil and set it on the sideboard. That one we’d eat at Thanksgiving. The other she wrapped in wine-soaked cheesecloth and stored in her pie safe, to be “basted” in wine another time or two before Christmas.

By Thanksgiving day the dessert menu was complete: Pecan pies, pumpkin pies, and coconut pies. Pineapple torte. Coconut layer cake, fruit cake and pound cake.

When my children were small, for several years I tried to duplicate Mimi’s efforts. I baked two of each kind of pie and cake, one fresh for Thanksgiving, one stored away for Christmas. It was much simpler, since I didn’t have to crack a coconut, pecan or walnut, and didn’t have to maneuver through a messy chicken yard avoiding clucking hens and ornery rooster.

Making fruit cakes was a wonderful time of chopping nuts and remembering Da, chopping fruit and remembering Mimi. I might just do it again one of these years.