Category Archives: 1940s

Rolling stores and locker plants

RollingStore1939TennesseeI tend to wait till my cats run out of food before I go grocery shopping. Of course, by then we’re nearly out of people food too and by the time I get everything checked off my list, my buggy is piled high.

Back at home I try to find a way to wedge more stuff into the freezer compartment of my refrigerator. Bags of broccoli, boxes of waffles, shrink-wrapped corn on the cob and trays of hamburger — try as I might they refuse to stack neatly. Oh well, maybe the air can circulate better if things aren’t too orderly.

I usually shop in the supermarket closest to home for convenience sake. I don’t have to drive too far, there’s a handy drug store, a gas station on the corner and even a Burger King in case I don’t want to cook some of that stuff I just bought.

I don’t have a separate food freezer in my condo, but I think about shopping for one every summer when all the fresh vegetables are on display at the Pee Dee Farmer’s Market.

When I was growing up, a farmer with a pickup truck came through our neighborhood every week or so. His truck bed was loaded down with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, butter beans in the hull or already shelled and bagged up. Wooden baskets were piled high with cabbages, string beans, yellow squash and ears of white or yellow corn, sometimes even peaches or watermelons.

It was nice to have such a selection to choose from, right there at our front door. Of course, we lived in town so if the farmer didn’t come by we could run right down to the A & P for what we needed.

Listening to Tim’s mom and other folks around town recount stories of their childhood days, I have a fresh appreciation of how easy we have it today.

Shopping wasn’t so convenient in the decade or so before I was born, and especially not out in the country. Many farm families had no automobile and some that did couldn’t afford to drive it.

Trips to town for the things the family didn’t grow or raise might be made in a mule-drawn wagon once every few months, and if you ran out of something, you might have to do without it for a while — unless the rolling store came through your “neck of the woods.”

The rolling store was a big truck with sides built up and a cover on top. Inside, two rows of tall shelves were loaded with staple goods of every kind, a narrow aisle running down the center just wide enough for one shopper at a time.

Cash was short, and not every family had ready spending money to pay for their purchases. So, large crates were attached to the back of the truck to hold live chickens, fresh eggs and newly churned butter, traded to the rolling store for sugar, salt or coffee, maybe dress fabric, smoking tobacco or penny candy.

From about 1947 until 1964, D. C. McFadden operated a rolling store in Williamsburg County, a large speaker mounted on top to let folks know he was coming.

A former bread truck, his store had a feature many others lacked — a cooler for soft drinks and ice cream. Tim’s dad Theron Cox had helped him install it and rigged up a power cord.

He’d leave the cooler plugged in overnight, thus as he made his route during the day the ice cream would stay frozen and the cold drinks would stay cold. It was a popular attraction for all the neighborhood kids to hear Mr. McFadden’s store coming!

Most meat and produce were consumed fresh, dried, canned or salted at that time. There wasn’t any other way to keep perishable food. Only large cities had “locker plants,” refrigerated buildings containing rows of individual meat lockers, rented (and locked up) by folks needing a place to store large quantities of meat or vegetables.

Many Pee Dee area homes still used ice boxes, and actual refrigerators had small freezer compartments, only big enough for an ice tray or two.

After WWII, Theron Cox began putting his refrigeration skills to work. Locker plants began to appear throughout lower South Carolina, and plant owners hired Theron to install the equipment to make them work.

Now a family could purchase a side of beef or bring in their own pork and poultry, rent one or more lockers by the month to freeze and store their meat until needed.

Families could have fresh-frozen meat and vegetables year round, although they might have to travel many miles to get to their locker.

As home deep freezers began to appear, gradually locker plants around the state began to close down. Supermarkets with adjacent locker plants began offering meat cutting services, sausage grinding, hickory smoking or sugar curing for hams in order to maintain their customer base. Jim’s IGA over in Lake City was one of those.

These days an ice cream truck comes through our neighborhood in the summer time. The musical melody that announces its presence brings back fond memories of popsicles and moo bars, vanilla ice cream cups and wooden spoons. But I’d love to see a rolling store come by my house, even if I don’t have any live chickens to trade.

1964 Class of Kingstree High School

Excerpt from Family Memories of Tim Cox, Bette’s husband.

blackriver5The Cool Dozen

December 26, 1964, a dozen members of the 1964 Class of Kingstree High School, most home from our first college semester, took a boat trip down Black River for fun, fellowship and adventure.

Charlie Bell, Tommy Bishop, Buford Boyd, Tim Cox, Danny Fry, Paul Jacobs, Billy Jenkinson, James Hugh McCutcheon, Richard Mims, Frank Seignious, Phil Stoll, and Johnny Tanner distributed ourselves among seven small boats of varying sizes, all powered by small outboard motors.

An adult friend, Aubrey Williamson, served as unofficial guide for the first leg of the trip and carried our supplies in his large 16-foot boat.

One of South Carolina’s scenic rivers, Black River is indeed black although clear, not muddy, with a white sand bottom. If you scooped up a glass full, the water would look just like brewed tea.

Tannic acid from cypress trees growing along the river darkens the water, like the tannic acid in tea. Lynches River, Little Pee Dee, Waccamaw, Edisto, and Black River all have black water from cypress trees.

The morning after Christmas dawned sunny and cool. We put in below Kingstree, planning to end the day at Brown’s Landing. Near Kingstree the river was barely twenty feet wide and in narrow spots the water ran swift, but suddenly the river opened out into a beautiful vista.

Except for navigating around the occasional log we had smooth travel for miles. Ducks and deer peered at us from the banks as we put-putted by. There were no snakes or alligators to worry us, being winter time.

Our 4:30 arrival at the Landing left little daylight to set up camp and unpack food supplies. As the sun went down and the temperature with it, we scrounged for kindling and started a camp fire. Aubrey’s ride arrived and he departed for home and his nice, warm bed.

Hot dogs, Vienna sausages, peanuts and junk food made our supper, but our favorites that night were coffee and hot chocolate. It was growing very chilly.

We were all dressed appropriately for the occasion, we thought – heavy coats, hats, gloves, hunting boots and thick socks. Each had a sleeping bag and Charlie Bell and Tommy Bishop even had a tent. We kept the fire going until too tired to tend it, sleeping bags spread in a semicircle around it.

Crawling in fully clothed with hats pulled low and just our noses poking out to breath, we thought sleep would be easy. It wasn’t. We were not prepared for the 24-degree weather that night, plus sleet.

Tree branches kept the worst of the sleet off of us, but Charlie soon got so cold he decided to re-start the fire. The sound of Charlie chopping down trees to feed the fire awakened the rest of us every couple of hours.

At daylight all we wanted was coffee and hot chocolate to thaw us out. Ice had formed in the bottom of some boats and Billy Jenkinson and Frank Seignious’s outboard engine refused to crank. Billy pulled until his arm tired out and Frank crawled to the back to help out.

Unbalanced, their two-man boat tipped one way, then the other, and water poured in on three sides. Bailing out their boat delayed our departure, but finally we got that last engine cranked up.

Aubrey didn’t return that morning – guess he thought it was too cold – so Danny Fry took over solo control of my boat, I moved to Aubrey’s 16-footer, and the smaller boats moved out in front.

Aubrey had warned us that the river was deceptive close to the landing, and he was right. In the daylight the water appeared to run straight ahead but the map showed a 90-degree turn to the right.

Sure enough, some guys missed the turn and ran out of water. They thought for sure they’d have to haul the boats through the woods to find the river again.

Watching from behind, I circled around and slowly ran down the right hand side, checking the current until I found the turn between two large cypress trees. The opening was only 12 to 15 feet wide. We re-grouped and started again.

Down river we stopped at a cabin where some guys came out to chat. “We hate to tell you,” they said, “but there’s some fallen trees blocking the water downriver. Those small boats might make it but you’ll never get that big boat through.”

Well, being teenage boys we decided to go for it anyway. Sure enough, a few miles downstream the river was blocked. Now, some of our dozen had been football players, big strong guys, so they climbed out to clear enough of the brush on one sandy bank to carry the boats around.

The small boats were easy, but Aubrey’s 16-footer was nearly impossible. Wearing his waders, Richard Mims eased out into the water. We all yanked, pushed and pulled to make a gap big enough to manhandle the big boat through. A solid hour of precious daylight was soon gone. “Are we still having fun?”

Things seemed to be going fine again, when we hit a “T” where it looked like the body of Black River ran into some other river. As the boats up ahead turned right, I watched to see which way the water flowed. Yep, that was the wrong way.

Back-tracking was getting old, but nearing Andrews where the water gets wide we thought we could make up for lost time. And we did, until we reached the Andrews Narrows and yet another log jam.

This time there was no way around. Ropes were made fast to one log, then another, the outboards were cranked up, and gradually we pulled the downed trees apart.

Another long hour had passed, but all the boats were through. We were getting short on fun and a little long on adventure…

Out in the wider water there were no trees close enough to serve as windbreaks. The cold was seeping through to our bones, and with daylight getting away we speeded up and stretched out.

My boat had a smaller engine than the others and Danny had trouble keeping up. The rest of us arrived at Brown’s Ferry, piled out and got a bonfire started, but still no Danny.

When Aubrey rejoined us at the Ferry he and another guy took off in his boat upriver, searching. They found Danny still put-putting along, holding up a gas lantern to see where he was going.

Huddled around the bonfire we tried our best to get warm. Buford Boyd pulled off his frozen boots, stretched his feet close to the fire and said, “If I could figure out how to levitate and hold both feet out at one time that sure would be great.”

After a moment he added, “You know, I’m mad at my mama.” We all asked why? He said, “She had better sense than to let me come on something like this!”

Saturday nights were focused on Sunday

Betty at Mimi's house, 1940's

Betty at Mimi’s house, 1940’s

I once read an article about a church service where you didn’t even have to get out of your car to attend. While the preacher sat in the doorway and spoke into a microphone, inside the car you just tuned into a radio station to hear him.

You could come in your bathrobe, your old jeans or your bathing suit. No personal preparation was necessary, you could skip the shower and not even brush your teeth if you liked.

Of course, these hot summer days when you have to leave your car running for the air conditioner to work, you might burn up a few gallons of expensive gasoline doing that.

Inside-the-building attendance at Sunday School and worship services were a given for my family when I was growing up, and Saturday nights were focused on preparing for Sunday. The radio was usually on (no television yet in our house), but whatever program we listened to, we were busy getting ready for Sunday church attendance.

After supper, mama went through our closets and dressers and carefully chose, pressed if necessary, and laid out our Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. She meticulously selected the right shirt to go with my brother’s dress pants, the right crinolines to go with my frilly dresses, and the right clean socks to go with our Sunday shoes.

Mine were white Mary Janes, of course, and any stray scuff marks left over from last Sunday had to be eradicated. There were always stray scuff marks, unfortunately.

That meant me pulling out the bottle of white shoe polish and the sponge applicator, a sheet of old newspaper, and covering each shoe with the chalky white liquid not once, but twice.

Once would be enough for me, but not for mama. “I can still see that streak,” she’d comment, pointing to a faint offending mark on one toe. I’d probably acquired it kicking the back of the pew in front of me the previous Sunday when my imagination was wandering in a far-away land someplace.

I managed pretty well to get through Sunday School and the hymn singing, but the preacher’s sermons sometimes let my attention drift right out of the window. After all, I was only a little kid and there was no such thing as Children’s Church in those days.

So scuff marks were usually present on the toes of my white shoes and a second coat of polish was essential to gain mama’s approval. Of course the first coat had to dry completely first, meaning I could do something else in between, usually also related to Sunday.

One such activity might be shucking corn for Sunday lunch, on those Sundays we didn’t go to the Boston Cafe after church or drive out to Mimi’s house. Or I might be called upon to peel a few potatoes to be transformed into potato salad, for the same reason.

If my assistance wasn’t required with food prep, I might get to help my brother with his also-scuffed shoes, brown instead of white, being sure his paste-wax polish didn’t wind up all over his fingers and arms.

Once everyone’s clothes and shoes were ready and neatly laid out, us kids finished up the evening with shampoos and tub baths. Mama finally let us listen to one more radio program from the relative safety of our beds, the bedsheets protecting the cleanliness of our beings.

By this time we weren’t permitted to do anything else, such as playing with dolls or cars – we might get gritty or grimy and wreck our just-bathed condition.

Sometimes I think fondly of all the steps our family went through on Saturday evenings to prepare for Sunday mornings, and we were not the only ones in the 1940’s and 50’s.

Mama and daddy had a principle about church attendance: You should “Give of your best to the Master,” which meant being clean and neat, trying to pay attention, singing when everyone sang, praying when everyone prayed, learning the Bible verses and lessons, sharing handshakes and hugs with the other people, and living according to the scriptures as best you could from day to day.

I’m not sure we would have benefited as much from a drive-in church where you could skip most of that if you liked.

The Florence Cotton Warehouse Fire of 1948

“RUSSIA REJECTS PLAN FOR SOLVING BERLIN CRISIS,” read the Florence Morning News front page headline Sunday, October 24, 1948.

Directly under it in smaller letters was another headline, “$80,000 Fire Destroys ACL Cotton Platform Here.”

It took me several years to find this story — not the one about Russia and Berlin; the one about the fire.

CottonWarehouseFireB&WI remember that night clearly, the sight, the sounds, the smells. And the people.

It was well past my bedtime when the alarm went off that night. Half of downtown Florence must have heard it. My parents hurriedly got us up and dressed and the next thing I remember, we were headed down the street toward the railroad tracks.

“The fire attracted a large crowd of people from all sections of the city,” read the newspaper article. Despite the late hour hundreds of people crowded the streets, all of us drawn to see what was going on. There wasn’t just a foot-traffic jam, there was a car-traffic jam too, as more and more people drove in and parked haphazardly along the streets.

Some men simply left their cars or trucks in the middle of the street, jumping out and running toward the fire. Looking back, I realize they were hurrying to help the overwhelmed fire department. From the horrible glow against the night sky we knew it had to be bad, and it was.

As we got near, water hoses criss-crossed the street and we had to watch our step. Mama and Daddy each held one of us kids in a tight grip while we walked with the growing crowd of other parents and children.

The fire engine roar nearly drowned out their speech as adults tried to talk. “Wonder what started it?” “What’s in there?” Then we began to smell it. The combined odors of burning cotton, rubberized roofing and wood veneer furniture created a stench. At one point, “a drum containing tar or oil exploded and was heard all over the city.”

When we had gotten as close as we were permitted by police and firemen, the crowd spread out and stood assembled to watch and to pray. Now and then through gaps in buildings we’d see flames shooting into the air, but mostly we just saw a dark red glare extending upward and outward. Clouds of smoke could be seen rising in the night sky, illuminated by the glare.

People shuffled around, jockeying for position and inching forward. “Can’t see much,” one man said, turning back to give his spot to someone else.

I don’t know how long we stayed out there in the night, watching and listening and smelling. Gradually the crowd began to thin out as people returned to their homes or their cars. The next day’s newspaper article began, “100 Bales of Cotton Are Burned, Weaver Furniture Co. Warehouse, Frank Key Roofing Building Lost… The cotton platform itself, about 200 by 300 feet in dimensions, was said to be almost a total loss.”

On Sunday afternoon our family joined others at the scene of the fire. Nothing much was left but pile after pile of blackened rubble. Several fire hoses were still in place, I guess in case of a flare-up. I don’t know how there could have been one, considering the thousands of gallons of water poured onto the fire.

We had to step around black puddles of run-off on sidewalks, ground and street as we walked closer. The smell wasn’t as much of a stench now, it was more like the stink from garbage piles burning down at the city dump.

That fire was a huge loss to the City of Florence. The cotton platform was the only one of its kind in town, according to the ACL spokesman, and I have no idea if it was ever re-built.

Why did I search for this news article for several years? Other major fires had happened in town before and several more after that, but this one imprinted itself in my memory. I could remember how old I was at the time. I could still feel the coolness of the night air on my face, so I knew it had to be fall or spring.

I could still see the glare of the flames in my mind, hear the fire engines and smell that horrible odor. I could still hear the word “warehouse” passed from person to person as we walked along. But I didn’t know exactly what had happened and it bugged me.

So I’m glad to finally learn what did happen that night, but sorry too. My mother’s house burned in 1965, also in the middle of the night. I’m not ready to write about those memories yet. A fire is a dreadful thing, whether it’s a business or a house, no matter what the year.

Here’s the full text of the Florence Morning News article (the fire image is from another source):

SUNDAY MORNING, OCTOBER 24, 1948 ACL Cotton Platform Here 100 Bales Of Cotton Are Burned; Weaver Furniture Co. Warehouse, Frank Key Roofing Building Lost

Fire caused an estimated damage of $80,000 or more here last night when the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Co. cotton platform warehouse containing some 100 bales of cotton, and an adjoining building containing a boxcar of roofing and another warehouse full of furniture was destroyed.

The cotton platform itself, about 200 by 30 feet in dimensions, was said to be almost a total loss. It was owned by the A. C. L. and was used by cotton buyers of this section for weighing and shipping cotton daily. It was located between North Irby and Lucas Streets at the A. C. L. freight tracks.

Frank Key of Florence estimated that he lost some of the roofing, the most of which had just been delivered, he said. Mr. Key rented space in the south end of the platform building from the A. C. L.

An adjoining building, said to be owned by Marion Lucas of Florence and rented to the Weaver Furniture Company of this city was also destroyed by the fire. The company was said to have had the building stored full of furniture but no representative of the company could be contacted last night for comment.

R. B. Hare, superintendent of the Columbia District, A. C. L. said that the platform was built about 8 or 10 years ago. Mr. Hare was at the scene of the fire but he did not estimate the damage to the building. He said that it is the only cotton platform of its kind in Florence. M. J. Dickert, A. C. L. freight agent, also at the fire, said that cotton was handled on the platform daily and he estimated that about 100 bales were destroyed by the fire.

The fire alarm came into the city fire department about 11 p. m. and firemen fought the fire from all sides but it had got a big headway before the alarm was given. No one had any idea of the origin of the fire. Mr. Keys said that he did not have any insurance on his roofing that was in the building

The fire attracted a large crowd of people from all sections of the city. At the height of the fire a drum containing tar or oil exploded and was heard all over the city. Firemen focused their hoses on the section with the drums and no others exploded.

Duz does everything

DuzAdGlassesRemember Duz? Duz laundry detergent got out all kinds of dirt and stains. But just in case you didn’t really believe that, in the 1940’s and 50’s you could furnish your kitchen with good old Duz.

Goblets and dinner plates, flatware and dish towels all came free with Duz laundry detergent. You might get a little pasteboard box containing a teacup in your Duz this week, assuring you’d buy more to get the saucer next week.

I don’t remember how well it cleaned the laundry but Duz did one thing well, it sure sold laundry detergent. I still have a couple of those smoky-gray goblets, good as the day mama bought them.

Perk-a perk-a perk perk, a perka perk perk… can’t you smell the “good to the last drop” Maxwell House percolating? The perky commercial stuck in your mind and when you hit the grocery store, why naturally you had to buy a bag. The last time I used a percolater it was to heat water for instant coffee. Boy, my days are different now.

For several months in the late 1940’s my family occupied an upstairs apartment in a big two-story house. One memorable summer morning I wandered around indoors looking for something interesting to do. I had already cut out all my paper dolls, read all my comic books and colored all my coloring book.

Etta (our housekeeper/babysitter) was in the kitchen ironing the Duz-fresh laundry, sipping Maxwell House coffee and listening to Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club on the radio. Harold occupied himself with his Lionel trains or something. I couldn’t jump rope indoors. Couldn’t play hopskotch indoors. Needed more girls to play jacks. What to do?

TelephoneNoDialMaking my way into the living room I spied that remarkable gadget, our very first telephone. Heavy and bulky, there was no dial, just mostly a smooth black surface.

Hmm. My curiosity getting the best of me, I raised the receiver to my ear to see what it sounded like in there. A lady’s voice demanded “Number please.” Startled, I was afraid to hang up — the woman in the phone might know where I lived!

But I didn’t know any telephone numbers, not even our own, so, quick-thinking me asked for my mother’s office. The kindly telephone operator looked up the number and said, “I’ll connect you now.” And she did.

Of course I got a good talking-to since the phone was strictly off-limits except in an emergency, and “What time are you coming home” wasn’t exactly an emergency. I explained as best I could that it was all a terrible misunderstanding, but I had a feeling there would be another talking-to when mama did come home.

I went into the kitchen, opened the icebox and took down a bottle of milk. The block of ice in the box was nearly melted but the milk was still cold. Etta hummed along with the radio, her squirt bottle going “swhush swhush” as she dampened a shirt for ironing. I dunked a cookie in my milk and pondered what to do with the rest of the morning that wouldn’t get me into trouble.

Well, dress-up was always fun. I made a beeline for mama and daddy’s bedroom. I carefully lifted the lid of mama’s jewelry box and listened to the little tune, then fingered through the dainty necklaces and earrings. Selecting several mismatched drop sapphire earrings, I carefully screwed them onto my lobes.

(Those orphan earrings now reside in my own jewelry box; I’ve never been able to part with them.)

I scrounged around in the closet for articles I figured mama wouldn’t wear again, then lugged my makeshift wardrobe into the living room. Onto my skinny shins I pulled run-filled stockings, sliding round garters up my legs to keep the baggy hose in place. It was a lost cause; they kept creeping down and I had to keep yanking them back up.

I added a crinkly crenoline to my ensemble, adjusting the waist with a safety pin. A gold knit top came next, picked and pilled with a few runs in it too, but I loved it. I carefully hitched up a black felt skirt over the crenoline. Knee-length on mama, it was evening dress length on me. I cinched a wide elastic belt in place to fasten everything and knew I looked glamorous.

Next I perched a black straw pillbox atop my head, untangling the veil and pulling it down. By the time I got all that netting straightened out it stretched nearly to my chin. Oh well, more glamor! Finally I slipped my toes into a pair of mama’s high heels. Clinging to the sofa, I rose to my wobbly feet and attempted to strut across the living room.

I soon discovered I needed a bit more padding in a few strategic spots, including my feet. Maneuvering in those slippers proved to be a real drag, especially when I had to yank my stockings back up every minute or so. I didn’t care; I was Marlene Dietrich to my heart’s content that morning.

In spite of my telephone misadventure I had a lot of fun that day, mostly with stuff that doesn’t exist any more. Of course, I do still have those two Duz goblets and the orphan screw-on sapphire earbobs. They might be worth a lot on E-bay these days, but they’re worth a lot more in memories to me.

(Reprinted from 2006.)

Mother’s Day is coming up

There’s so much to notice in this photograph, taken by my photographer father on some special occasion – perhaps even Mother’s Day. Click on it to enlarge. I remember that apartment on West Palmetto Street, upstairs in a large two-story house just a few doors down from the intersection with Coit Street. Only commercial buildings are located in that block now.

Mother’s Day brings back so many memories…

Mama died in 1970. Mama’s mother, my grandmother Mimi, died in 1973. Daddy’s mother died when I was only two and I have no memories of her at all, but I wish they were all still here to celebrate Mother’s Day with me. Here’s a slightly re-arranged post from several years ago.

When I was small I loved to make Mother’s Day cards for mama. Even if I had purchased something I still made the cards for her. Usually they were multi-layer creations: when you opened the first page, there was a smaller page glued inside, and another inside that. Each page featured a hand-drawn, crayon-colored picture, maybe a flower or a heart, and each page said “I Love You, Mama.” I might spend several hours with scissors, rubber cement and crayolas, sometimes starting over several times until I got my masterpiece just right.

After she died in 1970 I came across an old pasteboard box with the flaps folded into each other. Prying it open I discovered my birth certificate, baby clothes, baby book, old report cards, piano recital programs, and handfuls of those home-made cards I’d given her. It looked like she had saved every one I’d ever made. I sat there a long time, fingering those little pages and re-reading each one. I think about that a lot these days when Mother’s Day rolls around.

Here’s another great photo of mama taken by daddy, not sure where. It may have been taken in Florence, but could have been anywhere from Newport News, Virginia to Albuquerque, New Mexico, places where they were stationed during WWII.

A while back I wrote that everything I really needed to know I learned in kindergarten. That’s not completely true. I also learned a great many things from my mother and grandmother, my aunts, from Sunday School teachers, public school teachers, the mothers of friends, and a lot of other women.

The main one, though, was mama. Mama always worked outside the home. Before I was born she did clerical work on the military bases where Daddy was stationed. After I was born she worked in an office downtown. Bad parenting? No, economics. My brother and I didn’t consider it being “deprived;” it was just the way things were.

But when mama was home in the evenings and on weekends, we were learning things. Like chores. Chores were divvied up like pieces of a pie. Our house, no matter where we lived, had white woodwork. Today a lot of houses lack woodwork around doors and windows. Saves on housework, that’s for sure. Our semi-gloss woodwork collected stray fingerprints and smudges like a magnet. Amongst laundry-folding, furniture-dusting and trash-emptying, removing “not white” marks from door jambs and windowsills was a weekly responsibility.

Washing dishes was my daily duty after school. There weren’t many plates and forks to wash but oh those pots and pans! Steel wool time. Every afternoon I dillied and dallied until it was nearly time for mama’s car to drive up before I ran the dishwater. Seldom did I get an early start and have the kitchen spick and span before her arrival home.

Soon it was time to peel something like onions or potatoes, slice something like cucumbers or tomatoes, or grate something, like cheese. Cheese for cheese biscuits, cheese for macaroni and cheese, cheese for cheese grits, any of which was a favorite on the supper menu; or cabbage for cole slaw, which wasn’t.

In between chores, mama taught us the three R’s, particularly reading, from the time we could hold one of those thick-paged baby books. While my grandmother Mimi subscribed to every magazine she could think of, mama loved books. There were library books, new and used paperbacks and hardback books on many different subjects.

How-to books on electricity, plumbing and math, informational books on Southern Snakes or Southern Skies, science fiction books by Isaac Asimov et al and Christian books by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale — everywhere you looked there was a book or two on an end table. Reading for themselves and reading to us was as natural to my parents as preparing meals or paying bills. You just did it.

Mama also loved piddling around the house, piddling around the yard, and piddling around the sky. That’s how she put it. She encouraged us to piddle too. “I’m just piddling,” she’d say as she stitched something up, like old draperies to make sofa cushions, or old skirts to make aprons.

“I’m just piddling,” she’d say as she planted marigolds and zinnias, chrysanthemums and asters in neat graduated rows against the front yard fence. She’d explain about ladybugs and garden snails, and why some weeds were fine and some were not. She’d never just pull up a dandelion, she’d solemnly explain if you blow the thing to smithereens and scatter all those fluffy seeds, which yes indeed did look like fun, there would be zillions of them next year stealing all the good nutrients from the pretty zinnias, see?

“I’m just piddling,” mama would say as she lugged out the telescope to watch sputnik go over on a clear night. (I wonder how many households owned a telescope in those days.) “Come look, the stars are so pretty tonight. And would you make me a milkshake and bring it when you come?” I’d carefully measure out a spoonful of vanilla flavoring, stir two spoonfuls of sugar into a tall glass of milk, drop in several ice cubes and join mama’s sputnik-watching, or Big-Dipper watching, or man-in-the-moon watching.

When I needed spending money over and above my weekly allowance, mama taught me how to do office work. She’d bring home box-fulls of envelopes and letters, show me the proper way to fold a page in thirds and stuff it in an envelope, then the easy way to seal a batch of stuffed envelopes. Fan the flaps out so only the gummed part of each one is showing, then run a damp sponge across all the flaps at once and quickly flip each flap into place. Nothing to it.

She’d pronounce my work acceptable and pay me a dollar or so. We’d discuss many things while we worked, school, friends, hair styles, grades, books, newspaper articles, homework assignments — come to think of it, school got into our conversation a lot in those days.

Mama was a classroom volunteer and for some reason I don’t remember what exactly she did. Maybe she brought cookies or something, who knows. One thing I do remember, though. She was voted the prettiest mother in the 8th grade at Poynor. I was dumbfounded to learn my classmates adored my mother. I knew I adored my mama, but I had no idea anybody else’s kids did too. I was impressed!

There are lots more memories but for now, here’s wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to mothers of all ages, to those who still have their mothers or grandmothers with them, and to those who, like me, wish they did.

Writing “career”

“Write something. You’re a writer. That’s what you should be doing with more of your time.” That thought keeps flitting through my mind today off and on, while I’m doing other things that are not writing.

When did I become a writer? I’m trying to remember. What was the first time I wrote anything? Let’s see…

PorkyPigStoryBookLate1940'sFirst book? I vaguely recall Porky Pig and Donald Duck among others, hard cardboard books with only a few thick pages but sturdy. They took a lot of handling without too much damage, thus could be read over and over. Mostly pictures, there weren’t many words in those.

Of course, most of mine were girl-oriented books. Cinderella and Snow White stories straight from the movies shared scenes with the Wicked Stepmother and the Wicked Queen. Seven dwarfs occupied many pages, there were lots of adventure scenes with seven of them! Not to mention all those cute animals, like Bambi, and Thumper. And Cinderella’s musical bluebirds.

SnowwhiteColoringBookSoon came crayons. Wonderful coloring books came with those crayons, with just a word or two at the bottom of most pages. First crayons? A one-layer box holding red and blue ones with sharp points, plus brown and black, purple, orange, yellow and green.

I learned early on that combining certain colors made other colors. Experimenting with red and blue to make purple, or yellow and blue to make green, for instance. Interesting what you could do with colors. But I couldn’t seem to make pink… there weren’t quite enough colors in that little box.

Bigger boxes containing multiple layers of crayons became a popular birthday or Christmas present with me. Some of the brand-new colors had fascinating names – Prussian blue, violet, burnt sienna, cerulean, Indian red – I couldn’t make those lovely hues with my old worn-out crayons, so for a little while coloring books sufficed for entertainment. And when all my book pages were used up, I simply started drawing my own pictures to color on the backs of mama’s old typing paper.

Well, you could make pretty pictures with crayons but they weren’t much good for true writing.  Like words – with crayons it was really just drawing words, drawing the individual letters. Capital letters and small letters, like D-O-G, and d-o-g, and D-o-g. And C-A-T, of course.

I discovered a knack for drawing, and drawing the alphabet. Big oval O’s, fat B’s and Q’s, triangular A’s, L’s and M’s.  Draw a letter, color it in, make polka dots, stripes or plaids with your crayons. Fun! (My teachers in later years didn’t think much of it when I decorated every corner and edge of my homework with such marvelous creations.)

But at age 2 or 3, there weren’t any real words yet. I was just beginning to get the idea of words as my parents read the little books aloud to Harold and me. Nose practically down on the page, I followed along word by word and probably asked a multitude of questions as we went. I’m sure mama was very glad when I learned to read for myself.

Crayons were supplemented with pencils eventually, I’m not sure what age I would have been. Kindergarten, maybe? I started kindergarten at age 3. Short yellow pencils with no erasers, no paper covers, and thinner than those first crayons, they were a bit harder to grasp for little fingers.

What did we do with those pencils? Scribbled mostly, I’m sure. We had to get the hang of this thing, writing without breaking the point off immediately. Too many trips to the pencil sharpener and your pencil was a goner.

Bound in a little pad, our writing paper wasn’t truly white, more of a pale tan, coarse and somewhat soft. A bit too easy to tear with a sharp pencil point, the pages were ruled with dark straight lines, narrow dotted lines in between.

Drawing was probably the first thing I attempted with my pencils, since the muscle memory in my fingers can almost feel the way I held my pencil as I shaded something in. An apple? A tree?

I love trees, always have. But trees are difficult for a little kid, it was probably something else I was copying from a picture book – the bare outline of a house, or a puppy, or a bowl. Copy from the book, then shade with the pencil held sort of sideways, or perhaps color with the crayons.

alphabet cardsAnd more alphabet letters, naturally, this time copied from a colorful chart hanging in the playroom.

There was no actual writing as such, not way back then. No letters were strung together yet to make words, but it wouldn’t be long. After two years of kindergarten, at age 5 I began first grade able to read and write letters, words, and even whole sentences!

My writing career was off to a good start… although for some years all I ever wrote were hand-made greeting cards for my mother.

Oh well. In the last few months I haven’t done as much writing as I used to. Perhaps it’s time for more.