I was thinking recently about how many things that were common when I was young [curb feelers, aprons, picnics, to name just a few] are just not seen today.
Recently, a funny message came around that talked about curb feelers, among other things. When I was a kid here in Atlanta, we lived on 9th St. hill, near Piedmont Park, and it really was steep, especially to a kid trying to learn to drive. My dad favored Buicks so trying to park those heavy cars, going up the hill, on the right, was a challenge to me. Remember, no automatic gear shift, power steering, or power brakes, plus I couldn’t see over the front of the car real well. Dad was a kind person so really did not scold about his tires getting scratched. However, he did install curb feelers – and I loved them. I’ve often wished I had them on other cars.
I don’t recall walking into anyone’s kitchen, in the last few years, and discovering them wearing an apron. Mother had a kitchen drawer full of aprons. There were the plain everyday ones all the way to fancy cocktail aprons to wear when serving guests. If she was doing some heavy cooking, she’d wear one of the plain white, cotton aprons that could be bleached. Then, just before guests arrived, she’d change into a pretty apron that complemented her nice dress. Dad most often helped Mother in the kitchen, especially when we were having guests, after church on Sundays. That meant he would be wearing nice suit pants and a starched, white, dress shirt and tie. So he had Mother sew him aprons that suited him lots better than her small, frilly aprons. Remember he was about 6’4” and she was barely 5 feet tall. I believe we still have a couple of Dad’s aprons and they are very dear to us. I don’t recall Mother or her six sisters ever buying an apron.
Gifts were a big part of Christmas for Mother and her six sisters, but nothing expensive. Either Mother or my Aunt Jennie sewed all the aprons for the sisters. Sometimes, they would make cute pot holders to match the aprons. The sisters all gave each other Christmas presents and birthday presents and most often, each received one or two new aprons as well as other gifts.
My Aunt Miriam didn’t sew. She always gave panties. She and her family lived in an apartment, on the corner of Peachtree Place and Peachtree St. On the opposite corner was a quite nice ladies’ clothing shop, called Jean’s Shop. Miss Jean was a friend of my aunt. Miriam knew the correct size, style, fabric etc for each of her sisters and me. Before a birthday, she’d call and order her panties present, have it gift wrapped, charged to her husband, and delivered across the street. Mother thought it was funny but I loved receiving the beautiful undies. (Wonder what she’d think about the tiny, band aide size panties that girls wear now! Hardly worth the bother of wearing them, seems like.)
My parents, as well as the rest of the family, just loved going on picnics. They had a system of what to carry and just how to pack it. This was mostly before Tupperware, Styrofoam, canned drinks, and lots of convenience items. We did have a large thermos jug which would be filled with a combination of sweet tea and fruit juices - delicious! Also, there was no plastic wrap or foil – but waxed paper was fine. The food was about what one would expect: fried chicken, potato salad, ham, fruit salad, slaw, cold biscuits, usually a pot of green beans with ham hock, and someone always brought a wonderful home baked cake, and cobblers, and pies. They kept the old tablecloths for picnics. We always met at the Atlanta area parks that had nice picnic tables, most often with thatched appearing roofs, or a pavilion. We have nice weather about seven or eight months a year though it can get most too hot at times, in July or August. The adults would sit around and visit and the young folks would take long walks around the park, after the meal. The parks where we most often met were Piedmont Park and North Fulton [now called Chastain Park].
Both of the above parks had nice swimming pools but we were not allowed to swim in them nor were my cousins. Everyone was afraid of Polio and rumor had it that it could be caught at public pools. I’ll never forget the great relief everyone felt when the vaccine was developed. Tony and I took our little ones to the nearest school, in Augusta, and we were given the vaccine on sugar cubes, near as I remember. Later, we got shots. I haven’t researched this but think that’s what we did.
My mother had beautiful china for 12 people. She and Dad bought it at Wannamakers’ store, in Philadelphia. I have it now and we’ve never broken a single piece – of course, Dee says that’s because we don’t use it with the kids. Our dining room table seated 12 people so it was a perfect fit. However, there were Spur gas stations all around the state that gave free dishes when you bought gas from them. Those dishes were fairly heavy, kind of embossed, deep pink or maybe red. And we kids had a great time collecting them. Think we finally had a complete set of about 10 or 14. There were platters, bowls etc too. Ours are long gone but I was amused to see some in an antique store not too long ago.
Life was not so complicated back then when it came to school. Nowadays you have to set up meetings and fill out forms, etc. With all the notes and e mails that Dee has to send to school to handle things with her kids, I am reminded of a situation when I was in the 7th grade, at O’Keefe Jr. High. The girls’ PE class had to dress out, run tract on a dirt track, then come into the gym and most often, play basketball. By the time I got back into the gym, my asthma always kicked in and I could barely breathe. My mother sent a note but it was not accepted— I was supposed to have a doctor’s certificate. That posed a problem, because we didn’t have much money, especially not extra money for a doctor visit when I wasn’t sick.
The next day after I told mother her note wasn’t accepted. Dad went to the office of the principal and told the secretary he needed to speak to the principal, Mr.Hastings. She said he’d have to make an appointment. He said, “I don’t need one because the man is sitting right there in his office, not doing anything.” With that, he walked into the principal’s office, introduced himself, and said, ”Your PE class is causing my daughter to have asthma attacks – so she won’t be taking the class from now on.” Hastings sputtered and said I’d have to have a doctor’s excuse. Dad, all 6’4 and 220 lbs of him, simply looked at the man and said quietly ”No, she does not. You have my word on this – and that is all you need.” I never had to dress out or take PE again. When I got to class that day, the teacher told me I could spend the rest of the time, reading, in her office. That evening, I overheard Dad telling Mother what had happened. That was the first time I heard about it. As far as I remember, that was the only time my dad ever went to school on my account, unless I was singing a solo. That next fall, the school system was changed to elementary schools and neighborhood high schools. I went to Henry Grady High school from grades 8-12, took the required PE and had no trouble with it. (I didn’t have to contend with the dirt track.)
Making ice cream was a favorite activity of our family. Recently, we watched Ina Garten make ice cream, on her Barefoot Contessa show on Food channel. It was so simple, she just removed a frozen, hollow cylinder from her freezer; poured into it, some concoction; turned a switch; and 20 minutes later; had ice cream. Wow! My parents had the most wonderful wooden ice cream freezer. It made about a gallon of ice cream but, oh my, not in twenty minutes. First, Mother made whatever recipe they’d decided on that day. I’m not at all sure but think sometimes it was a cooked custard or it was made using a product called “Junket”, always vanilla . This was placed in a metal cylinder which was then placed in the wooden freezer. Ice was packed around it with ice cream salt sprinkled over the ice to make it thaw, I think. Of course, this involved buying 25 lbs of ice from an ice house and placing it in a tin tub so it could be chipped up for the freezer. Then a handle had to be turned to make the cylinder revolve and gradually freeze. The more frozen it became, the harder it would be to turn, and sometimes it wanted to jump up off the floor a bit. This is where I came in. Being the youngest, thus smallest, person in the house, I was summoned to sit on the top of the freezer so it wouldn’t jump. They usually were kind enough to place folded newspapers over the icy top so my bottom wouldn’t freeze. This is where I acquired the nickname… oh well, never mind, but it really was the best ice cream in the world. Wish I had some now!
The world has changed a lot, but I have some wonderful memories.