Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mom's Cadillac

...It was big—it was real big. Shiny black with a white hard top—rounded fins in the back, rounded trunk—1953, a few years before the lines on the Cadillac became sleek and the fins sharp. It was very classy—but it was just too big.

Mom had learned to drive only the year before. Having grown up and lived in New York City until their move to New Jersey after getting married, she never had the need or desire to drive a car. When the older children were young, milk was delivered to the doorstep, our pediatrician came to the house, even groceries were delivered. But now, with growing children and a home in the country to manage, learning to drive became essential. She learned quickly, and before long was on the road, usually with a carload of kids. "Mr. Sawdust' was now bringing in a substantial income, and he wanted his Jeannie to ride in style.

As I said, the car was just too big for Mom. Maybe it was from where I was sitting in the back but it did appear that Mom looked through that great big steering wheel, rather than over it. She was a good driver, but as you might imagine this required her utmost concentration. And I do believe the car was as wide as it was long. Children in the back were merely 'assumed', because they couldn't be seen in the rear view mirror.

Seat belts had not even entered anyone's mind at the time, and our outings were very "relaxed." A little brother with a bottle hanging from his mouth would ride standing next to Mom, and another would occupy himself with a truck or two on the floor in the back seat. Of course there were not as many cars on the roads and not as many accidents, and we were young and oblivious to such things. I'm afraid we were not the only ones who were oblivious.

I had discovered the joys of an open window at high speeds. I loved leaning my head out and feeling the wind whip my pony tail just like a galloping horse. I'd pull it back in when I started to lose my breath. Then I discovered something even more exciting than that. I would very carefully stand up on the back seat, sit out the open window, hanging on to the roof for dear life. The view was wonderful from up there. I remember doing it several times and feeling quite safe. Apparently an off-duty policeman traveling behind us one afternoon, didn't have the same "safe" feeling. He was blinking his lights and motioning for my Mom to pull off the road. It took a while for her to realize he was behind her. When she finally pulled off the road, he ran over to the car and yelled, "Hey lady, do you want to lose that little girl?" Funny how his exact words have stuck in my mind to this day! Maybe it was that "Now I've seen everything" look that accompanied his words. He allowed me to sit up there just long enough for Mom to turn around and take a good look. She was stunned! I slipped down onto the seat and listened to the frantic conversation, but suddenly was hit with the realization that my Dad would be the next one to find out. This was not a good thought!

Only a few months earlier I had received a spanking from him that was still fresh in my mind. My dad rarely spanked me. It had to be a life threatening situation for him to do so. That casual stroll I took one afternoon with my two best friends, gathering flowers along the busy road in front of our house, was in his mind one of those situations. What would he do when he heard about this?

Funny thing, I don't remember ever receiving a spanking for my little joy rides. Certainly I was in much more danger than picking flowers along the roadside. Now I'm wondering if my Mom ever really told my Dad. I know he knew about it years later.

Maybe she decided not to tell him….for a little while.

….I'll have to ask her about that.

Update-August 12, 2013

My beautiful mother passed away March 23, 2012-a profound loss to me and my entire family.  This picture was taken at a car show in 2010 where mom discovered a Cadillac very similar to the one that she owned way back in the 50's!  She was so delighted, remembering the car and all the "fun" we had riding together!  I regret that I was not able to be with  her on that day-she spent the afternoon with her granddaughter Emily and great granddaughter Bella.  They had a delightful time!

(original artwork-all rights reserved)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Remember when permanents were....PERMANENT?

Home permanents had come a long way by the 50's. But not quite far enough!
This ad promotion from the 50's featured identical twins, with identical looking hair styles. One was done professionally, the other was done at home.

In his role as radio announcer for the long-running mystery series, Casey, Crime Photographer, sponsored by Toni, Bill Cullen would often deliver the commercial as if he was a character in the program. He would ask his radio audience..

"...which girl has the Toni?"

From my one experience as a child, I don't think either one of them did!

But before I take you back to the first time I saw my father cry— lets go back to 1909 and the day Karl Nessler's wife Katharine Laible had her very first home permanent. Her husband Karl had been working several years perfecting a method to curl hair using chemical treatments, electrical heating devices and brass rollers each weighing about two pounds. It was a complex system, using countering weights suspended from an overhead chandelier and mounted on a stand to prevent the hot rollers from touching the scalp. The process took at least six hours. History records him using a mixture of cow urine and water.
(urban legend? Perhaps!)
Now it's hard for me to imagine Katharine willingly subjecting herself to this process. But it is even more unbelievable that she allowed her husband to give her a
second permanent after the first one completely burned her hair off, scalding her scalp.
.....He didn't quite have it down the second time either–she lost all of her hair again.

He did eventually perfect the method and his electric permanent wave machine was patented in London in 1909 and went into widespread use.

Unlike Karl Nessler's wife, I had only one permanent as a young girl.
By the time it was my turn, Toni had produced a product that women could use at home for $2 (compared to $15 if done professionally at a hair salon)
The cow urine was gone-but it had its own distinct smell—not a big improvement.

In April of 1957 my mother was in the hospital after delivering her seventh child, my brother Chris—son #6. At that time mothers were kept in the hospital for at least a week following the delivery of a baby. A live-in baby sitter was hired to help take care of the other six children at home. My Dad thought it would be nice to surprise my mom on Easter Sunday morning with a visit from all of her children. We were not allowed in the hospital, but we could stand outside on the lawn and wave up to her at her window.

The babysitter, a very capable elderly woman, thought it would be nice to surprise my dad and give his little girl her very first home permanent. Wouldn't she look nice waving up at the window with all those curls?
The picture was not quite as dreamy as she envisioned. When the curlers were removed my head was covered with a mass of frizz and gnarled, kinky curls. When my dad arrived home he took one look at me, covered my head with a towel and escorted me next door. Mrs. McGrady was a nurse and she could fix just about anything.

"Marge! Can you do something?!

"I'll try Wally! I'll try!"

She did try. I remember standing in front of her full length mirror and watching her brush, and brush, and brush— and watching those PERMANENT curls pop right back up to where they were, springing about six inches off the top of my head.

My dad waited outside the door. But sorry to say I looked exactly the same when I walked out.

('s not an actual photo. There were no pictures taken of me that day)
I'm sure I'm not the only 50's Baby Boomer who had a bad perm experience!
We learned to do one thing when we caught a whiff of that pungent Toni solution—


Update:  May 21, 2013
I have never seen this photo before today.  It is a photo from that day.  I think that my Easter hat is covering the rest of the FRIZZ!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The 60's Paper Dress

“Created to make you the conversation piece at parties. Smashingly different at dances or perfectly packaged at picnics. Wear it anytime...anywhere. Won't last forever...who cares? Wear it for kicks—then give it the air.” - Scott Paper Co. advertisement, 1966

Who could resist?
Send $1 to the Scott company and they would send you a paper dress and coupons for some of their products. I couldn't anyway! Here was a dress that you could hem with a pair of scissors-wash a few times (if it held up that long) and toss in the trash when it finally tore.
The style was nothing fancy or shapely-a simple shift or tent shape. The Scott company was not prepared for the widespread acceptance of their product-

I once went swimming in my paper dress- or should I say, I went swimming in my paper dress--ONCE.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The 1950's—When Coffee Was "Coffee-er"

(Original artwork-all rights reserved)

...she's guilty. I didn't have a chance!

It's 8 am and I just watched half of my six brothers get on the school bus at the end of our driveway.
There she sits, sipping her coffee looking at her Family Circle magazine.

"Can I have a sip?" "OK, but just one..."

She lifts me up onto her lap and puts the teaspoon to my mouth. To this day I can remember how great it tasted!

Now that was a great cup of coffee—I couldn't wait until I was old enough to drink a whole cup.

What was it about the coffee back then that made it coffee—er? The commercials we grew up watching sure made it appealing..
...Take this Maxwell House Commercial for example!
I'm sure growing up with a dad who considered coffee a staple in his diet made an impact on me as well—he drank it black. At that time in my life, my dad was a salesman—known during the "great do it yourself era" as Mr.Sawdust. He worked for AMF (American Machine and Foundry) demonstrating and selling their DeWalt radial armsaw in the northeast region of the country. He spent a lot of time on the road so he knew all the diners that had the best coffee.

On his return home from a week of traveling he would call my mom from the road and say, "Put on the coffee, Jeannie! I'm comin' home." He'd drive up the driveway and as soon as he walked in the door we would run to greet him. I still remember hugging him—that smell of the road—his aftershave—the excitement of his return home with all the great news. He would give us a rundown of all that had happened that week—all the sales he had made, distributors he had set up. He was excited! He would come in and sit at the big Lazy Susan table and my mom would pour his coffee.

...and it was a great cup of coffee!

Last year I bought an automatic coffeemaker at Christmas time—nice looking twelve cup, with all kinds of bells and whistles. The coffee was.....OK. But after one year of use, it died. It still sits there looking very sleek and utilitarian. The only reason it's still there is that I just can't believe it only lasted for one year. Every once in a while I try it again and conclude that it is in fact...useless.

I thought back to the very first coffee that I recall and the pot that it was perked in. Maybe that is the key—I need to find that pot! Within a week one of my sons found the pot—vintage—perfect condition.
We perked a pot of coffee...and it was a really good cup of coffee!

I remembered the coffee pot my husband and I used as newly weds—a Chemex pot, shaped like an hour glass with a wooden band around the center, secured by a leather string. The cone shaped filter was placed in the top half along with the coffee. After pouring the boiling water through the filter we sat and waited...and waited... several minutes for the coffee to drip down into the bottom half.
But that was OK. We were so starry eyed in love, we didn't mind waiting. was a great cup of coffee!
(...Baby Boomers always did like "show and tell"–here it is!)
Maybe that first sip of coffee on my mother's lap was not in fact the best coffee around, though I remember it that way. Perhaps it was just that moment in time when mothers were not rushed, so children were not rushed. Most mothers stayed home and we all benefited greatly by their presence in our lives. We had time; time to be kids, to explore— time to imagine, time to create.
Maybe it wasn't the coffee after all.

During my dad's final years, living with his failing eyesight and other diabetes related health problems, he spent his days and nights on his computer, engrossed in his writing and genealogy research. He enjoyed it—but maybe it was a distraction from the reality of his decline.
He drank coffee, morning, evening it didn't matter; refilling and reheating in the microwave, over and over again, until it took on the likeness of 3-in-1 oil.
Not just coffee, instant coffee—if you can believe that!
Now this was a man who knew what a good cup of coffee was. I always wondered how he could tolerate it. Maybe I'm beginning to understand.

This morning my husband drove me to Milford PA, a quaint old town situated along the Delaware. I had an appointment with a surgeon, a follow up after some surgery a week ago. It was an operation I had been dreading for over a year, yet it was now all behind me. It went far better than anticipated, which I attribute 100% to finding the right surgeon. I was informed that all reports came back fine.

I had not been able to eat much for the entire week so the suggestion of a breakfast out sounded very appealing. We pulled off the road at an old mill turned restaurant situated along the Sawkill Creek, The Waterwheel Cafe & Bakery, known for its great food and historic atmosphere. It's one of those simple but charming turn of the century buildings, with bare hardwood floors, stone walls and exposed beams—several old glass display cases, one filled with great looking pastries.

As we sat at a small wooden table by the window, watching the snow falling outside through the old glass window panes, I realized my future plans and ideas were returning to me. What a great feeling!

The waitress poured our coffee and as I took a sip looking across the table at my husband—the same one I drank that Chemex coffee with thirty five years ago—there's was only one thing I could say— that's a great cup of coffee!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Christmas Eve 1956

Christmas Eve as a child in the 50's was always an exciting night—wondering what we would find under the tree in the morning. Would we awake to a white Christmas? That was always very important to me.
This memory—Christmas 1956—is a special one to me.

O come all ye faithful. Joyful and triumphant, O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem.....My eyes were drawn to six stockings hung beneath the mantle and quickly matched each glittered name with a brother singing his very loudest, carols reserved especially for this night. As we encircled the piano, Dad played with purpose, "This is the real meaning of Christmas, " each resounding chord reminded us. Tomorrow at the first glimmer of dawn we would find each stocking overflowing...just as my young heart felt at this moment; my brothers, Dad and Mom, Christmas eve...what more could a five year old girl want? I glanced out the window behind the piano into the night so still. Snow was falling silently, draping our familiar world in soft flannel...It would be a white Christmas for sure!A muffled voice broke through the darkness, as a stranger lost in the storm, desperate for someone to hear. Faintly it came. The playing stopped as we stood motionless, hoping to hear it once again.
"It's a BOY! We have a BOY!"

Dad threw open the window and a gust of chilly winter air swept in the joyous news. Little Nanny Lucy leaned out our neighbor's window, waving her arms ecstatically, heralding the birth of her great grandson. Jimmy John would be a welcome addition to the family of three daughters! Waiting hot chocolate topped off the excitement before heading up to bed.As I lay awake gazing out at the full winter moon I pondered the words we had sung.... "Joy to the world...The Lord is come...Let earth receive her King..."An only son had been born tonight, bringing joy which could not be contained. They wanted to share it with the world...Kind-of like the angels so long ago. God's only son, born on a night such as this...Yet more than just a babe he was...
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace

I thought back a year remembering my oldest brother pointing out the silhouette of Santa's reindeer crossing in front of the moon out my window. I was sure I saw it too! How could I sleep? But this year was different.I closed my eyes and slept so peacefully...
I was not looking for reindeer..
....for I had heard the angels sing!

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Christmas morning I was thrilled to receive the most beautiful doll I had ever seen.
I was always told she was a large Madame Alexander Doll-but I'm not sure that is what she actually was. I'd love to know!
Update: In August 2011, I received a pleasant surprise. One of my brothers, with the help of a friend found a doll like the one I remember after months of searching. It was like being reunited with an old friend!