When I think about the past, I get a warm feeling. Wistfully, I fondly remember things of the past . . . old photographs, a typewriter, my grandmother’ quilts, my father’s train set from the 1920s. Sometimes the scene is recreated for us, such as an old general hardware store or train station. There’s something quaint in those scenes that’s missing today. Despite all of our technology and modern gadgets, objects from yesteryear carry with them the skill and creativity that is still valued. The objects are embedded with memories. We never know what will stay with us and what will be gone some day.
Archive for the ‘Nostalgic Memorabilia’ Category
I’m expanding the “photo” challenge by posting a video. While visiting Zaragoza, Spain, a Renaissance Fair was well underway with colorful tents filling the square and the smells of cheese, incense, burning wood, and olives intertwined on whiffs of air. Crowds poured over the Roman bridge, as it seemed the entire population of Zaragoza showed up to visit the varied venders who came to sell their wares. Musicians played drums and a bagpipe troop snaked their way through the crowd. I wandered past the booths displaying pottery, jewelry and clothing as people cued up to get a photograph with a raptor or a snake charmer.
A vintage merry-go-round, cranked by hand by the operator, caught my attention. I watched the children enjoy the quintessential steampunk ride, with airships, balloons and other flying contraptions. A rare sight, indeed.
Recording family history has expanded my perceptions of time, how families lived out their days in cycles of births, marriages, and passings. Sometimes I cannot tell whether I am in their time or my own as these dimensions seem to meld together.
Video shows the passage of time for a little farm-house that belonged to my great-grandparents. First photograph was taken a hundred years ago and the second when I returned to find the house along a back road on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
This week’s challenge is to find beauty or interest where we might least expect it.
In walking through the neighborhood of Mt. Airy, I stumbled on the Philadelphia Salvage Company. Suitcases and trunks piled on an old railroad cart, and metal cans spilled over the sidewalk. I didn’t linger too long outside in the cold. On entering the building, I noticed a cast iron stove, pumping warm air through the building, and I warmed my hands as a looked around, mesmerized by the array of architectural salvage, from stained glass, plumbing and electrical fixtures, antique doors and windows.
A well-worn tea kettle bubbled boiling water as steam spewed from its spout.
Working-class suburban children had more toys than kids from any previous era, although we had nothing to compare what life was like for children who grew up during other times or places. We didn’t know how lucky we were! Economic prosperity followed World War II, and parents had some expendable income and prices were relatively low. Parents expected us to share our swing set, wading pool and sandbox with our neighborhood friends. While we had many toys, they did not waste away in a mountain of plastic. We played with each toy, and parents were generally careful about buying too much. Toys fell to pieces from wear. Kids had time to play, as we didn’t have many chores, and mom was home to take care of the house, for most of us. In our family, our parents impressed on us to take care of our things, and if we didn’t, that demonstrated we would not be not entitled to any more. Santa delivered many of our toys on Christmas morning. My mother told me that when I was three, I exclaimed that I heard Santa’s sleigh bells, which kept me believing in the jolly old elf for years.
Backyard Swing Set
The 1950s brought in the era of reasonably priced, if not terribly safe or functional, swing sets. Some sets offered options, such as rings, gliders, ladders or a slide, which would get burning hot in the summer. Fathers plunked the sets down in the middle of the yard on the hard earth without sand or wood chips. When swinging more than slowly back and forth, the entire set would fly up in the air. My dad added boards to the bottom to stabilize the set. Nevertheless, the swings became a place to hang out, if nothing else, passing the odd moments between other activities. Milling around the swings, we would start a game of tag, freeze tag or hide ‘n seek, hop scotch or jump rope. On summer nights, we’d find glass jars and collect lightning bugs.
Suburban sidewalks and patios provided the perfect platforms for the metal roller skates with the leather straps. A key locked the skates to our shoes, and off we’d go around the neighborhood. In the winter, we signed up for ice skating lessons at the local rink, earning different color buttons as we moved up through the various skill levels. There was always a program at the end of the season to show off our talents, and the best part was wearing a fancy costume. We skated on creeks and ponds and at the tennis courts, which the township fire trucks would hose down to create smooth surface.
Trikes, Bikes and Scooters
Most, but not all, children in our neighborhood owned a two-wheeler. The popular Schwinn was equipped with foot brakes and large tires. A durable bike, it was difficult to peddle on steep hills. Some rode their bikes to school. Later, we graduated to the English bikes with gears and hand breaks. Because of the ease of peddling, we ventured further out of our neighborhood to explore local towns. Our municipality required bike licences, and we would ride up to the township building to go though the testing, which usually consisted of riding in a circle and straight line.
Baby Dolls: Our cuddly baby dolls, made of vinyl soft plastic became our first favorite doll. Some had rooted hair that we could brush and some could be fed with a bottle and wet a diaper. Our layettes included blankets, pajamas, booties, and assorted outfits. We had cribs and baby carriages for taking our babies out for a ride in the neighborhood. Every night we would put the dolls to bed in their little cribs. I played with my Shirley Temple baby doll so much, she eventually disintegrated.
Walker Dolls: As we grew older, we graduated to a walker doll, usually about 14 inches tall, their legs and head would move together. These dolls were porcelain with mohair wigs and eyes would open and shut. Some of these dolls came in bride outfits. My friend, Joan, had the Ideal Toni doll, associated with the Toni cosmetic company, and came with her own permanent wave kit. I believe my doll was an American Character Sweet Sue. Joan and I had many of the same outfits for our dolls. We usually kept their clothes in small suitcases so that we could carry doll and outfits over to our friends’ houses. My the time my parents purchased a walker doll for my younger sister, the popular Shirley Temple, they were mostly made of plastic with rooted hair.
Madame Alexander and Ginny Dolls: These were the eight-inch little girl dolls, and we collected dozens of outfits for them and had at least two dolls. The accessories were endless: slips, shoes, socks, handbags, hats and headbands. The clothes were detailed and well-made. Our moms helped us create beds out of cigar boxes, using clothes pins as legs. Mom made little blankets, sheets and pillows. We could also buy furniture, including patio and bedroom sets. In the picture below is the cardboard suitcase that Ginny carried back then. The price was still marked on the box: $1, for a nightgown, slippers, robe and towel.
High Heal Fashion Dolls: In the late 1950s, the 8-inch high heel, or grown-up doll, became popular. This doll was the precursor to Barbie. The dolls were proportional but designed to wear high heels. We could buy a variety of outfits and accessories including nylon hose, simulated pearl necklaces and earrings, and fancy undergarments. The Revlon Fashion doll was the most common, but one manufacture created a doll after a local Philadelphia television celebrity, Sally Starr, hostess for Popeye Theatre, which ran from 1955 into the early seventies. Like Sally, the doll was dressed in a cow girl outfit with hat, boots, gun and holster.
We had two metal doll houses, which came with moulded plastic furniture for every room. The miniature pieces, brightly colored, represented detailing of wood, bed linens and upholstery. In the photograph above, a colonial house, made by Marx toys, resembled our two-story home. My sister and I spent hours rearranging the furniture, trying to decide the aesthetic placement of all the little pieces. We would make up stories using the plastic characters that came with the set.
Most kids had the American Flyer sled, made of wood with metal sliders. Our neighborhood had a great hill for sledding so at the first snowfall, we’d be out on the hill before the cars and snow plow removed the snow. Later, we used the aluminum twirling sleds, the circular disks that would twirl down the hill.
Boys had several different toys than their sisters. Boys would run around the neighborhood playing cowboys, donning hats, holsters and fringed shirts; in several blog posts I write about how television, especially the Westerns, influenced play back then. Erector Sets, a collection of metal pieces, including wheels and gears and an electric motor, could be put together with nuts and bolts to build any number of mechanical contraptions. Interestingly, girls did play with Lincoln Logs. Why were girls given Lincoln Logs and not Erector Sets? Maybe tool use was considered too masculine for girls. Boys also had model train sets, usually set up around Christmas and placed around the tree. Some boys had train layouts in their basements. During the holidays, my father would set up his train set from the 1920s for his daughters. I liked the train but was more interested in arranging the houses to make a holiday scene.
All the Others . . .
We had more playthings in our toy chests: tinker toys, hula hoops, paddle balls, balsam wood gliders, slinky, view master, jump ropes, paper dolls, crayons and chalk. We spent many hours playing games with our friends: Old Maid, Canasta, Clue, Checkers and Chinese Checkers, to name a few.
We had a wonderful time with the variety of toys available to us and developed friendships that formed around the games and toys. If you have written a blog post about toys in the 1950s, please include a link in the comments.
On a warm morning in September, I returned to Red Clay Creek in Delaware to photograph the woodland scenes and Wilmington & Western steam train that provided the backdrop for the skirmish. Photographer for Philadelphia Weekly, J. R. Blackwell, and I met up with General John Houck and the other reenactors portraying both the Union and Confederate forces. J. R.’s photographs feature stunning portraits of the soldiers and camp folk.
My great-great grandfather fought for the Union (wounded 3 times) as he was an abolitionist, and yet this song moves me so much, it almost makes me feel sorry for Southerners. And I mean no irony in that last sentence. As my Uncle Bill, a combat infantryman in WWII said, “Rich old men start wars and send poor young men off to die in them.” Pretty much the case for almost every war.
This next video came out of an experiment where I interviewed reenactors to set up a storyline for the video, as I wanted to try a different approach by expanding on the music videos I had made last year at Red Clay Creek and Rising Sun. When asking folks why they became involved with reenacting, many Confederate and Union soldiers felt strong connections to their ancestors who fought in the Civil War. I understand that relationship as I have an affinity with those who came before me and have written about their lives on this blog. The end of the Civil War meant that those who had lost their connections to family and culture through slavery could now begin to establish their heritage.
9th Virginia Cavalry, Company B
37th Regiment, North Carolina Troops, Company A
1st Regiment, North Carolina Artillery, Battery C
Robert Archer Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans
2nd Texas Cavalry, Company A
5th Virginia Cavalry, Company A
1st Maryland Infantry, Company I
Special thanks to John Houck.
My father, John Kerr Malinoski, painted his childhood growing up in Royal Oak as idyllic and at a time in the history of the United States, when one working class family, with humble roots, enjoyed some basic comforts as compared with the lives of their parents, who were homesteaders on a farm in Upper Michigan and worked in the lumber mills. My father was the first in his family to graduate from college.
Family Moves to Royal Oak
After eight years of marriage to my grandfather, George H. Malinoski, my grandmother, Mae Kerr, gave birth to twins on June 23, 1918 at Women’s Hospital in Detroit. My father’s sister did not survive. Accord to his baby book, Dad weighed only 3 pounds 10 ounces. 1918 was not a particularly good year to be born as the flu pandemic was sweeping across the United States and Europe with mortality running between 3 to 6%.
The family moved from Detroit to 412 Rhode Island Avenue. The population of Royal Oak was about 6,000 and growing, mostly because of the auto industry’s need for labor to work on the assembly lines. George, who had worked on his parent’s farm and then in the lumber mills, found employment at the Chrysler Plant and continued to work there until his retirement in the 1950s. My father told me his Dad was never laid off; during the Depression, George still worked part-time.
Mae was a homemaker, spending time quilting and embroidering; some of her work can be viewed on these posts, Appreciating the Needlework of our Grandmothers: Rethinking Four Issues and Part II.
An ice box stood on the back porch, and they would get a regular delivery of ice. They had deliveries from many other tradesmen, including butchers and milkmen. My father told me that the milkman’s horse would know where to stop for each house. In the summer, he and his cousins would sleep on the front porch. The family never locked their doors. When friends would stop in (in those days no one had announce they were coming over ahead of time), they would put on a pot of coffee. In winter, they had to shovel coal into the furnace in the basement.
My grandparents passed along six photo albums from this time so taking pictures was very important to them. Most of the photographs were taken with this Eastman Kodak, Pocket C, Premo, dated 1910.
The camera has an adjustable shutter and aperture. Glass frames were inserted into the back of the camera.
Furniture: High Chair and Wicker Rocker
Two pieces from my father’s childhood, high chair and rocker.
Union Elementary School
My father attended the local elementary school, where his cousin, Phoebe Kerr, was his teacher for one year.
Dad is sitting in the row on the right, second seat.
6th Grade Report Card
School Song Book
Sunday School Certificate
The News Outline
My father saved one example of this publication, which was a weekly current event lesson. Published in 1930 when Dad was in sixth grade, he must have paid the 5 cents to buy the “attractive cover.” Some of the titles in the publication include, Mexico’s New President, Pam-American Highway, Byrd Antarctic Expedition Returns and London Navel Conference.
Analyzing the article about Haiti provides some insight about the lessons children received about history, with a considerable amount of white-washing, no pun intended, of the facts. The opening statement is most telling:
Have you ever heard of a country in which almost all of the people are black, the officers of the government are black, and the army is made up of Negros?
The text raises the question: how did the Negros, who were not natives of America, come to control Haiti? The answer: “Negros were brought over from Africa to work on the great plantations of sugar cane.” From this description, students are given the impression that those wonderful plantations offered employment opportunities. No place in the article do the authors mention how the Africans were enslaved and then rebelled against their cruel oppressors. The article continues: “Their numbers multiplied greatly, but the Indians almost disappeared.” It is as if the Blacks were responsible for the Indian demise, when in actuality, diseases, especially smallpox, decimated their numbers. Columbus’s intent was to take wealth where ever he found it by any means. The Spanish forced the Indians to pay tribute: supplying rulers with “a hawks bell of gold” or 25 pounds of spun cotton every three months, and they would cut off their hands if they did not comply. The Spanish worked the Indians unmercifully as they labored in the fields and mines.
Book of Knowledge
The Book of Knowledge was a children’s set of Encyclopedias, first published by Grolier Publishing in 1890 and ended in 1963. My father’s set was published in 1926. These books were well illustrated with both black and white photographs and colored plates. The books have strong sections on poetry, literature and paintings.
The page above shows child workers in the tea plantations. After all these years, child labor is still with us today.
The Volume Library
Another book from my Dad’s collection, The Volume Library, was written for educators and published by the Educators Association. The text, which has many black and white illustrations, has some colored plates. The Volume Library covers a variety of subjects, including literature, history, geography, biography math, science, government and fine arts. A page from the text shows a “sample summer diet for children 7 to 12 years.” If that’s what children ate back then, seems like they benefited from nutritious food, especially with the emphasis on vegetables. Desserts consisted of ginger cookies, baked apple or custard.
In paging through the book, I found this poem by Jonathan Swift:
So, naturalists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bit ’em;
And so proceed ad infinitum.
Thus every poet, in his kind,
Is bit by him that comes behind.
The family gave each greeting cards and must have felt very sentimental about them because they saved over 50. They exchanged cards for Valentine’s Day, Easter, graduation, Christmas, Mother’s Day and anniversaries.
Sleigh, sans Santa
The story goes that my father sent Santa on a parachute ride. Santa did not arrive safely, but the sleigh was passed down, remaining a centerpiece of our family holiday decorations. Because my father became an electronic engineer (story is at this link), it is not surprising that he conducted a few science experiments as a child.
Lionel Model Train
One Christmas, Dad’s parents purchased a model train set for him. Known as Standard Gauge or Wide Gauge, the train ran on a three-rail track about two inches wide. The train was one of the models produced by the Lionel Corporation, a major manufacturer of toy trains. Throughout the 1920s Lionel manufactured several sets of authentic locomotives and train cars with careful attention to detail, including some models with brass and nickel trim.
Buddy “L” toys were produced by the Moline Pressed Steel Company, started in 1910 by Fred A. Lundahl, who designed and produced the all-steel miniature truck Buddy L. The company also manufactured toy cars, fire engines, and construction equipment. When we were children, we used to straddle the truck, riding down our asphalt driveway, so the next generation also enjoyed the toy.
Royal Oak High School
Senior Year Book 1936
Throughout his life, Dad sang the melodies popular during his childhood. “Always”, written by Irving Berlin in 1925, was one of his favorites. My mother played the piano, and she and Dad would reminisce and sing “their song.”
Dad loved to sing The Whiffenpoof Song. There’s something very compelling about poor little lambs that have lost their way. Published in 1909, the song became a hit for Rudy Valle in 1927. The Whiffenpoofs are a cappella group from Yale.
Rudyard Kipling wrote the words, published in his poem, “Gentlemen Rankers” in 1892.
We’re poor little lambs who’ve lost our way,
Baa! Baa! Baa!
We’re little black sheep who’ve gone astray,
Gentlemen-rankers out on the spree,
Damned from here to Eternity,
God ha mercy on such as we,
Baa! Yah! Bah!
“Shine on, Harvest Moon” was one of a series of moon-related Tin Pan Alley songs from the 1900s. The song became a standard in popular music throughout the 20th century.
“I”ve Been Working on the Railroad,” “Inka Dinka Doo,” “Git along Little Dogies,” “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” and “Cool Water” were other favorites.
Dad proudly displays his first car, which he used to commute to Lawrence Institute of Technology, in Southfield, Michigan, about a ten-minute drive from his home. Before Dad had the car, he would hitchhike every day to college and never once had a bad experience. He graduated with honors in 1941 with a degree in electrical engineering. He moved to Philadelphia to work for the Philco Corporation; during the war, was part of a team developing radar systems. His mother passed away in 1936, and several years later his Dad remarried and retired to Florida.
So ends this story of one family from Royal Oak, their history preserved in the few items they saved and passed down, their photo albums and the stories they told, leaving a legacy to their grandchildren. As my father described his life back in the 1920s, their lives were generally happy, that they some freedom from economic toil, had time for camping and gathering with friends in a town that offered a sweet place to grow up.
Sixth Grade Mayhem
When I was in sixth grade, some of the boys in my class were mean, rough and nasty. One of our former teachers said of our class that they were the worst she had ever taught. The boys were disruptive and opportunistic, seeming to find ways to cause trouble without getting caught. The boys cursed at one another and at the girls. Giving the finger was part of their repertoire but well-hidden from teacher’s eyes.
In past years, I had been injured during rough-housing. In third grade, a boy pushed me off a wall, and I chipped my tooth. A year later, I almost lost my eye when boys were taunting us by lifting our dresses up. I bent down to push my dress down and my head went into a pencil in the boy’s pocket. My Mother always warned me to just stay away from them, which was the strategy I tried to practice through grade school.
Our sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Boyer, was a great teacher and a sweet person. She seemed to manage the class, often by telling stories of her life or reading to us. She would say, “I’m not sure we have time for Winnie the Pooh today.” The class would immediately go into begging mode, “Please read Winnie the Pooh.” As I looked around the room, I would see even the most hardened boy pleading for a story about the bear. During story time, the class would settle and the students would fold their arms on their desks, listening intently. I remember asking myself how could a story quiet such restless anger.
When Mrs. Boyer read the stories, I could easily visulize the Hundred Acre Wood, and we’d look at the map on the inside cover of the book as if it were a geography lesson. Pooh was the most endearing character, almost the alter ego of the classroom boys. Pooh was never mean-spirited, and he was always kind to his woodland friends.
“We’ll be friends forever, won’t we, Pooh? asked Piglet. “Even longer,” Pooh answered.
Although the bear supposedly was of “very little brain,” Pooh was hopeful and comforting.
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there someday.”
“Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would, I’d never leave.”
Of course, school is a place where your self worth is constantly on the line with test taking. In contrast to the academic demands of school, Pooh offers an alternate view of cleverness:
“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”
Good-bye to Elementary School
The next year our elementary school class went off to a large junior high school, and I had little contact with the boys in my class after that. In general I don’t remember that the classroom dynamic in junior high being as hostile as it was back in elementary school. Maybe the boys matured or began concentrating on the grind toward college. I wondered whether in transitioning into junior high, Winnie the Pooh offered emotional support that eventually altered world views, even if slightly.