Readers share their memories

#447 in a series of true experiences in real estate
January 2004, Hills Newspapers

A few weeks ago I wrote about the olden days, things true in my parents’, grandparents’ and my lives. I mentioned cream separators and crank telephones, TV test patterns and skate keys, and readers responded. They wrote back to me with memories of their own.

Sherry Reinhardt, who’s about my age, wrote that she and her partner remember taking doses of cod liver oil. I’d called it castor oil in the column, but I think Sherry’s right. It was cod liver oil, and awful. But Walter Vansandt, who is in his eighties and who wrote pages of memories to me, says he definitely remembers castor oil. “I took it between 2 layers of orange juice,” he writes, and “I could not drink orange juice for years after that.”

Sherry also remembers S & H Green Stamps “and those curly pages that got thick when I used too much water to stick the stamps on.” She says it took piles of books to get something small at the redemption store. Her family saved up for a red Scotch Cooler which they used for years at the beach.

A horse and buggy took Walter to school in a one-room schoolhouse near the ranch where he and his family lived in Amador County. He started first grade in 1924. There was no gas or electricity at home or at school so they used coal oil lamps for light, burned wood for heat, and water came from a well. At home there was a well 180 feet deep with a stationary 3 h.p. gasoline Hercules engine that ran the pump.

“We stored the water in a 3,000 gallon tank house up a slight hill by our barn. My job was to keep the oil cup on the engine full and adjust the drip rate, also to move the drive belt from drive pulley to idle pulley.”

Aren’t memories amazing? Look at all the detail Walter remembers so well. He’s talking about a time 75 plus years ago and he still recalls all the particulars. He even mentioned that his father bought gasoline for the pump in 100 gallon lots at 13 cents a gallon.

Sherry, also her friend Regina, remember their mothers grinding meat in a metal grinder attached to the kitchen counter. Both of them recall that wearing pants to grade school was not ok. Sherry did wear pants for ice skating on ponds in New York, but Regina, who grew up in Wisconsin, says that girls wore pants under their dresses in cold weather, then removed them in the cloak room before class began. She once forgot to put a skirt over her pants and was mortified to be so ill dressed that day at school.

Several readers had telephone memories to share. Joy Service recalls having a 2-party line. Sometimes the neighbor would forget to hang up the receiver and Joy would be sent over to ask him to hang up “so we could make a call.”

At Walter’s house, they had a crank telephone, “but dad removed it. Too much fighting with male phone operators.” Yet he recalls that in the 1930s, his aunt and uncle had a phone that you called in and the operator said, “Number please.” She gave you a connect and you said, “Thank you.”

Joy remembers sending in Ovaltine seals and a little money for premiums. She still has a complete set of Radio Orphan Annie Club decoder pins she got that way.

And Joy remembers the Red Cross boxes sent to children overseas during the war. At my own school in Oakland, we were given a list of items to donate. I recall Hershey bars, socks, combs and school supplies on the list. But Joy says that at Cragmont School in Berkeley, where her mother was a teacher, money was collected, then she and her mom went shopping for crayons, erasers and pencil sharpeners to pack in the boxes.

Joy is just a little older than I so she remembers black-out curtains during the war, closed when air raid sirens went off. And sugar, meat, shoe and gas rationing. It took her until she was 17, she explains, to get her driver’s license because they didn’t have gas to use for practice driving.

I asked in my column if anyone remembered asking the butcher for a free soup bone. Walter’s answer is my favorite: “No, but the store gave free Christmas trees.”

And to my question about waiting an hour after eating to go swimming, Walter answers, “Yes, my mother said we would get cramps and sink.”

No one said that they had built a crystal radio set, but Art Still remembers listening to Saturday morning kid radio shows, soaps when he was home sick from school and Sunday afternoon radio adventures – Sky King, Green Hornet, Jack Armstrong and others. I wrote back to Art that my favorite radio shows were “Let’s Pretend” which I listened to lying in bed early on Saturday mornings and “Dr. Christian”, and that, at my grandmother’s house, we always listened to “Queen for a Day.”

Miscellaneous memories from my readers and from me:

Buying 45 rpm records, “singles” we called them, after spending an hour or more playing them in a booth at Capwell’s department store in downtown Oakland.

Scrubbing the nap on white buck shoes with a wet toothbrush, then touching them up by patting with precipitated chalk from a “Bunny Bag” when they got smudged.

Milk delivered in glass bottles. Seltzer in the silver canister delivered to home by truck. The ice man coming in the back door with a heavy block of ice slung over his shoulder, opening the ice box and shoving it inside. Emptying the drip pan that caught the ice run-off.

The date stamper pencil the librarian used, purple indelible lead pencil on the opposite end. Little Golden Books for 25 cents. Car running boards and mohair upholstery in cars. (No seat belts.) Scary Saturday matinee movie serials. Sunday School nickel offering tied in the corner of a hanky.

Dime stores with wooden floors, merchandise neatly separated with glass dividers. Moms at home, dads at work. Mom yelling, “Dinner.” Chocolate phosphates at the soda fountain.

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