Fun Times Back Then

Growing up in a small town in the thirties and forties was a much simpler life than any of you or I ever experienced. Another postcard to Grandma asked what she did for fun as a child—her memories of games, entertainment, and thoughts about radio shows they listened to as a family. During the early years, there was no television—only shows on the radio.

Sorry to be late answering your cards and questions. The “what did you do for fun” question was: outside games such as hide and seek, tag, kick-the-can, and swimming in the park. Also, sleigh riding when there was a good snow. We went from the top of Liberty Street, crossed Boonton Avenue (there was someone watching for the occasional cars), and then went all the way to the post office. (Back then, girls, the post office was on William Street.)

Every once in a while we would go to the movies if we could rustle up 15 cents. A couple of Grandma’s brothers (her uncles) were generous. My father’s brothers would give us some change. We’d do good at Christmas when they would come for a visit.

I think when I was about ten or so, we got a ten-inch television. A store in town would let you “have it,” and if you liked it, you could pay it off—like $10 a month forever! Our living room would be like The State Theatre.

Milton Berle was a biggie and Ed Sullivan, too. (Girls, they were both variety shows beginning in 1948.) Saturday mornings were good for kids’ cartoons. I especially liked one called “Let’s Pretend.” They would act out fairy tales. My father would “listen” to a ball game weekends and fall asleep and we’d keep lowering the volume until we could shut it off. I don’t know if he caught on. (Sounds like Dad, right?)

This is all for now. My brain is fried.

               Love you.


Grandma-Grade 6- 1939 Family Gets a Tv
Grandma-Grade 6- 1939
                 When Family Got a TV

It was such a different world. They made their own fun–playing with their friends and family and happy with the simplicity of it all. I’m not sure if they even owned a board game, but I will ask. Back then kids played outside until dark, went to school, and came home. Crime like we see too many times today just didn’t happen. Mothers sent their kids to school, to the movies, and church and never once did they worry that their children would not come home. There is something very envious about those days.

Oldest Son; Great Responsibility

Uncle Larry was Grandma’s oldest brother—7 ½ years old when she was born. I think, like my two brothers who are 8 and 10 years younger than me, the age difference may be a reason why we were not as close to his family. It’s too bad, since his was a family of five girls.

As the oldest son, he was a big help to my grandparents during the very difficult years of the Great Depression. After finishing grammar school, he worked at a local drug store, earning $4.50 for a fifty-four hour work week. He gave my grandmother four dollars and kept the remaining fifty cents for himself. While that seems like an insignificant amount today, Uncle Larry’s earnings were the equivalent of nearly seventy dollars today and helped make ends meet.

Still, he was just a fourteen year old kid earning just 8 cents an hour. ($1.39 in 2015 dollars) Think about that when you feel you are being underpaid and underappreciated! It was a proud accomplishment that he was able to graduate high school on time despite those long hours. He worked after school until 11 pm and every other Sunday from 9 am until 11 pm. There was no time for fun.

Back then, it was common for drug stores to have soda fountains, so one of us siblings would bring him dinner, and he would make them an ice cream soda. He met Aunt Tess during freshman year in high school, and they “went steady” during those four years—according to Aunt Marian. When he returned from Europe after the end of World War II, they got married.

What I remember most about going to their house was playing school in their basement. They had actual desks from a school (maybe gotten during a renovation), and I just thought it was the best place to pretend to be a teacher. His daughter Rosemary was one of the cousins who dressed up as a nun.

Aunt Tess must have been a real drill sergeant with those girls, because their house was always so clean and orderly. I wonder how she did it.

Uncle Larry worked at his father-in-law’s liquor store down on the flats not far from the high school and across the street from the place Uncle Rich lived briefly (where Aunt Lorraine hid the candy in the washer.) We would occasionally drop by the store on our way home from summer school and he would allow us to go behind the counter. I thought this was so cool!

He died in 1997 at the age of only seventy-six, which is another reason you don’t know him. Like his oldest daughter Lois, who passed away three years earlier at the age of forty-six, he left us too soon.

Since you all live in three different states, you will have to work very hard to stay close. It is not easy when you have the distance, but it is so important. Technology helps span the miles, so please try.

Uncle Larry, Uncle Rich; Uncle Bob, Uncle Don
Uncle Larry, Uncle Rich;        Uncle Bob, Uncle Don
Aunt Tess and Uncle Larry
Aunt Tess and Uncle Larry

Grandpa: World Traveler

By the time Grandpa was twelve, he was already quite the world traveler—visiting London, and Copenhagen, and Helsinki before finally reaching Russia. This is a condensation of what most of you know, but for my grandchildren and anyone who skipped over reading the details, here is what I learned.

His family left two weeks before Christmas in 1931, leaving out of New York City on a luxurious ocean liner—the Berengaria, which was built as the replacement to the Titanic. Seven of them were on this trip, traveling third class, which was surprisingly nice by that time. (Grandpa’s older sister, Anna, left six months earlier with his Uncle Mark.)

While they could not mingle with the first class passengers, they still had a nice selection of food for their meals, with linen and flowers on the table, and separate games and entertainment for them throughout the trip.

Three of the seven day voyage across the North Atlantic were rough, and Grandpa, his brother Pete, and mother all were quite sick on the third day at sea.

They docked in Cherbourg, France on December 18 and were able to see a French fort, some seaplanes, and several other ships which had left New York at the same time as them. They arrived at their London Hotel that evening after taking a train ride from Southampton, London.

When Dad and I were in London last year, we went to Southampton, which is the port city where the Titanic had left. It took us about ninety minutes to get there and was a nice ride through the countryside. Grandpa traveled at night, so he was unable to enjoy the scenery.

They stayed at a two hundred year old hotel called the Kingsway Hotel, which is in a very nice area of London. Dad and I went there and saw that although the building still exists, it is now used as an apartment building. We went to a nearby library and were shown a photo, which looks very similar to the building in existence today.

Site of Kingsway Hotel, Borough of Camden, London
Site of Kingsway Hotel, Borough of Camden, London

Grandpa’s family stayed in London until the morning of the 23rd, and while there, they played tourist. They saw all the typical sites such as Buckingham Palace, House of Parliament, the British Museum, and Hyde Park.

They took a train to Hull, England, which is a port city in northeast London on the North Sea, where they boarded a very small Finnish steamer for the trip to Helsinki, Finland. It was a very unpleasant voyage with heavy winds and rough seas. Christmas day was spent in Copenhagen, Denmark where they were permitted to leave the boat and walk around the city.

From Copenhagen, they sailed on the Baltic Sea, experiencing gale-force winds strong enough that the dishes rolled off the tables and everyone was seasick. On December 28, they spent the night in a hotel in Finland and walked around the snowy city where they purchased some souvenirs. After another train ride, they finally arrived in Leningrad on the eve of New Year’s Eve.

I think the cruise we took several years ago through the Caribbean was a lot more pleasant, so count your blessings, even when you think life stinks!