Tempura mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis. The times are changing, and we with the times.
Back in the Day
Published on August 18, 2010 By dougplotke In Life Journals

Back in the Day


Feather Tics, The Lone Ranger, Chores and

“The Saturday Night Fights”


     I awoke with sleep in my eyes.  The sun was coming through the skylight [1] which was covered with white snow.  My brother, Daryl, was still asleep in our bed.  It wasn’t ‘til next week that we would each have our own bed and room.  I pushed away the warm pink feather tic and headed to the bathroom.   I tip-toed past Sonny asleep in the old kitchen turned into his room.  I’d better wash-up and get dressed so I can go down for breakfast.  It’s Saturday, no school.  Mom is making pancakes.[2]  “Come on, time to wake up Derry, get your thumb out of your mouth, and don’t wake up Sonny.”[3] 


I wondered how deep the snow was and if the snow shovel was upstairs with us.       The back porch was cold and the windows were frosted up.  The door was almost glued shut from the wind blowing the snow against it.  Great, the shovel was here and I began to make my way down the steep flight of stairs one by one; shoveling over the railing 15 feet to the ground already covered in 3 feet of snow.  This is a heavy snow.  Derry finally came and helped by shoveling the walk to the side door.


I kept thinking about last night’s Lone Ranger show[4], the music was still ringing in my ears.  Today Dad is bringing home a TV.  Our own TV.  Just about everyone has one, some people even have a big magnifying glass that’s tinted in front of the screen and makes the picture look like Technicolor.  I wonder if we’ll have one too?  We’ll miss Gangbusters on the radio tonight, but I think Red Skelton is on the TV, it’s funny.  I’ll finally get to watch Howdy Dowdy in my house instead of Jimmy’s after school.  I hope Dad doesn’t want to watch boxing.  I hate boxing.  I wonder how big the screen is?  Now I smell pancakes! 


After eating, it’s time to clean up.  Today I’m washing the floor and taking out the garbage.[5]  Der is to do dishes, dry and put away; clean the table and stove.  Then it’s free-time and we can go out.  But Mom wants us to go to Grandma’s and go to the store for her because of the snow. 


We took our sled and started out.  The snow is deep.  We walked down the street which was slick and icey from the cars.  Not too much traffic today.  We would take turns pulling each other on the sled.  We got as far as the school on St. Louis, Stowe School, where we went, and where Tommy lived across the street.  We called him.  This was easy back then.  All of our friends in school did it by standing in the alley and calling out, “Ohhh Tomm”  “Ohhh Tommie” over and over as loud as you could. 


He came out and we told him where we were going.  He wanted to borrow the sled because he was going sledding at Bunker Hill in Humboldt Park.  We gave it to him and went on.   We walked and walked.[6]  It seemed that no one shoveled.  We got to California Avenue and found out the street cars[7] weren’t running.  This was unusual.  It had started to snow again.  I had to pee.  Better hurry or there’ll be some yellow snow.


The stores on California were open, because the owners usually lived upstairs.  Grandma’s was just down the street and her stairs were covered with snow too.  Ours were the first tracks through the pristine snow.  When we rang her doorbell she looked out the window holding her cat and opened the door.


I ran to the bathroom.[8]  What a relief.

She had made my favorite, Rice Krispie Treats; they were still warm in the box.  We played with the cat, Fluffy, a Persian that she had found on her doorstep.  Gram said she needed us to pick up a package of meat she had ordered from the butcher on Armitage.  We hadn’t been to this store before so she gave us directions.  We didn’t have to worry about the street cars yet; they still weren’t running.


The butcher’s store window was shiny clean and clear even with all the messy snow.  Inside the floor was covered with thick sawdust and the cases had cuts of meat with price tags on each one.  There was this smell of fresh meat.  The sawdust stuck to our wet boots.  We got the package and plodded back to Grams.  She was listening to Arthur Godfrey.  Uncle Louie[9] was sitting in his rocking chair smoking a Camel cigarette that he had just rolled from a cloth pull string pouch of tobacco.[10]  Now that he was up, we had to really behave. 


We headed home.  Gram had given us a tip; 25 cents each and we planned to stop at the candy store[11] by school on the way.  Uncle Louie had given us each a pack of Dentyne gum.  I like Dentyne’s flavor, but the sticks of gum are so small you need several to chew.


My bag of candy was wet from the snow.  The jawbreakers inside had transferred their red and black colors to the inside of the bag. We were both soaked thru, but home at last.  We stood in front of the blasting space heater[12] in our underwear, our clothes on top on the wood clothes dryer.  Dad would be home soon.


After dinner and dishes I joined Mom and Der with Dad and Uncle Gene[13] who were hooking up the TV.  We had a new ariel.  They were aluminum rods coming out of a plastic weighted base: rabbit ears.  The screen was kind of small, round and maybe 12 inches in diameter, and no picture yet.


Dad and Gene were checking tubes to see what was wrong.  Carl had a bag full of vacuum tubes  and we went with him to the drug store on North Avenue[14] to test them.   You would look up the number of the tube on a chart and then put it in the right test slot.  The needle would tell you if the tube was good or needed to be replaced.  We found the bad one.  It cost a lot.


The TV was fixed and we all watched the “Saturday Night Fights”… Mom said Uncle Gene was a guest so Red Skelton would have to wait.  At least the TV picture didn’t have any snow, and we did finally have a TV like other kids.  We had pizza[15] and went up to bed.  It was a snowy Saturday.





[1] We lived in a storefront building.  It had two floors.  We slept upstairs.  The window sky lights could not open easily.  There was only one sky light and it was in “our” room.

[2] Mom only cooked breakfast on weekends; usually Sunday only.  The rest of the week we had cereal mainly Cherrios.

[3] Brother Carl’s nickname was Sonny.  He was 6 years older than Daryl and me.  We lived in separate worlds.

[4] This was our favorite show followed by Gangbusters and The Green Hornet.

[5] We all had chores.  We would get an allowance for doing them.  It would be anywhere from 25 cents to $1.25 depending on your age.

[6] We never thought of taking pubic transportation.  If we were given carfare we would keep it for spending money and walk.

[7] Most other routes had changed to buses.  California and Western Avenues were the last streetcar routes.  The streetcars were considered a hazard to pedestrians and automobiles because they took a long time to stop.

[8] Gram’s apartment was “old fashioned” she had a pull chain overhead tank type toilet.  A coal burning stove for heating and a gas cooking stove one step above cast iron.  I’ll never forget the Westminster Chime clocks that would go off constantly.

[9] He was a Doughboy in WWI; a very quiet man.  I never knew his relationship to us; only that he lived with Gram for many years.  He loved working with wood.  As far as I know he worked fine finishing wooden caskets.  You know the really highly polished ones.

[10] He would give us the empty pouches which we would use mainly for our marbles.

[11] This store was called Mom’s and Pop’s.  It was a neighborhood fixture and sold penny candy that they had bought in bulk.  As we got older we found out they even sold hot dogs for lunch.

[12] Previous to gas space heaters we had a coal burning cast iron pot belly stove.  Many was the time when we would go down the block to Bloomingdale Avenue and pickup coal that had fallen off the rail cars that rolled above on the street viaduct.

[13] He was a big strong laborer and hard of hearing so he would always talk like he was shouting.  It was scary, but he was a kitten.  He was dad’s (stepdad’s) brother.

[14] One block away.  I would run there each night to pickup the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times (for the next morning).  If I was at a Boy Scout meeting I would pickup the papers someplace else and bring them home by curfew at 10:30.

[15] This was a treat and rather rare.

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