Susan Decuir Articles
I'm a Yankee Texas
Immediately after breakfast on Saturday mornings in our home in Greece (a suburb of Rochester, New York) in the early 1950’s, my brothers, Ray, Doug, and I plopped onto the living room floor in front of our small black and white television set, just in time to watch The Roy Rogers Show and The Lone Ranger. Sometimes we dressed up in our Western outfits. Cowboy hats and all.
Even as a six-year-old, I loved Westerns. Perhaps it was the wide-open land of the West, the snow-capped mountains in the background, and the horses—like Roy Rogers talented horse, Trigger. I imagined what it would be like to be beautiful, tan-skinned Indian girl with long, silky black hair, dressed in simple leather moccasins and a homemade buckskin dress, each decorated with leather fringe and colorful beads.
Then, in 1953, due to Dad’s declining health, his doctor advised him to move to a warmer climate. Dad’s workplace, Eastman Kodak in Rochester, transferred him to the Dallas, Texas plant on Manor Way. Definitely warmer than upstate New York.
I was six and a half and missed my best friend, Gail. She and I would dress up in our cowgirl hats and boots and pretend we were real cowgirls like on TV. But soon I made new friends in our north Dallas neighborhood and, like a true Texan, I was running around barefoot on sizzling summer days, hopping like jackrabbits across the scorching sidewalks and streets like my friends did.
Here we were, in Texas. the land of cowboys, ranches, cattle, oil, and horses. Yet, the only horses we saw was the time Dad took my brothers, me, and our new neighborhood friends, Jack and Jann, to ride horses at the stables near Flag Pole Hill in the White Rock area of Dallas. Jann was a natural and took off riding like a pro, and eventually got her own horse. But I couldn’t get my horse to obey my timid commands. He kept turning around heading toward the stables.
One day Dad drove Mom and us three kids west of Dallas/Fort Worth to show us the many oil wells. Scattered all across the wide-open range called Texas—the biggest state in the U.S until Alaska became a state January 3, 1959.
For our summer vacation in 1957, Dad drove us to Brockport, New York, where I was born, and where two of Mom’s sisters and three brothers (twelve siblings total) had settled from Newfoundland after WWII, where my Army Sergeant Dad (born in Buffalo, New York) met Mom while station in St. John’s, Newfoundland during the war. Brockport was one of many port towns along the Erie Canal about 20 miles from Rochester.
Our many cousins were told that their Texas cousins were coming for a visit. Evidently, our cousins were TV Western fans too. Because, after greeting us, my brothers and I were bombarded with questions like: “Can we see your guns?” “How many horses do you have?” “Do you have cattle on your ranch.” At first, we were confused. Then we started laughing so hard it hurt. Oh, the power of the media. We still get a laugh when we think about it.
I’m still a western fan. I named my son Mark after the son of The Rifleman, because I thought he was so cute. And who doesn’t like to watch a John Wayne classic once in a while.
Happy trails to ya’ll. From a true Yankee Texan.•
I LOVE TO SWING
“Higher, Mommy,” begged my four-year-old daughter, Sarah.
I gave the swing one more big shove then hopped onto the swing beside her and pumped my legs until I was lifted high above the ground—soaring like a red-tailed hawk through the azure Texas sky—my feet reaching toward the same clouds as Sarah’s. Oh, how I cherished those fun peaceful moments with my little girl, our cheeks reddened by the Texas sun, Sarah’s golden curls and my waist-length brunette hair freely flying in every direction.
As far back as I can remember I loved to swing, and I still do.
I was six when Dad moved his family of five from Rochester, New York to Dallas, Texas during the sizzling hot summer of 1953, before homes were air-conditioned. Mom, born and raised in St. John’s, Newfoundland where the average temperature is 60 degrees, suffered in the extreme heat.
To give Mom a much-needed break from the demands of a five, six, and eight-year-old, Dad drove my two brothers and me to a public playground on weekends to—as Mom would say, “Get the ants out of your pants.”
My brothers headed for the monkey bars, see-saws, and slides. I sprinted toward the swings. A whole row of them! And I had them all to myself.
I was in my element, flying through the air—a wooden plank the only thing between me and the ground. Higher and higher I went. Reaching the perfect height, I released my hands from the chains, jumped, and giggled with delight before landing safety on the grass. If Mom had been there, well, you know. Daddies are a lot less fearful and more lenient. At least mine was. He was the biggest kid of all.
Once I had my fill of swinging, I flipped on the bars, took a few turns down the slide, and see-sawed with my brothers, Ray and Doug. Well, until they decided to act like brothers and jumped off their end of the see-saw when my end was still high up in the air—slamming me to the ground. Back to the safe swings I went.
I was in the third grade when my neighborhood friend, Jann, two doors down, got a brand-new swing set. One day after school I felt like swinging so I sashayed over to Jann’s backyard and plopped onto the swing like I owned it. When I reached the perfect height, I released my grip on the chain, jumped, and successfully landed my flight through the air stunt—when—to my chagrin, I heard a loud ripping sound. I pushed myself off the ground then froze. I was still wearing my beautiful, brand new yellow school dress with rick-rack around the bottom and along the neckline—now ripped from the waist to the hem. Panicked, I untangled my dress from the chain, gathered it together and ran home crying, certain Mom would be mad at me for doing something so stupid.
Mom was disappointed, but she was a trooper and patiently hand stitched my beautiful dress back together. I never made that mistake again.
When our first grandchild came along, my husband, Ron, hung a child-safe swing in the backyard. The first time I safely buckled seven-month-old Evan into the swing and gave it a shove, his sky-blue eyes sparkled with pure delight. As he grew older, just like his mommy, he would beg, “Higher, Nana. Higher.”
My heart filled with joy when my granddaughters, Emma and Ava, loved to swing as well.
“Lord, let them have fun, but keep them safe, just as you kept me safe while performing crazy swing stunts. Even the times I stood upright on the swing and pumped with my full body until I thought I would flip over the top. Oh my! Yes, I did that too. But, by God’s grace, I never broke a bone. •
MY CHILDHOOD JEWELRY BOX
February 2021/March 2021
When my granddaughters, Emma and Ava, come for a visit, I never know what fantastic adventures they will take me on. Like the time they asked if I had jewelry box. I said that my Mom gave me a jewelry box for Christmas when I was a little girl in the 1950s.
Eyes sparkling, they asked, “Can we see it, Nana?”
Of course, I said, “Yes.”
They followed me to the bedroom, climbed onto the bed, and watched with great expectation as I stooped down to the bottom drawer of my 1968 Sears triple-dresser and retrieved my jewelry box—the shiny blue contact paper I covered it with in the 70’s still in good condition.
“Open it, Nana,” the girls pleaded as I joined them on the bed and placed the box between them.
The ½-inch by 4-inch chocolate-stained Russell Stover candy box that Mom gave me decades ago caught their attention first.
“What’s that, Nana?”
“Well, I’m going to tell you,” I said.
Their eyes sparkled in wide-eyed wonder as I opened up the box, revealing a short strand of shiny pearls. Then I tell them the story behind the pearls that Mom told me many times.
“The pearls were part of a long strand of pearls that belonged to my mom’s mother. Sadly, I have no memories of my Grandma Rose. My Mom said that every Sunday morning her mother would sit in her rocking chair reading her Bible before leaving for church. And every Sunday she wore the long strand of shiny white pearls wound several times around her neck, looking so beautiful against her Sunday best black dress.”
Quickly, they move on to my charm bracelet and rhinestone and imitation pearl sweater guard—popular in the 60s. Of course, I had to get out one of my sweaters to demonstrate the usefulness of a sweater guard. They both tried on my rooster and rose clip on earrings that I never could wear. They pinched my earlobes, as they did theirs. To this day I don’t wear earrings. And no, I never had my ears pierced.
Ava wanted to know why I don’t wear any of the six watches she found buried in my box. I explain to her that I used to wear a watch when I was in school or at work so I could know what time it was, but now I carry a cell phone with me everywhere and it tells the time. Try explaining to a five-year-old that we didn’t always have cell phones.
My eyes teared up when we came across my dad’s cufflinks. The only personal item I have of his besides his frayed, yellowed scrapbooks. Emma and Ava had heard several of my stories about my dad. Now I had something of his to show them. Sadly, we lost Dad in 1960. I was only thirteen.
Another box, and more mystique and curiosity.
I swiped back more tears as I opened up the small, velvet box containing the delicate size four diamond engagement ring Dad gave to Mom. They were married February 26, 1944 in Brooklyn, New York. Dad met Mom in St. John’s, Newfoundland where she grew up, while he was stationed there in the army during WWII. I told the girls the Bible scripture that their great grandfather wrote on their marriage certificate. “Whither thou goest, I will go: and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” Ruth 11:16 “And Boaz took Ruth and she was his wife.” Ruth 4:13 Then, I tell them that my mom’s name was Ruth. Before she went to heaven, Emma remembered her as GG. Ava was still a baby.
We finish up our adventure by looking through and trying on my little girl bracelets, rings, pins, and necklaces when I hear, “Nana, why don’t you wear your jewelry?”
I tell them that I outgrew them, but that it was fun, like playing dress-up when I was little like them. I point to my ring finger. “I wear this gold wedding band that Pop gave me when we were married in 1979. And I always wear the delicate gold cross neckless with five tiny diamonds that Pop gave me. This is the jewelry is that’s special to me now. And they’re all I need.•
I give Emma and Ava a big hug and a kiss. And that’s all I needed then.
MY EYES WERE OPENED
December 2020/January 2021
Gardenia bushes lined the front of our modest house in North Dallas in the 50’s and 60’s. Every spring, when Mom opened up the windows on cool days to let in the fresh air, the delightful sweet scent of the creamy-white gardenia flowers perfumed our house. And when the buds on Mom’s Wisteria tree in the front yard blossomed into fragrant, delicate violet flowers, our front yard and beyond smelled heavenly.
As a young girl, I would gaze into the night sky from our front yard in the suburbs, spellbound by the enumerable sparkling lights piercing through the thick, black curtain covering the Earth at the end of each day. Sometimes my Dad would join me. I thought he was the smartest man on the Earth when he took my hand, pointed it toward the sky, and traced over the twinkling lights that he called the Big Dipper. And then the Little Dipper, The Milky Way, the North Star, and the planet Venus—all clearly visible in the North Dallas night sky in the 50’s. As a child, I believed that only God could have created something so magnificent.
It 1979, several weeks before I married my husband, Ron, his love for God and His creation was instrumental in fully opening up my eyes and heart to the creator that I believed in as a child. And that He truly loved me. And that I could know Him.
I know that I am about to witness something spectacular going on in our backyard when Ron calls out, “Susan, come see.” I drop everything and hurry to the patio sliding glass door to watch a tiny gecko scurrying across the patio chasing after a bug he has set his taste buds on.
Sometimes it’s a beautiful flowering bush or the first Monarch or Gulf Fliterary butterfly of the season.
Ron knows the names of every native flower, tree, bush, and even the weeds. Sometimes he will call me to join him in the backyard just to show me a weed. “Most people would call this a weed, but I think they are much too beautiful to be called a weed,” he says. I have to admit, some of those weeds produce the daintiest, most intricate delicate flowers I have ever seen. You really need a magnifying glass to get the full effect. That tiny treasure ends up in a small glass of water on the kitchen countertop where Ron places it for us to enjoy for as long as it survives being separated from its home.
A week after our wedding, Ron and I headed out in his hippie Volkswagen Van from Dallas to New Orleans so I could meet his family. It was a long, slow drive at 55 MPH back then, when suddenly, Ron would pull off the road in the middle of nowhere. Then, hand-in-hand, we traipsed over roadside trash, jumped over mud puddles, and weaved our way through thistles and thorns—just so he could show me an unusual wildflower, palmetto leaf, or moss-covered tree—special memories of his childhood years growing up in Louisiana. Once he stopped just so we could climb up a hill, lay on our sides, and roll down the hill together. What kind of man have I married? I silently prayed. One of mine, whispered a still small voice.•
SLEEPOVER AT NANA AND POPS
When my daughter said twelve-year-old Emma wanted to know when she could have her sleepover at Nana and Pop’s, life felt normal again in this crazy time we are all living through.
Pop helped Emma carry her overnight bag, toy stuffed dogs and horses, pillow, and her new game into the guest room. Once settled, Emma and I drove to Farmers Branch Manske Library—our normal routine. Wearing our Covid-19 protective masks, (a new normal routine) a pleasant, masked librarian helped Emma find three family friendly horse movies. Emma, our Texas cowgirl takes horseback riding lessons and dreams of owing her own horse and ranch one day.
Blooms Candy & Soda Pop Shop, famous for their large variety of nostalgic and contemporary candy, in Historic Downtown Carrollton, was next on our routine. Emma quickly filled up the round wicker basket with her favorites including: Dr. Pepper flavored jelly beans, old-fashioned popcorn and candy corn flavored taffy, and a mood ring she said she had always wanted. Bless her thoughtful heart, she tossed in a few of big brother, Evan, and little sister, Ava’s, favorites too.
Back at the house, before starting dinner, Shepherd’s Pie (Emma’s request) she beat me at her new game, German Shepherd Opoly. Did I mention that’s she loves dogs? Especially her German Shepherd, Heidi, and Connor, the family Golden Retriever.
While Pop relaxed in his leather recliner in the living room, Emma chopped, boiled and mashed the potatoes. I browned the meat and onions. With Emma’s expert help mixing the all ingredients together in the casserole dish then topping it with her mashed potatoes and shredded cheese, our Shepherd’s Pie was in the oven in record time. Pop and I agreed that it was the yummiest Shepherd’s Pie we had ever eaten. Surely it was Emma’s sweet touch plus the three bay leaves she picked off Pop’s backyard bay tree and added for extra flavor.
After cleanup, we joined Pop in the living room for movie time. Emma snuggled onto my comfy recliner with her favorite stuffed horse and blanket. I settled onto the leather loveseat with a pillow. No sacrifice is too great it comes to my grandchildren.
I sure did sleep well after our double feature, even after Emma, claiming a stomach ache, crawled into bed with me. Hmm. I wonder how much candy she consumed?
Cinnamon rolls, sunny side up eggs and a game of Scrabble (she won again) filled up part of the morning. But what to do next?
I planned to show Emma my mom’s photo album from the 40’s and 50’s. But an antique 1940s EL ROI-TAN 50 count cigar box, filled with old black and white negatives, was piled on top. Emma, born in the era of cell phone cameras, was fascinated. Leaving Mom’s album behind, we carried the cigar box into the kitchen and placed it on the table.
Several years earlier, my engineer husband, Ron aka Pop, built a light box so I could view the negatives when I was looking for a particular photo.
He still had the box and placed it on the table. Emma, sitting beside Pop, watched in wide-eyed curiosity as he placed a negative on the glass top, covered with a sheet of parchment type paper, then asked Emma to switch on the bright fluorescent light bulb inside the box. Her eyes lighted up when the shadowy image of the black and white photo appeared.
Next, they took a photo of the now visible negative using Pop’s cell phone. Pop was in his element as he taught Emma how to use the photo editor ap on his phone to change the negative into a positive, edit out the redness, rotate and crop the image, control the brightness, and save the now clear black and white photo onto the photo gallery. Thank you, Pop. We had fun looking at my childhood photos from the 40’s and 50’s that I hadn’t seen in decades.
Seven-year-old Ava’s sleepover is next. We’ll go to Blooms, play Barbies, and watch a Barbie movie. When fourteen-year-old Evan has his next sleepover, we’ll get a Jurassic Park movie from the library, go to Blooms, and go to Target for a new Lego set.
Thank you, Lord. Those three blessings light up our lives.•
Best Spring Cleaning Ever
In the mid 1950’s, when I was old enough to walk to Walnut Hill Shopping Center in North Dallas by myself, I tucked my weekly allowance into my shorts pocket and headed straight for the Five and Ten Cent Store—the candy aisle beckoning me.
I walked up and down the candy aisle surveying each tempting tasty treat: Candy Necklaces, Slo Pokes, Mary Janes, Candy Buttons, Bazooka Gum, Neccos (the black licorice was my favorite), Mallow Cups, Good & Plenty, and more. I loved them all. And I knew exactly how each one tasted, but choosing just one or two with my limited funds was a highly stressful decision for a ten-year-old to make.
On Saturdays, to give Mom a much-needed break, Dad would drop my two brothers and me off at the Circle Theater. The theater, named after the Harry Hines traffic circle near where it sat, was built in 1947. The Circle Theater and the traffic circle are now long gone. We must have watched nearly every Martian and Flying Saucer movie that came out in the 50’s, inspired by the sensational reports of an Alien and UFO sighting in Roswell, New Mexico in mid-summer 1947.
But what I remember most about going to the movies was, you guessed it—the candy. Dad always gave us a little extra to buy a snack, and that snack-bar had the best candy. Or maybe it just tasted better while sitting beside my brothers in a dark theater watching a scary movie.
Over time, I tried them all: Sugar Babies, Milk Duds, Whoopers Malted Milk Balls, and once I tried Boston Baked Beans. They tasted
good. but they were so hard I nearly broke a tooth. My older brother, Ray, preferred fruit flavored Dots and licorice flavored Crows gum
drops. My younger brother, Doug, like me, tried them all. I always said, “I never met a candy I didn’t like.” Until the time, when my daughter was a little girl, gave me one of her Sour Patch Kids candies. That nasty thing came out of my mouth faster than a rocket on the way to the moon. Then there was the time I foolishly tasted a spicy cinnamon Hot Tamale candy. Even I know that sour and spicy hot are inappropriate adjectives to describe candy. If I want hot and spicy, Tex-Mex restaurants are on every corner in Dallas. I prefer my candy sweet.
My family says my middle name should have been candy. Well then, Mom’s middle name should have been sweets. And Mom told me that her sister, my Aunt Winnie, hid her stash of candy in her nightstand drawer or under her pillow. She should have been called Aunt Candy. Obviously, those two are to blame for my inherited, insatiable love for candy. As I recall, it was Aunt Winnie, aka Aunt Candy, and another one of Mom’s five sisters, Aunt Hilda, who would sneak me a piece of candy or a stick of Doublemint gum during church to keep me awake during the long sermons that I didn’t understand back then. I must confess, I’ve done the same with my grandchildren.
Speaking of those three blessings, one day they discovered my candy stash in my nightstand top drawer where I keep my recent favorite, Dove Dark Chocolate with Almonds. Great idea, Aunt Winnie/Candy. And I always keep their favorites stashed in my purse: Soft peppermints or chocolate for seven year-old Ava, Werther’s Carmel or chocolate for twelve-year-old Emma, and Peppermint Lifesavers and chocolate for fourteen-year-old Evan.
Years ago, a dear friend gifted me with a stunning cut-glass candy dish with a delicate bird handle. She knew I love birds, but probably never imagined that one day it would be perched on the end table in my living room filled with my grandchildren’s favorites. As special as that dish is to me, they are more special. And I must say, they are very gentle when lifting and replacing the delicate lid with the little bird on top.
With no grandmother memories of my own to emulate, it has been a joyful adventure making up my own traditions. I love candy, but I love my family more. Thank you, God, for all of life’s sweet blessings.
Best Spring Cleaning Ever
Ugh! Spring is here. Interpretation being—it’s time for the dreaded “Spring Cleaning.” With so many fun things coming up, like the grandchildren’s end of the school year program, Evan’s eighth grade graduation, his fourteenth birthday, senior center events, etc., perhaps I’ll be so busy I’ll just skip some of the bigger cleaning projects.
Then, suddenly—Coronavirus—a highly contagious, fast moving virus invaded our world. Texas Governor Abbot instructed everyone to shelter in place for our own safety, to go out only when necessary, to wear a mask if we had one, wash our hands often, and use hand sanitizer. No one knew how long this would last.
As a senior adult, I was in the high-risk category, plus I take immunosuppressants twice a day due to a kidney transplant eleven years ago. Avoiding sick people and applying hand sanitizer every time I go out is my daily norm. Thankfully, I found several masks leftover from my kidney transplant on the top shelf of my medicine closet.
When everything closed, except for necessities like grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, and drive-thru or curbside delivery restaurants, I was thankful that I had two library books that I hadn’t read before the library was also shut down.
When schools were closed, I was thankful that my grandchildren are used to being homeschooled. The two oldest attend a homeschool academy three days a week. Ava, in the first grade, goes two days a week. The other days my daughter administers their assignments at home, sent by their teachers through the computer.
I sure do miss hugs and kisses from my daughter and grandchildren. Thankfully, my daughter set up my cell phone so we could face time. It’s not the same, but it is definitely better than not seeing their smiling faces at all. Sadly, the school events I was looking forward to were also cancelled.
In fact, everything on my calendar had been cancelled. My exercise classes, hot dog day, the camera club, luncheons, and every special event at the Carrollton and Farmers Branch Connection Senior Centers were cancelled. Even my teeth cleaning appointment. What was left? What would I do after I read my two books?
Ugh! Spring cleaning, that’s what was left, beyond the usual vacuuming, dusting, mopping, etc. With no place to go and with all that time on my hands, I devised a plan to tackle one project a day.
The master bedroom lace curtains, neglected for several years, are now sparkling clean and smell as fresh as a walk through the Dallas Arboretum on a Spring day. When it’s open again. I washed and ironed the kitchen curtains another day. I didn’t want to overdo it. Ha ha.
One day I emptied out the dusty drawer that housed decades of greeting cards from family and friends with the intention of sorting through them and throwing most of them away. After reading one heart touching message after another and wiping back many tears, I realized how blessed I am to have so many loving, caring, family and friends. Every card went back into the dusty drawer, but at least it was more organized.
Ron, my husband, didn’t give it a thought when I climbed onto a stool, a soapy wet rag in hand, and dragged that stool from room to room washing the dust off the top of every door in the house. The fans and fixtures received their spring baths the next day.
Ron climbed onto the stool another day to take down the beautiful glass bowls (some were moms) housed on a top kitchen shelf. No telling how long it has been since I washed them.
Now that my house has been spring cleaned better than ever, perhaps I will plan a big celebratory party when things get back to normal. Keep on praying everyone, and stay safe. This too shall pass.
Beating The Summer Heat
“It’s so hot out you could fry an egg on the sidewalk,” the local TV weatherman joked in the 1950s. It’s as true now as it was back then in the blistering Texas summer sun in North Dallas.
Dad moved his family from upstate New York to an apartment on Hudnall Street in Dallas the summer of 1953. Years later Mom would say, “It was so hot I thought we had moved to hell.” No wonder! There was no air-conditioning, and Mom grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland where winters were so frigid the laundry froze solid on the clothesline, and the average summer high was in the 60s.
Mom was hopeful for some relief when they bought a home in North Dallas with a water cooler and an attic fan. With the windows open, and the attic fan pulling in hot air, a box fan on the floor blowing the hot air through the house, and with the water cooler on—it was not only hot, but humid and windy as well. At least that’s what I remember. We all rejoiced the day Dad brought home a window air-conditioner.
Though it was finally cool at home, it was miserable in school. Air-conditioning didn’t come to Dallas schools until around 1967, and I graduated in 1964.
On sizzling summer days, my two brothers, neighborhood friends, and I pleaded with our moms to drive us to Walnut Hill Swimming Pool. It was a special treat when one of our moms gave in to our begging and took a carload of us to the pool. Admission was only a quarter.
Back then we played outside most of the time. We learned ways to beat the heat, whether running through a neighbors’ water sprinkler, taking a dip in some little kid’s plastic pool, or taking sips of tepid water from a neighbors’ water hose.
Every kid in our neighborhood scurried home in search of a dime from their piggy bank or from their mom when we heard that familiar tune, Turkey in The Straw, playing in the distance.
With a dime secured in our sweaty hands, we lined up by the curb, drooling by the time the white ice cream truck—tempting our taste buds with images of Drumsticks, Fudgsicles, Popsicles, and Ice Cream Sandwiches displayed on every side—turned onto our street.
We pressed in to find our favorite. I loved Fudgesicles and Dream Sickles. My girlfriends and I sat beneath a shade tree and savored our frozen treats, delighting in our brief relief from the heat. The boys ran off in another direction with theirs.
Sometimes Mom made popsicles by filling up an ice cube tray (Who remembers those?) with cherry, orange, or grape Kool-Aid. She placed the tray into the freezer and my brothers and I knew we would have a sweet treat later that day.
I am sure you have special ice cream memories of your own. Who doesn’t love an ice cream treat one in a while! I remember my dad saying, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.” And I thought he made that up all by himself. He was the biggest kid of all. I know that when I eat ice cream, I feel like a kid again. Don’t you?
Summer is just around the corner ya’ll. Enjoy! I know that on that first hot day I’ll be heading for Dairy Queen for an M&M Blizzard.•
My First Cup of Coffee
For as far back as I can remember, Mom, born in Newfoundland in 1920 when it was still a British crown colony, drank a of cup of hot tea with a teaspoon of sugar and a few drops of milk every morning.
Dad, born in Dunkirk, New York in 1919, met Mom while he was stationed in St. John’s, Newfoundland during WWII. They fell in love, married in New York City in 1944, had three children, then moved to Dallas, Texas in 1953—the land of sweet iced tea.
In the steaming hot Texas summers, sometimes Mom would drink a glass of Lipton® instant iced tea, but I never saw her drink nor make a pot of coffee. Nor did Dad, unless he drank coffee at work. So, by the time I graduated from high-school in 1964 at seventeen, I had never tasted coffee.
It wasn’t as though I had never been exposed to coffee. Several of Mom’s neighborhood friends drank coffee. But one neighbor, Mrs. Kemp, was from England. One of my fondest memories was when she would invite me to join her and her daughter (my friend) for tea at four o’clock in the afternoon. What I remember the most were the scrumptious crumpets and sweet treats she served with the tea.
In the 50s and 60s, coffee commercials seemed to dominate Television commercials. Mrs. Olsen was the smiling grandmotherly lady with an accent who promoted Folger’s® coffee as the mountain grown coffee—giving it a richer and better flavor. Maxwell House® coffee commercials began with the melodic sound of percolating coffee before touting their message: Maxwell House tastes as good as it smells, and it’s good to the last drop. Though coffee did smell delicious, I was never tempted to try it.
Then, following high school graduation, I landed my first job in downtown Dallas in the Cotton Exchange Building as an IBM Keypunch Operator for Texoma Gins. During our break, I noticed that everyone in the office drank coffee. When I commented on how yummy the coffee smelled, one of my co-workers said, “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
She gasped when I told her that I had never tasted coffee. I guess it was a rule that if you worked you drank coffee, because she coaxed me into trying a cup. She watched while I took my first sip. It was bitter. I must have scrunched my face because she said, “You might like it better with sugar and cream.” I tried it. And it was better. But still, I wasn’t that interested.
As the decades passed, I went through phases when I would drink a cup of coffee once in a while, sometimes making it at home, but I soon tired of it. Then—well, about fourteen years ago I discovered a little coffee shop called Starbucks. Oh my!
It was overpriced for sure, but they made the most delicious mocha drink ever, topped with a generous amount of their scrumptious homemade whipped cream and a chocolate drizzle. I ordered decaf because the straight coffee was so strong it would make your hair curl.
Later I graduated to a tall (their version of small) decaf, nonfat vanilla latte with whipped cream on top. Through the years I have tried many of their drinks including frozen Frappuccino’s with enough sugar in it to keep me going all day.
But now that I am a mature adult over 70, I save Starbucks for a special treat. Besides, I can make a decent cup of coffee with half and half at home for pennies, or a cup of hot chocolate made with milk, Hershey’s Syrup, with a spray of whipped cream and a chocolate drizzle on top as tasty as a Starbuck’s mocha, leaving me more money to spend on my grandchildren.
And a cup of coffee is only 25 cents at the senior center. Wisdom truly does come with age. “For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.” •
My 1950S Autograph Book
“When you get old and out of shape, remember girdles are only $2.98. Ha ha. Ha ha.” This is just one silly sample from my 1950s childhood autograph book, recently retrieved from the depths of a dusty bottom dresser drawer—buried beneath a bevy of childhood memorabilia: my jewelry box, diary, a treasure box of foreign coins, a jar of gypsum from the sand dunes in White Sands, New Mexico from a family vacation, and…well, you know. Stuff.
I clearly remember how much fun my school and neighborhood girlfriends and I had signing each other’s autograph books and/or autograph dogs (popular in the 50s) competing to come up with the funniest, cleverest, or craziest jingle, such as: ”I’m yours until Niagara Falls”; “U R 2 Good 2 B True”; “I saw you in the ocean, I saw you in the sea ~~~~~~~~~~~I saw you in the bathtub. Oops! Pardon me”; “Roses are red, leaves are green, you got a shape like a washing machine”; “When you get married and have twins, don’t come to me for safety pins,” and “Don’t fall from a mountain, don’t fall from a tree, the best way to fall is to fall in love.”
I guess you could call it the social media of the times. Yet, what we wrote was always done in innocent fun, never intended to offend or to be mean.
Bonnie, my best friend in seventh and eighth grade (1958 and 1959), the only school friend I’ve kept in touch with throughout the decades, signed my autograph book with this beautiful poetic message: “When the golden sun is setting and your heart with care is free, when of others you are thinking, will you sometimes think of me.” Bonnie went on to become an English teacher. Can you tell?
Bonnie and I exchange Christmas cards every year. And with her now living in Oregon and me still in Texas, Facebook keeps us up-to-date as well. Living from one century to another, we have seen some amazing changes in the world of technology.
But, when I saw a graduation autograph dog in a dollar store, I just had to buy one for my granddaughter, Emma, graduating from the fifth grade, so she could experience some of the joy I had in the days before technology changed the way we correspond.
Curious, I did a Google search on 50’s autograph books. I was flabbergasted to find a brand new one just like mine. If can spare $89.95, you can purchase one of your own. I am confident that is a lot more than Mom and Dad paid for mine.
Remember, “If in heaven we don’t meet, hand-in-hand we will stand the heat, but if it gets extremely hot, Pepsi Cola© hits the spot.” It is my prayer that we all choose God’s way and go to heaven.
“I like sugar, you like tea, so have some coffee with me.”
“Yours until the Greyhound buses have puppies.”
I Love Games
Who doesn’t like to sit around the table playing a fun, friendly board game or a lively game of hearts or spades with family and friends?
As far back as I can remember, the 1950s to be exact, my dad, a big kid a heart, patiently taught my two brothers and me how to play card games, cribbage, checkers, and chess. In fact, we learned so well that before long we were beating him. But that was the goal, wasn’t it? Other times Dad would entertain us with his many clever card tricks.
When the vast Texas sky was temperature tolerable, my girlfriends and I would sit outside on the warm sidewalk in front of one of our homes in our suburban neighborhood in north Dallas playing rollicking rounds of Clue, Scrabble, or solitaire. An entire afternoon passed quicker than a sudden Texas spring shower while we were having the time of our lives.
Those times were some of my best childhood memories. So, naturally, I assumed that everyone loved to play games.
Well, on a quiet evening—soon after my husband, Ron, and I married in 1979—I suggested that we play a game, since I had a closet full of them. Ron looked at me as though I were a stranger. Scrunching that serious brow of his, he said, matter-of-factly, “I don’t play games.”
“You don’t play games! Why, that’s un-American. How could you not like to play games?” I was incredulous. It never occurred to me to ask him before we married if he liked to play games.
As it turned out, my peace loving, godly husband came from a family that apparently took fun, friendly games too seriously—arguing over rules, accusing each other of cheating, or short-tempered aunts, uncles, or cousins who couldn’t take the pressure when the game wasn’t going in their favor.
My mother-in-law, however, loved to play games. But, like her son, her husband didn’t play games either. Nor did Ron’s sister. Actually, most of his family didn’t like to play games. Obviously, everyone except for my mother-in-law, had inherited a mutant gene that repelled them from playing games since it obviously was not connected to any religious conviction.
Dear Lord, how could this be?
Then the Lord reminded me of all the things that Ron loved to do and could do that I didn’t like to do or couldn’t do. Things like fixing our cars, performing plumbing and electrical repairs, the yard work, gardening—a true jack-of-all-trades. I gave him a little slack on the game playing after that revelation, feeling blessed to have my own live-in handyman, and I am truly grateful for that. But I still missed my games.
Thankfully, the dislike for playing games genetic defect skipped a generation when our daughter came along. Sarah loved to play games as much as I did. Then, somehow, that sweet little girl coaxed her daddy into playing Connect Four. And he actually enjoyed it. Miracles still happen.
Sarah grew up and got married, and along came three little ones who call me Nana: Evan, Emma, and Ava, now thirteen, eleven, and six. I was determined that these three would grow up with a love for playing games. As soon as each one was able to sit up on their own, use their hands, and could follow instructions, we sat on the floor and played games.
Not only have I experienced the joy of playing games with my grandchildren, but playing games like UNO helped them learn their colors and numbers. And in the process, they learned how to follow rules, to play fairly, and about taking turns—gracefully. And what a blessing it has been to pass on my happy childhood memories to my grandchildren as we put aside 21st Century electronic devices and enjoy each other’s company the old-fashioned, wholesome fun way like we did before computers invaded our homes.
My Record Collection
Mom loved music. While doing her household chores, she was sure to have her beautiful old-fashioned, upright Walnut radio (squeezed between the wall and dining room table in our modest North Dallas Home) tuned to the popular music of the 50s and 60s. Those songs had a great impact on me with lyrics that spoke to my tender teenage heart.
If you’re from my generation, songs like Bobby Vinton’s “Blue on Blue” or Paul Anka’s “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” or one of Brenda Lee’s sad songs—“All Alone Am I” or “I’m Sorry,” you can probably hear the words playing in your head about now.
Young girls swooned over their favorite artists like Elvis Presley, Bobby Vee, the Everly Brothers, and Frankie Avalon. Ricky Nelson became my heartthrob when he started singing his songs on his family’s popular television series, “Ozzie and Harriet.” But I didn’t get to see Ricky in person until the late 70s when a friend took me to see him perform at a dinner theater in Dallas. Wish I would have taken pictures.
When my two brothers and I (ages ten, eleven and twelve) started asking Mom and Dad for our own spending money at around the same time, Dad taught us a valuable lesson: Money was something you earned.
Soon after that teaching session, the dreaded “Chore Chart,” hand-crafted by our ingenious, fun-loving, best ever Dad, appeared on the kitchen wall.
If you received a checkmark beside all of your daily chores at the end of the week, you would find a shiny quarter tucked inside your slot, cleverly fashioned by Dad at the bottom of the chart.
My younger brother, Doug, saved his earnings to buy model car and airplane kits. And he was quite a master at his craft. The shelves in the room he shared with our older brother, Ray, were lined with his creations, much like my thirteen-year-old grandson’s shelves are filled with Lego creations in the 21st Century. Ray preferred comic books and MAD magazines.
When I was twelve, I was thrilled when I received my very own record player for Christmas. I couldn’t wait to go to the record store. It was only a half mile walk from our home down Marsh Lane to Walnut Hill Shopping Center north of Northwest Highway. Sometimes Doug and I would walk or ride our bicycles together. Doug to the hobby shop. Me to the record store. Life was safer back then, though I suspect moms prayed a lot.
I kept my ever-growing stack of 45-rpm records beside my record player perched on a table in my bedroom. With my door closed, I would sing to my favorite songs, twist to Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” and spin, twirl and jive to “The Mashed Potato,” “The Loco-motion,” and “The Swim.”
In junior high school, I joined the Jimmy Clanton (of “Venus in Blue Jeans” and “Just a Dream” fame) fan club with my girlfriend: fan club pin with his picture on it, certificate, and all. When we heard that he was coming to Dallas for a concert, we waited for his plane to arrive at Dallas Love Field Airport to meet him and get his autograph.
Twenty or so years ago, my husband and I heard that Jimmy was going to speak at a local church and we went to hear him. Afterward we visited with him and I showed him my Jimmy Clanton fan club pin. His face lighted up then humbly asked, “Would you mind parting with your pin? I would love to give it to one of my children.” Of course, I did. I was thrilled to know that he turned out to be such a wholesome, Christian family loving man. But I still have his autograph.
I still enjoy the music from the 50s and 60s, and I am thankful that Mom was able to rescue most of my record collection from her lake house fire in the 70s. Every now and then I reminisce by taking out my collection and placing a record on the retro, old-fashioned turntable that my husband and I gave Mom for Christmas a decade or more ago, before she went to heaven. I have to confess. I still dance to my records—when I’m home alone or with my grandchildren.