THINGS WE REMEMBER; GROWING UP IN CINCINNATI IN THE 30s, 40s & 50s

The following are vignettes of things that we remember from our childhood. While most of these childhood memories are intertwined, in some instances one sibling’s memories differ somewhat from another’s. For instance, Aunt Sandy only remembers watching Grandma Schmidt make diamond shaped Christmas cookies, that were studded with a mixture of sugar and finely chopped walnuts (and always thought those were the only kind Grandma made). . Aunt Becky chastised her, saying that Grandma made lots of different cookies for Christmas. Grandma baked, Aunt Becky recalled, thumbprint cookies with raspberry jam, and a fold-over cookie filled with apricot or peach jam. Grandma made Springerle cookies that were so hard you could not even bite into them, and a small pill-shaped cookie with colored sprinkles on top. Every family member got a dress box full of cookies for Christmas. All Aunt Sandy can say is…she only saw Grandma make the diamond shaped cookies and someone else must have eaten up all those other cookies!

In any case, these are our memories, of being children growing up in Fairmount, a suburb of Cincinnati, when Fairmount was still a nice neighborhood in which to live, of our relationships with Grandma Schmidt and each other, of going to St. Leo’s – where even our father, Uncle Hans, and Aunt Annie went to school and where we all had the same First Grade teacher, Sister Taursisius, who taught first graders for 50 years, until she retired to the Convent in Oldenburg, Indiana.

Fairmount was at that time a stable, friendly neighborhood, heavily populated with German and Italian immigrants, where it was safe for children to play in the streets on summer nights or walk to the pony keg to get a bottle of “pop”, where you knew families for blocks around and very often, the children you went to school with had gone to school with your parents..

My sister Becky was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2000, and had her first surgery in October, 2000. Our mother passed away September 29, 2000, about a week before Becky’s surgery. The memorial service for our mother was delayed to give my sister time to recuperate and, if possible, be able to attend the family gathering in Florida the following spring.

Around this time, Becky began sending those of us with computers memories of her childhood. Having been diagnosed with breast cancer, she wanted, I think, to get all of these memories written down while she was still able. The idea took off and I began collecting all of these memories—often learning, much to my surprise, things about my siblings that I never knew. (She also sent some of these memoirs to Reminisce magazine; some were published).

Initially, I thought we could combine the memoirs with the family cookbook which was finally beginning to see the light of day. However, adding all of our memories (much less all the old photographs) would have made the cookbook project far too expensive. Then I began exploring the idea of putting together a booklet of all our memories, with photographs, to give to all of my sister’s children and grandchildren, the nieces and nephews, as well as others who loved her. As I continued to work on this project, I finally realized that what I had in my hands was the nucleus of a memorial booklet for my sister. As time went by, we began to realize Becky was not going to recover from this illness.

When I visited my sister in June, 2004, I took along the half-completed memory booklet to show to her, presenting it with the idea it would be a booklet for her children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, so they would learn more about their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. If she suspected that I was working on a memorial tribute to her, she gave no indication. My sister passed away October 10, 2004.

Aunt Becky remembers…. “When I was 3 years old, the house painters were painting the house trim. They broke for lunch and left the ladder going to the roof up from the second floor porch. The family noticed that people were pointing up at the house. They went out on the porch to find me climbing the ladder. The only person who had the courage to go after me was Aunt Annie who was home recovering from her operation. Her appendix had ruptured and she had emergency surgery….”

Aunt Becky remembers… “Every fall, our grandparents ordered a butchered hog. The women and children worked in grandma’s second floor kitchen and the men went to the basement to make the sausages. My job was to chop hog fat into tiny cubes to be rendered into lard. Used lard was saved to make lye soap. The men in the basement would make the sausage mixture. One of them would get a balloon-like casing from a jar. After it was rinsed in cold water, he blew into the casing to check for holes. It was then threaded onto a pipe that protruded from the bottom of the stuffer machine. One of them would turn the hand crank and the other guided the sausage into the casing. If a hole appeared, they had to tie a knot in the casing and start a new sausage. For weeks after this, grandpa’s little smoke house was a huffin’ and a puffin’ streams of smoke. After the hams and sausages were smoked, they were hung from the rafters in the garage for the winter…”

Aunt Becky remembers…Coal was usually bought during the summer months. The deliveryman would dump the load into the driveway, and because the men were working, it was left to women and children to get the winter’s supply of coal from the driveway, into the coal bin in the basement. The kids loaded chunks of coal into a wheelbarrow, then one of the ladies wheeled it to the window of the coal bin, using wooden planks to span the steps. By the end of the day we were as black as the coal and very tired.”

Aunt Becky remembers.. “ I was in the third grade when mom decided I needed piano lessons. My mother loved music and loved to dance, and so dancing lessons ceased and piano lessons began. I loved the dancing class but my teacher, Miss Edith, moved out of the public school on Baltimore Street and into her own studio in Western Hills, so it was difficult to attend her classes. The four of us older children all had dance classes, Sandy, Jim, Biff , and I. My sister Sandy and I took piano lessons at St. Leo’s school and Jim learned to play the clarinet. Jim & I were also in the school band at St. Leo’s.

Aunt Sandy remembers… “I took tap-dancing lessons at North Fairmount School when I was in kindergarten. What I remember best about those lessons is that, at the end of the year, we had a recital at Garfield School in Northside. We wore costumes to make us look like little flowers, that our mothers made out of crepe paper. Someone in the family gave me a box of candy after the recital. I don’t think I was a very good tap-dancer but I loved getting a box of “real grown-up candy..as for those piano lessons. I think I took piano in the 5th and 6th grades. My piano lessons coincided with Arithmetic lessons—and consequently, I didn’t learn fractions until I was a senior in high school. I hated arithmetic; no way was I going to confess to Sister Doris Marie that I wasn’t learning fractions! I can’t imagine how I got away with it…”

Aunt Becky remembers… “We recycled everything! Gift wrap paper was saved from year to year. Ironing made it as good as new. Even cloth ribbons were ironed and recycled. Until my mother was no longer able to put up her own Christmas tree, she saved her tinsel from one year to the next. Our tree always remained up until my birthday, January 7th. This made me feel special…”

Aunt Sandy remembers… “One year mom & dad visited me in California during the Christmas holidays. As we were taking down the tree, mom said “Sandy! Don’t you save all your tinsel?”
“Oh, no mom!” I said, “It’s so cheap—we’ll just get a new box next year”.
To which she loftily replied, “Well! That’s why I get to go to Hawaii and you don’t!”

Aunt Becky remembers…“Our grandparents owned an 11-room, 3-family house on Baltimore Avenue. When I was in the third grade, my parents bought their first home and so we moved three miles away. BUT—every day for lunch we walked from school to Grandma’s. Although I was very happy to have my own room (shared with my younger sister), I missed my grandparents’ home terribly. As we grew into young adults, we still spent Mondays with grandma, having supper and watching black & white TV programs. Aunt Sandy’s comment: I spent one night a week at Grandma’s all through high school. Sometimes getting to and from Mercy High School on Werk Road involved as many as 3 buses each way..”

Aunt Becky remembers… “One of my fondest memories was going to Coney Island on Findlay Market day…the games, prizes, and free ride tickets and 5 cent pop (sodas). We rode the street car to downtown Cincinnati, toting a picnic basket full of food for the day. After a brief walk to the Riverfront, we boarded the Island Queen for the boat trip by river to Coney Island. Grandma sat guard over our things while we children raced from ride to ride. When the park closed, we would catch the last boat back to Cincinnati. We slept the entire ride by streetcar to the end of the line. We then had to walk the two or three blocks home.”

Aunt Becky remembers…Picking grapes for jelly, and grandpa making wine in the cellar. The basement always had the smell of fermenting grapes. Watching grandma make strudel and noodles. Grandma would hang the paper thin noodles over the backs of the dining room chairs to dry. Riding the street car into town. Going to the “Orange Bar” for our free sample of a fruit drink. My favorite was orange and pineapple mixed. After grandma made her rounds of paying bills, we went to the butcher shop where she purchased lunchmeats and fruit. When we went to a movie with grandma, we ate our lunch with freshly baked rye bread sticks. Soooo good. I remember picking peaches and making peach jam. Grandma made her special “Peach Brandy..”.

Aunt Becky remembers … “The smell of smoke coming from grandpa’s smoke house. Grandma also had a copper still that sat on the stove, newly polished, complete with a crocheted doily on top! We blew bubbles over the second floor porch railing. We stuffed grandpa’s pipe with soap, then dipped the pipes into a glass of water and blew with all our might!…”

Aunt Becky remembers… “In spite of what Bill thinks he was eating, I’m sure it was the white blocks of oleo*. When it first came out, it was a white block and looked just like lard. It progressed to a plastic bag with an orange dot that you kneaded into the white oleo to make it yellow (margarine). Mom never bought lard; she saved her drippings and used that. Lard was bought in tin buckets. We got our cottage cheese in crocks from the milk man. You had to return them; that’s why they are so rare. It was the same with milk bottles. They were returned to the milk man. We bought our yeast from the bakery. You went in and asked for a piece. They wrapped it in parchment paper. On Sundays after church we had to enter the grocery store by the back door because they were closed on Sundays. Zippels was on the corner of Baltimore Avenue and Carl Street. We also shopped at Schneider’s – they were across the street from St. Leo’s. Schneider’s had the best penny candy. They had a big glass case up in front of the store…” (*Billy told his daughters he ate lard sandwiches when he was growing up).

Aunt Becky remembers… “Next door to Schneider’s was Irene’s Beauty Shop. I got several perms there. It was AWFUL! They put these wires on your head and heated them up. They were very heavy and burned my head. I always had frizz for weeks. Sometimes mom would take the curling iron to my hair; more than once I got my ears burned…”

Aunt Sandy remembers…. “Our birthday parties!. Mom would bake and decorate a cake for the birthday child. We were able to invite a few friends. We played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and drop a clothespin into a milk bottle. It was very exciting, waiting for your birthday to arrive..”.

Aunt Becky remembers… “Helping my mother on wash day. We didn’t use store-bought detergent back then! On Laundry Day, you grated mom’s lye soap into the wringer- washing machine full of steaming hot water. You had to use a laundry stick to retrieve the clothes from the washer. In the back yard, clothes lines were strung from tree to post waiting for the newly cleaned laundry to be hung. My job was to hang socks on a wooden rack to dry. When the socks were dry, I had the chore of matching up the pairs of socks. When I grew older, I was taught how to darn the socks…”

Aunt Becky remembers…“When Grandma decided to cook sauerkraut, she would send me down to Zippels to buy 25 cents worth of kraut. I loved it and ate more than my share on the way home. Then grandma would claim they CHEATED her. I just kept my mouth shut! When we needed a cat, we could always count on getting one from Zippels. More than once I brought a kitten home. There is a family story about me and a cat. It seems the family was painting the kitchen on the first floor. While they were having lunch I decided to paint the cat. Well! The cat was having none of this and he scratched me. I got even, though—I bit his TAIL! Every time I had to go to the grocery store, they’d call out, “Here comes the little girl who bites cats”!…”

Aunt Becky remembers.. “What Grandma Schmidt cooked for us when we went to her house for dinner on Monday nights, and of course, our lunches when we were at St Leo’s school. We’d walk to Grandma’s for a hot lunch. I remember once helping to make some kind of farina dumplings. I loved them in chicken broth. You take an egg and break it into a tea cup, then whip it and add farina until you have a dough. Then you drop it from a teaspoon into the broth. We all remember Grandma’s pancakes. I remember her making a sweetened sour cream as a topping, and her whipped orange Jello with cherries mixed in. I think she also added cherry juice to the Jello. For holiday dinners, there was always a relish tray with olives, sweet midget pickles and celery sticks. Her salads always had the milk-vinegar-sugar dressing on them. We didn’t have bottled salad dressings back then!”

Uncle Bill remembers…. “Coney Island! Loved the games! I think we all won at something. I loved Sunlight pool too—the big sand box! I didn’t know grandma had a still, but I do remember having apple throwing fights and eating green apples. And going on ‘dates’ with my big sisters. Now I realize that you may not have had any choice in the matter…but what I didn’t realize then was that we were a form of ‘protection’ too. Going Christmas shopping with Sandy—amazing what we were able to buy with 100 pennies!..”

Aunt Sandy remembers… “Coney Island! We all loved going there, once a year. I have only the vaguest memories of going there by boat. I remember mostly the car trips to Coney. You wouldn’t be able to go to sleep the night before, just being so excited about it. You knew we were almost there when we crossed ‘The humming bridge’. One time mom let my friend Carol go along with us. Carol went on the Ferris wheel with Biff & Bill. I was too chicken….”

Aunt Becky remembers… “Memorial Day”! . Marching with the school band from St. Bonnie’s on Queen City Avenue to the cemetery on Baltimore Avenue. I played the symbols. After a brief rest, we then stood on the corner by Grandma’s house (next door to the cemetery!) and sold flowers to people on their way to visit the graves. We’d call out ‘Flowers for sale! Fifty Cents a bunch!’ At the end of the day, Grandma always gave us a dollar!”

Aunt Sandy remembers… “For about a month before Memorial Day, mom made hundreds of artificial flowers out of tissue paper and crepe paper. We sold these on the corner by the cemetery, too…that march from St. Bonnie’s to the cemetery on Baltimore Street seemed to take forever. Your legs ached for days afterwards”

Aunt Becky remembers…Picking apples and making applesauce was a family affair. We’d climb the apple trees and shake the limbs with all our might, and then ran around under the trees gathering up the apples. From there they went into a big wash tub that also substituted for our swimming pool in the summer. The women (mom, Aunt Dolly, and Grandma) cored and quartered the apples. Then they were put into a big pot to simmer. When softened, they were poured into a sieve to strain off the skins and seeds. The sauce was put into hot sterilized jars and processed. Sugar wasn’t added until the jars were opened. We had applesauce with every meal all year long.

Uncle Bill remembers…. “Making Christmas tree ornaments from the foil milk bottle lids…Mom’s old white radio. Playing Monopoly on the front porch on Sutter Street. My first bicycle—a green, ugly girl’s bike! But—it was a bike! A couple of years later, Cousin Chuck gave me his 24” Huffy bike. I loved it! Johnny had an English 3 speed but that Huffy was much better on the trails in Mt. Airy Forest…”

Aunt Becky remembers… “During the war years we washed all our tin cans, removing both ends, and flattening the cans. On Mondays, the cans were boxed and set out by the curb for pickup. We also saved newspaper, old rags, and iron. Even my grandparents’ brass bed made its way to the curb for the war effort. My mother was expecting her 4th child, so my father was spared the draft. I did my part by writing weekly letters to our uncles who were in the service. Everyone had a Victory Garden. For ten cents you could buy saving stamps. We pasted them into a little booklet. When the booklet was filled, you could turn it in for a savings bond. Food, shoes, meat, and gas were rationed. You had to have a ration stamp or a token to buy any of these items. If memory serves me right, it took 5 stamps to purchase a pair of shoes. With 4 growing children, these stamps were depleted fast…”

Uncle Bill remembers… “Staying in those little cabins when we went on road trips. Only once do I remember staying at a motel, somewhere along the Pennsylvania turnpike. It was late at

night; I think mom made dad stop. I still feel nostalgic when I see those little cabins along some of the rural highways. I remember sitting in the front seat between mom & dad. I knew every detail of the dash board; I can still see the radio grill and all the radio buttons. There was a little button to the left of the radio—well, a pull type knob; might have been a manual choke. Aunt Becky’s comment….imagine taking trips in a car with NO air conditioning in the car, four little kids and three adults! Aunt Sandy’s note…Grandma usually went with us on these trips. She was a gypsy at heart and would go anywhere, anytime, on a moment’s notice. Uncle Jim thinks we must have all inherited that gypsy blood. It seems to me we always started these trips in the dead of night so all of us children would sleep the first 5 or 6 hours of the way. We each took our own pillow along. How in the world was there enough room in the car for all of us?…”

Aunt Becky remembers… “I think we went to Lake Erie, the one near Detroit, because we visited Dad’s cousin, Sue, who lived in Detroit. This was the last year I took a vacation with the family because I got married the following October when I was 15 going on 16. I remember going to a dance in the town with our cousin Jack. The dress I wore was one I had bought myself to attend a high school dance and that was in the 10th grade. I had bought the dress downtown at a store called “Robert Halls”—it was located in an alley and everything was on plain racks!”

Aunt Sandy remembers… “Jack’s sister Pat and I became pen-pals that year. She was my very first pen-pal. We also went to see Niagara Falls—I think that was the same trip. We all remember that we were supposed to be going to see the Statue of Liberty in New York. Dad got lost and wouldn’t ask for directions—we didn’t make it to New York City! Dad would never stop and ask for directions!”

Uncle Bill remembers… “Robert Halls! I recall the jingle! When the prices go up-up-up and the values go down-down-down…Robert Halls is the reason…I bought a red blazer one Christmas from Robert Halls. Everyone in our “gang” was getting a coat or a suit to wear to Midnight Mass that year…”

Aunt Sandy remembers… “Bills comment about the red blazer reminded me – Jim bought me my first suede jacket when he was in the Air Force and stationed in Germany. Everyone I knew had a suede jacket; it was the ‘in’ thing along with poodle skirts. Jim sent the money for me to get one. Mom thought he had sent too much and gave me only half of the money. I still found a suede jacket. No matter how cold it was, you wore the suede jacket-even with two sweaters on underneath!”

Uncle Bill remembers… “Feast of St. Nicholas—sock full of nuts, oranges and hard candy. Feast of Three Kings—grandma’s doughnuts with a nickel inside! I think I only had 2 or 3 piano lessons—mom gave up on me quickly! Roller skating at Price Hill Roller rink…Ice skating on the lakes behind the house in North College Hill. Biff’s coercion to build tree houses, underground camps, a rocket ship! I suppose the construction crews knew we were taking off with their wood and nails…ran out of camp building supplies when the housing development was completed! Summer passes to NCH swimming pool; sock hops on Friday nights. Everybody brought their 45 records. You’d mark yours with nail polish—no magic markers back then!”

Aunt Becky remembers… “When Halloween rolled around, we went out to “trick or treat” two nights; October 30th was known as “penny night”. We went from door to door begging pennies. When we got tired of this we headed to Grandma’s for our treats. It was always a tradition in our family to make doughnuts on Halloween eve. Grandma made deep fried yeast doughnuts—but she always added her own special treat—money! Grandma put pennies or a nickel or even a dime into her doughnuts. Grandma also made these special doughnuts on the Feast of the Three Kings in January.”

Aunt Sandy remembers… “Halloween! Didn’t we all love it? It went well with the Schmidt belief that anything free had to be good. I always thought that concept stemmed from mom but now I think it was really Grandma Schmidt. Every time Grandma took me with her downtown to pay her insurance, we picked up free booklets at Metropolitan. Then we’d head for the Juice Bar to get a free sample of juice.”

Aunt Sandy remembers… “Going downtown by myself by the time I was 9 or 10 years old. Mom had a coat in layaway at Lerner’s. She’d send me with a $1.00 to make her coat payment. I learned my way around downtown by visiting all the dime stores. By the time I was 12, I was taking both of my little brothers Christmas shopping the day before Christmas. We’d also visit all the department store Santas to get a free peppermint stick. We’d trek on over to Garfield Park to see the living nativity and afterwards, we’d go to Grandma’s to wait for Dad to come and get us. By the time we got home, Santa Claus had visited and we always just missed him! We wrapped our presents in recycled gift wrap that we “ironed” to get the wrinkles out!”

Aunt Becky remembers… “Mom’s kidney stew! I loved the stew but hated to smell it cooking, and I make my liver and onions just the way she taught me. I soak the liver in vinegar water overnight, then dredge it in flour and brown it in hot bacon grease, turning only once. Then I cover it with sliced onions and add water to cover, put the lid on the skillet and let it simmer until the liver is done. NO RED! I like to serve it with boiled potatoes and baby peas. Kidney stew was always served with noodles and peas, also. Mom also liked to soak the kidneys overnight in vinegar water. I was always leery of Mom’s hamburgers because they looked so much like breaded brains. YUCK! One time I saw Martha Stewart showing how to cook and eat the marrow fat. Dad loved the marrow on crackers. Those bones were free at one time. Not any more!..”

Aunt Sandy remembers… “Mom’s hasenpfeffer! I hated it. It wasn’t the rabbit (which dad brought home from hunting—it was the sickly sweet and sour smell of the rabbit cooking and knowing I was going to have to eat it. One time the family was at mom’s friend Vera’s for dinner. They told me we were having fried chicken and I loved it. After we were finished eating, they all shouted “YOU JUST ATE RABBIT!” I’ve been trying to tell them all for years – it wasn’t the rabbit. It was the way Mom cooked it! And smelling it cooking!. Regardless, I never buy rabbit…”

Aunt Becky remembers… “I learned a lot of dances from my mother. She wanted to be a professional dancer. I just loved to dance. Don’t we all? Mom taught me to Charleston, Foxtrot, two-step, Varsity drag, and Camel Walk. The Camel Walk has returned twice as other dances, one as a circle dance called ‘The Bird Land’ and again as a line dance called ‘The Stroll’. In the 40s, 50s, and 60s, the always had dances someplace on Saturday nights. We called them ‘Drink & Drowns’. For $5 a person you got live music, beer, pop, potato chips, and pretzels. The dances we did were the Bunny Hop, Huckle Buck, Hokey Pokey, Mexican Hat Dance, Bird Lane, Mashed Potato, Swim, Stroll, Jitter Bug, Camel Walk, and Cha Cha. Today the young people are learning the Swing Dances. We called the dances Jitter Bug and the music was Swing. One dance we did at the skating rink was the Shottish. At the end of every dance the band played “GOOD NIGHT SWEETHEART”.

Aunt Sandy remembers…. “Blowing bubbles with grandpa’s pipes (how did we get away with that?)…running down to the corner where the street car line ended, to meet grandpa coming home from work. I’d carry his black lunchbox…Going with grandma and grandpa to their “lodge” down near Findlay market. On our way home (by streetcar!) we’d get White Castle hamburgers on the corner in Camp Washington where we transferred cars…I think the hamburgers were 5 cents each…Playing mom’s 78 rpm records while I dusted the furniture on Saturday morning…taking scrambled egg sandwiches wrapped in wax paper to school for lunch. The wax paper would sort of melt into the sandwich by lunch time. (that must have been on days when grandma wasn’t home!)…Sitting on the 2nd floor porch waiting for the ice cream man on summer nights…the bubble lights on Grandma Schmidt’s Christmas tree. No one else had them!”

Aunt Becky remembers…“Sitting on Grandma’s second floor porch in the summer and listening to the radio. Monday night was Baby Snooks, Fibber McGee & Molly. Saturday morning was Let’s Pretend and My Little Margie. Friday night was Suspense, Inner Sanctum, and The SHADOW! Grandma made snow cones for us. She placed ice cubes in a dish towel and with a hammer, she smashed the ice; then she put the ice into a mug and topped it off with homemade jam or jelly…”

Aunt Sandy remembers… “Sunday passes! Grandma would get a pass for 25 cents and if you were the lucky grandchild to be with her at the time, you would ride all over town, sometimes up to the Cincinnati Zoo. Grandma and Grandpa liked to get the Sunday passes and attend the German Mass at St. Joseph’s. We all learned our way around town on those Sunday passes…” Aunt Becky recalls those were her first experiences visiting the Art Museum and Taft Museum.

Aunt Becky remembers… “Grandma had us take turns going to town with her. It was GREAT FUN and the only place to shop back then. No malls! All the department stores were downtown. The public toilets were under Fountain Square and you had to pay 5 cents to use them, so grandma had me crawl under the door and unlock it so she could get in and go. The first thing we did when we got off the bus at Government Square was to go right to the Orange Juice Bar where you could get a free sample—and the last thing we did before getting back on the bus was return to the Juice bar for another free sample. FREE was good. You could have them mix your juices; my favorite was pineapple with grape. We would go pay the gas and electric bill, then the telephone bill, and then go to the Insurance Company where they had all these little free booklets. We’d get one of each. Some times we went and bought lunchmeat and rye salt bread and went to the Albee Theatre. It was also on Fountain Square. Grandma loved the movies!”

Aunt Becky remembers… “Grandma and Grandpa belonged to a German club in Over the Rhine. They held Bingo at St. Joseph’s Church and there were dances. We kids got to sell baskets of chips and pretzels for 5 cents each bag. And we got five cents to keep for ourselves for every bag we sold. The women played their card games and the men played theirs. It was a day-long event. When it was dark they had the dances. By then all of us kids were cuddled up on chairs fast asleep. We still had to walk to the street car and after the ride home we had to walk up Baltimore Avenue to the house. They did not have bus service until English Woods opened during the war years. Aunt Rainy lived in English Woods with Renee and Pete. Uncle Vince was in the service. So were Uncle Hans, Uncle George and Uncle Cal. Dad was exempt because he had 3 children and was doing war work at Formica. Aunt Dolly also worked at Formica. Everyone was doing their part….”

We remember… “The Windmill Restaurant. It was a special treat to go there with Grandma, just the two of you. It was a cafeteria style restaurant and you could choose your own food! What a thrill! Choosing your own food!”

We remember… “Tinkertoys…Erector Sets…Lincoln Logs…Penny Candy…5 cent packs of baseball cards…Green stamps…Telephone numbers with a prefix (ours was Kirby 8846)…old time radio programs (Baby Snooks, Fibber McGee & Molly, Charlie McCarthy)…walking every where! No one ever drove you places….Grandma’s oilcloth shopping bags that she’d fill with fruit and vegetables at Findlay Market—and the lucky child who went shopping with her got to help carry those bags on the street car or bus!”

We remember… “Playing cards with grandma. One of the first games we learned was Michigan Poker. Another favorite game was Skit Scat. We learned about money and how to make change. Aunt Becky recalls learning to count by the time she was three—except, after 9, 10—it was Jack, Queen, King, Ace! Grandma supplied the money and if we won, we got to keep it. On holidays, all the adults played cards. Grandma usually cooked the Christmas turkey. Uncle Al gave us each a quarter and all the children went to the movies. For 25 cents, you had admission and enough money for candy or popcorn. (We all thought Uncle Al must be rich to do this!) We always got Boston Baked Beans or JuJuBees because you got the most for your money that way. We went to the Carl Street movie theatre and after that closed down, to the Queen Ann or West Hills Theatre. If the movie was good, we stayed to see it again. It didn’t occur to any of us that the adults were happy to get all of us out from underfoot so they could play cards all afternoon!”

We remember… “Christmas Eve was the biggest holiday in our family. Mom did everything on Christmas Eve day. The living room door was locked all day long. Mom waited until December 24th to buy a tree because by then they were half-price. Trees cost a whopping $1.00 back then but she could get one for 50 cents by waiting. Mom always tried to have Santa bring us what we had asked for. Our dolls disappeared before Christmas and reappeared on Christmas Eve with new outfits. We’d be at Grandma’s house waiting, on Christmas Eve, until Dad came to get us. We always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. Silent Night would be playing on the record player. The tree would be trimmed with handmade ornaments we made in school over the years. One year, Uncle Biff gave Dad a little wax Santa boot filled with peppermints. All the adults laughed over that boot! Biff was offended and went upstairs to cry. All the adults had to go upstairs and convince him that they really liked the little wax Santa boot and they’d only laughed because they liked it…”

Aunt Becky remembers… “There was no such thing as ‘Snowdays’! No matter how deep the snow or how cold the wind, we all walked to and from school (sometimes walking backwards to keep the wind out of your face). Some days the school did not have heat and we had to keep our coats and leggings on to stay warm. By mid-afternoon the heat was on again and we could remove our coats but we kept the leggings on. (These were woolen pants that came with your winter coat). Girls never wore slacks or pants except for those leggings (which itched). The girls all had winter hats with a nice long scarf attached to wrap around your neck. Grandma crocheted these for us…”

Aunt Becky remembers… “Our house on Sutter Street was close to the railroad tracks. Often, men and sometimes women would knock on the back door and ask for a bite to eat. Most often, mom gave them a bowl of cereal. They would sit on the back steps and eat their fill.”

Aunt Becky remembers… “Wash Boards! Mom did not have an automatic washing machine. She got her first clothes dryer in 1954 when Tina (first grandchild) was a baby. It was my job to scrub the socks. I’d slip my hand inside the sock and soap it up with the lye soap. Then I rubbed my hand over the wash board to clean the sock. This was also done on collars and cuffs of shirts.”

Aunt Sandy remembers…”Playing restaurant with my younger brothers! Mom usually worked—I think she was the only mother on our street who had an outside job. I’d make lunch for Biff and Bill—there were always little leftovers in the refrigerator (mom never threw out anything—even if it was only a teaspoonful of creamed peas!) I’d make up a menu for my brothers and they could “order” whatever they wanted for lunch. I learned to bake with mom’s one and only cookbook, an Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook. My brothers sat out on the back step and ate up all the mistakes. They never cared if the cookies were under baked or burnt! I think I was also the only girl on our street with a free reign in the kitchen. I baked a lot of cookies..”.

Aunt Sandy remembers…”Playing school. We had a shed in the back yard on Sutter Street. It was our “school”, “playhouse” and “The 3-star store” (Carol, Patty & I made things out of yarn, pipe cleaners, macaroni, paper mache, and acorns—which we sold to the neighborhood children). Our “school” was an ongoing summer activity which we all took seriously. We even gave our students (my brothers, Patty’s brothers, and the other younger neighborhood children) homework to do and they’d better have a written excuse from their mother if they didn’t bring in their homework the next day!”

Aunt Sandy remembers… “Having shows. These were held in our backyard, where we could hang blankets and curtains from the swing set. In one of these shows, I wore Becky’s 8th grade graduation dress and my Easter hat to sing “Dear Hearts and Gentle People”. In another show, we performed Red Riding Hood. I was supposed to be the wood chopper who saves Red Riding Hood—but had gone into the house for something and forgot all about my part. Jim was the wolf – he had no other choice but to kill Red Riding Hood and eat her, since no one came to rescue her. We had such a lot of fun doing these shows. We sold popcorn and Kool Aid. One of my clearest memories is mom teaching us the words to “Red River Valley” so we could sing it in our show. Years later, Renee sent me a letter mom had sent to her mother, Aunt Rainy. Aunt Rainy wrote about their putting on shows when they were children….”

Aunt Sandy remembers… “Playing in the cemetery next to Grandma’s house. These were actually just large grassy grounds on a hillside—the graves were up out of sight, beyond a long switchback driveway. We’d roll down the hillsides or chase lightning bugs, or play hide and seek – until “Old Man Reinhart” (the custodian) came charging down the driveway yelling at us. Then we all ran in terror!”

Aunt Becky remembers…“Tin Panning a wedding! We could hardly contain our excitement when there was a wedding in the neighborhood. We patiently sat on the front steps to wait for the wedding party to return from church. When they arrived back at the bride’s house, we gathered up pots and pans and big spoons—anything that would make a lot of noise. We then all stood in front of the bride’s home and beat the dickens out of mom’s pots and pans. We kept up the racket until the bride and groom appeared and tossed us money and candy. This ritual was to bring the newlyweds good luck and many children. After we had chased away all the evil spirits, we headed to the corner store for our favorite candy bar. Mine was, and still is “French Chews”. Even when I was young, “Tin Panning the wedding” was fading, just like tying tin cans on the back of the wedding car and throwing rice for good luck has faded away—now they toss birdseed!”

Aunt Becky remembers… “Curtain stretchers! When it was time for mom to wash the curtains in the summer, she had these large wooden frames with nails all around the edges. First she set the frames to the size of the curtains. These frames had numbers written on the outside. After the curtains were washed and heavily starched, she would begin the stretching by hooking the corners and centers over the nails. Then I had to pull the curtains over the nails, trying to keep the ruffles even. More than once I stuck my finger onto these sharp nails. Sometimes we had to re-wet the curtains, especially if it was a windy day and they were drying out too fast. The frames held several pairs of curtains. Once dried, the curtains were so stiff they could stand up on their own. Once dry the curtains had to be re-hung on the windows. Mom inserted a knife into the curtain rod so as not to snag the lace on the ends of the rods. Vinegar and water was used to clean the windows. We did not have stored-bought window cleaner. When it was time to clean the Venetian blinds, they were taken down and laid on top of the kitchen table. Then slat by slat, I had to wash and rinse every one. This job was very time consuming. I dreaded this chore with a passion. Until we purchased our present home and it came furnished with Venetian blinds, I refused to have them in my home”.

Aunt Becky remembers … “We were all very competitive. Once our mother entered the games at Coney Island on Findlay Market day. She won the three-leg race and got a silver tray. When she was younger she entered a dance contest at Camp Washington Summer dances. During the 20s and 30s, the local swimming pool was drained and they held dances in them at night. I believe this is how my mother met my father. My father and his pal, Vince Laehr, took dance lessons from Author Murray so they could date my mother and her young sister (Aunt Rainey). My dad called my mom “Beck”, short for Beckman. When I was born, my dad called me “Lil’ Beck” and it stuck. This is how I got my nickname. My given name is Barbara; I was the 4th Barbara on my mother’s side of the family. She had a great Aunt Barb, her mother’s name was Barbara; mom’s middle name was Barbara and I was named Barbara. And my great-great grandmother on my father’s side was also named Barbara. I passed this tradition on by naming my second daughter Barbara.”

Aunt Sandy remembers…“The house on Sutter Street. It was my parents first home of their own. Jim was given the responsibility of walking Biff and me to the new house. As we reached the stop of the steps that led to Sutter Street, a big moving van truck was parked in front of the house. Biff and Bill setting fire to the kitchen table. The hole Dad cut into the pantry floor, so that mom could drop the laundry into it, where it fell into a cupboard in the basement, near the washer and dryer. (One time we were playing hide & seek in the house and Biff got stuck in that hole). Renee and I taking turns, on Fridays after school, going to either her house or mine & calling home to ask if I/she could spend the night. (Usually, the answer was no, but we were never discouraged). There was a mud cellar in our basement—two finished off basement rooms and this one room that was filled with rock-hard mud. My brothers liked to play cars in the mud cellar. One time Patty and Carol & I were playing “club” in the basement; I went upstairs to answer the phone and they came barreling up after me, convinced that a “dead body” was in the mud cellar. I went to check – and found a pair of Dad’s wading boots hanging from the rafters. We laughed over that for many years.”

Aunt Sandy remembers… “Our Dogs! Lady, and Mike, Pepper, Nipper, and Scrappy. Mike was the best—he was a skinny black lab; we taught him tricks like jumping over the Back family’s fence that bordered the alley. Monopoly games on rainy summer days. Hanging Dad’s stockings (they were the biggest) on the pantry door, on the Feast of St. Nicholas. We’d get a tangerine and some hard candy and maybe a little toy…. Sitting around the kitchen table, doing our homework, and listening to radio shows (Mr. & Mrs. North, My Friend Irma, The Lone Ranger, Lights Out, Inner Sanctum, The Cisco Kid, the Aldrich Family, Amos and Andy, the Shadow, Fibber McGee and Molly, Baby Snooks, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, Burns & Allen, the Life of Riley, Suspense…one time I entered a contest sponsored by Suspense (twenty five words or less why you liked Suspense…and I won a radio, which I gave to mom…come to think of it, that was the first time I got something for my writing…”

Aunt Sandy remembers… “Our camp (Wee home) on the White Water River. How I hated it – until my mother threw a surprise 15th birthday party for me and we all went down to the camp for the day, and roasted weenies! (It was not so bad when my brothers and I rode our bikes all over the area, sometimes as far as Harrison, Indiana). We played endless games of 500 Rum to pass the time away. I learned to fish with Uncle Cal. On the way down and the way back, Dad would stop at United Dairy Farmers and we’d get an ice cream cone. You could get two dips of ice cream for a nickel – but three dips if you chose a sherbet. Guess what we usually chose?”

Aunt Sandy remembers….St. Francis Seminary! My brother Jim was going to be a priest and entered the seminary after 8th grade graduation. Once a month, everyone in the entire family went to visit him. We children enjoyed the huge grounds and going around collecting pine cones and acorns. Jim won’t tell this story so I will: he never really intended to be a priest. He was constantly falling asleep in class at St. Leo’s (no doubt from being up so late setting up pins at St. Bonnie’s). Sister threatened to hold him back. He told her ‘Gee, that’s too bad—I was planning to go into the priesthood’. Ergo, he graduated—but was committed to entering St. Francis’. Funny thing was, when he came home the following summer for vacation, he somehow lost his vocation…and entered Elder High School for his Sophomore year….”

Aunt Sandy remembers…I was the one in the middle. Becky and Jim were only 21 months apart and had each other. Biff and Bill, although 3 years apart, had each other to play cowboys and Indians and make little towns in the dirt in the back yard or the mud cellar. Not until years later did my relationship with my older sister develop (she always seemed so much older to me, like a grown-up) and it wasn’t until I became a teenager that Jim & I began hanging around with the same crowd and double-dating. My younger brothers always seemed like my responsibility, not people I shared my life with. But I had my two childhood friends, Carol Sue and Patty. Patty’s family moved into the house across the street from us on Sutter when I was about 7. I immediately volunteered to take Patty to school—since they were Catholic, like us, and “I knew the way”. Carol Sue was the youngest of three in her family, and a year younger than me. We three little girls were almost inseparable, growing up, except when we got mad at each other and vowed never to speak to one another again as long as we lived. When we were friends we constantly gave one another presents and when we became enemies we demanded all of our gifts be returned. My copy of “Little Women” went back and forth numerous times over the years.

Patty was seldom allowed the freedom to do the things Carol and I could do, such as riding our bikes all over the various neighborhoods—North Fairmount and South Fairmount, as far as Northside, and all the way to the end of Baltimore Avenue where it met up with West Fork road. Carol recalls that one time we were on our bikes, almost at the end of Baltimore where it goes downhill, when my bike encountered gravel and I went into a spin and flew off the bike just as a truck came barreling around the corner. I vaguely remember the fall and scraped knees but must have blocked the approaching truck out of my mind. Where Baltimore met West Fork, there was a Dairy Queen, Putz’s, where everybody went on summer nights to get an ice cream cone. Occasionally, Carol’s father drove us there for ice cream. I don’t think Patty’s father, Mr. Back, drove, and without a question, my father would never have driven three girls to Putz’s to get ice cream.

We learned the boundaries of our neighborhoods, riding our bikes. Mine was an old bicycle that had belonged to my mother and weighed a ton. It was a major accomplishment to grab hold of the bike and run, fast, up the steps to our house on Sutter Street (before you could lose your momentum).

When not riding or bikes, or roller skating, we played dress-ups. The old ladies on our street donated discarded dresses and lace curtains, their old shoes and purses to the cause. We’d dress up and parade up and down the street. When not doing that, we might be making doll clothes; we each had a box of discarded scraps of fabric given to us by our mothers and the neighbor ladies (primarily Mrs. Babel and Mrs. Silz. Their children were grown up and moved away, but they were infinitely patient and kind to the three of us, buying our four o’ clock seeds for a nickel or letting us run to the corner grocery store for them). Making doll clothes was a rainy-day affair, when there was nothing better to do. Another rainy day affair was Monopoly, which we magnanimously allowed our younger brothers to play with us. If we were not playing dress-ups or Monopoly or making doll clothes, we might be playing school (using the shed in my back yard for a school house) or we’d make things out of macaroni and acorns, to sell in our “Three Star Store” (we had a star-shaped rubber stamp, which is how the “store” got its name). When not doing any of these things, we might be sitting on Mrs. Babel’s porch swing, singing harmony (You are My Sunshine) and trying to put Patty’s little brother Bobby to sleep for a nap.

When we got a little older, I became interested in cooking and—since my mother allowed me free reign of the kitchen—we made brownies and cookies and sometimes got into heated debates over the best way to make icing. My young brothers sat on the back steps and ate up the mistakes. And, as we got older, we began double-dating.

My family moved away from Sutter Street first, to our new home in North College Hill. Then Carol Sue’s family moved to Mt. Healthy. Patty’s family was the last to leave Sutter Street. We three married and had children (four for me, three for Patty and four for Carol). I moved to California. Things changed…but not the friendship of three little girls.

Aunt Becky remembers… “It was during the mid 70s that I made the decision to return to school. I enrolled in art classes at the University of Cincinnati, DAA College. I was in good company. Lois Walsh, my best friend and sister in law was also attending classes, and so was my FAVORITE aunt, Dolly (Evelyn Schmidt). Aunt Dolly was interested in painting and drawing. I wanted to try it all. I began with a ceramic class; free form and potter’s wheel. One of the last classes I took was in 1984, ‘Foundry Sculpture’ class. I had a BLAST. Attending classes with kids who were 20 years younger than I was very enlightening. They were all very nice to me. I found that age has no barriers when you are interested in the same things. Some times I don’t think they took me serious. My brother Jim was also attending evening classes at this time. I suppose we were all late bloomers!

Christmas of 1978 I requested flying lessons. I was 42 years old and had a 2-year old grand daughter (Trisha). My youngest child was now 14 years old (Jimmy). And I felt like life was passing me by. The year Trisha was born, I went out and bought myself an organ and took organ lessons. Since I knew how to read music, it was just a matter of learning how to play bass with my feet. This would help me with flying. You steer the plane with your feet by stepping on the rudder pedals. If I was ever going to learn how to fly, the time was NOW!

I had always dreamed of flying. NOT in an airplane – I would float above the earth looking down. In my dreams I would take a running jump and leap off the ground and begin flying. I still have these dreams.

I soloed on March 6, 1979, and passed my exam on December 21, 1979. Helen York was my instructor. We had ONE hair raising experience!

One day, while we were practicing power on stalls, I froze when the plane stalled and went into a dive. Let me explain what a power on stall is. With full power you pull back on the yoke until the nose of the plane is pointing straight up. What happens is the plane stops flying because the wings can no longer provide lift. When this happened, the plane nodded over and went into a dive. You MUST push the yoke forward and get the plane to start flying in the direction of the fall. I had a death grip on the yoke and would not let go until I saw the trees coming up to meet us! Usually Helen would say ‘My Plane’ and I would let go of the yoke and she’d take over. She did not say this on that day. I panicked and let go of the yoke and she took over the plane. Helen recovered like the ace pilot she is and once we had a safe altitude, she told me to take the plane home. (Harrison Air Park). She told me later it was a good thing we were flying the aerobat because any other plane would have had the wings ripped off.

I took several other lessons with commercial pilots and learned more about stall recovery. Helen would go on to become a commercial pilot for Comair…”

–Sandra Lee Schmidt Smith

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4 responses to “THINGS WE REMEMBER; GROWING UP IN CINCINNATI IN THE 30s, 40s & 50s

  1. I like yellow as well and I am from Cincinnati. Check out my blog and enjoy! http://segmation.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/all-about-yellow-pigments/ Thanks!

    • I checked your blog; my daughter in law and granddaughter are the family artists; I will tell them about your site. love the wonderful shades of yellow – can understand why you do too !

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