Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 30
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: April 1992 Volume 30 Number 2, Pages 71–81
Club Members Remember Simple Pleasures
Moderator [Bob Goshorn]
This is another in our series of "Club Members Remember" recollections, a sort of oral history in which, instead of one person reminiscing about a number of things, a number of us reminisce about one topic. The topic for this set of recollections is "Simple Pleasures" -- the ways that we amused ourselves, things we used to do, family activities, a favorite toy or pet or other "favorite thing" as we grew up in a world somewhat less complicated than today's.
I can remember quite clearly, for example, when my brother and I were small boys, going to the movies on Saturday nights. There were three movie theaters in West Chester then, in the early 1930s: the new Warner Theater on High Street; the Garden Theater -- it later was called the Harrison Theater -- on Gay Street, where Thatcher's Drug Store is today; and the Rialto, which was a small theater on Gay Street where the Penn Mutual Insurance Company office is now.
My brother and I would be dropped off in front of the Rialto, where the "oaters" or horse-operas were shown, and our parents would then park the car and go the movie at the Warner, which showed pictures that were more sophisticated than the cowboy pictures.
After the shows were over, we'd all meet at McMinn's Ice Cream Parlor, just a couple doors east of the Rialto on Gay Street. It seems that at that time there was an "ice cream war" in West Chester; this company, McMinn's, had come in from Lancaster County and wanted to take over the ice cream business in West Chester. You could get an ice cream cone for two or three cents, double dip -- but the thing I remember best were the milk shakes, in a cup about a foot high, for two cents!
So we'd meet there after the movie for a milk shake. If my brother and I got there first, we'd simply put in our order, and the owner or clerk knew our parents would be along in a few minutes to join us and pay for them.
To make it a real treat, every once in a while, as we got out of the car, our father would give each of us a stick of gum to chew while we watched the show.
This was during the Depression -- and the whole thing would cost about 17 cents, fifteen cents for the movie and two cents for the milk shake.
Some of you may remember the little toy cars that were known as "Dinky Toys". They were made in Britain.
My parents used to go to Bermuda, starting with their honeymoon and then about every year after that; and Bermuda, as you may remember, in the '50s and '60s, was a good place to buy certain British goods. I got sweaters, often shetlands, bicycles, and, among other things, they would bring us kids, each time they came back from Bermuda, one of these little Dinky Toys. They are scale models of airplanes and different vehicles, mostly military vehicles. They'd also bring us little catalogs of the various things that were available -- and each of us in the family would study it for the next eleven months so that we could put in our order when our parents took their next trip to Bermuda.
Over the years I collected maybe forty or fifty of them. I saved them -- or to be more precise, my mom saved them -- in a box. A couple of years ago she gave them to me again, along with my Lincoln Logs, which is another story, and suggested that I pass them on to my eight-year old boy. I, of course, objected, saying that they were too glorious for a small child. So I've kept them in the box in my closet since then.
There's another part to the story. I was talking to one of the fellows in our church who has quite a collection of toy cars of all types, and he suggested that I go to the Philadelphia Library to see if it had a book on the history of these particular toys. As a matter of fact, there was one, called The History of Dinky Toys. They were made, starting in the early 1930s and until 1964, in Great Britain, and were probably the first scale model toys, before HO trains or the plastic scale models you can get today. The company put out a number of new models each year, right up to World War II when it switched over to war production. The family-run business was finally sold in the mid-'60s, which seems to me rather strange because that was the beginning of the toy boom in this country. Apparently the competition from other new companies, with new techniques and equipment, was just too much for it.
But that's the story of how one young man, namely myself, came to collect a number of cars known as Dinky Toys, all made of metal, and most of them, as I mentioned earlier, military vehicles -- tanks, ambulances, jeeps.
I've often wondered why Great Britain, in the 1930s, was so interested in military scale model toys. There were some civilian items, but somehow most of them, as I remember, were military instead of civilian vehicles.
One of the things I remember clearly from when I was a boy was making root beer in the cellar with my father, home-made root beer. Do you remember how it would explode from time to time? We'd spend hours making it.
Then there were the Fourth of July parades we used to have. They were very much a community affair. Everyone would decorate his or her bike and other things; they'd decorate a wagon to make it into a covered wagon for the parade, and so forth. There were prizes, and refreshments, at the old Waverly Theater in Drexel Hill where the parade ended.
We'd have movies at home on Sundays. In the days of the old Blue Laws in Pennsylvania there were no movies on Sundays -- so we'd show some of the old comedies at home. My mother would make the refreshments. When we went to the regular movies, though, we would have dessert at the Monroe's Drug Store. (I'd have a chocolate soda with vanilla ice cream; that's what I really liked.) On Saturdays they would show a part of a serial or "cliff-hanger"; for eleven cents you'd get not only the feature film, but an installment of the serial as well.
A thing we did in the winter when I was in high school was to go on sledding parties. Whenever we had snow there would be bonfires and sledding parties, over where Drexelbrook is now located. Then we'd go to the home of one of the girls afterwards for refreshments. And in the summer there was the swimming pool at the old Brookline Swim Club; it was the meeting place for lots of the high school students, and even for some still in grade school.
A real treat for me was to go on a business trip with my dad in the summer during summer vacation. And sometimes he'd take me with him to football games down in Delaware.
When I was in high school we also had what we called an open house. This was during World War II. We'd charge maybe four cents, and a group of the girls would get together and make the sandwiches, while the boys would buy soft drinks and bring them. They'd clear out the basement or first floor of the house, and we'd play records. But the interesting thing is this: while the parents stayed in the house, they usually stayed upstairs. There was never anything broken or destroyed, and after everybody left whoever organized the open house would put everything back in place, exactly as he or she found it. There was never any problem at all.
We had a New Year's tradition when I was young: for good luck the first person to walk in the front door on New Year's Day had to be a male with black hair. Now my father was bald, and his best friend was an Irishman who had brownish hair.
So they'd wake me up out of bed -- I had dark hair then -- and push me out the front door at 12 o'clock midnight, and then I'd come back in again to bring good luck.
When I was growing up we also had something that you don't find a great deal anymore, and that is grandparents in the home. My maternal grandparents lived in our house for fifteen years or so. They were confined to the second floor since my grandmother was crippled; my grandfather was able to get around just a little bit, but he stayed with her most of the time. They played a very interesting role in our family. We would go up there and we'd talk; we'd chat. I can remember listening to the radio with them; I heard "The War of the Worlds", with Orson Wells, in my grandmother's room, and I was terrified! But we got a great deal of fun out of my grandparents. They lived there and they died there in our house.
Skip Eichner mentioned showing movies at home. Back when my brother and I were six, seven, eight years old we lived in a row house on Sunshine Road in Upper Darby. In those days, when any of us got the mumps or the measles or chicken pox the house was quarantined, and a big cardboard sign was put on the door. Only those who had had the disease were allowed to go in and out.
It seems that when any of us in the neighborhood caught one of these diseases everyone did, and just about every house in the block where there were children had the same quarantine sign on it. Since we all had the same thing, we'd visit back and forth. (For some reason I would usually catch whatever it was before my brother, but he would be quarantined too and couldn't go to school. Then on the last day of the quarantine he'd come down with the mildest case imaginable; he was hardly sick at all -- but he'd be quarantined for another two weeks. Since I now had had whatever it was I could go back to school again, but he always had four weeks of vacation from school whenever anything broke out.)
But to get back to the movies. My father would bring home some cartoons and a movie projector, and we'd all gather in one of the houses to see the movies. After the reel was finished he'd run it backwards as he rewound it: people and cars would all run backwards, clouds of smoke would descend from the air back down to the fire, and so on. One of our favorites was an ink blot: instead of falling from the ink bottle down on to the paper it would slurp up from the paper back into the bottle. So we'd see all the cartoons both frontwards and backwards!
I spent much of my childhood walking to and from school. We lived about a mile from the elementary school and we were sent home for lunch, but I never found this walk four times a day a problem. We met friends on the the way in to school, and made our farewells all the way home.
Going to and from school we changed our route by the season. We crossed the field when the undisturbed snow was up to our knees, or when the wildflowers were in bloom. At other times we used the road.
We found caterpillars, and horse chestnuts, and acorns. We saved the acorns to make whole families of acorn people, with hatted heads, bodies, and toothpicks for arms and legs. We had stops for jumping rope along the way and for playing hop scotch. If anyone of us had a penny we all stopped and went to the candy store, where we all helped with the choice. The candy cases were right inside the door, and the store owner's wife was always welcoming -- and patient. By junior high school we had moved on to the drug store, where we sometimes bought Dixie cups of ice cream, with a picture of a movie star on the under side of the lid.
The playground at the school had no equipment, but by decades of tradition sections were reserved for jumping rope, dodge ball, softball, marbles, and just strolling and sitting. We were allowed to bring fruit for recess: the favorite was a Macintosh apple, which we managed to break, one way or another, horizontally without a knife to reveal the star pattern formed by the seeds.
We had both a city life and a country life, as we had city grandparents and country grandparents. My country grandmother would bring out an apron full of hard candy for our regular treat. We each received only a piece or two, however, for we had many cousins at the farm, both living there and visiting.
My city grandmother would make us a special sandwich, made up of bread, butter, and mustard, which horrified my mother! She also prepared the holiday feasts. Food was simple on the farm; everyone had to get back to work, so our feasts were in the city.
There was one regular celebration we did have on the farm: the hot dog roast. My uncles and the hired men collected all the brush and put it in one spot. The pile, by early fall, was about eight feet tall and fifteen feet long. We took our own hot dogs, rolls, and marshmallows. The farm provided new cider and corn and a bunch of sharpened sticks. The trick was to make sure your stick didn't catch fire and that your marshmallow did. The corn was roasted at the base of the fire and pulled out when it was blackened. The fire grew brighter as the night grew darker. It was a very exciting time!
We had our own playground at the farm. Rope swings, with notched boards for seats, hung from a log supported by a pair of plum trees. The front boundary was an archway made by two ancient lilac bushes coming together; here we played house, school, or whatever took our fancy.
A shopping trip in the city was a favorite and special treat. We would ride to town on the trolley, and at Woolworth's I would frequently buy a 4-inch celluloid doll, for 15£. One doll was good for dozens of evenings of entertainment while I made her clothes from scraps of cloth, sewing and pinning them on. We also bought our Little Big Books at Woolworth's for about 150 each.
Speaking of penny candy, someone once commented, "Wouldn't it be great if you could go back to one of those candy counters with a nickel?" Then somebody else countered with, "Wouldn't it be even greater to go back with just one penny, and have to agonize so over your selection?"
Do any of you read "Crankshaft" [a comic strip in which several episodes had been about his grandson's rock collection] in the Daily Local News?
My brother and I had quite a collection of rocks. It was a part of the "R. and W. Goshorn Scientific and Historical Museum". (My brother's name was William, hence the W. He was really the active curator.) We would get the geological charts put out by the government and go to the places where there were outcroppings or dikes of various rocks: dikes of gabbro or serpentine, or little quartz crystals perhaps an eighth or a quarter of an inch long that could be found on the top of Diamond Rock Hill, or garnets in the mica schist along Wissahickon Creek in Fairmount Park.
My father had a sales force all over the country in the late '20s and early '30s, and when it had its annual sales meeting my brother, who was seven or eight at the time, would make a presentation, suggesting., that if they saw interesting rocks while driving from one place to another they stop and pick them up and send them in for our collection. (Since our father was in charge of the staff, naturally we got pretty good cooperation!) So we acquired specimens of petrified wood, before it was against the law to remove it from its natural site, and we got obsidian, and copper ore from Michigan, volcanic lava, and things from all over the country for the R. and W. Goshorn Scientific and Historical Museum.
I still have the sign that was on the door to the room in the basement where the museum was located.
I have a couple of things that I remember.
We grew up on a farm. One of my father's daily chores was delivering the milk each day from our small farm on the Montgomery County side of the Schuylkill River to a dairy on the Chester County side. We took the milk to the dairy every day, and the dairy marketed the milk door-to-door and produced ice cream. There were no huge stainless steel tank trucks to make pick-ups at the farm in those days. But this daily journey to the dairy kept Father in touch with what was going on in Pottstown, the large population center in our vicinity.
One summer day he returned from this morning trip with the news that the circus was in town. This brought excitement and anticipation to one who had never glimpsed an elephant, or lion, or any other of the exotic animals of the circus.
We did not actually attend the circus, for this was during the depths of the"Great Depression" when it was hard to find two dimes to rub together. But instead we went to see the circus train unload; it was on a siding next to the Pottstown station on the Reading Railroad. We watched the unloading of the animals and the wagons and the other circus paraphernalia from the circus train. And then they had a parade, with the steam calliope sounding forth, through the streets of town out to the circus grounds, about a half-mile distant.
The event was better than a seat in the front row right in front of the center ring. A memorable day!
Another of my fond memories is of the days when I would be invited to go with my father and accompany him to the "Quoit Club" to view the competition. (In this era of mega-marketing of sports, a look back a generation presents a scene most would dismiss as incomprehensible today.)
The quoit pitching was done in a frame building about 50 feet by 30 feet in size, located behind the village garage in Sanatoga. Inside, there were four pitching lanes. Benches lined the side walls and were also located lengthwise down the middle of the building, separating the pitching area into two lanes on each side. Square pits of tightly tamped clay, about three feet square in the concrete floor, provided the landing surface at each end of each pitching lane. Two counters with clock faces, with a pull rope to keep the score, adorned the west wall behind each pitching lane.
My father's team was called the "Sparrows". (It was the B team of the club -- I can't recall the name of the A team.) They pitched quoits in a league that included teams from Parkerford, Linfield, and several teams from Pottstown. From time to time the matches even received notice in the Pottstown newspaper. (When was the last time you read quoit scores in the newspaper?) But here was an activity that provided much pleasure, participating in a sport which is not generally known today.
When we children had all left home to start our own families, Sunday evening was unofficially known as visiting time to return to the old homestead. It was the time to drop in on mother and father to see how things were getting along. The women and the grandchildren would adjourn to the living room for conversation and the men would put up the card table in the dining room for a fast game of cards.
Bridge may have swept the country in the 1930s, but it hadn't yet reached our corner of rural Pennsylvania. Pinochle was still the game of choice. My father and I would team up against my two brothers-in-law in a game that too often lasted well past the time we should have departed for home and the children been in bed.
It is close to 40 years since those pinochle games. Does anyone ever play pinochle anymore?
We used to play pinochle -- except that we always called it "pig's knuckles". They're great cards to play poker with, incidentally. (There are two of each card, with nothing, no card, below a 9-spot, for those of you who are not familiar with a pinochle deck.)
Pinochle and 500, with its right and left bowers, both were always popular at the card parties sponsored by the Ladies' Auxiliary of a church group or fire company.
How many of you ever went on a Sunday School picnic or a family reunion at Lenape Park?
Sunday School picnics were one of our summer treats. Since I grew up in Allentown, we didn't go to Lenape Park, but off we went to Dorney Park, with the picnic basket filled with lunch. The Sunday School picnic committee supplied drinks and ice cream.
The committee also supplied treats that were used in special events --a peanut scramble, a treasure hunt for candies, all kinds of races. We also got tickets for the various rides in the park, and time for a swim.
It was a big treat for all ages, from the very young to the seniors.
Memories of my Sunday School picnics are now rather vague, but one picnic that my children attended does stand out in my mind.
One of our boys (name not given to protect the innocent--me), then about four years old, entered in the 30-yard race for his age group. There was some confusion as to the direction to the finish line, so I told him to run in the direction of some trees in the distance. Run he did, crossing the finish line in first place -- and then continuing to run, with the pack behind him, on to the trees, some 200 yards off. Shouts from both officials and parents were to no avail and failed to stop them. (He won at that distance too!)
I hate to tell you this.
We belonged to the Baptist Church at the time --I was probably about four or five years old. I went to the picnic with my mother's parents, my grandparents -- and I mortified my grandmother! I fell into the lily pond. She never let me forget it.
She of course didn't have any dry clothes or anything. They just pulled me out and dried me off. That was one picnic that I remember.
I remember a time when I went with my parents out to Pittsburgh, and the couple we were visiting had their grandmother with them. They were going to take her home, and she lived in Steubenville. I think I was maybe in my early teens at the time, but I still remember that ride with her from Pittsburgh to Steubenville.
Her house was an old farm house. We went into it, and was it cold! But after we went in we started up the old coal stove, put some coal in it, and I would say that within an hour that house was fit for a king!
We went down into the cellar. It was an old root cellar, with lots of apples, hams, and I don't what all stored down there. There was a big table in the dining room. And again, within an hour or a little bit more we were ready to sit down at the table and eat dinner. I often think about that -- going down into the cellar, with all this food on shelves and hanging up -- a whole meal all from that cellar. It's something you don't see anymore, and it was a big thing for me at that time.
My dad was a fireman. He belonged to the Paoli Fire Company, and I can remember on many a rainy night the fire whistle would blow. Mother would turn on the lights, my dad would get into his clothes, and I would go out and open the door. In no time at all my father was out the door, down the steps, across the front yard, and down the hill to the Fire Hall. I still think of that often when the fire whistle blows at night. Many's the time we would all then get dressed and go out to the fire too.
We grew up in a little town in northeastern Oklahoma. It was probably about four or five miles square and had maybe about 25,000 people in it, as I remember. And we had a lot of things we did.
One of the things we had a lot of fun with were the various church teams. Every church had a baseball team or a softball team or a basketball team. We played two games every week, and I think about half the churcfi was out there. Everybody knew all the players on the other team too, and it was just a tremendous social outing for everyone.
We also had church picnics. At the picnic the man whom we considered the richest man in the church devised a greased pole -- it must have been about 30 feet high -- and on the top of it he put a dollar bill. During the afternoon a lot of people tried to scale the greased pole to get the dollar. I can't remember now whether anyone ever made it to the top or not, but it was just about impossible to climb it.
I never knew anything about Boston, but Boston brown bread was something we had every Monday. It was wash day, and Mother always fixed baked beans and Boston brown bread on Mondays.
We had lots of games we played in the neighborhood. There was a vacant lot that was not really big enough for a softball field -- it was probably only about 50 feet wide and maybe 75 feet deep -- but we played softball there anyway, all the neighborhood, boys and girls, and we had a great time together there. In the evenings we'd play kick-the-can, hide-and-go-seek, and during the day, especially in the summer, we'd play games like cowboys-and-Indians. (The cowboys were the ones with the rubber guns.) Capture-the-flag was another game we played.
We'd play spin-the-bottle; it could be played in a number of different ways. You could play "Who's the fairest of us all?" and spin the bottle, and it was supposed to come up with the right answer. Or you could have a forfeit or something you had to do every time the bottle pointed at you.
We'd make scooters out of old roller skates and a couple of pieces of 2x4s nailed together.
One of the big social events of the church was a hay ride. We would have a hay ride once or twice a year. And hot dog roasts were another great social event.
We made home-made ice cream. That was really a treat. We thought it was tremendous. And there was snow ice in the winter, ice cream made out of snow.
We didn't have any big league baseball teams or anything like that out where we lived, but one of the big things was recreating a game on the radio, pitch by pitch, from the wire reports. Our back yard was about 40 feet wide and maybe 50 or 60 feet deeD, and my brother and I of course laid out a baseball field there too. (There wasn't any outfield, just an infield.) And we would recreate the game as we listened to the announcer on the radio. My brother would go to bat; he'd pitch the ball; he'd run the bases -- every pitch and every play he would act out as it happened. He could do that for an hour at a time, enjoying himself out there just by himself.
I lived in Strafford on Route 30, the Lancaster Pike. Right across from our place was a green house and flower farm. To the east was an old farm house, better known later on as the Covered Wagon Inn.
Between our house and the old farm house there was an overpass, on which the Philadelphia & Western trolley cars from 69th Street crossed the highway on their way over to the Strafford station and back again.
From the highway, going south over to Campbell's flower farm and nursery, there was a path at the base of the bank supporting the trolley tracks. The bank was like a trellis, covered with roses -- and those roses smelled so sweet! I would go over there just to smell the roses, and to hear the bees and other insects buzzing.
Over on the right you'd see Campbell's workmen on their knees, working the soil. They were transplanting lilies, putting them in pots -- and that raw earth had a special good smell too.
Then going home, there were the roses again. Everytime I smell a rose or roses I think of that.
And there they are -- some of the simple pleasures that we enjoyed when we were growing up.Top
Other recollections of club members on different topics, from our "Club Members Remember" series, are in the following articles:
"Some Games We Used to Play" : April 1983 [Vol. XXI, No. 2]
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