Sunday, September 18, 2016

Still Twisting the Night Away

There was a place located in the downtown of my hometown where most all the popular teens-and those who liked to be seen with them and those who thought they themselves were popular-went after school. There was a jukebox and a soda fountain and plenty of room to dance. I only saw the inside of that place one time because of my older brother. He told me I couldn't stay. He told me to go home. I've since figured out that was because of the girls. He didn't want them to see me anywhere near him. That didn't bother me since I had my own thing going on after school right in our living room on the TV set with the b/w screen. And even though I'd usually be taking care of my little brother, I'd still be able to watch Dick Clark's American Bandstand. I'd get something to eat, turn the tube on and get lost in the music, the cute boys dressed in suits and ties with greased-back hair and the pretty girls-some with pony tails and some with hair that flipped up on the end. Little did I realize that most of the unknown singers and groups introduced by Dick Clark on that show would go on to become Music Legends-some still singing today.

I loved  the dance contests. I loved checking out the fashions those pretty girls wore every single day. The problem with that was we didn't have stores where I could go find what I saw. Since that was pre-internet, I couldn't go searching for them-then click, use a credit card and have them in a few days. But there was one exception. When Cher first blasted on the music scene with Sonny, singing, "I Got You Babe", I was desperate for a pair of bellbottoms and a short-sleeved, rib sweater just like hers. To my amazement I found them in our downtown. And even more amazing, my mother bought them for me.

Probably the longest lasting effect that show has had on me is the dancing. Back then, dancing was how I kept my little brother happy. I'd pick him up and twirl him around doing the jitterbug. We'd cha-cha and do the stroll. He'd laugh out loud as we did the twist-the mashed potato-the wah-watusi.To this day I'm still dancing. It might be in the kitchen while getting dinner. It might be in the dining room folding laundry. Point is I'm still strolling and jitterbugging; twisting the night away or doing the cha-cha and I don't even need a partner. Dancing never gets old and neither does the thought of American Bandstand with those cute boys dressed in suits and ties with greased-back hair.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Time for Walter Cronkite

Growing up, every evening of every week day at 6:15 I would join my father in front of the television to watch the 15-minute news cast featuring Walter Cronkite. We wouldn't be watching the news. It was always "time for Walter Cronkite." The picture was a bit fuzzy and always black and white yet that determined voice always came through the screen. It was a voice we grew to trust. It was the voice, as pictured in this post, of a newscaster struggling to tell his audience that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Every time I watch the video of that dreadful moment in our history narrated by a man we trusted I cry right along with him.

To think that networks were able to condense all the news into 15-minutes which had to include advertising is amazing when considering today's 24-hour news channels trying to blast the loudest as they all compete for our attention. Of course back then, today's constant in-your-face reporting did not exist. News stories were not sensationalized or repeated over and over again nor were there reporters on the scene, carrying their coverage to extremes, trying to beat other networks for ratings, trying to sway their audience by taking their reporting a bit too far. Back then there were no gimmicks for your attention. It was news. Reporters were not celebrities. They were hardcore news reporters digging and searching for the truth without emails and cell phones and computers. I miss that type of reporting. I am not impressed by women with tight dresses sitting on a sofa spewing innuendos or men sitting by their side doing the same. Give me a reporter who offers facts and not opinion. From that, I can form my own opinion.

I often wonder what Walter Cronkite would think of today's news conglomerates. I'm glad he doesn't know what has happened to the nightly news or most news. I loved watching those 15-minute news casts with my father. Right after dinner we'd turn the TV on and get ready. It always seemed so much longer that those 15-minutes. I think that was because Walter Cronkite was good at what he did. And that was reporting the news without bells and whistles.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

More Than A Rope Swing With A Knot

I wish I had an actual photo of the rope swing with a knot at the end enjoyed by my cousins and I when playing down at the creek. This photo showing my aunt raking wood chips while wearing a skirt gives you a sense of where the creek was located-behind her looking over the top of the woodpile-but it doesn't show the towering maple tree from which a rope swing hung. It would have been more to the right-further along behind the woodpile.

Being a kid, that tree was mighty. Taller than all the rest, it stood out along that creek bed. No matter the season, that tree ruled. In the spring when the water rose and chunks of ice crashed against it as the wind blew and the snow swirled, that tree stood its ground. Looking out my bedroom window, I'd watch the rope get tossed about. Sometimes it'd be frozen in place due to sub-zero temperatures. When there were ice storms it'd become one long, thick sheet of ice. None of that stopped us from going down there. We never considered the weather or the season to be a factor if we wanted to play down at the rope.

But there was more than just the rope that was the attraction. Sitting right next to the tree was one huge-huge rock. Eventually we figured out tricks to do combining the rope swing and the rock. Standing on the opposite side of the tree, we'd take hold of that rope, get a running start-then leap up on to the rope-holding on for all we were worth with our feet hopefully firmly planted on top of the knot. Depending on our lift-off, that rope would take us out as far as possible over the creek (in the summer full of blood suckers), then it would come back in as fast as it could on the other side of the tree. If we maneuvered everything successfully, we'd land feet first square on top of the huge rock where upon we would lift our arms in victory and proclaim a happy, "tad-da"! If we didn't maneuver everything successfully, accidents happened. There were times we came crashing in to the tree-sometimes back first. There were times we'd drop right into Sucker Creek. There were times when our lift-offs were disastrous. Our feet wouldn't catch hold of the knot. Instead, they'd flail about-hitting the creek grass, the brambles full of burrs and sometimes the huge rock itself before we came crashing to a stop. Whenever such disasters took place, we'd look up towards that row of houses to see if any adult had witnessed what had taken place. If we didn't hear anyone yelling at us, we'd go right back at it. I don't think any kid anywhere had any more fun than we did down on the banks of Sucker Creek swinging on our rope swing.

One year for Christmas, my cousin wrapped up that knot and gave it to me as a gift. Pulling away the tissue paper, tears came to my eyes when seeing that knot again. It was as if I was greeting an old friend. In some ways-I was.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A Real Beauty of America-Really!

When I entered my grandmother in a contest sponsored by Ladies' Home Journal, I never told her. That's because I thought I'd surprise her if for some wild chance she'd be one of eight women chosen from essays submitted by readers to be showcased in a special supplement in their July issue titled "The Real Beauties of America." It was 1976. America would be celebrating its Bicentennial!

The minute I read about the Journal's search for those eight women in early February I focused on my grandmother-nicknamed Giddy by my older brother when he was a little boy. The name stuck. Everyone called her Giddy. I wrote my submission out on a legal pad over a weekend. I'd thought about what I'd say days prior whenever I had a moment to think. At that time I was the mother of 3 young children. There was no internet back then so once I was just about finished with what I was writing I took out my typewriter and began fine tuning it. I mailed it at the post office Monday morning thinking at least I'd gone through the process and that was that.

When Ladies' Home Journal called in late April we were all sick with the flu. I answered the phone. I half listened because I felt sick to my stomach. It wasn't until I heard 'Ladies' Home Journal' did I realize what was going on although I couldn't jump up and down for joy. I didn't dare. Actually I didn't think much about it right then. The flu had my full attention. A few days later I realized I'd best tell my grandmother since a crew from the magazine would be coming to interview and photograph her. She didn't believe me at first. When it sunk in, she was delighted. She couldn't wait to meet them.

On the day of their arrival I was at my grandmother's home. One of my aunts lived with her so the three of us sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee and waiting. It wasn't long before a car pulled into the driveway. Seconds later three women were at the front door-the Health and Beauty Editor, her assistant and a photographer. The next few hours were a whirlwind. My grandmother was a hit. Our visitors loved her. I knew they would. She was a perfect fit. I was told there had been been thousands of entries.

I couldn't wait until that July issue was out. When I saw it for the first time I read it over and over again. They actually referenced my grandmother on the introductory page-"And as for Giddy, who raised six children and ran the tractor on the family farm, she reminds us that the spunky American woman is nothing new."

That was certainly the truth. While my grandmother is no longer with us, her spunky spirit will forever be a part of us. I'm so glad I entered her in that contest. She deserved to be on those pages that Bicentennial year of America.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Crooner On The Crescent

(The above photo showing a section of The Crescent in downtown Ogdensburg courtesy of Ogdensburg native Ted Como-then a staff reporter at the Ogdensburg Journal-now living in Tennessee.)

There used to be a section in the downtown where I grew up known as The Crescent as it followed the bend of the river running along just below. At one end of The Crescent it flowed underneath a bridge merging with another river.

Back then the bridge provided access to the downtown. Going one way brought people into the shopping district. The other way brought them to additional shopping options-just not as many. The Crescent led walkers and drivers and the curious to the downtown in a back sort of way. The Crescent wasn't the heart of the downtown. It ran parallel to that thriving downtown full of tall and mighty brick buildings housing shoe stores, department stores, clothing stores, furniture stores, jewelry stores, hardware stores, five and dimes with soda fountains, a photo shop where you could bring your rolls of film to be developed and the top tunes of the day were available on 45s and record albums were displayed in bins one right after another. There was a milliner's shop with a winding stairway leading to its door and pharmacies and a fresh fruit store-banks and diners and restaurants and a newspaper; movie theatres, apartments, offices, grand hotels, an army-navy store, a pool hall, pubs, a sweet little bookstore, an amazing soda fountain with those round tables and wrought-iron chairs and creamy sodas and real milkshakes served with containers holding more of the thick, delicious drink enabling you to refill your glass more than once and coke served on ice in what has become vintage coke glasses. In front of the soda fountain there was a smoke shop complete with cigarettes and fine cigars as well as newspapers from all around the country and magazines. There was something about the smell of all that newsprint mingling with pipe tobacco in that area with its tile floor and overhead fans. One might expect to find Humphrey Bogart standing at the glass counter, about to buy a pack of Camels.

While The Crescent wasn't the main thoroughfare, it did play an intricate role in the make-up and spirit of the downtown. Following the curve in the street were all sorts of little shops and businesses. Besides a dry cleaner and a cobbler-a fine family-owned restaurant offering Italian cuisine, a Montgomery Wards and other known stops, a popular eatery housed in an old dining car was a buzz of activity 24-hours a day. 'The Crescent Diner' offered a full menu and if you went for dinner, you could very well have been entertained by the singing waiter-the 'Crooner on the Crescent'-in other words, my father. Oh he wasn't my father back then. I wasn't even around. He wasn't even married. He was young and fancy free, waiting on tables and driving young women crazy with his crooning. He really did. Over the years I've had women, who knew my father back then, tell me how'd they go to The Crescent Diner just to hear him sing. His most requested song was 'Pennies from Heaven." I guess the girls really swooned when he moved about table to table singing that particular song. You have to remember this was the Frank Sinatra era-although it wasn't Frank making them swoon. It was a singing waiter nicknamed 'Nookie' by his adoring fans.

I'm intrigued by the fact my father was a crooner-a singing waiter in a diner sitting above a river that still flows into another, alongside a downtown now demolished. I wonder what he was like back then. I wonder when he decided to become a funeral director. I wonder if he ever thought about pursuing a singing career. I wonder what would have happened then.  He probably wouldn't have met my mother and I wouldn't be here. I think Nookie made the right decision!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Old Garden Cart

There was never anything fancy about the old garden cart. In fact, most would have retired it by now. Traded it in for an up-to-date model. But that wouldn't be an easy thing to do. You don't discard something just because it's worn-because it lost its shine-especially when it has served you well for forty some years. That's how it is with the old garden cart. Somehow and at some point it became more than a cart. It became a part of the family. And as family members grew old, so did that cart.

Back in its prime the garden cart served many purposes. Besides hauling weeds and shrubs and freshly picked vegetables and sand to refill a sandbox and leaves raked into piles and rocks dug out from the earth and fallen limbs whipped from trees, that garden cart hauled little children and kittens and a dog or two. Around and around a huge garden it would go-up and down a small hill-around a cluster of raspberry bushes and apple trees as giggles and laughter and barking and meowing drifted about an oversized yard. Sometimes a few of the older children would be the ones pulling the cart. Other times it would have been an adult. No matter who was doing the pulling, there were always calls to 'go faster' from those sitting in the cart and holding on as if they were at a carnival and going on a roller coaster ride.

There were quiet times spent in that cart as well. Sometimes one or two of those children would sit in it and play. They'd go nowhere. They'd simply play with kittens or read books or color. Sometimes the cart would be turned upside down and used as a secret cabin-a hideaway in the middle of the yard. Many a peanut butter and jelly sandwich were enjoyed in that cart as adventures unfolded and the cart turned in to whatever a little child imagined it to be.

Due to its constant use-the wear and tear-and uncontrollable weather conditions, the old garden cart has had many repairs and tweaks and overhauls and paint jobs. But its still going. It's still in use hauling weeds and freshly picked vegetables and sand to refill a sandbox-picking up leaves and fallen limbs whipped from trees. But now a sandbox is occupied by grandchildren. And the grandchildren are the ones being pulled about a garden, sitting in the old garden cart, laughing just like the generation before them had done-laughing as they ask to 'go faster', holding on as if they're at a carnival and going on a roller coaster ride.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Card Houses on Braided Rugs

When I was young my cousin and I would play on this braided rug made by my grandmother. It was the biggest of her braided rugs in the home she and my grandfather built once they sold the farm. Sometimes we'd spread out on all fours and try to figure out what garments owned by family members had been woven into the strips of fabric that we were playing on. Creating a braided rug-especially such a large one, was quite the undertaking. Besides preparing the braided strips, our grandmother had to clean the garments and strip them of buttons and zippers. But none of that mattered to us when we discovered those braided rugs were a great place on which to play. And when it came time to find some packs of playing cards and create our card houses, that huge braided rug was the perfect place to do it. The little grooves the rug provided gave us anchors for our creations.

We'd both start by leaning two cards firmly together. After that, we were on our own in designated areas atop the rug. There were no instructions. No plans included inside the pack. It was up to each of us to construct the biggest-most ingenious card houses ever. Sometimes designs would spread out horizontally and then up. Others would just go up and up and up. Some would have garages. Others chimneys. Some had sidewalks or streets out in front of them. Very often card fences enclosed the structures. They were quite the site. No two places were ever alike. Once the building part was complete, the playing began. We'd visit each other in our card homes. Park our cars on the card street. Climb the card fences. Go for a walk on the card sidewalk or ride our bikes or skip our jump ropes. If we were hungry we'd go inside to our card kitchens for lunch. If we got tired, we'd take a nap on our card bed. We had so much fun. But most always that fun abruptly ended when our card creations came crashing down-by our own doing or someone opening a door and creating a breeze or someone moving the rug or an older brother playing demolition derby atop that beautiful braided rug.
(Shown in the photo-2 of my children 'just a few years ago' with their dog)