Monthly Archives: January 2011

Xenia Tales: Growing up and sneaking down the alley

I was usually a very obedient child, and grew into an obedient teenager. It was not necessarily due to virtue, it was mainly due to fear. My mother in particular was insistent that “people like us” did not get into trouble, particularly not any kind of trouble that would invite public censure. Some of my earliest memories involve her pointing out bad behavior, whether it was a messy yard, uncombed hair or poor grammar and explaining how “we” did not do that.

There were, however, some things that were simply too tempting to pass up, even for a generally obedient child of 12. For example, walking to church–Zion Baptist on East Main–from my house on East Market you could take one of two  mother approved routes. One took you down Fair Street. My mother was not particularly fond of this route, because it took you past the Cozy Corner, on the corner or Fair and East Main. Some of the town winos hung out behind the Cozy Corner and drank sometimes. The fact that the men were never there before about 3 in the afternoon and never there on Sundays period, did not seem to sink in with my mother. To her it was an area to be avoided.

She preferred that I walk east on Market and turn down Evans Avenue to reach Main Street. The problem with this was that Johnson’s Funeral Home (and Beauty Parlor) was on the corner of Evans and Market and the garage where it was known that they brought the bodies in was on Evans. In order to take that route I had to walk in the street, there being no sidewalk on the east side of the street, or walk in front of the garage on the west side of the street.

Evans is a narrow street and walking in the street was dangerous, but walking past the garage, which had several doors, even in broad daylight was spooky. You never knew when the garage door might roll up and the hearse would roll out, or even worse, they might roll out a corpse on a gurney. I did not want to see a dead body, and being a voracious reader I also knew about zombies and vampires, and I surely did not want to see one of those!

My mother would sometimes come out to the porch to watch me leave for Sunday school to make sure I took the Evans route, although she could be talked into the Fair Street route from time to time. After my sister’s husband deserted her and she had to move back home with her two children, however, my mother was usually busy getting one of her grandchildren ready for church and she rarely had time to come watch me take off anymore.

My sister Barbara took her situation badly, she had been a kind of princess, or so she thought and being deserted by her no-count husband, who my parents had tried to keep her from marrying, hit her hard. She had not believed that he was worthless and thought my parents disapproved of him because he was poor. She thought my parents were simply stuck-up and had no valid reason to disapprove of him. Boy, would he prove her wrong eventually. Her husband Skeet M. was handsome, but he had all kinds of problems, some traceable to his family’s situation and some seemingly just character flaws. His father was a wallpaper hanger when he was sober, his mother was a homemaker, although the house they lived in was not much of a home, and a drinker as well.

Their poverty might not have disqualified him as suitor in my parents’ eyes, but the fact that the police had to visit his home fairly frequently for domestic violence incidents certainly did. And horror of horrors, none of M’s attended church, not even Middle Run Baptist–the less snooty black Baptist Church that my parents considered beneath Zion, as did most members of Zion.

When Skeet took off with all of their money after getting fired from his job at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, my sister who was 7 months pregnant at the time, had no choice but to move back home. After my niece Lisa was born Barbara went to work and managed to contribute to the household a bit, but she never really got the hang of  motherhood. She was too self-centered.  This meant my mother had to start over again raising kids. On Sunday morning it would take Barbara hours to get herself ready, which meant she had no spare time to dress my nieces, that fell to my mother and sometimes kept her away from the doorway , and ergo from watching me start the walk to church.

That suited me fine, since my preferred route to Zion was a direct line. If I walked across the street and through the vacant lot between the Davis and Harris houses I could cut through an alley next to Ed’s Lounge and be virtually right across the street from Zion. Actually I was more likely right across the street from my friend Sharon C’s house, but she only lived three doors down from Zion.

The problem with this route was that if my mother was condemnatory of the Cozy Corner she was downright rabid about Ed’s Lounge. Ed’s Lounge actually was a type of night club, also called The Elks because the black Elks (you all know that the civic groups of the time, Elks, Masons, Shriner’s, etc. were all segregated I presume) met there as well. Ed’s Lounge was quite a hopping club, or so I heard and sometimes had some pretty big time acts there like Nancy Wilson. Like most juice joints, however, there was often some extra-curricular activity, frequently of the romantic kind, going on outside of the Ed’s in the nice dark alley.At the very least on a typical Sunday morning before the clean up you might see some cigarette butts and empty beer bottles in the alley.

So, I was warned to never, ever, go anywhere near this den of iniquity. Which, of course, made me want to go down that alley more than anything. There were perfectly decent dwellings beside Ed’s and the alley actually was rather hilly and had a concrete retaining wall that held up the yard of the house next door. The wall was surmounted with well trimmed hedges– I think the Borden’s lived there. They were light-skinned black people who eventually all decided to pass for white people, but at the time they were still living in the East End–which helped keep the alley relatively dark, even in the daytime.

But, it was a good shortcut and exciting to boot since it was forbidden. I could cross the street since I would have to do that to take the approved route, and  if my mother was not still watching I would head straight across the vacant lot for the alley. If she continued to watch I would amble past the Davis’ house, by which time she would probably have gone back into the house, and then I would go behind the Davis’ house to my path and go down the alley.

The problem was that my mother seemed to have some preternatural sense about when I took the alley/Ed’s Lounge route. When she arrived at church, after Sunday school she would scold me about having taken that route and I would get a long lecture on the dangers of being disobedient. I think I was a teenager and we no longer lived on Market or walked to church before I realized how she knew I had disobeyed her.

Dress shoes for little girls, at least for me, in that era were almost always patent leather. In order to shine your patent leather shoes you used vaseline and a rag on Saturday evening. The Davis’s always cut their vacant lot on Saturdays. When I walked across the vacant lot the grass clippings stuck to the residue of vaseline on my shoes. All my mother had to do was glance at my feet when she arrived for church, see the grass on my shoes and I was busted.

Who knew Mother Nature would rat you out like that?


Posted by on January 30, 2011 in Childhood, Xenia


A day in the life of a potential juror

Today I almost got to fulfill one of the items on my “bucket list”, I almost got to serve on a jury. Growing up in Xenia, which is, after all, the county seat, I always loved the courthouse and especially the courtrooms, which I got to see first on a field trip in elementary school.

I liked them so much as a matter of fact that when I became a teacher I used to take my freshman Civics class to town to tour the city building, county building and courthouse. It was an arduous field trip to organize since it involved so many students, at least a hundred.

I had to negotiate lots of red tape. Permission slips from parents, requests for buses, dispensations from the cafeteria head lunch lady that our absence from the school at lunchtime would not cause her to go bankrupt, admonitions from my principal not to lose track of, lose, allow to sneak off and drink/screw or create mayhem any of my students. It literally took months of planning for a four or five hour tour.

But, I loved my civic buildings and I loved my students and I was firmly convinced that actually going to the county building and looking up tax assessments on their houses and having them talk to the county Treasurer–he was always nice to my students, unfortunately he recently ran into some person trouble–would make them more conversant in how county government works than reading about the duties of the treasurer’s office in a textbook.

So, for quite a few years I bundled up my teenagers, loaded them on buses–having recruited some brave ( or foolish) parents to act as chaperons and we bounced the couple of miles to downtown Xenia.

I divided the students into three groups. One group would tour the offices in the city building and talk to officials and workers, another would tour the county building and the third would tour the courthouse. Then they would rotate until all three groups had experienced all three buildings and the folks who worked in them.

One of the things I was not prepared for when I began the “Government in Action Tour” was how delighted the usually blase city and county workers would be to see my freshmen. In particular one event stands out. We toured the county building which also houses the county jail. We were supposed to see the auditor and the treasurer and the county administrator and talk to a Sheriff’s Deputy about the functioning of the Sheriff’s office.

All went according to plan until we went to the Sheriff’s department. The little deputy, who bore more than a passing resemblance to a leprechaun, got so excited to see the kids that he decided we needed to take them TO the actual jail part of the building. Before I could demur my students, who were, of course, delighted, had swarmed into the elevators and we were headed for the jail cells.

Our guide went in first and admonished the prisoners about language, etc. and explained he wanted the young folks to see that jail was no place they ever wanted to be–kind of a Xenia version of “Scared Straight.”

We dutifully trooped in behind him when he came back for us. The students’ eyes were wide and some of them hung back kind of hugging the walls across from the bars. We had been there about two minutes when one of the inmates, a nice looking blond young man, rushed the bars calling, Mrs. Newsom, Mrs. Newsom, it’s me, Mike.” One of my former students had been arrested for grand theft auto and was in the county jail awaiting trial. My students, needless to say, got a great big kick out of that one!

But, today I was ready to interact with the justice system in a more orderly way. After getting slightly lost–I have only been to downtown Raleigh about four times–I made it to the Carabbus Street county parking garage and noted there was a sign that said “juror parking.” I parked, and walked the two blocks to the courthouse, virtuously passing a Krispy Kreme store on the way.

Once in the courthouse I had to go through a metal detector with an eclectic group of people, some of whom I suspect were there to interact with the justice system in a not so orderly way.  I made my way to the 6th floor and entered the Jury Lounge, a large room with probably 60 or 70 people sitting in a variety of chairs, some around tables. After checking in with the cheerful blond receptionist/clerk I was told we would be “starting” around 9:00, or in half an hour.

I found a seat and was joined at the table by a rather large black woman named Karen and a truly enormous white woman named Kay. Both were nice and we traded info about jobs and life. Both of them hated the idea of being on the jury. I, of course, wanted to be on the jury.

We sat there talking for about half an hour, interrupted only by a five minute film about what we were expected to do. Then the clerk came in to read names of people to go to courtroom 3B. I was not among them, both Karen and Kay were. That is the way fate messes with people.

I mournfully settled in to wait to see if another trial would need jurors when about 15 minutes later word came up that courtroom 3B needed more jurors! I had another chance! The clerk informed us she would read off 10 more names. She began to read and got through 9 people, I was settling back with my Better Homes and Gardens when at last she said  my name!!! Hallelujah! I was going to the court and could perhaps get to at long last be on a jury!

So I happily grabbed my purse and scarf and hustled for the elevator to the 3rd floor. I announced to everyone in the elevator that I really, really wanted to be on the jury. Most of the people took a slight step away from me, eying me suspiciously as if I might be dangerous.

The courtroom was impressive and the judge, who was a type cast chubby faced white man with a good ole boy accent and white hair, told us he was a Superior Court Judge and the case we might get to be involved with was a criminal one, the defendant having been charged with aggravated assault and theft. I was a little disappointed, I really wanted a murder.

He explained the facts of the case to us and then his clerk called the names of 12 people. Again, Kay and Karen were both called, again I was not. Eventually after questioning–voir dire– 7 people were excused from the jury. Three by the prosecution, four by the defense.

I still had a shot. Alas, I was not called for the ensuing 7 replacements and one more of them who was dismissed and replaced.

I wandered back up to the Jury Lounge, only to be told I was excused for the day and my name would not be put back in the pool of potential jurors for two years.

I stopped at the Krispy Kreme store on the way back to the parking garage, got a chocolate iced glazed doughnut to drown my sorrows and drove home. Lady Justice is so fickle.


Posted by on January 28, 2011 in Social Justice, Xenia


Tales of Xenia: Time before technology

I just ordered a new cell phone. It is an iphone and I am sure that I will have to have my granddaughter show me how to use most of its features. Why I ordered a phone like this is one of the true puzzles of the universe. I am pretty confident that the phone I currently have, a Blackberry Curve, does things I have never thought of asking it to do.

But technology is seductive. Think back with me to the difference in my relatively short –if you consider it in historical context–life in available technology. I missed the era when radio was the entertainment. By the time I came along television was the big draw in the living room. Granted the television screen tended, in the early days, to be about 12 inches square and in black and white.

There were, when I was a child, approximately 5 channels and the programming was not generally for children. There was no Sesame Street, as far as I know there was no Public Television, or if there was they did not program for children. The shows for children tended to be locally produced with a few notable exceptions. Bozo the Clown, Howdy Doody,and later Captain Kangaroo and the Mickey Mouse Club. In Xenia, actually Dayton and Cincinnati, we had two local shows for children. Dayton offered us Uncle Orrie, a kindly old grandpa like man with a droopy mustache who played the banjo and had a sidekick named Ferdie.

Cincinnati had the Uncle Al show, starring Uncle Al and his wife Wendy.  Uncle Orrie and Ferdie did some skits, but primarily showed cartoons. Uncle Al’s show was more like Howdy Doody, with Al, and sometimes Wendy singing and dancing and in some cases having guests that put on acts or skits.

Needless to say there were no black people on either show, no black children either. As a matter of fact in later years, when I had children of my own and Uncle Orrie was still on the air, as was Uncle Al I wrote both shows and their television stations and took them to task for their monochromatic audiences and actors. I am not sure anything was ever done, I certainly never received a response to my letters, but neither show lasted long after that time period. I think they had run their course.

Now I have about 500 channels in not just living color but in  high definition and there is still very little to watch on television, and very little representation of black people that reflects the way most of us live. A case could, of course, be made that television is not a good reflection of reality period.

Back to the telephones. Our first phone that I can remember did not have but 5 digits. I can remember when we had to add a prefix. Ours was not a number it was “Drake” so my phone number was 2-6547, after Drake was added it was 372-6547. I think Drake may have also been the death knell of the party line. I remember people talking about party lines and some of my friends said their families had party lines, but by the time I was old enough to use the phone we did not have one.

Party lines sounded wonderful to me. You could listen to other people’s conversations and the gossip mill depended on them heavily. I can remember overhearing adult conversations where people shared what they had heard on the party line and it was frequently pretty juicy information.

Very few families had more than one phone in the house. Ours was in the entry hallway by the stairwell on its own telephone table. An essential accessory for the telephone was a pad with a place for a pen or pencil so that you could take messages. It was considered a serious infraction to remove either the pad or the pencil from the telephone table.

It was also considered a serious infraction at my house to receive calls after 9 at night. I can remember as a teenager that my father would answer the phone if someone called me that late and tell them ” She is in bed and you should be too.” If the phone rang after ten at night somebody had better be dead.

Think about the difference in a teenager’s room in the 1960’s and a teenager’s room now. If you were a very advantaged child you had a record player and radio in your room, probably a transistor, of course. Other than that your amusements would consist of books, puzzles and board games. No computers, no video games, no phone.  I remember being fascinated with a movie that came out in the 1960’s, I do not remember the name of the film, but the teenage girl in the film had a phone in her room! I decided, as I usually did, that if something like that was presented in such a matter of fact manner that it was because white girls routinely had phones in their rooms. I did not have one because we were black.

Because the entertainment offers in my room were limited, but I did like spending time in my room by the time I was 12,  I became a voracious reader. My parents did not believe in censorship or limiting access to books, so I read a lot of books that I could only partially understand.

My parents, like many other of the time, had bought sets of books. My folks had bought a table that was hexagonal mahogany with a leather top and had spaces for books all around it. The books on the table all matched and were part of a series called, I think, Six Foot Shelf of Books. It consisted of classics like Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter, but it also branched out a bit and had some other books that might have been considered semi racy for the time, like Jane Eyre, my favorite romance book ever that I read first when I was 11 . I think I took French in high school partially so I could see what Mr. Rochester’s ward, Adele, was saying in the book.

I wonder if I had had the internet in my room what I would have read and thought and done?


Posted by on January 26, 2011 in Uncategorized


Tales of Xenia: The Fourth of July back in the day!

I have written about Memorial Day, but the summer had another big day, the Fourth of July. When I was a child there was a Fourth of July parade each year. This parade was a bit different since school was not in, it generally had more of a community feel, and a military feel. There was lots of patriotism on display, including ROTC members from Central State and Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops waving small American flags. Red, white and blue were the theme colors and the theme was carried out from the crepe paper woven between the spokes of the boys’ bikes riding in the parade to the hoop skirt worn by some of the women marchers representing Liberty I presume.

This parade was not very integrated except for the CSU ROTC, there was no ritual joining of the black part and white part of the parade like on Memorial Day, because this parade formed at the Armory, not at the Fire Station.

The parade was much more popular before the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement when patriotism and social movements and peace protesters sometimes clashed either literally or ideologically. When I was a small child the waving of the flag was almost universal on the Fourth  of July, but with the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement–” We did not land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us” and the anti-war movement, “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, say it again!” some people began to retreat a bit from the rah rah America is great pageantry.

Nobody, however, hated the main event of the day, the fireworks at the Fairgrounds. The Greene County Fairgrounds were always one of the jewels in the crown of the city of Xenia. With old, huge trees and freshly painted outbuildings and barns it was a snippet of Americana. On hot July 4th evenings people would begin to gather before dark to get a good parking place. You had to find one that was close, but not too close to the fireworks, because you did not want to get caught in a traffic jam when it was time to leave, and, if you came early you wanted to be near the big trees for shade, but not under them so much you would not be able to see through the branches to the open area in front of the grandstand where the fireworks would be set off in a few hours.

The country folks, who dressed differently, talked differently and acted differently than us townies, would frequently bring pick-up trucks for the fireworks. I was impressed with the fact they could pull the trucks up and turn them so that the bed faced the area where the fireworks would be set off, which was the infield of the horse race track ( how many of you know the difference between a pacer and a trotter?) so that the family could watch the fireworks. Sometimes, particularly if they had an older family member with them, they would put folding lawn chairs in the truck bed so that grandma and grandpa would not have to sit on blankets. If the family was not well off they might press wooden kitchen chairs into service.

The kids would frequently want to lie on the hood of the truck on a blanket or a piece of burlap.These families hardly ever mixed with the townies and if they ate or drank anything they brought it with them rather than buying lemonade or Popsicles or some of the other treats that were on sale by various organizations and groups.

We made massive fun of these families, of course. The irony that we were from a town that had a train track running down the center and a grain elevator on the fringe of downtown and were making fun of “country” people did not intrude on our consciousness. We were sophisticated!

As the sun went down and the sky darkened everyone began to anticipate the main event, the shooting off of the fireworks.  Shortly after full dark there was a sound like “whooomp” and the night sky lit up with colors and shapes. Everyone oohed and aahed and the night began to have an acrid smell that came from the chemicals in the fireworks burning off. The boys, of course, loved the ones that did not have any display of colors, but instead just sounded like a cannon shot or explosion.

Some years, when the town was wealthy we had long shows and on occasions the show even ended with displays on the ground, the American flag and Niagara Falls fireworks. When we were poor the show was short and there was no ground display.

Although it was, for many years, a free event, and of course was put on by county money and therefore open to the public, there was a kind of caste system to the  4th of July Fireworks. And, for once this was not based on race so much as on class.  The country people usually parked in a certain area and kept to themselves and the townies who came were decidedly of the middle class. When I was a teenager that changed. All of a sudden folks from the wrong side of the tracks so to speak, began to come to the fireworks. All of a sudden there was some sign that beer was being brought in, young men in jeans and no shirts began to be loud and impinge on those who considered themselves more genteel.

In response they began to charge for the fireworks. By then I believe the area Lion’s Club had taken it over. A fee, they obviously thought, would keep out the riff raff. It kind of worked, but the riff raff would adapted. They simply pulled their vehicles up on the other side of the fence that surrounded the Fairgrounds and watched the fireworks, and drank their beer and cursed at each other from there. Of course, that meant those of us inside the fence still got the benefit of their rituals.I guess they just did not know their place, so to speak.

After a few years the county, city and civic organizations all cried poor mouth and quit having the fireworks, but I will forever believe that it was not lack of funds, but unwillingness to expose their precious children to the unwashed masses that killed our lovely fireworks.

I hope you all have at least had a few July nights where you spread a blanket on the grass, unpacked some cupcakes and Kool-Aid and watched the summer sky erupt in beauty while the crowd around you all looked up and oohed and aahed in unison. I truly think if the town leaders had given the rougher denizens of our town a chance they would have discovered that everyone can appreciate a soft summer night full of communal pleasure while pretending the starbursts and fairy dust displays will last forever. Even if they do have a beer while they are watching.

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Posted by on January 22, 2011 in Uncategorized


Xenia Tales:More downtown memories

Virgin Pin

Okay boys and girls, last time we walked from Whiteman Street to Detroit Street on the south side of the street. Today we are going to cross Detroit, presuming there is no train on the tracks at the moment running down the middle of the street, and walk down South Detroit towards Second Street.

The Corner Pharmacy held pride of place on the corner, in the Allen Building, a venerable old structure. It had all the accouterments of a small town pharmacy and a crazy pharmacist named Tuffy S. He was loud, profane and funny, nothing like what one would expect a pharmacist to be. His domain was a raised counter near the back of the store that ran along wall on the south side of the building.

Dr. Ray, the eye doctor was on the second floor above the pharmacy. His suite of offices was a study in small town, old-fashioned decor. Large windows and there were always dust mites dancing in the sunshine in his waiting room. I never knew if they came from the outdated magazines or the ancient upholstery and rugs. My favorite thing in Dr. Ray’s office was a human head in a large glass jar. I never asked whose head it was,or how he came by it,  but I was sorely tempted to do so.

Next to the Corner Pharmacy was Schiffs Shoe Store. Schiffs was the bargain store for cheap shoes. My mother turned her nose up at Schiffs offerings and I was glad we did not shop there since they did not have the cool x-ray machine to let you see the bones of your feet and how the shoes fit. In those days, before there were many brand names to brag about having your Buster Brown or Stride-Right shoes meant status. No name brands from Schiffs meant you were poor. And, in those days credit cards were virtually unknown, although house accounts were common. My mother had a house account at Litts and Gibneys and my father had accounts at the Criterion and McDormands.

I am not sure my parents ever had a credit card before the late 1960’s. Purchasing was done by cash, check or house account only. Frequently we were limited as to where we could purchase things depending on whether or not my parents had an account there.

Next to Schiffs was Tiffany Jewelers, no not that Tiffany, our local version, a nice, little narrow jewelry store where lots of Virgin Pins were purchased in the 1960s. Virgin Pins were circular pins made of gold or silver tone metal. I suppose some girls actually had Virgin Pins made of real gold or silver, but I do not think mine were. There was some talk that if you switched the side you wore your Virgin Pin on, from the right side to the left side, it announced you were no longer a virgin, but I think that may have been a rumor, probably started by some enemy of a young lady who chose to wear hers on the opposite side from the masses. I believe my first charm bracelet came from Tiffanys. It was real silver and like the faddy and overpriced Pandora bracelets of today, the charm bracelet was popular partially because it gave your family, or boyfriend an easy Christmas/birthday/Valentine’s Day gift to buy–a new charm.

The star of the west side of Detroit in that block was the next store, Kresges Dime Store. Its name was written in gold on a red background and it was a magical place, from its wonderful lunch counter with the best grilled cheese an root beer floats in history to its pet department where you could buy a little turtle and a plastic bowl, complete with a plastic palm tree, to keep him in.  They also had a spectacular candy counter where you could buy root beer barrels, Mary Janes, Kits, Bit o Honeys, and Black Jacks, usually for around two for a penny. If Kresges did not sell it, you probably did not need it. Kresges was a great place to go hang out, even if you did not have any money, simply walking around and looking at things could take up quite a bit of time and if you had a dime to get a float or fifteen cents for a sundae it was simply glorious to sit in the red vinyl stools with the chrome backs that swiveled and look at yourself in the mirrors that lined the wall across from the lunch counter.

After having your grilled cheese at Kresges you could head on down past McDormands Mens Store and pop into Donges Drug Store. Donges had  a real, old fashioned soda fountain and I had my first ever ice cream soda there. Donges’ stools did not have backs, but did twirl nicely. Donges had ( and did until it closed in the 90’s) everything imaginable that a drug store might carry. When I got my small pox vaccination as a small child my mother took me to Donges to buy a small clear plastic dome to wear over the sore spot, which would eventually form a nasty looking scab. Want to know what they looked like after the scab fell off? Ask someone over fifty to see where they got their smallpox shot.Like Sols had a monopoly on the required gym suits, Donges had a monopoly of the little covers for small pox vaccination sites.

The little domes were considered the latest thing in accessories for children, not everyone had one and the scabs were prone to get caught on clothes if you did not cover them, but the doctors  told people not to cover them. The domes were the mothers’ way to protect the spot and not disobey the doctor, but they did cost money,so weer kind of a status symbol. I thought they were disgusting because they showed off your nasty inflamed and swollen vaccine site.

I remember taking swimming in college and needing a swimming cap in the dead of winter. I tried to find one everywhere and finally went to Donges. The man behind the counter looked pensive when I asked him if he might have a swimming cap left over from the summer. After thinking for a few minutes he went to the ladder on wheels that was attached to a track close to the ceiling, pushed it down the wall a ways, climbed it, pulled out a dusty box and came back down the ladder.  In the box there were about a dozen swimming caps. Magic! When Harry Potter went to buy his wand at Ollivanders in the first book and the owner was climbing ladders and pulling down boxes to retrieve wands I thought about Donges.

One of my favorite discoveries at Donges when I got to be an adult was Bag Balm. Bag Balm is a greasy ointment evidently originally designed and I presume still used to keep the udders of cows from chafing. It comes in a cute little green metal box with clovers and a cow on it. It smells horrific, but if you have very dry skin it is miraculous. Winters in Ohio tend to be particularly hard on one’s heels and Bag Balm applied to the heels will have them soft and silky in days. Of course, you cannot put it on when you are going out of the house  or people will turn up their noses at the smell. Now that Donges is closed I am not sure where one would find Bag Balm, although I imagine it is available online, like virtually everything else.

Going past Donges you would pass Kingsbury’s Mens Store and then Hitchcocks Jewelers. Hitchcocks did not run to the trendy like Tiffanys did . They sold more classic jewelry, wrist watches and demure necklaces with small pendants.

Next to Hitchcocks was Lords, a cheap clothing store that specialized in dresses that were poorly made and a variety of clothes that would probably not survive more than a couple of washings before they became unwearable.

Ah memories! The stores of Xenia were many and varied and each one had its own pecking order in how desirable their goods were. It was marvelous to grow up in a town where everyone knew the rules and all you had to do was follow them to  achieve some status. I do not remember there being a difference in what the black kids thought you should wear  or how you should look and where should come from and what the white kids liked, hair being aside of course. We will talk about 1960’s hair in a future post.We were , in retrospect pretty simple individuals, with modest bellwethers for our guide.

Life is much more complicated today.


Posted by on January 20, 2011 in Childhood, Uncategorized, Xenia


Reflections on MLK Day

Okay, here comes the heresy. I was not a big MLK fan in his life. I admire him much more now, but his personal view of the way to social justice and mine were not always congruent. We all know that MLK and Malcolm X were two sides of a very different coin. What MLK said about loving your enemy and fighting hate with love sounded like an admirable idea to me, but one that did not and still does not resonate with me.I was more of a “by any means necessary” chick myself.

Being more than forty years older than I was when MLK was assassinated I am more reflective now, more reasoned, and more likely to give folks a second, third and fourth chance. I am not, however, any more tolerant of those suffering from that dread disease that is so endemic to American society–racism.They need to be healed or ostracized period. Not tolerated, not excused and not apologized for.

Racism is like poison ivy. If you garden you know you can pull it out by the roots, burn it, hack it, dig it up and it will still crop up, if not in the same place then in another area of the garden. At first it often looks like an innocuous plant and you try to remember what you planted there, but as it develops its nasty character is revealed and the process of removal begins again.

Racism is alive and well in America today in so many ways that even I will not attempt to include them all in one of my notoriously long posts. I see it everyday, and not because I am looking for it, but because it slaps me in the face. When you actually have studied race, racial attitudes and racism for decades you see things, things that you can no longer un-see. I have had more than one student complain to me that I have ruined their ability to ignore the evidence of the permanence of racism in our culture.  I am, in some ways, the ultimate Racist CSI!

Race is woven into the very fabric of American life and yet we choose, too often,  to pretend that it is an after thought, some minor social failing primarily held by un-evolved people, primarily those toothless types indigenous to places like  Snake’s Navel Arkansas.

Are most people racists? Thankfully no, most people are decent people. Are racists only white? Depends on your definition of racism. The traditional definition of racism–belief that one’s race makes them superior and the systems and institutions to oppress those from other races, confines it to whites. But, to me racism is more complex than that, it is the belief that you can assign characteristics and personal failings to people based on their race or ethnicity and that you are, in some way, superior because of your race or at least because you are not a member of theirs.

If we use that one then most anyone can be a racist. There are certainly black people who do not care for whites, or for other ethnicities. After 9/11 the number one group that agreed it was okay to target Muslims for extra searches at airports based on personal characteristics was black people.  Being oppressed does not preclude you from being an oppressor given a chance to be evidently. I am no more immune than anyone. When I am confronted with a particularly egregious example of white racism my first reaction is to mentally rant against “those people.”

I have impediments, however, to my continuing along that line of thought. They have different names, Adam, Jack, Donna, Gene, Rosi, Etta, Anne, but they have something in common, they are white folks who I would rather have at my back in a verbal struggle about race than many of the black folks I know. My brain kicks in and I realize that I cannot blame anyone for the sins–insensitivity to outright blatant racism, of one person except that person. I also have to remember that a lot of people do not even know they are being hurtful when they are. That does not excuse it, but indicates that education is what is needed, not animus.

People, I have discovered are people. Some of them of any color are worthless, many of them are good and more than a few are spectacular.

So, on this MLK day I invite everyone to find the divine in each person and help those who need some work before they can appreciate their fellow man. I will go back to my favorite quote, not by MLK but by an old dead white man, Horace Mann.

Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for mankind.

So, buckle on those social justice girdles and get out there and win a victory! I want to retire from social justice work and not have to train a successor! 🙂

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Posted by on January 17, 2011 in Uncategorized


Tales of Xenia: Some Downtown Stores circa 1950-1966

Downtown Xenia used to be a vibrant, functioning place. Besides the gorgeous Gothic courthouse, which I was always proud of, we had all kinds of businesses to cater to whatever whim or fancy you might have.

Starting at the corner of Whiteman ( yes that is the name of the street, not sure about its origins) and Main Street on the south side of the street was Montgomery Wards, you could buy clothes, shoes, household products, even furniture there. I remember the stairs seemed so steep and high to me and there was an area upstairs that you could stand and look down on the floor below. My parents did not shop there much, they both had some fairly healthy contempt for old Wards for some reason. I remember my mother buying sheets there once and I know she went in there when I was about 5 looking for the hottest toy on the market, a ” Little Ricky” doll. Lucille Ball had a baby boy and one of the toy companies put out a Little Ricky doll. Long before Cabbage Patch mania, those dolls were sought after and rare. My mother took me with her to Wards because she heard they had received a shipment of this latest fad. I truly do not remember even asking for a Little Ricky doll, but I might have. I doubt it though because children did not watch television  in those days the way they do now. I am not sure I would know a Little Ricky doll from a Betsy Wetsy–which I already had.

Anyway my mother set out on her quest and took me along, presuming , erroneously as it turned out, that I could be kept in the dark about the purpose of the errand. She sent me upstairs to look at some toys and bought the doll downstairs ( how times have changed, now if a mother sent her child to a different floor of a department store someone would call Children’s Services!) I, being prone to standing in the area where you could see downstairs, of course, saw the entire transaction. I was not particularly thrilled with the prospect of having my own Little Ricky doll, but I am pretty sure my mother felt that she had made a maternal coup.

A couple of doors down from Montgomery Wards was Gallighers or Gallihers, something like that, drugstore. I always loved the doors there, because you came in one and went out another. I do not remember them having a lunch counter, but they might have. I remember buying candy there, but of course I bought candy at most stores where you can buy candy. I believe when Galligers closed Krakoffs a women’s store that tried to cater to teenagers moved into their space. I bought my first outfit ever with my own money from Krakoffs, it was a new fabric, polyester, it had brown pants and a brown and white checkered zip up jacket and I loved it! I wore it to a Cleveland Browns game years later and the zipper broke , it was plastic and came apart, when I stood up to cheer. Fortunately since we were in Cleveland I had on a coat and did not have to sit there with my bra showing for the rest of the game.

Next to Galligers was the Famous Cheap Store, which sold virtually everything imaginable for farms and homes. I do not think they sold clothes, although  they may have sold overalls. I remember sleds, stoves, pots and pans, and a wide assortment of things I had not idea what their purpose was, but my favorite thing at the FCS was the huge yolk that hung over the stairwell that went downstairs to the basement. I presume it was for a horse, but I remember looking at the enormous leather thing and fantasizing that it could possibly be a yolk for a dragon or an elephant.

The next store I will walk you through is JC Penny. Our Pennys had a wide variety of things, household goods, clothes, etc and at the rear of the store was the catalog counter. You could order virtually anything and have it sent to the store for you to pick up, something considered very advanced and avant garde for the time. Pennys was in a building so old that the stairs, which curved up to the second floor, creaked when you walked on them. At one point Pennys tried to be more of a boutique type store for women, keeping their stockings and scarves and other accessories in small, flat boxes stacked up on shelves and minded by clerks who would retrieve the box and show you the item. That went by the wayside like so many modern ” improvement” and they became much more like current retailers–you are on your own until you want to pay, and may have some difficulty finding someone to take your money then.

Pennys was one of the first downtown stores to hire a black clerk. My sister in law used to run the elevator at JCP when she was in high school. Elevators in those days were much different creatures than they are now. In order to make the elevator move you had to close an iron gate and then turn a handle. It took some skill to make the elevator stop level with the entrance to the floor, and if the operator missed you had to endure lots of jerking back and forth until he/she got it even.

Walking west towards Detroit Street after leaving Pennys you would go past the Candy Kitchen ( It may have been the Kandy Kitchen) I am not sure how it was spelled, but it was mainly called Dirty Greeks. Black people were not welcome there. My memory of the place was that it was in something that resembled a trailer. It sat on the other side of a forbidding alley beside Pennys.

The next major store was McVays a great store that sold paint, wallpaper, dishes and other items to make your house a home. But, my favorite thing about McVays was that they were the only vendor of Ginny dolls, the precursor of Barbies. Ginny dolls did not have enormous breasts and high heels, they were chubby cheeked little girls , but they had wardrobes that would put Barbie to shame. McVays had their Ginny dolls on shelves built into the side windows next to their door and they would have them in different outfits. I used to look forward to going downtown so that I could see if there was a new outfit I did not have. I may have to go on Ebay and see if I can find a Ginny doll, although I imagine they would cost so much I would have to sell a kidney to get one.  Needless to say there were no black Ginny dolls, but it never occurred to me that Ginny was not for such as me. She was one of my favorite dolls, or I should say they were some of my favorite dolls, since I believe I ended up with five of them.

After McVays you would encounter Litts ( or Sols, I cannot remember which came first, but we will go with Litts) a truly unique women’s clothing store for a variety of reasons. One of my most vivid memories of Litts was witnessing a fight between two white women, a mother and daughter, that I did not know. I was about 12 and went to Litts for what my mother usually sent me to Litts for, a slip– for those of you under 35, a slip is something women used to wear under dresses or skirts. I find that young women have never heard of such things and when I attempt to explain it to them they tend to look doubtful. Anyway, I was in Litts looking for a new black slip when noise erupted from the back of the store where the dressing rooms were.

The dressing rooms in Litts were tiny little plywood walled cells with a ratty curtain in the front for privacy. On this day the mother and daughter –the daughter appeared to be a little older than I was, were having words. The daughter was in the dressing room trying on something and the mother had launched into a lecture about what to wear and how to wear it. The daughter finally got tired of yelling back and forth and burst out of the curtains in her bra and panties to yell in her mother’s face. I was not sure whether to be more impressed with her hubris and lack of modesty or with the fact her mother did not smack her. I remember thinking that distinctly, although my mother had never smacked me, but then I had never pushed the envelope like that either.

Okay this is getting too long, only three more stores to this post. Next we get to Sols owned by the Arnovitz family.Antisemitism being what it was in Xenia I never realized that a lot of the criticism about Sols was because the owners were Jewish until I was much older. It was funny to go to Sols because you were accosted almost immediately, usually by Mrs. Arnovitz and I can remember she always wanted to sell you socks. No matter what I went in there for she tried very hard to push the socks. The main reason I went to Sols was to buy our required, hideous gym uniforms. For some reason, even though the colors of Xenia High were blue and white, the gym suits were a puke green. They were one piece things, shorts and a short sleeved top all in one  which required that you step into it. They closed with snaps which would not stay snapped during any kind of movement unless you belonged to the IBT club. ( Youngsters ask your parents or better yet your grandparents what that means) So, every late summer I had to make the pilgrimage to Sols to buy my gym suit and fend off Mrs. A to keep her from pressing new socks on me.

Next to Sols was the Reliable Shoe Store. When I was small, and before we knew that x-rays were not good for you, they had a machine where you could put on a pair of shoes, stick your foot under the x-ray and see where your foot was–or more accurately the bones in your foot were–in relation to the front of the shoe. It was heralded as a great advance in the technology of making sure shoes fit, until, of course, they found out that exposure to radiation was not particularly good for you.

Finally, there was the bank on the corner.

There was a store called the Card Shop in that stretch of Main Street in later years, but I cannot for the life of me remember where it was. Old Xenians, weigh in please!:-)


Posted by on January 16, 2011 in Childhood, Xenia