RSS

Category Archives: Childhood

Summertime: The coolest hot season is upon us!

If I could package the feeling I had when I was in the 5th or 6th grade and Memorial Day came I could become a millionaire. The idea that a looooooonnnnng summer ( it seemed time went by much more slowly in the days) was coming with no school work, even though I loved school, no having to wear a certain kind of clothes, girls were not allowed to wear pants to school, and best of all no having to get up and out at a certain time, was intoxicating. By now we would have either made or planned a trip all the way to Dayton to buy summer clothes for me at Rike’s department store.  I am not sure why my mother thought the clothes from Rike’s were superior, maybe they wore better since we did not have as many clothes in those days and they had to stand up to being played in and washed, but she always bought my school and play clothes from Rike’s. Because, as I have written before, we lived next door to East High and the “colored” part of the Memorial Day parade would be forming basically in front of our house , getting ready to march towards downtown and join up with the white part of the parade at the Fire Station on Main Street, my mother took great care in what I would have on for Memorial Day. It had to be red or blue or red white and blue. Until I was old enough to state my objections clearly the ribbons in my hair had to match.

The day that started off summer was sublime. Not only did it mean the end of school for months, it meant warm days, the  excitement of the parade forming, a picnic, either in our back yard or in Bryan Park, and everyone being in a good mood. My father loved all holidays, my mom, not so much.  Unlike other holidays like Easter and Christmas there was no need to decorate for Memorial Day  beyond maybe a flag and some bunting and because those were outside they were considered male duties. . No need for deep, deep house cleaning either. If we had company they were going to eat outside like the rest of us. The cooking was shared, with the men grilling and the women preparing simple things that could be done in advance like baked beans and potato salad. That meant the moms were in a good mood on a holiday for a change. My mother only seemingly enjoyed two holidays when we were younger, Memorial Day and Fourth of July, the rest of the holidays involved elaborate dinners, polishing silver and lots of work.

When I was small we would simply watch the newly formed black part of the parade go past our house, but later my father decided we should watch the entire parade, not just the black part. We would go down and establish a spot on the courthouse lawn, on more than one occasion I watched the parade from the cannon on the courthouse grounds. My father had seen a couple of white kids sitting on it the year before and decided that it was time for a little social justice, so he hoisted me up to sit and watch. It was not a particularly good seat comfort wise, the barrel of the cannon was not only rather slippery it was also a bit rusty in places, but I was thrilled to be up that high and to be able to claim the cannon as my private viewing post.

Because we lived next to the school and therefore the playground I knew I would have no shortage of playmates for the summer. Unfortunately my neighborhood ( it was unusual to go more than a couple of streets over for friends in those days) was short on females. That meant my summers were mainly spent with either me reading under  a tree or playing baseball, football or some created sport with a bunch of hard ankles. Even in those days of upper level grade school I tended to be a bit aggressive, uh assertive and I think that was another reason I tended to hang out with the boys more than the girls. My three choices were Jimmette who was older, Tootles, whose mother was white and therefore seemed a bit odd to me , she also went to the Catholic school, and Sarah Ann ( for some reason people frequently called girls by two names then, Barbara Jeanne, Sarah Ann,Mary Ester, not sure why) who was a complete and utter wimp. Sarah Ann did nothing physical period. She would not even play jacks, let alone dodge ball. Every evening in the summer she would go into her house, take a bath, put on a dress and sit on the front porch to wait for her daddy, Big Jim to come home from the pool hall he owned and ran. I hated Sarah Ann at one point because her appearance on the front porch was a signal for my mother to begin yelling “Coooookie!” That meant I had to go home. Some of the best games and talks seemed to always start shortly before dusk and that mean the call from my mother cut them off. One did not dare not appear, the consequences would have been dire. I am fascinated sometimes about how some children talk to their mothers. My mother did not hit me, except for that one spanking when I was five for falling in the hole, but let’s not revisit that, but she did not have to anymore than I had to hit my kids to make them mind. When did moms lose their juju?

And what on earth made children get “bored?” If my mother left me alone when I was 11 I could amuse myself all day and this was before computers, iPads, iPods and more than four channels on the television set. If I had ever presented myself to my mother and announced I was bored I would have been given several household chores to fill my time, from dusting to cutting grass. We tried to stay out of the view of our parents during the summer so we could avoid chores. The first time one of my children told me, less than two weeks after school was over, that he was bored i was amazed. I admit that shortly thereafter I fell into the pattern that was the middle class norm. The kids were enrolled in summer camp, lessons, excursions, you name it, they barely had a minute of free time, but then if they did get a lull in the activity they announced they were bored.

My  summers were never boring, they were full of catching lightening bugs, riding your bicycle behind the bug truck that sprayed for mosquitoes, ( wonder we are not all dead) , running, jumping, hitting a ball or dodging a ball, roller skating, bike riding, playing jacks and Mother-May-I? Going to Girl Scout Camp at Camp Greene, trips to the zoo, to Bryan Park, to Glen Helen, to see the fireworks, to go to the County Fair. It was a magical time. If ever I felt tempted to recite Elizabeth Allen’s  poem it would be on the day before Memorial Day. Hope yours is wonderful!

Backward turn backward

O Time, in your flight

Make me a child again just for

Tonight”

 

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Childhood, Race, Xenia

 

High School Reunion: The agony and the ecstasy

I am going home next week to attend my 45TH!!!! high school graduation class reunion. The Class of 66 was a special bunch. I know everyone thinks the people they went to high school with were special, but mine were extra special. From my classmate Nedra whose palms sweated so badly on test days that she had to carry wads of paper towels to blot them to keep from ruining the paper the test was on to my friend Mary Beth who was so much better at basketball than the rest of us that only I could guard her–not because I was athletic but because I could make her laugh and miss the shot.  We had the first prom where two girls ( no they were not gay, just tired of missing dances) attended together, we had some of the first sit-ins and protests and we had some friendships made that have stood the test of four plus decades.

Unfortunately, we also had some enemies made that have stood the test of time. There are only a few people in my class I sincerely dislike, but I disliked them in the 60s and I dislike them now. Racism is the primary cause, but a couple of them are just nasty. Fortunately, most of the people I do not like ( and they number fewer than five out of a class of more than four hundred) will not attend the reunion. They are flawed enough people that they do not want to associate with their classmates.

Most of my classmates are great people, thoughtful, caring, decent folks. True, some of them are Republicans, but we cannot hold that against them, they were probably raised that way.

At our last reunion ( at least the last one I attended) , the 40th, I was amazed to see how good some of my classmates looked and how bad some of them looked. How you looked in high school evidently is not a measure of how you are going to look forty years later. Some of the cutest girls look  like they have been “drove hard and put up wet”, to use a country saying. The men generally have aged better, some have lost hair and gained pot bellies, but I could still recognize the faces on most of them, not so much the women.

It is unfair but we do not age as well as men in general. Maybe they simply were not as cute as us in the first place and therefore the decay is not as noticeable, I have no idea.

Anyway, I am going to look forward to going to the Homecoming Game  (Go Bucs!) on Friday unless it rains, and to the dinner on Saturday. I will sing the fight song and alma mater at the game and hug dozens of classmates at the dinner. Eventually if it is a typical reunion people will begin to cluster in friend groups. My table will be the one where the blacks will congregate. After a while some of our white friends will brave the divide and come over to chat too. The few of our classmates who never managed to understand race  and leave behind racism will not be among them.

I doubt sincerely my racist classmates have any idea they are racist. They simply think black people are not as good as white people and do not understand why that belief should be held against them. Fortunately as I said earlier they are few and far between in the class of  ’66.

So get ready classmates. I will be the one in the velvet pants and black and white zebra striped top with a beaded neckline  and velvet blazer with a big rhinestone button. Depending on the weather I will either have on black heels or mules with a zebra striped wedge.  Get ready to be hugged and screamed at; ” Oh my goodness, look at you! ” ” I am so glad to see you, you look great!” ” How are the kids?” “Tell me what you are doing?”  “Where do you live?”  And get ready for lots of sentences that start out ” Do you remember…..?”

I remember. And the memories are almost 100% good, I loved high school, I liked my classmates, my teachers, my school and my town. I still do.

Hooray, for Xenia High School, for she’s all right.

Keep Colors Flying, Go on with the fight!

Hooray, for Xenia High School, Never give in!

Hooray for Xenia High School, For she will win!

And so will the members of the Class of 66!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 16, 2011 in Childhood, Education, Xenia

 

Xenia Tales: I am integrated Part II

I finished my glorious career at Central Junior High on a high note. Not only had I done well on the French scholarship test of achievement, my grades were sufficiently high to inspire the administration to present me with my school letter, tastefully done in real red chenille. I am  not sure how many of my fellow students received such an honor but my memory reports that it was far from a rare occurrence.

As the great day of graduation approached–yes we had a graduation ceremony for having completed junior high, small town school districts are big on pomp and circumstance, we had to go shopping for the appropriate attire. Girls were to wear white dresses boys were to wear black pants and white shirts. Suits were okay for the boys but not mandated, I am not sure about ties. Because this was a de facto admission to high school status, even though 9th graders were technically freshmen, since we were at Central Jr. Hi we were not viewed as high school students, it was understood that we needed to look like young adults at this ceremony.

That meant the females were expected to wear heels. If not required by the school dress code it was definitely required by the standards set by your peers, a much more stringent coda than anything the school could pronounce, of course.

I had worn high heels a time or two, to church functions and the occasional fancy dance, but this was different. The ceremony was held at the Field House next to Xenia High School. This venerable edifice was where we played basketball games, had the occasional other sporting or social event. It was a big deal. Most of us had been going to something or other at the Field House for a long time. The plan for the ceremony was that we would all be seated in chairs set up on the floor, our parents, other relatives  and friends would be seated in the stands.

We had assigned seats, I do not remember if we were arranged alphabetically or by height. Anyway, your row would be led out by a faculty usher and you would go on stage, one at a time to receive your diploma ( certificate) and any other awards you might have won–this is actually when I was presented with my certificate for the French test and with my vaunted chenille Central “C” and be applauded by the crowd for your achievement(s).

This sounds relatively easy, until one considers that in order to go on the stage we were not to go through the usual egress route, doors to the left and right of the stage. No, for some reason, lost in the misty mists of time, it was decided that we needed to go up some temporary stair placed on the right  side of the stage and down another temporary stair placed on the left side These wooden stairs, which definitely smacked of a relatively rudimentary shop project, had no banisters, no sides at all and they did not seem to be of a uniform height.

As a result during our practice sessions a lot of people had difficulty navigating them. I was one of the ones having difficulty. I have always been very near-sighted and not being particularly athletic I always wanted to look down at the stairs while attempting to climb them. This meant that I was prone to not see the next step coming up and therefore I would stumble. I stumbled in the first rehearsal I stumbled in the second rehearsal and I almost fell off the stairs completely  at the third rehearsal where we ( the girls only)had been encouraged to “wear the shoes you plan on wearing to graduation.”

As graduation day approached I was a nervous wreck. Here it was my first official public appearance as a newly integrated member of the CJS student body and I, a black girl, was going to fall off the stairs at the ceremony, I just knew it! What would them mostly white crowd think? What would they do?? Laugh, yell things, snicker, pity me?I would not only be facing personal embarrassment, I would be letting down the entire black student body, recent and not always so welcome immigrants from the East End.

The day of graduation dawned sunny and bright, nothing like my mood, and the entire family piled into the car to go to graduation. I had on my new white dress and my new white heels which looked very good but which I was unsure I could trust not  to betray me during my integrated public debut.

We arrived at the Field House and I bid my family adieu to take my seat with the rest of my classmates. Music was played, speeches were made and then the moment of truth arrived. A teacher appeared at the end of my row, it was our turn to go on stage!

I gritted my teeth, stuck out my chin and marched towards the treacherous stairs, wobbling a little even on the flat in my unfamiliar footwear. I made it to the foot of the stairs and on the signal of the faculty member stationed at the foot of the stairs, began the climb. There were no more than six steps, but to me it seemed like Everest.  I made it up the stairs without incident, and when, having received my awards, I made it down the other side uneventfully, a small round of cheers and applause went up from quite a few of my classmates.

My mother commented on the small outburst after the ceremony.   She thought it meant I was massively popular,  and considering I had not been at CJS but one year and that some of the apparent accolades had obviously come from my white classmates she was very impressed. Actually, of course,  they were expressing their relief that their ceremony would not be interrupted by the arrival of an emergency crew in an ambulance summoned to tend to me as I lay broken at the bottom of the rickety stairs.

I have chosen to let her believe this 40 plus years that I was, indeed massively popular with both my black and white classmates.  I learned a long time ago never to correct folks who give you more credit than you are due. There are always far more who  are willing to  give you less than you are due.  Just take the compliment, try to live up to it, and consider it necessary for the balance of the universe.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 13, 2011 in Childhood, Education, Race, Xenia

 

Xenia Tales: Things that make you go hmmm

Xenia is in many ways, as I have stated before, a dichotomous society. It is both the very model of a small midwestern town and an almost complete anomaly.

But it was  generally a good place to live and to grow up in most ways. The nastiness, racism and classism, etc. were kept enough in the background that it took getting older and being more aware of human beings and their behaviors to realize. Xenia has always had a confusing relationship with its black population there is no doubt about that.

The Civil Rights movement and integration and the other changes in society that swept the country in the 1960s were muted in Xenia. Besides the demonstrations outside of Geyers Restaurant for not serving black people, which were mainly led by the white students from Antioch College, I do not remember a lot of civil unrest in Xenia at all. Yellow Springs, although smaller,was much more of a hot spot for social justice than Xenia.  We were not folks who were up on national trends, or at least we did not emulate them.

I often told my college classes I did not get to participate in either the free love or drug cultures of the 60’s because by the time they reached Xenia I was married with a child, and mothers in that era, simply did not do that unless they wanted to be the object of public scorn.

When I was growing up in Xenia it was a bedroom community in the true sense of the word.White people  and black people in Xenia worked at the factories in Dayton, Frigidaire, Delco, Chrysler, NCR,  or Springfield, International Harvester, or at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Fairborn, fondly called “The Field.” Black people might also work at either of the two historically black universities, Central State or Wilberforce. I do not remember white folks working at either college until about the 1970s.

So we had two societies, primarily separate, but still cordial to each other and still able to pull together when required to defend Xenia and Xenians. I think I have mentioned before that when I had a stint as an editorial writer for the Dayton Daily News I was fascinated that my columns, usually about race and generally pretty condemnatory of my home town as far as racism is concerned, were almost universally loved and lauded by everyone, including, ironically some of the very people I was writing about. After all I might be a difficult black woman, they seemed to feel, but I was one of theirs, a XENIAN!

There was much more of a sense of community in Xenia it seems to me, back in those earlier days, even if the town was fairly rigidly segregated. I often wondered how people reconciled what happened in the factories they worked in or the Field where blacks and whites must have interacted and at least been on speaking terms and what the dynamic in town was. I remember people complaining that white folks they worked with would not speak when they ran into them at stores or on the sidewalk in town.

It happened to me only once. I was in high school and walking downtown when I saw a group of white girls I knew from school. There were four of them and three had their noses pressed to the display window of a store, the fourth one was facing in my direction. She saw me and quickly turned her head. About that time one of the other girls turned and saw me and waved and spoke. All four of them came up to me and we chatted, but I never forgot the girl who was not sure she should speak to one of her classmates because she happened to be black, at least not until she was reassured by her white companions that it was okay.

Black people did not work in stores in downtown, but they did work at Greene Memorial Hospital and there were always a few black faces–not very black generally, it seems the lighter you were the more the county wanted you–at the county courthouse. I remember Viola Ward working there in the basement, not sure what she did, but she was my church member from Zion Baptist–she always impressed me by how mean she was, not sure why.

We had the occasional black policeman. Mr. Robinson who lived around the corner from us was one of the first I believe. I think his duties were confined to the East End. I do not remember a black Sheriff’s Deputy except a few who were deputized to work at the county fair.

I wonder often why the taxpaying blacks in Xenia did not raise hell about the fact that both the city and county refused to hire black folks–actually I think from what I can see it is still true. One of the many mysteries of life in Xenia, but surely not the only one.

Being a typical small town meant rules were made and enforced based on privilege, sometimes it was racial, sometimes it was economic and sometimes it was simply knowing the right people. My father was a lifelong Republican–there I have admitted it–like many black men of his era. Even when it became obvious that the Republican party had abandoned the black people in favor of the racists–read up on the Southern Strategy adopted by the GOP in the 1960s– my father stayed a Republican. Why? Because the GOP has always dominated Xenia and Greene County and he got favors, like a summer job with the Ohio Department of Transportation each year for my brother when he was in college.

In the spirit of full disclosure let me say that I was on the Democratic Central Committee in Greene County when we had a Democratic governor and my son Michael also got annual jobs with ODOT as a fence inspector when he was in college. But then I really am a Democrat! After all black folks voting Republican is like chickens voting for Col Sanders. But I digress.

In some ways I feel like Xenia has been and to some extent still is in some kind of bubble that insulates and isolates it from the rest of the world. There are still attitudes about a variety of things there that I doubt you could find anywhere else. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, but they are all uniquely Xenian. I guess there is some comfort in that. We all would like to believe we are truly unique in some way and being from Xenia, the largest town in the world that begins with X ( or is that just a myth?) certainly makes one unique. The main thing it has done for me is to help me realize how many different guises wonderful people come in, and how few are actually a waste of protoplasm. Don’t get me wrong, there are some folks who have no purpose other than serving as a bad example, but they are mercifully a small minority, both in Xenia and elsewhere.

 

 

 
12 Comments

Posted by on February 5, 2011 in Childhood, Race, Social Justice, Xenia

 

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?

 
2 Comments

Posted by on January 30, 2011 in Childhood, Xenia

 

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.

 
4 Comments

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

 

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!:-)

 
11 Comments

Posted by on January 16, 2011 in Childhood, Xenia