Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Cynique

A time capsule of the way we were

Recommended Posts

Well, here we go again.  What follows is hopefully the last time I will bore AALBC, recalling life as I knew it growing up black in a small interracial midwestern town where "negros"  were a tiny minority, confined to their own little community. Bear with me while I take a different approach to revisiting my early years, focusing on the setting that was the back drop for life as I remember it beginning when I was about 5 which would have been 77 years ago.    

Obviously, everybody had a childhood, a way station in their life's journey which embodied the joys and woes that came with the territory of growing up. To me, what makes anybody's childhood unique is the era in which it occurred. The zeitgeist of it!  

My generation is an "endangered species; we are dying out and our voices will soon be stilled.  Once this happens, the world will have lost the last of the Great Depression survivors who, as youngsters, did without and made do, not knowing we were poor, existing in an America that had fallen on hard times. I am aware that my early days that included doing the fun things most kids do, are not that special. What is special, however, is the era during which they took place; a richly historical chapter in the American saga when, among other extraordinary things, for over 12 years Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only president we ever knew. 

First of all, in my little world, white people were just “them”. If blacks weren’t intrusive or belligerent, white townspeople were reasonably tolerant and receptive to those of us who didn’t go where we didn’t “belong”.  For a long time, voluntary segregation was our subtle way of dealing with this.  We attended their big,  top-notch high school and patronized their public businesses and utilized their facilities and even made friends with some of them, but we never crossed racial lines, and during the course of this co-existence, our way of became like a carbon copy of theirs.
   
Back then, life was "spartan". Things like home phones, refrigerators and stoves with pilot lights were luxuries.  If you needed to make a call, you'd go to the pay phone located in the corner drug store, inserted your nickel in the slot and waited for an operator to say: "number please".  If you needed to light an eye of your 4-legged enamel stove, you struck a big kitchen match, turned the gas knob and did so. Whoosh! Monday was wash day and our mothers did laundry in an a washing machine equipped with an agitator and an attachment with revolving rollers that would wring clothes out before you hung them outside on a line to dry. The many who couldn't afford one of these, used a rippled scrub board  and a bar of lye soap to get the job done, squeezing the water of garments by hand. No automatic dishwashers, either, or aluminum sinks with  stopper/strainers.  Dishes were done in a big oval pan filled with the hot water you heated up in a teakettle on your stove. An old rag served as a wiper, and soap was sprinkled out from a box of Ivory soap chips. 

What we couldn't do for ourselves, there was a brigade of men who provided the services essential to our daily lives. There was the Milkman who would deposit quarts of fresh milk on your door step in the predawn hours, milk whose cream had risen to the top making it necessary to shake the bottles up to distribute it. Then there was the Ice Man who, for a small fee, would use his prongs to pick up either a 25 or 50 pound block of ice off the back of his truck, sling it over his shoulder and deliver it to your back door for deposit into the "ice box" which kept your food cold and fresh. (You got your ice "cubes" by using an ice pick to hack off chunks of this big block.) There were the Garbage Men, who drove horse drawn wagons swarming with flies, up and down alleys, picking up what was set out.  There was the smudgy-faced coal man who provided fuel for the furnace that heated your home, emptying his sacks of black lumps into the coal bins that were located in the basement of every house. There was the Mail Man who delivered letters twice a day, and was permitted to ride free on the street cars that lumbered up and down the main streets. No supermarkets were around, just a Jewish grocer down the block who extended credit to your parents if they were short on cash. We’d hear about the Dog Catcher but our big mutt roamed free, barking at stray cats, and growling at other unleashed mongrels when he wasn’t gnawing on a bone or woofing down dinner table leftovers.

A big treat for us was going to Saturday afternoon matinees where for the admission of 10 cents, we got to enjoy double features of the latest movies starring the likes of Clark Gable or Shirley Temple, films which are now the oldies running on the TCM cable channel. "Extra added attractions" were Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse or Popeye cartoons, newsreels, and exciting weekly serials depicting the cliff-hanging adventures of Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless. A dime also got you a Super Man or Wonder Woman comic book. Evenings were when we listened to the radio, regularly rooting for boxer Joe Louis to knock out his latest opponent. Other nights we laughed at comedy shows like  Amos 'n Andy, or were transfixed by the dramatizations of detective mysteries like Sam Spade, and spooky stories with such titles as "The Shadow".  Live broadcasts of big bands appearing at famous night clubs could also be tuned in, playing the swing music we danced the "jitterbug" to at social functions. And speaking of good times, morals were stricter back then. Single couples didn't shack up together, and getting pregnant without being married was a stigma. The only people that used drugs were jazz musicians who smoked "reefer".  

It was during this period that a world war broke out and galvanized the country, drafting millions of our older brothers to go fight and die all over Europe, and on islands in the Pacific and the Sahara desert in Africa. Meanwhile, on the home front,  shortages caused by the war were dealt with by rationing such things as meat, can goods, sugar, shoes and gas. Eager to do their part for the war effort, kids took time out from shooting marbles and cutting out paper dolls, to collect scrap metal  to be hauled off and reprocessed into what it took to turn out planes and tanks in the factories staffed by a workforce of women replacing the men who'd gone off to war. 

It was a time when every block had an Air Raid Warden who wore a white helmet and was in charge during practice blackouts which ended when howling sirens would give the all-clear signal that permitted street lights, and house lamps to be turned back on, leaving us secure in the knowledge that enemy planes would not be dropping bombs on us. It was also common to see dug up vacant lots converted into what, for some reason, were known as “victory gardens” where vegetables were grown - presumably to help win the war. 

Finally, after four grueling years and tens of thousands of casualties, the Nazis and the Japs were defeated, forced into surrender by the dropping of 2 devastating atomic bombs and the threat of more. In celebration,  cities and towns all over the USA welcomed their conquering heroes home with parades. Our 4-hour one proceeded down our main street, a panorama of marching bands, color guards and floats from all over the area paying tribute to the brave sons, fathers, and brothers who made it home alive.  It was a stirring spectacle I've never forgotten.     

Once this costly war ended, the economy rebounded, creating a boom in construction and manufacturing as new products flooded the market. A synthetic called plastic began competing with metal, wood and glass, a material called polyester was as popular as cotton and linen, cleaning aids called “detergents” instantly dissolved grease and grime, medicines called “antibiotics" miraculously cured infections, frozen meat and vegetable were soon competing with fresh and canned products, ball point pens made ink ones obsolete. The war plants went back to making automobiles, and bright-hued streamlined cars began to roll off Detroit's assembly lines. Most exciting of all, TELEVISION  appeared on the scene, and our world would never again be the same! (The reports of "flying saucers" later dubbed UFOs that began to mysteriously appear in the skies was another reason for this.)  No longer children, as teenagers, we bid "good bye" to the preceding decades and said "hello" to the nascent 1950s that would explode into the tumultuous 1960s.

The period of unrest and protest that followed brought about reform and progress and most of all a change in America’s lifestyle as the days of innocence and simplicity morphed into an era of arrogance and sophistication.  Time marched on, children were born, houses bought, and middle-age set in. Before we knew it, the torch had been passed and the Baby Boomer generation came into its own.  

Recently, a lifelong friend and I were recalling how much history we had witnessed, during the terms of 13 different presidents, - all of the black "firsts" that had made us proud, like the one that saw Jackie Robinson become the first negro to play in major league baseball. Then there was the pall cast by the ongoing Communism threat that sustained the 20-year cold war with Russia which gave rise to the Korean conflict and later the Viet Nam fiasco. The rash of assassinations that robbed us of so many of our “best and brightest“. The monumental Civil Rights Struggle and the fatuous Women's Lib movement. The counter-revolution waged by black power militants and hippie flower children. The Cuban missile crisis that almost triggered a nuclear war. The formation of NASA and the exploration of outer space, and the advent of the computerized electronic age that eventually spawned the Internet and it spin-offs, and last but not least, the dawn of a New Millennium that brought the agony of the 911 terrorist attack, and the thrill of an African American man being elected President!

During the course of discussing the many famous alumni of our high school, including people like martyred Black Panther leader, Fred Hampton, and Glenn "Doc" Rivers, former NBA star and now coach of the LA Clippers, and one of America's richest black women, Shelia (Crump) Johnson, divorced wife of BET's Robert Johnson,  my friend brought up our class mate Eugene Cernan. He was who, after earning an engineering degree from Purdue University, eventually became an Astronaut.  For a whole semester Gene sat near us in study hall, and little did we know that years later in 1968, this tall lanky white guy who'd stroll by with a nod, would be the last man to walk on the moon.  Small world.  But it was ours. 

Yes, my life could be considered ordinary by some but it was also different, unique unto itself. And now I am left to wonder if, in the present, I will witness yet another first in American history. A woman president. Or an election result that for the great American Empire could be the beginning of the end…

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Cynique,

Of course I'm one of those people that really enjoy reading these retrospectives.  In fact, if you don't mind, I'll create a separate page for this article (linked from your AALBC.com page). I'm also planning (I know finally), to publish a book next year called the The Best of AALBC.com. I would like to use this piece there too.

I often think about how much things have changed in the last 25 years.  I teach a web design class and I'm often struck, as I lecture, how much technology has advanced in that brief period. I really can't image how things have changed in the time scale you've described.

But, it is interesting that much of what you described from your youth in terms of the creature comforts of home life are things that I recall. In south life seemed even more spartan.  One of my aunts had an outhouse into the late 60's. 

I believe the changes are accelerating as time progresses.  For example, our family only changed our home telephone once my entire childhood, upgrading from a rotary to a push button model.  Today many families "upgrade" all their portable phones every couple of years.

Dishwashers, washing machines, computers, and more have saved us all a lot of physical energy and given us a lot more time.  It is not clear to me that society is any better with the extra time and energy.

It seems like the additional time and energy we have is wasted.  Can you imagine the media of your day using any of their resources to spread "news" based upon children joking about Althea Gibson's hair?  

It is almost a cliche to say, we have access to more information, but are less wise, less knowledgeable.  What do you think?

 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You took a life and condensed it into a one page post. That's impressive, but this is definitely information that is currently the foundation of multiple books that get optioned into film. The idea of a "woman" Forrest Gump film being done would be interesting. Maybe Ava or Oprah will browse AALBC and decide to contact you to do that... wishful thinking.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I absolutely love hearing (reading actually) stories like this.
I always love to get my information "first hand" from those who actually witnessed historical events instead of getting them out of books or movies or from biased historians.

What I used to when I was younger but no longer find suprising now after hearing it from so many people over 60 was how segregated Illinois, Michgan, Ohio, and other northern communities were back then.

We were taught in school that segregation and Jim Crow only existed in the South, but up North everyone lived together. But Black folks who lived in major Northern cities prior to the 50s routinely tell the same stories of segregation and open racism that may not have been as STRUCTURED as that of the South but definately existed defacto.

Something tells me that actual SLAVERY probably existed in Northern states as well and if we could have talked to Black folks who lived up Northern during that time they would have told us different from what we read in history books.

 



It's funny.....
Everytime someone mentions ice men carrying ice to people's homes I think of those old Laurel and Hardy clips where they'd deliver a block of ice to a house on a hill so far up from the street that the ice block has melted into a mere ice cube by the time they get to the front porch.....lol.

"Laurel and Hardy" still goes down as one of my favorite shows both past and present.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was motivated, in part, to write this chronicle by the exchanges I would have with my kids while picking their brains about what was going out there in the mix. When I'd answer their questions about how things were back in my day, they were amused and amazed by what I would tell them; especially my millennial grand children. So the idea of putting my recollections into writing has been ruminating inside of my head for a while, my intent being that they would be what I labeled a "time capsule" for those curious about the content of the life led by some black people during a pivotal time in our history. And, fortunately, AALBC has provided me with a forum to do this.  So thank you Troy, and thank you Chris and Pioneer for your positive input.   

Anyway, once I started composing this narrative, the memories just flooded back, and every time I thought I was done, I would remember something else. (And I'm still revising and editing my post.)Talking with a couple of the few friends I have left who are my age, also triggered my recall. This account turned out to be a little longer than I anticipated, but it's not as long as it could've been had I not realized that some of what I was describing was too recent.  

As to what I think the technology and modern conveniences of today have robbed people of, it is their depth.  We are all manifestation of our experiences and impressions, and the more things are done for us, the less immersed we become in the ingenuity and challenge it takes to do things for ourselves.  In the process, too many of us become one-dimensional. We may have more leisure time, but does it bore us, or does it inspire us to get in touch with ourselves?  TV has become our window to the world, the Internet our cyber sphere, social media our alter ego, and life has become different. Better in some ways, but definitely worse in other ones because we are too controlled by and dependent on outside forces. IMO

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Cynique, do you have stories to tell from your parents? It is likely your parents lived through both world wars, the great depression, women being given the right to vote, and very likely knew, personally, people who were formerly enslaved

I wonder what they would think of the world today...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Troy As a matter of fact, I do have stories from my parents.  Yes, they did live through all the events you mentioned.  My Daddy joined the Army during world war one, but never saw combat because the America's participation in this war only lasted a year and it was over 3 months after he joined.   

My mother' father was born a slave in Franklin, Tennessee, and in a slave narrative he recalls how as a child while still in slavery he played with his master's children who were also his half-siblings.  He later became a deputy sheriff in this town.

My father's grandmother was also born a slave but that's all I know about her. His mother was half native American.

Both of my parents came north in 1914 during the first wave of the Great Migration and settled in Chicago.  My mother once worked as an elevator girl in a vaudeville theater in Chicago called the Rialto.  My father also worked as a waiter in what is now Chicago's Auditorium theater but way back then was a hotel.   My father also worked as a Pullman porter on the B&O Railroad and had very interesting stories to tell about how while he and his fellow porters were smiling and nodding and answering to the name "George" which was they were all called after George Pullman who invented railroad sleeping cars,  they also were small time bootleg whiskey runners. (He and his partners-in-crime were fired when they eventually got caught.)

My mother never said anything about women gaining the right to vote. (I have read that the Women's suffrage movement had nerve enough to discriminate against black women.)  They both raved about Chicago indeed being a toddlin town and how much fun they would have at rent parties where they would play whist, and drink bath tub hooch, and the dance halls where they'd do the 2-step and the black bottom to Dixie land jazz.  My mother also attended a 6-week course in hair dressing at Madam C. J. Walker's college.  For years she used the comb and curling iron she  was required to purchase for this class to do me and my sisters' hair. 

As for what they would think of today's world, they would probably feel pretty much the same way that I do. My daddy loved Malcom X and my mother admired Martin Luther King, and they both would be disappointed as to how the black race is back to square one and would side with young people who have little regard for the national anthem or pledge of allegiance.  My Daddy was the first person i ever heard say that America was "home of the free white man and the brave black nigga".                                                                                                                   

@Pioneer1 The city of Cairo, Illinois, which is at the very tip of that part of the state that extends deeper into the south than the state of West Virginia, was at one time, very southern in its culture, and could've been described as maintaining slavery.  A woman I know from there swears that as child in the 1940s blacks were forced to work in cotton fields for no pay and get off the sidewalk to let white people pass.   

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Cynique, did you know your maternal grandfather, a former slave?  Did you family ever maintain or regain contact with your former owners?

I understand being a Pullman Porter was a desireable gig back in the day, I imagine losing that gig was probably a big deal.

Did you your mother meet CJ Walker?

BTW what does "toddlin"  mean?  I tried looking it up, and I see the word was first used in song back in the 20s, but I did not see a clear, at least not to me, definition.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


@TroyYes, I met my maternal grandfather once during a visit to Nashville when I was about 6 years old.  All I remember was that he looked like an old white man, blue eyes and all.  I found out later that as a young man he had also been an excellent carpenter.  I don't think he kept in touch with the people who once owned him.  At a certain age, his half siblings moreorless disowned him and went about their lives as did he.  He also reported in a slave narrative he dictated to people who went all over recording these recollections during the Depression, that after the civil war, the KKK had once descended upon Franklin, Tennessee, where he lived, and he and his posse ran them off and they never returned.  My paternal grandfather lived with us for a while during World War 2.  He was a dapper ol widower who liked gin and had an eye for the ladies. One thing I remember about him was that he always bragged about being able to read and write. My Dad always referred to his ex- slave grandmother as Granmammy and described her as being black as tar. Both of my grandfathers died before I reached my teens, and of course I wish now i had questioned them more about their past.              

My maternal grandmother, who I never knew, taught school for a while, something women could do back then if they had at least 2 years of high school.  I learned that she set up a little room in our basement when she came to live with my mother and taught my older brother before he entered grade school providing him with what have been equivalent to kindergarten.  Never knew my paternal grandmother either  who died when she was young and my father would talk about him and his younger half-sister crying and running behind the cart carrying her wooden casket to be buried as soon as possible because she wasn't embalmed and the blood was running out of her nose and ears. Recounting this would always make him very sad. From the one picture I saw of her she looked very much like the half native American that she was. My Dad's father and mother weren't married and his father left town and went north to seek his fortune.  After his mother's death, my dad went to live with an aunt who totally neglected him and when word got back to my grandfather, he came back to Kansas, and kidnapped my father, taking him back to Chicago with him.  My Daddy loved "runnin on the road" which was how people referred to pullman porter work, but I understand my mother was glad when he lost this job because he was away from home so much.  (This was all before my time, back during the 20s) My daddy also mentioned how on layovers he'd always go and visit the local tourist attractions in whatever town he was in and that was a great education for him who never got past 8th grade.                                                                                                                         BTW, I am named for an aunt named Consuelo who, herself, was named for Consuelo Vanderbilt, a famous rich debutante who was like the Jackie Kennedy of her day. From the way my mother described her reclusive sister, I think now that she was probably autistic but back then, they didn't have a name for her condition.  (This was probably the case with many people in those days who were thought of as just being a little "off".)  I don't think my mother ever met Madam C. J. Walker.  She just attended the beauty college named after her.                                                                                     As for the meaning of the word, "toddlin", I would guess that it means fun loving and naughty. The song "Chicago" made famous by Frank Sinatra refers to Chicago as "a toddlin' town", and the line following this phrase  is "the town that Billy Sunday could not shut down".  Billy Sunday was a famous evangelist on a mission to reform sinners and abolish dens of iniquity.                          

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks so much @Cynique!

You are part of the last generation of Americans, who actually knew people who were enslaved in these United States of America.  That is really something when you think about it.

A simple DNA test and access to one of the databases like ancestry.com would almost certainly pull up those relative from TN.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What does any of this have to do with my personal recollections? What about the zeitgeist of my time capsule post would you correct?  Where did I say that the curling iron and hot comb my mother came into possession of during the '20s were not invented by Marjorie Joyner?  Puleeze.

And why would you even be interested in reading my timeline?  i'm certainly not interested in anything you write.  LOL YAWNNNN.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Poor ol sara.  I  took the wind out of your sailsjust when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, you get torpedoed by somebody who's not interested in your drivel about what's-his-name and his girlfriend, actually expecting that your ongoing campaign to besmirch my hometown would not inspire the retaliation that your are such an easy target for because you  get caught in your duplicity.  I told the truth about the south side and you're still crapping on yourself because you can't wrap your feeble brain around the idea that just because you live on the south side, doesn't change the fact that the highest murder rate in the country is in this area of Chicago. 

I told you I'm  really not interested in any of your explanations so quit wasting your words, because  I don't care what your reasons are for being an asshole.  And I'll muck with you as much as I damn well please.  What are you gonna to do about it?  If you can't take it, don't dish it out, and quit trying to play the victim.  You seem utterly oblivious to the idea that you are the attention seeker, the educated fool who can't spell or use proper grammar and who has mommy issues but who always wants to point out the ignorance you think thrives on the forum.   Get a life.   Watta ditz.  :wacko:

(Save this post, Troy, so in case ol sara comes gunnin' for me, she can be traced and sent to Cook County jail with the rest of Chicago's low lifes.)  :lol:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

LOL @ the exchange between Cynique and Sara !!!

It takes a lot to make me laugh out loud over something I'm looking at on-line, but those two remind me of the Itchy and Scratchy cartoon show that used to be on The Simpsons....lol.


 


Cynique

This is beautiful.

I can read these stories all day long

The more you write, the more it confirms the truth of what a lot of older people in my family used to tell me but I was too young to understand.

In a way I shake my head when I read this because I can't tell if things have gotten better for Black folks or worse.
I mean, the LAWS seem to be better for Black people and the wages seem to be up.
But the actual community spirit, the family structure, and the businesses have been all but destroyed not to mention the amount of violence and stupid behavior that I didn't see just 30 years ago.

I can't speak on what happened 50 or 80 in the past but I CAN bear witness that despite all the stats we may see on paper about Black wealth and there being more Black millionaires today, I remember more Black businesses 30 years ago.
I'm talking REAL Black businesses with 4 walls...brick and mortar...like resturants, hotels, laundry mat, thrift shops, ect....that you could walk into.  Not some on-line fly by night garbage.  A negro got a Facebook page calling it his "own bid'niss".

 

 

Sara

I can believe slavery began in the North.

Not too long ago they found a slaver burial ground somewhere near New York City!

Like Malcolm said, stop talking about down South....because as long as you're south of the Canadian border you're in the South, lol.

After spending so much time in Canada I recognize the wisdom of his words.

 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Cynique, I've figured out why your stories mean so much to me.  You provide an intergenerational connection that helps complete to complete me as a person. I know I'm not a direct descendant, but the reality is that we are all related and therefore family. That plus our shared culture gives us (all of us) a spiritual connection that is important, but largely overlooked and not celebrated in the American culture.

I'm sure this is why promoting our culture through books is so important to me as well.

Thanks again. 

Troy

p.s. the newly open AA Museum is a refreshing exception so you know I'm there :-)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Troy  My feeling has always been than when anybody my age converses about the past, it is automatically history.  But certain shallow people prefer to attack the messenger and dismiss the message because it doesn't fit in with their agenda.  So I appreciate that you have the wisdom to understand that all history isn't is in books and that the narratve of one African American family is common to all blacks because, like you say, we are all related, all characters in different chapters of the same story. 

Blacks are very fortunate to have people like you who use their position and prominence to uplift the race.  You are a true philanthropist and a very good human being, and I consider myself very fortunate to have you for a friend. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

LMAO Tell us, sara, what about you and your phony, silly, addle-brained self is enviable??????? You can't even write a coherent sentence.  SMH

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 Ol sarat has crawled out of her hole, leaving her droppings behind, providing false data.  Troy, and CDBurns both have multiple degrees, and Del has a degree also, 

The more sarat says, the more she proves that having a degree apparently does not void stupidity or improve literacy.  SMH.  Pioneer can think circles around this "educated" fool who doesn't dare provide us with the name of the school she got her "piece of paper" from probably because of how second rate it is. LMAO  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Nobody here has a "go-to" person because we are all capable of fending for ourselves, as  opposed to a silly nit wit like you who has to rely of imogees to try and augment your attempts at being relevant.  Once again, you are not the only degreed person on the thread but you are the only mentally disturbed fool on it. LMAO  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A prime example of a mentally disturbed person who keeps repeating the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. You are not the only degreed person on this thread, except in your deluded repetitive claim that you are.   

BTW, where ya been?  In rehab? LOL

And I see where Chicago State is in worse shape than ever.  Which makes me all the more convinced that this is your alma mammy and this is why you won't reveal where you got your "degree"  from.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...