Behind our house on
On the hill directly
behind our house were a couple of fairly
large estates. Directly behind us and
reasonably far up the hillside was the home of Mr. Frank Schade. It was a large wooden house that was quite
attractive. The wooden steps up to
Schades’ house began at
The Shades and Swan properties were dotted with many trees, some of which bore good fruit in season. I remember getting excellent pears from the Schades. All in all, the hillside with the two houses was picturesque.
Mrs. Swan had an Irish Setter dog that she called “Lady.” I loved that dog just as I loved most dogs and cats. One day, Mrs. Swan was displeased that some of us children were playing on her property, and as we descended the hill, she “sicced” Lady on us. Lady came bounding toward me, barking loudly. But when she got closer, she recognized me and came wagging her tail to be petted. Mrs. Swan’s plan to chase us had backfired, and she called for Lady to return to the house. She never sicced Lady on me again.
It was when I moved to
That isn’t to say that
the summer storms in Aspinwall were
mild. Not by any means. The storms
roared up the valley of the
That hill and the one to its west formed a valley where there was a small stream. The Aspinwall Historical Book describes this as “an unusable glen” called Dog Hollow. It says that the 33 acres were owned by the Windsor Land Company until Aspinwall bought it for delinquent taxes in the 1950s. The woods and the stream were favorite places for my friends and me to play.
The stream through the
hollow flowed to the end of
To catch a crayfish, I would lift a rock from the bed of the stream, and often a crayfish would be hiding underneath. The challenge was to catch the biggest one of the crayfish. The crayfish look like small lobsters, and have big claws, but they are only two or three inches long. By quickly grabbing the fish just behind the head, we were able to pluck them from the creek and examine them. Then we would throw them back. One day, however, I didn’t catch the fish in the right place, and he was able to pinch me with one of his claws. OUCH! Those little devils could really pinch!
Grandpap introduced me
to the woods when he took me with him
to pick blackberries, elderberries, and crab apples.
I don’t recall where we found the
elderberries, but the best blackberry patch was at the top of the hill
We kids loved the “Tarzan” movies and the way he would swing from tree to tree on the vines. Our woods had trees and vines, so we would use the vines to swing out over the hillside as it dropped away from us. We climbed the hillsides and cliffs on either side of the stream, and we spent hours just sitting in areas where the sun broke through the trees and helped grass to grow. In the spring, there were fields of violets, and there were wild flowers galore. On one occasion, Fred Roney’s grandmother took Fred, Jim Uleman, me and perhaps a couple of other children on a nature hike through the woods. She was very familiar with the wildflowers, and as we walked, she pointed them out to us and named them.
On the hill in between
the two valleys was an outcropping
that provided a good vista of the
Not far from the outcropping was a natural spring with very good tasting cool water. I often took a drink there, and I spent many hours on those rocks looking out over the river or just thinking about things. One year there was an eclipse of the sun, and Tom Kanhofer and I went up on the rocks to watch it. Although our parents warned us about looking directly at the eclipse, we did it anyway. It is a wonder that we have our sight today.
The stream toward
When we went far
enough upstream, we came to a small waterfall
known as “
(submitted August 12, 2009)
Some Nice Things in the 40s and 50s
Where do you mail a letter nowadays? I know. Snail mail is dying, but we still can send letters and greeting cards via the U. S. Postal Service. But if you don’t just put the letter in your own box for the postman to pick up on his or her rounds, where do you mail it?
We happen to have a
large mailbox at the entrance to our
neighborhood where mail is picked up daily, Monday through Friday, but
Saturday or Sunday. On
Do you remember the old man with the horse-drawn cart who came through Aspinwall from time to time calling out “Rags! Old iron!” I don’t know if this started just during WWII when everything was in short supply or whether it was something from farther back. But I remember it clearly.
In the 1940s and 1950s, things in Aspinwall were very convenient. Just about everything we needed for our daily lives either was in walking distance or was brought to our doors.
It was a time when there were many grocery stores in town, and when we went to them, we were “waited on.” The proprietors and clerks knew us, and we knew them. They were our neighbors.
Except at the A&P, there was no “self serve.” We went to the counter and told the clerk, who very often was the owner of the store, what we wanted. And he or she would get it for us. If another customer got there first, we had to wait our turn to get service.
And service is what
they provided. We could call the store and
place an order so
it would be ready when we went there to pick it up.
At least one store, Beck’s on
The proprietors knew
their regular customers and made
special efforts to take care of them. During the War when meat and
scarce, Howard, the butcher at Mary Conner’s store on
And at least some of the stores would extend credit to their regular customers. When my mother took over handling the money at our house, she found that my grandmother had run up quite a debt at Mary Conner’s store. She went to see Mary and made arrangements to pay off the debt a little at a time.
In many cases, we didn’t have to leave home to get our food. There were two hucksters who came around regularly, and bread and milk companies delivered door-to-door, several times a week.
Do you remember the
Fasone Family market on
His competition was
from the Zuccher brothers of
The huckster business
required the vendors to get up very
early () in the morning
to the part of
The other vendor whose
visits we looked forward to were
those of Mr. Joseph King. Mr. King had a
As with the hucksters, if you wanted something that they might not always have on the truck, you could place an order for the next visit, and they would bring it to your door. In time, Mr. King began bringing his daughters with him as he made his rounds. During the 1950s, we watched those little girls grow in to very pretty young ladies.
I’m sure that the original Mr. King has passed away by now, but one of his descendants still operates the farm and brings produce to the Aspinwall Flea Market on Commercial Avenue every Sunday in the good weather. King’s corn is probably the best I’ve ever eaten. There’s no need to pull back the husk to check the quality; it’s all good.
Someone else who came to our street from time to time was the scissor grinder. He would show up unannounced and set up his grinding wheel. Then he would make his presence known, and people would bring him their scissors and knives for sharpening. He also would repair umbrellas.
At least three different milk companies delivered daily. We dealt with Sealtest, but Meadow Gold and Aupkes also delivered. The milk came in glass quart bottles that we returned to the milkman. At the plant, the bottles were washed and refilled. The stopper at the neck of the bottle was a cardboard wafer with a tab that we pulled to open the bottle, and the stopper was covered by a paper top.
Two or three different bakeries delivered bread. Town Talk sliced bread was popular, but for Italian bread, we bought from Stagno’s.
Who else came around door-to-door? Well, the Jewel-T man and the proverbial Fuller Brush Man rounded out the list.
In a town so small, it was easy to walk to the store. Think of it. In just a few minutes’ time, we could walk to a store, buy groceries, and walk back home in time to prepare dinner. We didn’t need to drive. We didn’t create pollution, and we didn’t have to pay for gas. At our house, we had no freezer, just a simple (and small) refrigerator. We couldn’t store frozen foods, and we couldn’t keep much food on hand, so trips to the store were almost daily.
In the 1940s, some people still had ice boxes, rather than or in addition to electric refrigerators. For a short time while I was very young, the “ice man” would deliver big blocks of ice to private homes. Our ice man was Frank Rak, a man I got to know later when he made deliveries for Dan Pizzica at Aspinwall Radio.
Frank did general hauling, and in the 1940’s before we converted our furnace to burn natural gas, Frank delivered coal to our house. A man who helped Frank deliver coal, and maybe ice, too, was Ramon “Ray” Kurkiewicz. Two of Ray’s daughters are married to my cousins Jerry and Jeff Davis.
Nothing about the coal delivery was automated. We would order a ton or so, and Frank would bring it in his truck. He would back the truck toward the front of our house. Then he and Ray would shovel the coal through the window into our coal cellar, the part of the house foundation under the front porch.
Of course, there was a door between the main part of the basement and the coal cellar, and we put boards across the door opening to hold the coal back from the door itself. When we had used enough of the coal, we would remove those boards. Nevertheless, the delivery of coal made a lot of coal dust in our basement. And as we burned the coal, we had to collect and get rid of the ashes. I think that maybe Frank picked them up each week. Our house was a lot easier to keep clean after we got the gas furnace in the 1950s.
Alas, with the
exception of the Brilliant Market, these
things are gone. The small stores, the
hucksters, and the milk and bread delivery all are gone.
When you need to shop, you need to drive at
least as far as the shopping areas beyond the old filtration beds. The stores are bigger and rather
impersonal. And they all are self
service. Is this really better?
(submitted August 22, 2009)