We all received that ubiquitous email asking us to take an “Older Than Dirt” quiz about the 1940s. Did we remember stuff like 1. Blackjack chewing gum (yes; also Beemans and Juicy Fruit), 2. Telephone party lines (yes; my mother used make us be quiet so she could listen to the conversations of the other people. She tried to figure out which of our neighbors it was). 3. Studebakers (yes; ugly). 4. S&H green stamps (yes; it was my job to lick and stick those pesky things in books). 5. Howdy Doody (yes; not only do I remember Howdy, but also Phineas T. Bluster, Princess Summerfall Winterspring, Chief Thunderthud, Buffalo Bob, Dilly Dally, Flub-a-Dub and Clarabell the clown). And 6. Mimeograph paper (I loved that juicy chemical aroma. Everyone sniffed mimeographed worksheets as they were passed down the rows. I wonder if this damaged our brains? Is mimeograph ink related to glue?)
I asked my high school girlfriends – via email -- to think of some offbeat memories – things that were unique to growing up in suburban Detroit.
Karen started it off. “My current house has a milkbox built in the brick next to the side door,” she said. “The guy I bought the house from had no idea what it was for.”
It was a milk chute, I emailed back.
Our friend Pris chimed in:“My mother shoved (her word, not mine) my younger brother, skinny little Geoffrey, through the milk chute so he could let her in the house when she forgot her keys.”
My grandmother’s house also had a coal chute. Periodically, a big filthy dump truck would lumber down her street, stop in front of the house and funnel coal into that chute. It landed in the coal bin, a small room in her basement. The cloud of coal dust took hours to dissipate.
I also remember when families on our street got new cars, all the neighbors would come outside to examine and exclaim over the new purchase. They took turns sitting in the driver’s seat. They remarked on the lovely new-car smell, kicked the tires, marveled at its new design features and gadgets – like fins and automatic transmissions and headlights with little eyelids that closed during the day and (!) turn signals. I remember when turn signals were newfangled. I had to memorize up means right; down signals left.
Karen also remembers having a crush on Space Cadet Tom Corbett’s copilot, Roger Manning; listening to a soap opera called Stella Dallas on the radio during the day; and putting her hair up in pincurls at night.
Sue G. remembered whimseys, airy little decorated net-like things that passed for hats when we had to wear hats. Yes, we wore hats. I wore one (or a whimsy) to church, along with clean white gloves. I had a dresser drawer stocked with white gloves, just to be sure I always had a clean pair. My friend Penny and I once stuffed our clean white gloves into our mouths to keep from laughing out loud when we found something to giggle about at a concert in downtown Detroit. We were in the audience of a Detroit Symphony Orchestra concert with some 25 or 30 classmates. It was a field trip for a high school elective called Music Appreciation. I loved that class. We studied Mozart’s 40th, Beethoven’s 5th, Tchaikovsky’s 6th, Shostakovich’s 5th and a violin concerto by Sibelius. I still recognize these works, even when I hear just a few bars. The beginning of the fourth movement of Mozart’s 40th still brings to mind the rhyme we used to identify it: “Mozart’s in the closet; let him out, let him out, let him
The Curse came up several times as we emailed our reminiscences back and forth. We were warned not
to wash our hair or take baths when we had The Curse. Most of us ignored this rule. Some used a dry shampoo, which Sue G. said was called Minipoo.
Susie H. remembers the brands of socks we wore to prove our coolness. Wigwams were high woolen sport socks worn with penny loafers, which were stocked with nickels in case we needed to make a phone call. The other popular socks were only available at Gray’s, a sport shop in our neighborhood shopping center. The cool way to wear these socks was with the Gray’s label still attached. How did Gray’s manage to make that so cool? You can’t pay for advertising like that.
Karen reminded us that we stared at the radio while we listened. Her favorite radio program was called Inner Sanctum, in spite of how the stories terrified her.
“One program was about shrunken heads,” she said. “That night, my father put a grapefruit between the sheets at the bottom of my bed and my foot hit it.”