Sunday, May 17, 2009

Growing up: Wild Violets

ED note: I follow a blog from Chicago, Mr Brown Thumb, and his latest post reminded me of a long forgotten memory. I found his writings on Blogs of Note and his blog is being picked up by Chicago Now an offshoot of the Chicago Tribune, their new online venture. He is funny AND informative.

In my early years I remember my grandmother Emily, everyone called her Pruce, lived in a small house with her second husband Virgil. The house was Pruce's before they married and I guess they saw no need to move anywhere else. Pruce had raised her children there after her first husband, Thomas died.

The house was tiny, just two bedrooms, with the kitchen being the biggest room in the house. There was a walk-in pantry and only one bathroom but who even noticed then. No one but the wealthy had more than one toilet. The tub was big and deep and sat on four claw feet. The underneath of the cast iron tub was painted the color of the walls but occasionally the paint would chip off to reveal layers of the past decor. Baths in that tub were the greatest and it was usually with a cousin or two but it was big enough for the whole family. I can still feel how cold that porcelain was until the water warmed the iron tub. If we were lucky we'd get a bubble bath which was a few sprinkles of Tide detergent. I'm surprised we had any skin left after that.

There was a register in the floor and after a bath on cold days momma would spread a towel on the grate so you could warm up while she dried you off. The coal furnace in the basement would be humming along sending a continuous blast of warm air through the register. I was too young to shovel coal so it seems like a great way to heat the house. To leave the bathroom you had to run from register to register, jumping like little goats, until you got to the bedroom and changed your clothes. As an adult, I know it was two steps to the register and two steps to the bedroom but as a little kid it was a race to stay warm.

The basement was always a bit scary for me down a few rickety stairs and always smelling of dust and mildew. The furnace took up most of the space but a little corner held the washer. It was a big tub with a wringer. The two rollers had an electric motor and you had to be very careful not to get caught. Today we say, "Don't get your panties in a bunch" then it was "Don't get your tit in the wringer" -- same thing.

Grandma had a big wooden paddle and she'd fish out the clothes from soapy water of the tub and feed them through the wringer into a deep sink. Then she'd drain the water, refill the tub and rinse the clothes, then back through the wringer again. You can see why wash days took all day and this was seen as modern for the time. The clothes would go into a basket and upstairs to hang outside on the clothes line.

She'd fill her apron pocket with clothes pins and stand on a box while I helped by handing her the wet clothes. Not the sheets because they were too big and heavy even though she'd run them through the wringer a few times.

Because the clothes line would sag under the weight of the wet clothes you had to prop it up. For that there was a long stick with a notch at one end. You'd put that notch in the center of the line and lift everything up. This made sure nothing like the heavy wet sheets would drag in the grass. Everyone had this method and I remember a cousin getting whipped from my Dad's father for running through the wet laundry and knocking out the post. You only had to see that once before you figured out we couldn't play there but there was something quite strange about running through the wet sheets as the wind flapped them about.

Besides the clothes line, the back yard was big enough for a small garden and a sidewalk leading to a detached garage set on the alley. Along that sidewalk, in the spring, the wild violets would grow and it was our job to carefully pick hand fulls and bring them to Grandma where she'd put a little water in a jelly glass and set them on the kitchen table. If you grew up in the 50s who culd forget the jelly glass, everyone had them. Good old Welch's Grape Jelly. On the shady side of the house the lily of the valleys grew and when there were enough they'd get added to our bouquets. We learned at an early age what not to pick because my cousin Dana and I got our butts spanked for picking some of Grandma's strawberries, green of course, and proudly bringing them to her.

There were no fences but we knew not to wander anywhere or play in the alley for the fear of the switch. When I was old enough we could walk down the alley to a little store about a half a block away. The proprietor was Herb and he knew everyone and everyone's kids and grandkids. You'd walk in the back screen door to the distinctive smell of butcher shop. Herb had penny candies and he'd always stop what he was doing to sell you some. I'm sure it wasn't his biggest sale of the day. Next door to Herb's was the Dewald Tap, a small neighborhood bar that my Grandpa Virgil frequented. Virgil love his beer. This bar was not unlike the one in the Simpson's and anytime they show Moe's Tavern I'd remember the Dewald Tap. The door was always open and it was dark in there but, on occasion, we'd peek in to see the bar stools and hear the jukebox.

So this post was suppose to be about violets but somehow it got me thinking of a variety of different memories on East Creighton in Ft Wayne, Indiana in the 50s. You see, it was at this kitchen table that I heard most of the stories, met most of the relatives and have most of my Indiana memories.


  1. Gee does that bring a ton of memories flooding back. The grandma, the laundry, the jelly jars, the neighborhood store and family stories all happened in Michigan also. Such great simple times, at least to a kid. My grandma was from IN also. Had 13 kids in her family - mostly girls. Talk about stories - my, my!!

  2. This is a beautiful post, thanks for sharing your memories and I'm honored that my post had something to do with you making this post of yours.