Themes and Events
* Television’s first Western series, “Hopalong Cassidy”, and “The Lone Ranger” herald the horse opera. * CBS/Columbia Records introduces the 33 1/3 RPM long playing record. Each side plays for twenty three minutes, compared to four minutes for the standard 78 RPM record.
* The new era of convenience foods begins with General Mills and Pillsbury’s introduction of prepared cake mixes.
* The MacDonald brothers begin to franchise their name for hamburger stands, and Baskin Robbins ice-cream comes into being with the merger of two smaller chains.
* China, the worlds most populous country, was engulfed in civil war. Nationalist, Chiang Kai-shek, and Communist, Mao Tse-tung, led opposing factions of the Chinese people. Their armies fought in battles that moved north and south across the country. In late 1940s Chiang Kai-skek lost and retreated with his army and followers to Taiwan Island. During the following years, the Chinese living on Taiwan and several other small, neighboring islands off the coast of China, became known as the Nationalist Chinese. The United States and other Western countries treated the Nationalists like the official government of China. Mainland China with the overwhelming bulk of the population and a Communist government were negatively referred to as “Communist China”. Communist China was diplomatically and economically treated like a nonentity by Western nations. A wall of mystery and secrecy sprung up around Communist China, and was referred to as the, “Bamboo Curtain”, by the news media, popular press and politicians.
[Robert] “Larry had his tonsils removed in January ’48 by Dr. Reed in Watervliet (Michigan). They were very bad.”
My tonsils were removed at the doctor’s office, where there were facilities for minor surgical procedures. Note, we’re talking about a small town doctor with equally small facilities! There were only three rooms that I saw in the office; the reception room- office, a combination examination and operating room and a small closet sized, one bed recovery room.
When we arrived at the doctor’s office, Mom and I were ushered into the recovery room where I was instructed to remove my clothes and put on a hospital gown. The drafty thing was oddly open down the back.
A few minutes later I was shown the way into the operating room, set on the examination table and told to lay down. I had no idea what was going on. While laying there and looking around, I saw the doctor pour something he called “ether” on a wash cloth. He came around behind my head and held the rag over my face. I didn’t like the smell of the ether and the wash cloth was blocking off my vision. In a moment, I panicked and grabbed at his hand, trying to dislodge it from my face. The doctor called his nurse and an assistant to help hold my arms and legs down…
Some time later, I awoke, sick to my stomach. The operation was over, but I felt terrible. As I laid on the recovery room bed, a nurse came in to check on me and found I was awake. She left and a moment later, Mother came in to sit on the bed beside me. Mom comforted me by saying, “When you have your tonsils removed, you get to eat all the ice-cream and Jell-O you can.” That news helped salve the terror I had recently experienced and the nausea I’d awaken with.
All these years later, the memory of my vision being blocked off, of those strangers pouncing on me -grabbing my arms and legs, the sounds of my own muffled cries, the struggling and fighting to be free – they’re all still with me; the images are like dim motion pictures that reside deep, down in seldom visited mental archives.
The Shoup house in Coloma
[Robert] “In June we moved into the Shoup house in Coloma, Michigan (only a few miles from Smazick’s Resort) and this is where Larry spent his sixth birthday. Larry and Linda have a large yard all around the house, and a large playroom inside. There are lots of Southerners kids around here, but only a few are good kids. One of them was called “Max’. He moved to Benton Harbor in the winter of 1948.”
The Shoup house was owned by “old Mr. Shoup”, who lived across the street and a block south. It was located on the north side of town about two blocks north of the railroad tracks, on the west side of Paw Paw Street, the main north-south street through Coloma. The address was:
238 North Paw Paw Street, Coloma, MI
This was the first big house we lived in. The old, two story, white house had nine rooms. When we first rented the house, the lawn was almost knee high on my Dad. He hired some one to scythe the grass before he was miraculously able to get the lawn under control with a rotary “push mower’.
[See image above: A photo of the house taken in 1989, 41 years after we lived there; new power poles, trees have aged, otherwise looks the same as I remembered from childhood.]
The interior of the house was laid out as follows: Immediately inside the front door was the entryway cubicle. A door opened to the right leading into an empty room we used as a play room of sorts. During winter months its registers were closed so the room was too cold to play in without first bundling up. Directly infront of the front door was a rather narrow flight of stairs that led up to the second story bathroom and bedrooms. Walking to the left from the front door, one entered a large dining room with a old reddish colored Oriental rug covering much of the hardwood floor. The dining room had a wood/coal potbelly stove and our dining table. Off this room, toward the front of the house, was the front room. Walking through the dining room toward the back of the house one entered the kitchen. Along one wall of the kitchen was a door leading to the basement. Another door led to an enclosed back porch where there was a coal bin, coal furnace and small bathroom (toilet only).
Going back to the front door: Upon climbing the stairs, one came to a landing which extended toward the front of the house. Immediately to the right, above the kitchen, was the main bathroom, with a white porcelain tub, small sink and medicine cabinet and toilet. Walking down the landing with the stair well on the left, the first room encountered on the right was Linda’s and my bed room. Being a two year old baby at the time, Linda slept in a crib. I had a ‘single’ size bed along one wall, near the window. At the very end of the landing and overlooking the front of the house, was my parents corner bedroom.
In earlier days, when we lived in the Berwyn, IL apartment, our living space was heated by steam radiators so it was always toasty warm during the winter. The rental at Smazick’s Resort was attached to the main house and I suppose because of this we had a good supply of heat from the Smazick’s. The Shoup house was different! It had a furnace in the enclosed back porch and a old potbelly stove in the living room. Talk about cold! During the winter, going to bed was torture. Even though I slept in flannel pajamas, and had a pile of blankets on my bed, those ice cold sheets sapped the heat right out of me. At bedtime, I use to jump into bed and curl up in a tight ball under the covers shivering. After a few minutes it began to warm up enough to poke ones head out for air. With in five to ten minutes it became warm and comfortable beneath the covers.
Each room on the second story had a floor register, located in the center of the room. During the winter the registers were opened, allowing warm air to rise from the main floor into our bedrooms; still, the bedrooms remained cold. Thinking about the cold now, I seriously believe that of all the expanding common conveniences in personal comfort made over the last 70 years, forced air heating and central air-conditioning are by far the best.
Memories of small town social interactions
Several paragraphs earlier in this text, I quoted Dad as he pointed out that in our new neighborhood, “…There are lots of Southern kids around here….” Reread in 1991-1995 that statement sounds odd and a bit prejudicial, but it had a definite, well understood meaning to the residents of 1948. Some “Southerners” came North seeking jobs and a better way of life; others, mostly white migrant workers, were “up” just to pick fruit during the harvest season. It had only been seventy years since the Civil War and there was still some animosity in small town America. At the time, the term “Southerner” was used derogatorily in general reference to the “White trash” who’d moved North from the South. Southerners were considered less educated, rootless, bad mannered, poorly dressed, troublemakers and they lived in rundown houses.
Social ranking in Coloma at the time seemed to be as follows; 1) white business owners and professionals, 2) white working class, 3) Southerners, this classification had two categories as in ‘good ones’ and ‘white trash’, finally, the 4) Negroes.
The Taylor family
A block from our house lived a Southern family, with a boy my age named Toby. The father had left the family some time before we moved to Coloma. Toby’s mother worked to support the family, which consisted of an older sister named, Elsie, and a older brother named, Darrel. Toby and I became friends. We often played with my toy cars in the sand box behind our house. I didn’t really see any difference between him and myself except that he pronounced a few words rather funny and his clothes were a bit more shabby.
One day while I was playing at Toby’s house, the “ice man” arrived bringing a large block of ice for their icebox. Toby showed me the inside of the icebox. Lo! There was a compartment for the ice. Butter was kept right next to the ice to keep it cool, a bottle of milk and a few vegetables were kept in the box as well. I recalled a couple years earlier when an iceman had delivered ice to our ice box at the Berwyn apartment. He carried the ice up stairs with a large pair of metal tongs. The heavy rectangular block of ice rested on a leather pad which he wore over his shoulder. During the last few years I had forgotten about our old ice box, we had a refrigerator by this time and I thought everyone else did too.
For some reason that I never understood, Toby’s older brother, Darrel. Darrel took a disliking to me and turned into a bully. Every once in a while, he would chase me home from school. Occasionally, the chase would end up with us having a rock fight, that is to say, throwing rocks at each other. Darrel became a predator whom I always watched out for. He never caught me and never had the opportunity to beat me up as he threatened.
Several years later, when our family was living in Arizona, grandmother Elsie, wrote me a letter. She informedme that Darrel had recently been at Paw Paw Lake swimming with friends. Immediately after lunch, with a mouthful of food, Darrel dived off the dock into the water. He was chewing a piece of biscuit at the time and the activity caused it to lodge in his throat. He choked to death. Recalling the torment he’d caused me for so long, I saw his demise as a just reward, a payment come due. Now, some 50+ years later, I’m just sad that the boy couldn’t have lived out a full life.
About two blocks from our house were rail road tracks that bisected Coloma’s Main street. The tracks came out of the farmland, crossed through town and went off through the woods. Over the next year or so after we moved to Coloma, Toby and I occasionally explored down the tracks perhaps a quarter mile where they went back into the woods. Ever so often we found and took home pieces of coal which had fallen off the trains coal cars. Mostly though we went down the tracks to see if there were any hobos living in the ‘hobo jungle’.
As the tracks went out of town, they skirted along the top side of a wooded hill. In a bowl shaped depression amongst the trees, downhill from the tracks, there could occasionally be seen several hobos sleeping or cooking over small campfires. When we saw hobos in the jungle, we’d sneak up, and each throw four or five rocks down the hill at them, then run as fast as we could for town, imagining, but not really sure whether or not they were trying to catch us. None ever did chased us, but for our six or seven year old selves, the ‘dare and do’ was great excitement.
The Berlin Blockade: 24 June 1948
At 6:00AM on this eventful day, Soviet Russia’s armed forces closed all roads to Berlin, Germany. This was done in an attempt to drive her World War II allies, Britain, France and the USA, from the divided city. The Allies responded by organizing an airlift to West Berlin which was maintained until the blockade was lifted in May 1949.
Starting First Grade
This fall I started First Grade at the Coloma Elementary & High School. The school educated all grades from First through Twelfth. My teacher was Mrs. Lyons, a very nice, elderly woman.
Speaking of school, Dad writes in my Baby book:
[Robert]: “Larry likes her immensely, she’s a very good teacher.”
[Robert]: “After several weeks of school the teacher placed one of Larry’s colored drawings on the board. It is a picture of a boy coasting along in a wagon. After a 1/2 year of first grade Larry seems to be doing very good. His ‘work book’ is very good and his reading seems to be about the same. He loves school and seems to have caught on quickly. So, missing kindergarten wasn’t too hard on him.”
The ‘Turkey War’
Grandma and Grandpa Pierce usually raised two or three hogs for household consumption. When I was quite small they also had a cow for milk, but sold her after a couple of years. As I recall, they’d use some of the milk for themselves and fed the rest to the hogs. Usually they had thirty to forty chickens which provided meat and eggs for themselves and the sale of eggs to neighbors and friends. This year they got rid of the chickens and tried raising turkeys for a couple years.
One weekend when we were visiting the farm, I was outside playing and threw a rock at, and hit a large white Tom turkey. The turkey was apparently angered because he started running at me and chased me inside through the back door. I ran upstairs, through the house and sneaked out the front door to get around behind him. Quickly, I picked up another rock with intentions of teaching that turkey a lesson, but no sooner did he see me, when he lit out after me in full pursuit. This kept up for sometime, with me alternately sneaking out the front then back door. What had initially been exciting soon became a siege, with my being afraid to go outside. When Grandma found out why I wasn’t playing outside, she called Grandpa and stated we were having turkey for dinner the next day. Soon thereafter, Grandpa and I went outside to feed the turkeys, on our way to the coop he left a hatchet laying on the flatbed tractor trailer. I pointed out the troublesome turkey and when they began to feed, Grandpa grabbed ‘Tom’, took him over to the trailer and chopped off his head. Never having seen anything slaughtered before, I gasped and stood frozen, mouth agape and in a bit of shock as the now headless turkey’s body, briefly ran a few steps, tripped, hopped, while spewing blood, and flopping about, then keeled over.
In moments, the bird was history. Grandpa took the turkey in the basement, soaked him in hot water and began pulling his feathers. The next afternoon just as Grandma had promised, we had roasted turkey and that was the end of ‘The Turkey War’.
Clothing Styles During the 1940s
Clothing styles have changed dramatically in the last forty years.
During the 1940s, everyone wore leather shoes. Men and children wore brown or black oxford style, lace up shoes. I don’t remember the styles worn by women. The only other type of shoe I remember were, PF Flyers, a black and white tennis shoe. The only people that wore tennis shoes were basket ball players and kids during Gym class. Tennis shoes were cheaper than leather shoes, but didn’t last very long. If you saw someone wearing tennis shoes on the street, you could be fairly certain they were on their way home from a sporting event or they were poor and unable to afford “real shoes”.
Clothing was non-legible. Men and boys only wore their T-shirts under an outer shirt, not as a shirt in themselves. Women were never seen wearing men’s T-shirts. As a child the only people I ever saw with words or pictures written on their clothing were professional baseball and football players. It seems that clothing became legible and arty following the Hippie social revolution, a style that developed in the late 1960s to mid 1970s.
As a child, I don’t recall men wearing hats, other than in the winter, unless they were business men in the city or were dressed up for a special occasion. Women wore hats with netting for special occasions and church. Amongst the netting on their hats there were often such decoration as feathers, cloth flowers and later, fake fruit.
When a man was dressed in a suit, the occasion called for him to wear a small brimmed felt hat with a front to rear crease in its crown. The only people I recall wearing a baseball style cap were of course professional players, an industrial companies baseball team, a farmer, and men working for the railroad.
The ‘one-size- fits-all baseball style caps’ became very popular during the 1980s. In the early to 1990s it became common for such people as high school and college students to wear these hats backwards, so that the visor covers their neck instead of shading their eyes. The cap is being worn with the bill cantilevered at an angle off to one side of the head as if “locked into position”. These hats are frequently seen sporting supposedly cute statements or advertising slogans. No one with any class wore baseball style hats, leaving them essentially to the domain of the working class, some ‘nere do well’ males in high school, college and Negro ghettos. By the turn of the Millennium, the ‘baseball cap’ had become a retro fashion statement where everyone , even the rich and famous occasionally wearing one inorder to identify their solidarity with the masses.
In the 1940s, men and boys wore pants that were rather loose, perhaps even slightly baggy. The pants had belt loops and straight legs that terminated in cuffs. They were made of cotton fabric and came in solid subdued colors, ie. brown. The style was less that of blue denim jeans and more what we now refer to as dress pants. Belts were of black or brown leather. Those I remember having as a child had a metal buckle with swivel tang at one end and a metal tip at the other. The belt was either plain or had a motif, often western, stamped into the leather.
As a child I don’t remember seeing a woman wear pants, blue jeans or peddle pushers. Women, it seems, always wore a skirt and blouse combination, or a dress.
[Robert] “Larry and Linda both had the Chicken Pox. Linda’s first appeared on Nov. 11, 1948 and Larry’s came the next day. Larry was out of school 3 weeks although both kids had light cases of them.”
Why do I remember the day I came down with Chicken Pox? It was my first lesson in poetic justice.
That morning, my sister Linda was laying on the couch. I sat down beside her, inspecting the little rash that was breaking out all over her face. She didn’t seem too sick, so I began ribbing her. Although the exact words used have long since been forgotten, she and I both remember my saying something to the effect, “I can’t catch Chicken Pox. I’m, too big!!”
Linda strained, lifting her head off the couch a little and looked at me closely, then said,
“You have Chicken Pox too. You have spots on your face too.”
I laughed and corrected her, “No, not me. Chicken Pox are afraid of me.”
A moment later, Linda called out aloud“Mom! Look at Larry”.
I still had a smirk on my face when Mom announced in all seriousness, that I too was infected I thought she was on Linda’s side and was joking me, but after a run to look the bathroom mirror, I returned deflated.
Points worth remembering: Never say, “It can’t happen to me”. Never gloat, even a little, over someone else’s misfortune. And always remember, ‘What goes around, comes around’.
I recall that early during our infection, the doctor stopped at our house. He sat on the edge of the couch fumbled around in his black bag of instruments for tongue depressors, then inspected both Linda’s and my throat and. He listened to our breathing with a stethoscope and felt the glands in our necks. The doctor told Mom to keep us in the house, laying down and away from other children. I’m not sure, but think he even had a quarantee sign hung on our front door for a few days.
While we lived in Coloma, an occasional illness would bring the doctor and his black bag to our door. After about 1950, the practice of a doctor making ‘house calls’ seemed to vanish. I’ve never seen or heard of a General Practitioner doctor visiting his clients at home since.
Winter: Shoveling the neighbors snow
[Robert] “Larry likes to help mow the lawn and rake leaves. In the winter he even clears the snow off the neighbors walk but not ours.”
The “neighbors” whom Dad mentioned were a very elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Stark’s, who couldn’t walk very well. I shoveled the sidewalk to their front door a couple times, simply because I knew they were old and barely capable doing it for themselves.
Christmas: Santa comes to our house!
[ 6 years 5 mo of age] [Robert] *On Christmas Eve I borrowed a Santa Claus suit and dressed up in the riggings. Put flour in my eyebrows and around my cheeks. Larry’s mother took Larry and Linda to the Drug Store for ice-cream while I dressed up. Grandpa Shafer was here and meanwhile, Grandma Elsie, [Uncle] Jack and [Aunt] Julie listened to the little scene over the phone. When Mommy and the kids came home I went out the rear door and came in the front door with bells ringing. We had all the lights off in the house except the Christmas tree lights so Larry wouldn’t recognize me. I brought a bag of gifts to them. Larry got a revolving six shooting pistol and holster, tool kit outfit (to save mine), lunch basket (he adored), handkerchiefs, horseshoe outfit and mittens. Linda was very frightened at first and wet her pants twice; but after she received her ‘baby doll’ (which is all she asked for) she grew a little more calm. She also received from Santa a cradle, wool muffler, 2 shirts and a kitchen mixing set.
Everything worked out all right. Larry never caught on. He was very excited. I was suppose to be at Grandpa Glens’, so when I came home Larry told me all about Santa’s visit. He said I was ‘the real Santa Claus’, he could tell ’cause I didn’t wear a rubber mask. He even saw Santa fly over in the sky. So I did a pretty good job!!
The gifts Larry received were:
Jack and Julie Pierce…pair wool gloves.
Bill and Elizabeth Pierce…rifle(toy).
Kellogg and Irene Shafer….$1.00.
Grandma and Grandpa Pierce..a tractor and farm implement set, a flannel shirt, 1 pair suspenders, molding set (put this away til he’s about 35 years old).”
“Santa Claus brought Larry a lunch bucket, so from Christmas 1948 on Larry has been carrying his lunch, much to his delight.*
In my sixth year, I began remembering something of the movies the family went to see. I don’t know how often we went to the show, but do remember the following movies;
Joan of Arc with Ingrid Bergman, Selena Royle, Robert Barrat
The Paleface with Bob Hope, Jane Russell, Charles Trowbridge, Jeff York
The Three Musketeers with Gene Kelly, Lana Turner, June Allyson, Van Heflin