Pretzels and Ice Cream
Jean McGavin, 2014
I am already getting hungry just thinking about writing this. My parents both grew up in Pennsylvania, in Pennsylvania Dutch country. The local treat was ice cream with a big pretzel on the side and this was how ice cream was served at their local shops. Story has it that my parents shared this treat on their first date and I suppose that event cemented pretzels and ice cream as a sentimental staple in our household. For years, for as many years as was possible, we had one brand of pretzels in our home - Victor Brand Sturgis Pretzels. The competition was Tom Sturgis Pretzel Company. Tom and Victor were both descendants of Julius Sturgis who founded the first commercial pretzel bakery in America in 1861. The original Julius Sturgis Bakery building still exists in Lititz, PA and is on the U.S. National List of Historic Places. Several descendants of Julius Sturgis founded their own pretzel bakeries in Reading, PA, and for a time, Tom and Victor Sturgis shared a bakery but then split and formed their own companies. My parents and their families complained that Tom Sturgis pretzels were often broken and burnt, so they always bought Victor Sturgis Pretzels. Whenever they went home to Pennsylvania, they would stop at the Victor Sturgis Pretzel factory and buy an enormous tin of pretzels. These tins held 5 pounds of pretzels. The cans were a little shorter than a piano stool. The cans were tan with red letters that said, “Always ask for Victor Brand Sturgis Pretzels” and we always did. Then, for some reason, the Victor Sturgis factory closed, perhaps in the 1960s and we grudgingly settled for Tom Sturgis pretzels. Tom Sturgis’ pretzels were still better than whatever else was available. Tom Sturgis sells pretzels in cans as well, at their own factory store, and in my mothers’ later years she ordered each of her 7 children a can for Christmas. My mother and father are both gone now and none of us live in Pennsylvania so none of us have the opportunity to stop into the factory store. But, the taste for pretzels persists for each of my relatives. Fortunately, they are available for order online. Yesterday, I received a can of Tom Sturgis Pretzels from my brother. What a wonderful and unexpected surprise! A CAN OF STURGIS PRETZELS!!!! Oh my gosh! Regardless of our parents being gone and the houses gone and all the belongings scattered, even if everything had gone up in flames, our parents are alive and well in each of us in our own way - and these pretzels are concrete evidence of just that. Clearly, some vestige of our Pennsylvania mother or dad has taken hold of my brother's mind and coerced him to send off this fantastic present. I am currently dipping a shiny and salty pretzel into a dish of creamy vanilla (thawed just enough to make it a bit soft) ice cream. This is truly one of the great treats of the culinary world! Even though each member of my family loves our pretzels best with ice cream - and is there really any other way to eat ice cream? - there are, I suspect, differences in the ways that we likely would exhibit our preferences for the ice cream to pretzel ratio as we scoop ice cream onto the pretzel. This is similar to the differences in the ways that individuals prefer their marshmallows over a fire. Some prefer blackened, crusty and others will only tolerate a golden brown glow. I prefer the latter. And with a bit of pretzel, I prefer an even balance between ice cream and pretzel. It might be interesting to canvas my family for their preferences. Well, no matter how one prefers their pretzel/ice cream ratio, having a can of Sturgis pretzels, one's very own can, is a treasure. I know that I am at a great advantage over my neighbors - most of whom have never eaten and are ignorant of (sadly and pathetically) the pleasure of, pretzels with ice cream - I am richer than most. With my own can of pretzels, I have bragging rights, I can hold my head a little higher, from which vantage I can look down on my fellow humans. And, I have only my brother to thank for this unleashing of memories and joy. I am a fortunate woman, not just for this new found pretzel fortune, but for the blessing of a brother who would send me this enormously thoughtful gift full of not just deliciousness but more importantly - memories. Pretzels and ice cream - eating this is not just for the pleasure of the eating, it is the world of stories and memories that this brings to life. The can, the type of pretzels, the ice cream, the family meals, the visits to grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. This simple treat, of little more than flour and salt, is as pregnant with memories as a photo album.
Thanksgiving - Christmas 1944
David T. Daniels, 2014
70 Years Ago I have written extensively on my combat experience in this period. There are a few items that are unclear, plus a few that haven’t been mentioned before. After five months of consistent fighting, we came upon Thanksgiving. At this point we had not had a break since September. For over two months we had not eaten a hot meal. On this day trucks rolled up to the front and, a squad at a time, took us to the rear for a hot turkey dinner. What a treat!! Three weeks later I was wounded by a mortar shell. As determined later, I had a serious brain wound and I fell into a semi-conscious state in enemy territory and I was picked up by the enemy. It was seven months later that I learned that my parents received a wire from the War Department informing them that I was missing in action. Then, how did I end up in a U.S. Army field hospital?? This question will always remain a mystery. However, there is a fact that may shed some light. That is, I was wearing trousers which are issued to German soldiers. In September I replaced my tattered and torn ones with ones I found in German barracks in Metz. The only differences in our uniforms were the helmet and trousers. Our trousers were dark greenish brown and the Germans’ were light brown. If my helmet had gone astray on my fall I would appear to be a German soldier. They probably thought I was of them. After all, why would an American soldier be in their territory? Before Christmas my poor parents received another wire stating that i was seriously ill and not expected to live. They had this thought until receiving a letter from me with all cheers. They thought I had a miraculous recovery. Here is another interesting tidbit. In October, my mother informed me that she was sending to me for Christmas one of her great homemade fruitcakes. That package probably went many paths following me. I returned home in June 1945, and reported that no fruitcake arrived. I was at Camp Shelby in Mississippi when the war ended on August 18th. Four days later, a dry, crushed fruitcake arrived and it went into the trash. Another tidbit, in my hands is a small bible (New Testament) with a metal cover. Inside my mother inscribed “Love - Xmas 1944”. I have no memory of ever receiving this. In June, while gathering up my limited personal belongings, this bible appeared.
Have You Ever Eaten Dandelion Greens?
Barbara Cooper, 2011
During WWII, I started my freshman year at an all girls high school in Baltimore, MD. With my father in the Army Engineers in the Aleutians, my grandfather doing his bit as an air raid warden, my mother playing piano at a USO (I was there, too, making sandwiches in the kitchen) and my brother collecting tin foil and scrap metal, we were all involved in the war effort. Except for our “Victory” garden where the peas and beans didn’t win. One morning at my new school we were all issued spoons and sent out to the lawns where we were told to dig up the dandelions. It seemed the landscapers had gone to war. We were extremely disappointed that the boys’ high school across the street had not been invited to join us. The up side of this educational exercise was that we were served the dandelion greens for lunch to show how we could contribute to the war effort and our health as well. Years later I was chastised by someone working for me for throwing out “those weeds,” poke salad and dandelions which were “good eatin’”. Lesson not learned.
Lois Keating Learned, 7/15/13
Years ago, I imagined that, unlike the earth traveling around the sun in an ellipse, I’d think of the year as a square; not a rectangle, but square with four equal sides. Starting the beginning of September, the top of this imaginary square ran through the fall to the end of December. The right side went from January first to May 31st, the bottom part is the whole month of June and the left side is the months of July and August. You can see it has some relation to a school year. Just after Labor Day, the new school year would start. The first part of the Fall Term ended near the holidays. The next part was the Winter-Spring Term beginning January 1st and ran to the end of May with a short vacation around Easter. Then summer arrived with its joys and freedom from routine, books and tests. In most schools, summer vacation didn’t start until nearly the end of June, and lasted two whole months until Labor Day. Those last weeks of school were torture. The weather was warm and so conducive to out-door life. Most of my time when not outside, but trapped in a stuffy and hot classroom, was spent looking out the windows, longing for summer vacation to begin. My family had a summer home further out on Long Island, close to a bay and just miles to a bridge and the beach. We spent lazy days swimming, sailing, biking, playing tennis and golf with family and friends who lived nearby in the summer but far away in the winter. It was a glorious time to explore our surroundings and slowly grow into adults.
Jean McGavn, 2011
I was in fifth grade in Arlington, Virginia. Our teacher had been called to the principal’s office. This seemed odd but not worrisome and I am certain that we expected her to return promptly because we did not take advantage of the lack of authority to wreak havoc. That may also have been attributable to the fact that we all worshiped our teacher. When Mrs. Armstrong returned she summoned a number of my classmates. These were students who had moved to Arlington from Texas because their fathers were close associates of vice president Johnson and came with him to work in the White House. There were a good number of children in the school like this. We were not told why Mrs. Armstrong took these children from the classroom. Sometime later Mrs. Armstrong returned and it was clear that she was not in her usual good humor. Things were different in the classroom. We were occupied with things that were not serious schoolwork – just busywork to keep us occupied for a while. Then, over the loudspeaker, the principal announced that school would be closing early. He announced that the President had been shot. The students with family members in senior positions in the administration were sent home to protect them in the chance that they might be in danger. The principal had waited until these students were no longer at school before making his staggering announcement. We were sent home. We understood that Kennedy’s assassination was cataclysmic but not the global and timeless import of his death. We didn’t realize that these would be moments frozen in our memories, that the world would change, that perhaps powers might shift worldwide, that people all over the world would keep images of John Kennedy as cherished icons of youth, honor and goodness. Two days later, my brother and I were watching the coverage of events when the transport of Lee Harvey Oswald was taking place. We were witnesses to his murder. We had never seen a fistfight, and our parents didn’t argue. We had certainly never seen anyone die. Witnessing Oswald’s murder was more staggering to us than the murder of the President. We had seen the films of the President’s murder, but we did not see it in the moment that it took place. It was already history, like the horrors of World War II, already one step removed from the immediacy of our lives. We had watched Bonanza, Ben Hur, Gunsmoke; people were shot, trampled, hung. Somehow, we were able to see those as pretend – playing cowboy. The murder of Oswald was the death of an actual human being and we were bludgeoned by the viewing of it. Adults always think that children don’t understand the value of life. But in that moment we knew. Children know perhaps more than adults the vulnerability losing a life presents. Oswald’s death did not present us with direct vulnerability but it presented us with the split-second ease in which a life can end. That moment over time slid into a string of moments of vulnerability including the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Kent State, the Viet Nam War and the draft which placed our brothers, friends and neighbors into that split-second vulnerability. President Kennedy’s assassination was more than a moment frozen in time. It was a series of moments that tumbled into other moments that left my generation acutely aware of the split-second vulnerability of life.
I Was A Child Of The Depression Years
Elsie Johnson, 2014
Born in 1921 My parents both were brought up on Kansas farms but after their marriage lived in Perry, Iowa, where my father worked on the Milwaukee RR as a freight conductor. I can remember the Depression years. My father didn’t always have work due to the slow down. My parents kept a full garden and some chickens on their half acre so we never experienced hunger as some families did. One of my vivid memories were the “bums” who would knock on our back door asking for food. (Mother said our house must be “marked” because she never refused food. (Sometimes it was only a couple of fried eggs). One time a big man just opened the back door, came in and sat at my fathers chair and demanded food! He must have been very hungry. My mother hurried and cooked something. We children were home for lunch and needed to go back to school. She said, “you’re not going now”. I was too young to realize what could have happened. Fortunately, he left after being fed. My father would tell of the “bums” riding the rails as they called it. It was desperate times for many. My parents were very careful about saving the money they had. I remember a note book my mother kept on her spending - every dime was recorded. Credit was offered in those times but my parents would never buy anything unless they could pay for it immediately. I still find myself doing the same! I don’t know how they did it but we always had a car. Sunday rides were a treat. I can’t believe how young people today burden themselves to debts and luxuries - cars - houses - vacations!! My father had a smoking cabinet in which he kept extra cash with a few cigars and his Indian Head penny collection. One day when mom had left her ironing board up, he took all his paper bills and pressed them. He liked neatness! He showed his Indian Head penny collection to a person and after that he never saw it again!! He was heart broken. One time he showed me a hundred dollar bill - I didn’t know we were so rich!! My mother had been a school teacher and didn’t know much about sewing. However, she made much of our clothing. A neighbor gave her a wool coat. She made a jumper for me from it. I wore it to school all that year changing my blouse daily. I did have a brown jersey dress for Sunday and special times only. I still remember that dress with flowers embroidered on the shoulder. Most of the clothes she made for us had panties to match. Several I had to wear were black satin panties and I hated those!! I babysat for $0.35 an evening 6pm to midnight. I took piano lessons weekly for $0.35 per half hour. When I was 16 I got a Saturday job at Woolworth’s for $0.15 an hour but could buy a blouse for $1.00. My father would buy a rubber sole kit from Woolworth’s to repair our shoes. We could go to the movies for $0.10 in the afternoon. Life was hard but we were happy and safe.
Earth Day, 1970
Jean McGavin, 2015
Earth Day, 1970 April 22, 1970 was the first Earth Day. Festivities and protests were planned across the country, Washington, D.C. set as the primary location. Significant events including concerts were held on the Mall. I lived in Arlington, Virginia, just a short drive into Washington, D.C. and was in my junior year of high school. A large group of students decided to cut school and ride our bicycles into the city to participate in the demonstrations. Most of us assumed our parents would not give us permission to go and so we planned on our own to skip school for the event. Washington was awash in demonstrations, marches and riots - much of this striking fear in our parents. Even though, demonstrations had come to seem part of our new normal, this was the first I would attend. I told my parents, and I think the other kids did the same, that I was riding my bike to school to celebrate Earth Day. I did not tell them that I was planning to ride my bike on to the city. We met at school and then took off to Washington. We rode down Yorktown Boulevard and then headed out across Chain Bridge and onto the C & O Canal Tow Path. We were a serious group. This was not a group of stoner delinquent kids. We weren’t out drinking every weekend, or stealing cars or cheating on tests. These were the smart kids, the egghead hippies, the school newspaper editors and student government types, the kids who went on to Stamford or Amherst or Wellesley. We were sincere and thoughtful and though we might have smoked a little pot here and there, we were going to this demonstration because we wanted to participate in changing the world. We rode our bikes along the tow path singing. “All You Need Is Love” is the one song I clearly remember singing. We were sincere and eager and we were heading to Washington to change the world. We spent the day changing the world, getting sunburnt, listening to music and having an adventure completely unsanctioned by our parents, not just unsanctioned but I had lied to my parents and they smiled and waved goodbye to their daughter as she headed off to school on her bicycle. Keep in mind, I was always late for school, always missed the bus, but here I was eagerly getting to school on time and eagerly getting there on my own. This was a drastic misrepresentation of my intentions. My parents were probably thinking that I had really turned a corner, become active and involved and ready to fully participate in school. Because, prior to that I was really not one of those kids. I was one of those kids who kind of went through high school without a lot of commitment and so when my parents found out that I had actually skipped school, and rode my bike to the Earth Day demonstration downtown, they were probably not just angry that I had lied, but angry that I was not going to become a great serious student like my oldest brother. But, what really angered my father was that I had lied. He asked me that night where I was going on my bike that morning. He had been driving to work at the hospital and to get to the hospital from home he had to drive right past the group of us on our way into D.C. So, I lied again and after which he told me he saw me going away from school. He had given me an opportunity to hang myself and I took it - further proving that I was not going to become the serious student, on time for school or getting on the bus so I did’t have to have him drive me to school on his way to work. The next day at school, we were all called into the principal’s office. There were so many of us we had to sit in a large conference room that I had never seen before. We sat around a large table and the principal and some teachers who were there to shame us about our truancy and to tell us what a serious infraction we had committed. We were told that we were to be given zeros in all of our classes for the day that we had missed and that we would be suspended for one day. Because these were all, all except perhaps me, great students who were the student government leaders, newspaper and yearbook editors and writers, and all heading off to excellent colleges, this punishment was more a badge of courage. We made lots of jokes abut our permanent records and it is likely that owing to the political leanings of most of our teachers, none of them gave us any zeros for Earth Day. Today, kids in school are encouraged to participate in Earth Day events and even penalized if they do not.
Jeanie Henry, 10//2/13
Once upon a time, back in March 1944, I was rather suddenly, to be married on 10 days notice. It was wartime. My navy husband-to-be was between assignments and uncertain of his next orders – so – no time for that big church wedding, or any bridal showers. No time to send out invitations or gather bridesmaids. My only sister was with her husband and baby at an Airforce base in Florida with no way to get home in time (civilians couldn’t fly). One brother was in the army in Europe, but the other was in midshipman school in upstate N.Y. so he was able to get a 24 hour leave from midnight Saturday to midnight Sunday – thus we were married at 5pm Sunday at home. Mother insisted I wear a proper wedding dress which was hastily bought along with my “trousseau” which included 2 new dresses, a “going away” suit and, wonder-of-wonders, a new pair of navy shoes, thanks to a coupon from my mom (shoes, of course, were rationed)! A clever florist transformed our living room to resemble a chapel. My best friend took the train from Boston to be my only attendant (wore a bridesmaid dress from another wedding). There was a caterer and good friends came to wish us well and share our joy. It was a wonderful wedding. It was magic and it was mine!
Food Storage Before Plastic
Pat Broman, 2014
Let’s see - way back then - in the 20’s and the 30’s, those dreary Depression years. What did we do without “Saran Wrap”, “Tupperware”, plastic bottles - all those non-biodegradable items that will be here far into the future after our very biodegradable selves are long gone - unless of course we have plastic parts! Well - to get back to housekeeping in the good old days - there was glass and tin. I still have the glass container and glass cover in which my mother stored left over foods. We didn’t buy in quantity. No Costco, just neighborhood grocery stores where one didn’t get carried away by choices on the shelves. We stood at the counter and gave our list to the grocer who brought the items to us. We didn’t shop every day, but quite often. We did buy food in season, and fruits and vegetables were raised nearby, each in its own special time of the year. I remember how good those early peas tasted - peas and fresh salmon caught in cold New England waters were enjoyed for Memorial Day. There was Connecticut River Shad too, a special treat when they were running. Winter meant root vegetables and stews. Mother always baked - not so much raised yeast breads, but delicious muffins, cookies, cakes, and pies and puddings. She was a good New England cook - just fresh food, salt, pepper and butter. I remember her lamb croquettes which used up the remains of the Sunday roast. We always finished with dessert. Things did change after the Depression began - radically. My father had been an art director in a large advertising firm in New York, but that was no more, and in its stead, he became a salesman with the company. He hated that. My grandmother lived with us and it was decided that my mother, my grandmother, and myself would go to Florida for the winter as it was cheaper living - no winter clothes, less heat needed, etc. My father came to Sarasota to visit, took a good look and said, “I think we’ll move here”. We did, and I spent interesting high school years with the children of circus people, writers, and artists. After I was married and had children of my own and again lived in Westchester, I loved visiting my husband’s family in South Carolina in the 50’s. How different from my city life. Southern cooking was delicious, the same foods but with a difference. The chicken was like no other I had tasted - fried, of course, but delicate with real chicken flavor. Everything was so very fresh. Indeed the family raised most all their food. There were fresh eggs, poultry, vegetables, peaches, even home made grape juice at every meal and home made cane syrup. The main meal was served at noon. Leftover foods were placed in a dish, covered lightly with a clean towel, and stored in the cupboard. At supper time they were put out on the table to be enjoyed with corn bread or fluffy biscuits. The corn bread was made every day from white cornmeal in a square tin, one “cake” of cornbread for people and one for the hunting dogs, eagerly waiting in their large pen outside. When I got back home I tried hard to make that corn bread from my mother-in-law’s recipe, but it never tasted quite the same. Somehow the food tasted better in those days. I think it was due to the lack of additives, and the freshness of foods that didn’t have to travel to get to us and weren’t refrigerated before they had time to ripen. However, now due to the shrinking of the world, air transportation, and technology, we do get fresh fruits and vegetables from all over the world picked when they are in season and shipped to us. The trick is to get them when they just arrive in the store. Better yet, patronize our farm markets in spring, summer, and fall. Fresh still tastes better.