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MORE NOSTALGIA-- GROWING UP IN AN EASIER TIME

Updated on May 4, 2016

MORE NOSTALGIA – GROWING UP IN A SIMPLER TIME

By Roger Lippman

I got quite a number of E mails from friends who know me and read my hub on Nostalgia. They all liked it and wanted me to add more. Of course they all are also older. So, let me give you some more tidbits about what it was like growing up in the 1940’s and 50’s compared to now.

I was very young when World War 11 started and not really old enough to understand the concept. However I do recall my parents glued to the radio listening to president Franklin D. Roosevelt and his fire side chats. That was before TV and FDR had a way to make people think that we were really part of his family and he spoke with confidence and assurance.

In grammar school I recall that we had several newspaper drives and entire rooms were filled with bundled newspapers to help in the war drive.

Anther collection drive was for tin foil. You were asked to save the gum wrappers and they were put into huge balls, I do mean huge, like five feet in diameter. We were always proud to be doing something at school to help the war effort.

I was also honored to be on the milk squad in grammar school. Daily we would bring into each room the small bottles of milk for everyone plus a cookie. I kept a bottle of chocolate milk for myself and when no one looked, I had it with a second cookie. … Well after all, I earned it bringing the heavy cases of bottled milk (no plastic) to each room. We did not have free lunch, or free school buses or any other give a ways, only a small bottle of free milk in the morning.

I would recall my monthly visits to my grandparents and seeing the huge stacks of newspapers my grandpa kept. On Sunday the Sun (there were about five big newspapers and that was before many of them merged ) would have a full page map in color with arrows pointing out the battles in Europe or in Asia going on that week. Grandpa was a former military man in Europe and used to take out his magnifying glass and look at each one carefully. I still did not understand the concept of war yet and never questioned him about it. Too bad, I missed a lot of personal history if I had been old enough to ask him questions about when he was younger.


I would recall my monthly visits to my grandparents and seeing the huge stacks of newspapers my grandpa kept. On Sunday the Sun (there were about five big newspapers and that was before many of them merged ) would have a full page map in color with arrows pointing out the battles in Europe or in Asia going on that week. Grandpa was a former military man in Europe and used to take out his magnifying glass and look at each one carefully. I still did not understand the concept of war yet and never questioned him about it. Too bad, I missed a lot of personal history if I had been old enough to ask him questions about when he was younger.

I did learn later that leading up to the war, not everyone was a true American. Charles Lindbergh who was an aviation hero, was in fact a Nazi sympathizer and had spoken often about our staying out of the war and how Hitler was his friend. When the war broke out, Roosevelt would not consider giving him a commission to fight on our side as punishment.

Other prominent people were tarnished later included Henry Ford who was a bigot and hated Jews and also admired Hitler. He was publisher of a newspaper in Michigan that preached the evils of Judaism until he was forced to give it up. It was no wonder that for years no one who was Jewish would buy a Ford. Of course he made a fortune in the war as his vehicles were the main ones purchased by our military. I always liked GE but they were not as big at the time.

While the war was being fought, I had a newspaper route. No car driving me, just my bike in rain or snow. It was hard throwing the big newspaper up to a third floor in the back of an apartment building. The stairs were all open but still, I was pretty young and did not have the arm of a baseball player. I rode my bike on a big route and wore myself out. One time a customer refused to pay me when I came to collect once a week. Since I was responsible for the money, my mom had to go there and argue with the guy—he finally paid. My first instance working with a collection agency: my mom. I gave up the route after several months.

I tried being a delivery boy for the corner drug store. We had them on each end of our block. Remember, there were no two car families and often not even one. So, there were deliveries by all the stores. If your doctor called in a prescription, you got a “powder”. Yes, that is how the bad guys in the movies started saying, “go take a powder”. They did not have pills yet.

If you want to know, your medicine was covered in a thin piece of wax paper and put into neat packages in a small box. So you picked up a small box at the drug store with about a dozen powders in it. Yes, medicine tasted terrible, after all, you had to put the powder on a spoon and drink it with water. Ugh!

At each drug store they had a soda jerk—a guy in a white hat and you sat at a counter and ordered a soda or something to eat. That is where I first had a green river to drink. Malts were really good as well. Lot’s of kids with a small bit of change would go to the drug store for a coke or some fries.

Family life was first around the radio and later around the small black and white TV. On the radio, I loved hearing Gangbusters ( a crime drama), Grand Central Station ( dramas), Little Lougie( the Italian immigrant who had a good heart), Ma Perkins and later the other dramas.

When we got a TV, I loved watching Flash Gordon. How funny thinking back watching a black and white show that was the forerunning of Star Wars and all the others. Buster Crabbe, a former weight lifter was the star and a silent actor star from the 20’s played the villain, Ming the Magnificent. It was terrible acting but it was funny. They tried to show travel in space ships and men in wings or the “ clay people”. It was so bad, it was good; it was all we had so we watched, ever absorbed.

Death Valley Days was also on and Ronald Reagan, a “ B” actor, became popular on TV. His Narrating of GE theater also included touring the country for GE and was a prelude to running for office.

I wont go into all the shows but It was really great watching the way TV evolved from first all black and white westerns to comedies, dramas and hits like the Ed Sullivan show. Much came from Vaudeville or evolved from the Jewish Catskills in New york which had started comedic entertainment. Almost all the big comedians of early TV had gotten their start in the Catskills.

Then of course there was the movies. It was wonderful in Chicago. They had beautiful theaters, all built in the 1920’ s when it was the hay day of silent film. Many were like grand palaces. The marble floors, giant stair cases and everything with a Spanish motif. Movies were about two hours long so you went for a double feature. Yup, you got two movies, not one and the price was about $.25. Yes and gas was cheap too but kids did not have cars and smoking was popular because they told us in ads that girls like handsome men with a cigarette in their hands. As late as my college days I recall a pack cost about a quarter. Luckily I gave it up later.

Sitting in those giant movie houses that today are mostly closed (except a few in downtown Chicago), we watched them move to color productions and finally Cinemascope. Wow! What a difference to see John Wayne on a giant screen on his horse.

By the way, long after the silent film days, you could still see in those old time relics from the past, a huge organ in a front corner of the theater where someone had played it during a silent film.

Not many will recall all the efforts Hollywood came up with to attract more viewers once TV got popular and theater attendance went down. They had 3D where you put on glasses and watched a movie—poor job, did not last.

I also recall Scent-A-Vision, well maybe I am one of the few. It was an idea to put odors into the movie production and the one that they featured it with was a mystery with Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Lorre as the bad guy. It was called Scent of Mystery. I recall it had to do with solving a crime and the key was in some of the odors. So they forced different scents through the theater. I loved the scent of wine when the screen showed a truck load with barrels of wine falling off and opening up; then there was chocolate –yummy--and several other odors. The theater really needed a lot of changes to handle pushing through some scent into a huge area and then venting it out quickly before the next one.

By the way the movie was very good as well. However the concept died a quick death. I wondered what happened to the movie itself as I never saw it on TV later without the scents.

Everything changes in life. Nothing is constant. So our neighborhood changed as well. Growing up, I only knew one person who had a house and it was an older wooden one. We all were apartment dwellers. Now I lived along a main street near the north side of Chicago by the lake. Many of our buildings were designed with the Spanish motif—I don’t know what it was with that Spanish stuff, maybe an obsession with a silent film star Rudolf Valentino who was Spanish. Women would throw themselves at him. As an aside, when talkies came out, many silent stars could not make the transition, as their voices were terrible.

The buildings were three stories and had a court way with other wings attached so it looked larger. Many of my friends also lived in similar ones although some a bit higher.

We had no air conditioning, coal heat and refrigerators just came in when we moved there. You could still see a hole in the kitchen wall leading outside for the Ice to be put in when these apartments just had ice boxes. The ice man still came down the back alley making deliveries although mostly to the drug stores. There was also the guy who came in his cart offering to sharpen knives and someone who another immigrant who would chant “ any old clothes for sale” as he too pushed his cart in the alley. Yes and the coal man since every building used coal so that dirty coal was in the alley and leading up to our basement where they dumped it.

Well it came to pass that when I was an adult and working, I found my beloved apartment building had been torn down with most others on that block in the late 50’s and replaced with the “ four plus one”. Those was three stories with a garage below. Ugly smaller buildings that spread around the city like chicken pox. The city was changing and so too were the demographics.

And then there was Riverview. Everyone about 60 or older knows about Riverview on the North West Side of Chicago. It was the first real amusement park. They had every imaginable ride. I recall about 5 Roller coasters, a huge parachute ride, a Ferris wheel, shoot the shoots where you rode a large boat on an elevator up high to a slide and slid down into a giant pool of water.

There was two cent day. Yes. I did say two cents. Admission for everyone was normally about a nickel or a dime but one day a week it was only two cents. Kids flocked there. We went almost monthly taking a bus, a street car and L to get there.

Aladdin’s castle was a favorite. Out front there was a giant picture of Aladdin looking mysterious and inside every kind of ride or experience. One was the room of mirrors, only mirrors which made you look distorted, then the one with the slanted floors, another where you had to sit on giant rolls of padding and bounce down to a lower floor. There was the haunted rooms and many were dark with no lights and you just held onto the person in front and kept walking.

The end of World War 11 caused more people to move and all the GI’s came home to start families, go back to school and find a job. More Negroes came too.

Chicago was always a melting pot of the Nation, just as New York. You can still find Chinatown and the Greek neighborhoods and Italian and Polish as well as the Irish. Not all the people of each persuasion lived there but the neighborhood still had pride and the best place for a Greek meal is still to this day going to Greek Town, etc.

Blacks started out with less; education held them back and still there was discrimination even up north. They served with distinction in World War 11 and even before but people change slowly. Many blacks lived in high rise housing just north of the downtown Chicago. One project called Cabrini Green was at one time a group of lovely high rise buildings which ironically is the type White people now flock to as they buy up condominium apartments in high rise buildings all along the Downtown area—and they pay top dollar for them.

However sociologists have said that a kid growing up in a high rise is bad and the buildings deteriorated and became havens of crime. The lights in the elevator were taken out, there was urine all over and the gangs controlled buildings.

Gangs you say? When did that start? Okay most kids were in some of something, club, gang, or group. Kids want to have friends and they are a click. I had my friends whom I played softball with in the alley, those I walked to school with and later joined Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and clubs. None of it was for evil intent and if you did something bad, your parents would “beat the crap out of you”. So these were all harmless. A gun? Who had guns, they were in movies.

Society evolved different in black neighborhoods. Many young black men felt that they could prove their manhood best by getting a girl pregnant. Then they moved on to someone else. The notion of marriage was not important and even those who succeeded in business or sports were not seen promoting family values. Also pregnancy started in early teens as no one was saying don’t do it.

Making matters worse, today Marriage is not seen as relevant to young people of any race or color. But, here is the exception, white men do not abandon their responsibilities as fathers to the level they have done in the black community.

Adding to the mix, society then rewarded the pregnant girl with money and benefits for each child she had and many young black girls decided welfare was preferred to finding a job as they felt either they could not get one or did not care.

Two more events created the perfect storm: the government decided that we should provide Section 8 housing in white areas which meant those getting financing had to provide certain living space for some minorities who did not have the money to pay the normal price.

With fathers absent, mothers not involved, kids turned to their friends and became gang members. However gangs were different. They fought over territory, providing drugs to make money and commit crime. Easy access guns allowed this to accelerate. Who ever heard of a drive-by-shooting? Now it is daily. Some gang members drive down a street and start shooting innocent people with an automatic weapon. Crazy? Rare you ask? No, daily.

The second element of the perfect storm is the black leaders. Do they try to educate the young boys on what they are doing wrong or convince girls not to get pregnant before marriage? No. They condemn the white community and say this is caused by lack of opportunity and they demand more money for their areas.

Meanwhile frightened decent blacks clamor to move out of those neighborhoods and find somewhere safe in another community. However often, when they do, the gangs follow them.

Here is a simple question: A company is looking to build or expand its facilities somewhere. They can move into one of these depressed areas where rent and values are cheaper or spend more and go somewhere else. Why do they turn down the cheap rent or purchase price? Answer: it is not safe and they do not know if during some riot or demonstration by the community, they will burn it down. Now who is at fault?

Now here is what the fail to realize: if they helped keep the neighborhood by helping to rid gangs, and stopped with the violence and protest as well as burning down businesses, these companies might move there and that will create jobs for the residents and create more money in their hands and need for more stores to service them. Black leaders fail to realize their demonstrations and protests about inequality and festering resentment which motivates more to violence is feeding upon itself.

This is the great divide. We cannot keep pouring money into what is not being solved at the root cause. Is that cause inequality and prejudice now or is it that the white community is in fear that these gangs will come into their area and do the same? How much time are black leaders and the liberal establishment spending telling black people that they must do a better job themselves and not suggest it is all whitey that is the cause. The media helps compound the problem as they over report things and often create the rioting that follows.

In my old age I have seen his all get worse. White people get more prejudiced when they see bad events unabated with no effort being put forth by the black community to try to change it. Yes, there are black men and women who have risen to heights and made names for themselves. I truly admire them, not as black or white, but as a real American success story.

We do not think of them as black or white or anything. We think they are successful Americans and a credit to themselves; black, white, Latino, Male, Female--it doesn't matter. They made it. What we do not see are the activists helping the community and take on the problem of family values and lack of two parents and minimal desire to do something with your life. They see those who succeeded but instead of emulating them, they want to blame others for their lack of effort.

Again, this is not meant to criticize everyone. I merely say we have a problem that is not going to be solved unless the black community moves to help change it. Enough innocent people have been killed. And I do not mean by the police as many shootings have been justified but the media distorts it in an effort to show law enforcement is the cause. I mean that your young kid sitting in the living room who is shot with a bullet from some car driving down the street by gang members with an assault weapon will not end if we do not stop the gangs and the reason they thrive.

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