Category Archives: Things that no longer exist

A horse with no name

I never met my real father.  I have ONE picture of him standing in my grandparent’s back yard with my Mom.  I met my stepfather somewhere between the age of 5 and 6.  Just before I turned 11, I lost my Mom forever.

I have two very vivid pre-adoption memories. The first is one I will never forget and might explain my aversion to haircuts to this day.  I mentioned that my Aunt Marge lived next door to my grandparents.  Her first husband,  Uncle Ray was the family barber.  I think I was four or so, and had lovely ringlets of hair and everyone decided it was time for my first haircut.  I can still hear those clippers and my screams of terror as I saw my hair falling on the floor around me.  Now remember, I went in the Air Force and had my head buzzed, but I was prepared for it.  The trauma of that day helped me decide to keep my sons as hairy as possible before they had to be subjected to the horrible cyclic ritual involving scissors and clippers.

My second memory is much better.  I’ve written in previous posts that my Grandfather worked up the street.  I can never remember him having a car.  I do recall however, looking out the front window each day watching for him to be dropped off.  As soon as his ride’s car door began to open, I would run for the dining room table and hide.

Perspective is relative I suppose, but my Grandfather was a big man.  I’m  guessing at least 6′ 4″.  To a four-year old, he might as well have been a GIANT. He knew I was hiding, but every day he followed the same routine.  He’d plop down his lunchbox and started to pretend to look for me, asking “now where could Chuckie be”?  When he sat at the table I smelled the distinctive aroma of his workplace.  I would learn later in life though my own experiences that the smell was of metal shavings and oil.

My Mom’s family were true Irish Catholics.  My grandfather apparently did his share of living up to the his nationalities reputation while in his youth.  But while I do remember him drinking a shot of whiskey every day, I never saw him drunk.  While he certainly got angry, I never saw him out of control.  I never adopted his drinking habits and made every attempt to never lose control of my inherited Irish temper.

I must have been between 5 and 6 when my Mom married my stepfather.  I never went to Kindergarten and instead went right into the first grade.  My grandparent’s got the Saturday Evening Post and I taught myself how to read. I was way ahead of the rest of the kids with regard to reading comprehension and found myself leading groups of readers with the blessing of the teacher.

 I never met my stepfathers Dad, but I very much remember his Mother.  I remember walks with my Mom from our home on East 57th Street to a butcher on East 65th, right across from Morgana Park, home of the some of the best softball in the United States.  My Mom would pick out a duck and they would cut off its’ head and drain the blood into a white container which would be the main ingredient for the Polish delicacy known as Czernina. My Polish grandmother made delicious noodles but I hated the “duck blood soup” she made.  She lied to us and told us it was “chocolate” soup, but in addition to that container of blood we brought home, the other ingredients were vinegar and prunes.  Sure took away the glory of those wonderful noodles!

I do not remember exactly when she died, but the house must have been built by her husband, who I never met, and my stepfather.  Despite being a Polish neighborhood, I didn’t know of anyone else that had a yard like ours.  We had mulberry trees, plum trees and a crab apple tree.  Quite plentiful for the size of the yard.  Just beyond the back porch sat a plaster fish pond with plaster toad stools around it.  I really don’t remember the fish, but I do remember it being filled in with dirt to become a nice flower garden.

Just beyond that, under the crab apple tree was a plaster horse that had to be about 5 feet high.  My sister tells me the father sculpted all these items and also how the horse met its untimely demise.  I’m inserting a painting by Van Gogh of a horse, but you’d have to have seen the horse to believe it.  It stood on all fours, had fake jewel eyes and actually for little kids, was quite a sight to behold.  As I got older and got the job of cutting the grass, I rued the day I had to push that mower through the avalanche of dead rotting fruit and around that plaster maze in the back yard.  There was no “weed wacker” invented yet, so I had to use hand clippers to do the trimming.

I left home at the age of 16 and went to live with my grandparents.  Of course, I never told anyone at school and even though it took me an hour and a half each way, I didn’t miss out on graduating friends, some of which, I had known since grade school.  I enlisted in the Air Force about a year after graduation and it must have been about this time the horse met its’ fate.

Miscommunicated instructions led my Sister and Brother to take hammers to the plaster horse.  My stepfather came home from work to find the last vestiges of HIS childhood had just been destroyed.  My Sister doesn’t remember when, but apparently the fish pond/flower garden soon followed and the unique plaster art was soon gone for good.  And to think that I’ve watched made for TV movies about neighbors suing each other over eyesores in their respective yards.  If the producers only knew…


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The Coal Bin

As far back as I can remember, My grandfather had an electric furnace.  Not so at home.  We burned coal primarily and also the garbage.  Do you remember the movie “A Christmas Story” when the dad was swearing in the basement and smoke was coming out of the heat grates?  He was complaining about the “clinkers”.

Burning soft coal in our furnace produced dirty, sulfurous smoke and clinkers, or big chunks of fused, ashy rock.  Soft coal contains slate, which under heat fused into a rock-like mass ranging in size from about six inches to nearly two feet across.  Handling clinkers was a twice-a-day job.

Before going to bed, I had to use a “poker” to break up the clinkers to ensure a good flame in the furnace.  The next morning, dead clinkers had to be removed with a three pronged claw.  The poker and the claw were always next to the furnace door.  Also nearby was a large galvanized tub to hold the hot clinkers and irritating ash the soft coal produced.  The ash was removed with your coal shovel.

The coal still burning inside the furnace was then spread out and new coal laid over it to produce a good fire.  Once the clinkers and ash in the tub cooled, I carried the tub outside the back door and dumped them into a special can.  The City of Cleveland actually came to the back yard, and took the cans in the front to the truck and left your cans on the “tree lawn”.  There was always a day when only clinkers were removed.  At the bottom of our clinker can there was always some fine ash residue which could be used as a traction helper if the car got stuck trying to get up the driveway.

The coal we burned was delivered.  A truck would back into the driveway and one man would toss blocks of coal through our basement window from the truck to another man in our basement standing in the coal bin, a wooden structure with a door that housed the coal.  He stacked the coal against the far wall and it was my job to “feed the furnace” with as many blocks as it took to keep the fire burning.

I’m not sure how old I was, but my step-father bought an automatic stoker from the Iron Fireman company.  It was a green machine that held a hopper of crushed coal which was automatically fed (on a timer) by a huge auger/screw combination.  The coal we burned was now delivered through the window by a chute, which resulted in a large pile of crushed coal right in the middle of the coal bin floor.  My job was now to shovel the coal from the pile directly into the hopper of the stoker.  The biggest irony of all this is that my grandfather worked at Iron Fireman and helped to build these machines.  My Grandfather and stepfather didn’t get along very well, especially after my Mom died.  But this device was a part of my life that was touched by both sides of my family.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all on YouTube, along comes a fascinating coincidence.  A man discovered an old stoker that had been stored for FIFTY years and it still had coal in it.  This 3 minute video shows you how quiet it ran, how well built it was and I can attest that the green color of the stoker was the same color we had.  It is truly a small world…


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Can You Hear Me Now?

I doubt that Alexander Graham Bell could have possibly dreamed how technology would advance his invention.  Smart phones continue to move towards full-blown computers that happen to also make phone calls.  We speak (and see) my son Josh in Japan every week, and yet it costs NOTHING.  We have cell phones for emergency use, but we still have a phone system in our home.  It is NOT connected to a land line however, it’s Voice over Internet.  All my children have cell phones and I’m sure within a few years or so, my grand children will have them as well.  How did we communicate when I was a kid?

Not everyone had a phone, but we had one at home and my grand parents had one as well.  Here is a picture  similar to the phone I remember (they were all black), the only difference is there was no area code.  Our phone numbers had names for the prefix.  You could tell the geographic area you were calling by the name that preceeded the number.  Our home number on Cleveland’s South East Side was the Diamond exchange, while my grandparent’s exchange on Cleveland’s West Side was Woodbine.  The geographical breakdown and exchange names probably was a great assistance when it became necessary to add area codes due to the volume of new lines being installed.

In addition to the rotary style of dialing, another little wrinkle existed back then, the dreaded “party line”.  Depending on how much you could afford to pay, you had to share your line with other families.  Can you imagine how frustrating that was for teenagers?  Bad enough there was no privacy, but you also sometimes had to wait your turn to talk.  Some things never change though as one of the largest monopolies in US business history, namely AT&T enjoyed many decades of looting and pillaging.

 In 1984, AT&T was broken into 7 smaller companies, often referred to as the “Baby Bells” in exchange for the right to go into the computer business.  Gee, I wonder if they had a sniff of an idea how huge the Internet would get one day. Despite competition from Sprint and MCI, the divested AT&T was still charging $ .35 a minute for long distance calls in the early 90’s.  If you take a close look at how the current cell phone market breaks down, you’ll find that the “new’ AT&T is only one major competitor (Verizon) away from having it all back and then some.  The profits on the cell phone market and Internet connectivity makes their monopoly of the 50’s look like chump change.

I was already out of the Air Force by the time touch-tone service was introduced, along with phones in many different colors.  There were mobile phones in cars on some of the shows from the 50’s, but they became a reality by the 70’s although very pricey.  And by the 80’s we started to see the first clunky “portable” phones which would evolve to the smart phones of today.

Another casualty of progress was the phone booth.  I don’t think you could find one on every corner, but there were enough of them to be noticeable and when I was growing up, most of them worked.  The first financial culture shock I can remember was when all these phones were converted to touch tone and new slots were added because the calls cost at least $ .25 and went up in price from there.  The other thing that made phone booths so familiar to kids was the Superman comics, because Clark Kent often became “the man of steel” changing in a phone booth.

I don’t remember using the phone much at home, but I remember calling my friends from my grandparent’s house.  I can’t say that I remember making or receiving a long distance phone call until I went into the Air Force in 1966. I do remember using phone booths, without fear I might add.  Thankfully, times were just much safer back then.  I did a lot of things (as you’ll hear about in future posts) that today would be considered crazy.

Based on how archaic communications in the 50’s seems compared to today how do you explain the Dick Tracy comic strip?  I remember reading that strip in the “funny papers” every day.  And it’s creator, Chester Gould introduced a far-fetched idea for Tracy in 1946 (before I was born) called the two-way wrist radio.  How far ahead of the times was Mr. Gould?  Can we hear him now?

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The Milk Box

Walking from the sidewalk over the narrow walkway between houses,  the side entrance to my Grandparent’s house was to the right.  Just beyond the doorway was a smaller door about 2/3 of the way up from the ground.  When you walked in the house and up the few stairs to the kitchen… the “other side” of the opening was visible.  The  inside of the house also had a door with a latch to keep it secure.  Opening this door enabled you to retrieve the bottles of milk delivered by the Dairymen driver in the early morning.  The milk HAD to be from Dairymen because there was a  plant about a 10 minute walk up the street.

This delivery system seemed more secure than the method at the house I grew up in.  We got our milk delivered to our back door.  We had a back porch which was always open and the door to the house had a dead bolt lock.  I often thought how easy it would be for anyone to just walk in, take our dairy products and be on their way…. of course in the 50’s that just didn’t happen… most people didn’t even lock their doors…

Our milk vendor was Sealtest, a company that advertised a lot on television.  I recall vividly the “free tumblers” that came with cottage cheese packed in them.  I gagged on cottage cheese, but surprisingly, when I got a little older, I developed an affinity for the pineapple variety.  Those plastic tumblers  had decorative grass cloth embedded between the outside layer of plastic and the multi-colored inside plastic.  I must have used those plastic glasses thousands of times for drinks of water and milk over the years.  Of course, I probably washed those glasses thousands of times as well…

Delivery trucks were phased out as more milk was shipped directly to neighborhood stores.  In fact, I became the new delivery system.  As  Lawsons opened new “convenience” stores, the milk and bread business transitioned to them and the small neighborhood stores died out.  The local grocery stores then got larger and larger and Lawsons closed the stores and shipped directly to the grocery stores.  Eventually, chains of grocery stores were the only survivors and the neighborhoods had no local outlets for milk.  Then the cycle started all over again with local convenient stores, but that convenience came with a much higher price.  By the time Wal-Mart and K-Mart super stores were opened, local purchasing was a thing of the past.  Ironically, the Lawson logo is alive and well.  My son Josh buys snacks at his local Lawson “Station” convenience store in Japan.

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