In just a few days my “personal” odometer will turn over again and I celebrate another birthday. Recent events triggered recall of a few insignificant but pleasant memories of my everyday life growing up. Some of our “seasoned” readers have told me they think we were born at the very best time ever to be a child, so I hope my birthday column jars some of their own small but fun 1950s memories.
Very few of my Heights neighbors had air conditioning until the early 1960s so spring and summer meant open windows. Attic fans made summer nights bearable, but no home was without an oscillating fan. We didn’t have child-proof, idiot-proof plastic fans back then. We had serious fans with metal blades and the blade cover was so skimpy you could stick your fist through it. Despite the lack of warning labels, I don’t recall one kid of my generation who stuck their finger in it to find out what would happen. However, I will confess to setting my own little fan on fire in junior high school after running it continuously for days and nights. You won’t find any fan running continuously at my house these days and I don’t need a warning label to remind me. Experience IS the best teacher!
Before the days of refrigerators with icemakers and water dispensers, families usually kept a jug or two of water in the fridge. The rule was, if you drank it, you refilled it. The “icemaker” was the last person who used the ice, and again, if you used it you refilled it. Our moms didn’t run interference on this issue so the natural consequence of being in too big a hurry to go back outside to play was no cold water the next time you wanted some.
Speaking of ice, does anyone besides me remember those metal ice trays, the ones with a handle on top and when you pulled up, it loosened the ice in the tray? Sometimes my mother used those trays to make Junkett, our poor man’s ice cream, and chocolate was my favorite.
My family had a Saturday night ritual made super special during the summer. It was a trip to the grocery store on 19th and Shepherd to pick up the Sunday Houston Post and then across the street to Shipley’s Donuts. I remember a man wearing a white paper hat kneading the dough, and with machine-like precision cutting out the doughnuts and doughnut holes and throwing them in a fryer. Our standard order was six glazed and six chocolate glazed. Those chocolate glazed marvels were made with real chocolate dough, not today’s lame excuse of spreading chocolate icing and calling it a chocolate doughnut. The super special part was the next stop, the Tasty Freeze on Yale Street for a quart of vanilla ice cream. Saturday night couldn’t get much better than the funny papers, donuts and ice cream!
Eating out was a rarity for us. It was something we did once a year, like taking my mother to the Barbecue Inn on Cross-timbers for Mother’s Day, but we did buck tradition a few Sunday summer evenings. There was a little hamburger place on 20th Street between Heights Boulevard and North Main run by two older ladies and they cooked our hamburgers to-go. I remember the burgers cost 30 cents, with cheese 35 cents, and hot dogs were a quarter.
My dad finally bought an air conditioner when I was in high school and I was never without one after that. My 7-year old self misses those days before we traded that squeaky screen door for glass, real chocolate doughnuts for an impostor, and the funnies for some that aren’t so funny, but I take comfort knowing that as long as there are Blue Bell and Dairy Queen, I can still have my ice cream!
Connie Clements is a freelance reporter and award-winning columnist. She writes feature news article on a weekly basis and an opinion column as the mood strikes her.