Yesterday's Magazette

10 – 1950s Vignettes

1950s Vintage Vignettes

By Colette Sasina

Papa weighed his words carefully. “I know you kids love to play in the rocks around the backyard pond, but vermin love to play there, too. Last night I surprised a four pound rat with my baseball bat. It won’t be bothering you.  My plan is; drain the water, move the rocks, fill in the hole, and seed.  You’ll have more room to run around and play kickball.”

Papa did not see the snake that scared us half silly yesterday. We missed our unique oasis. I’d sit at the pond’s edge daydreaming and following the polliwogs while Basil pitched stones and fiddled with the frogs. The flowers Mama planted between the rocks baited the bees and smelled wonderful.

The following spring, a big white truck with a huge rolling belly spit out slurry cement from the corner of the yard all the way down to the street. Papa built a one-car garage with two shuttered windows and flower boxes that fit snug under the sills. A kitschy rooster weathervane completed the quaint look. It reminded me of a dollhouse.

The big day finally came when Papa drove his brand new 1951 black Chevrolet into its freshly painted home.  A month later he drove Mama to the hospital and brought her home with our new brother Brian the following week.  Basil and I were charmed by this tiny infant with his howling cry and flailing arms. Sibling second-fiddle syndrome reared its jealous head for a short while. Mama often hovered over the cradle fussing with Brian’s receiving blanket, pulling down his tiny shirt or whatever and sang him lullabies every day.  I loved helping Mama with feeding and folding clothes. Basil looked forward to playing catch with his little brother when he could run in the yard.

The next year a General Electric console black and white television made its debut in our living room.  Mama popped celebratory corn and poured mugs of Vernor’s Ginger Ale laced with Twin Pines Dairy milk that was delivered right to our milk chute next to the back door twice a week. Uncle Milty ruled as our program of choice; there weren’t many. Texaco’s commercial jingle still rings in my head.

A smelly memory burns my eyes and assaults my nose to this day. It began with my anxious Aunt Irma, all in a whirl when my mama called to ask, “Could you please give Colly (that’s me) Shirley Temple curls?” She reluctantly agreed. I squirmed while my aunt permed my long, flaxen hair tight. The mixture reeked of strong ammonia. My curls leaked. Cold neutralizer drizzled down my neck. Aunt Irma was a frazzled wreck. ‘Once Upon A Time’s’ Rapunzel would understand. Can’t imagine curling her mile long strands.

A Toni doll, namesake of the home permanent, sat pretty under our scotch pine Christmas tree that year. The box held a kit to perm her hair and more for later use. The odorless sugar water worked well and was easy to apply. I learned the process didn’t have to be filled with anxiety.  I permed my brother Brian’s fair hair. He didn’t seem  to care. Mama washed it out before Papa could see.

After the feast of The Three Kings in January, Papa cut up the Christmas tree and lit a few branches he set on a grate in the fireplace. Within a minute a serious fire crackled, popped and roared up the flue leaving black blotches around the front and on the hearth. We thought the house would go up in flames. Papa never burned sappy fresh wood inside again.

I learned about loss and grief and how precious life is when my dear Grandma Zoe lost her battle with cancer. She was loving and kind and much too young to die.  Then there was Vincent, 14, my first crush. He was struck and killed by a car while delivering newspapers on his bike. I shed many tears and began to question attachments but decided staying vulnerable was best. I would miss too much in life otherwise.  My pooch Blacky barked all the way to doggie heaven when he was three; that’s 21 in people years. Sad times, indeed.

After we graduated from grade school a block walk away, I continued to St. Thomas High a few miles south off Van Dyke, while Basil attended John J. Pershing High School,  west on 7 Mile Road. We took the bus. Papa was an alumna. They both had the same home-room counselor. I would also have Mrs. Cooper when I swapped my Junior class of 50 for Basil’s 723, but not without praying for guidance and serenity. More courses were offered to gather varietal tools for college or trade when I changed schools.

I wish I could have helped with after school homecoming preparations, but I could only watch from the bus with yearning trepidation. While the band and cheerleaders hobnobbed, the bus driver pulled away from the curb…to my job.

Our new principal was surprised we’d never had Homecoming. He resolved to enhance school spirit with fun. He interviewed the clubs’ nominees. In my fantasy dreams, I mused. Student votes were counted—job was done. “At last!” the principal said. “We have one.” Suspense was over. I told my boss I needed time off. Oh, was he cross.

I ironed my mint green bridesmaid gown and shopped the Motor City’s downtown for dazzling clear dancing shoes like Cinderella, my merry muse. The car was a souped-up convertible. I sat on the trunk and savored the moment.  Who woulda thunk. The driver hit the horn, spun me around the track. Queen’s court adorned the next car back. We all smiled, waving and beaming. Students waved back, cheering and screaming. The marching band played. Cheerleaders kicked it up a notch. School spirit exploded as the football players watched.

The principal stood center stage, 50-yard line. Being escorted to him was a fond memory of mine. He caped my shoulders to keep me warm. I cradled the roses he placed in my arms. Then he raised the tiara, crowned my windblown head. I remember the kind, thoughtful words he said. Next he pulled a tiny box from his pocket and presented me with a golden locket; engraved—CJC Queen ’58. My bursting heart quivered and quaked.

Monday was quiet, no after-school fuss. Gathered my books, boarded the bus to the office and my cranky boss. He forced a smile but was at a loss. I finished filing and typing; his cue to stop grousing and griping. In short order all my other tasks were done. After all, life’s a balance of work and fun. He couldn’t take me off cloud nine. Confident now I drew the line.

My twin brother Basil became Class President in the winter semester of our senior year. We were dubbed King Tot and Queen Tot in the yearbook, Parade 1959 which holds many memories I’ll always hold dear.

The following fall, I received a call from the school office. “Would I crown Darlene Homecoming Queen?”

“Of course I will.”

What a thrill. Returning as an alumna was so much fun. I recalled this Cinderella dancing at Pershing’s 1958 Homecoming Ball with her Prince Charming. He became my husband, still handsome, true and tall.

Vol. 40 – Copyright © Yesterday’s Magazette – 2013

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