Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sander Street Summers: Concrete Yard Stories

Sander Street Porch.  L-R:  Linda, Phyllis, Me, Donna

Summertime in the late 1940s and early ‘50s were spent outside, for the most part.   Television was still new, and programs were televised only in the evenings.   No computers of course.  Moms liked kids out of the house.  One way to accomplish that was to let you know, if you stayed inside, you would be given chores.  We’d practically bust the door down getting out of the house.

Even when it rained…especially when it rained, when the sidewalks could fry eggs, we stayed out, amusing ourselves from  morning to sundown.  I don’t remember what all we did, but I also don’t remember being bored.  We didn’t know what that was. 

Our backyard was half concrete and half grass.  The grassy part backed up to a building on Jefferson Avenue, the next street over, going up toward Vine Street…now called “Short Vine.” 

On either side of us were houses, so we were pretty much enclosed in the back yard.  A low steel fence separated our yard from the one on the left.  There was no yard on the right, just the side of the neighbor's tall house which extended along our side yard and a short row of concrete steps leading to a side door.  

The concrete side yard is where we had family parties, what you would call today “cookouts.”  Mom and Aunt Vera cooked the food inside.  We didn’t grill out.  The prepared picnic food would be spread on a long, narrow table borrowed from the school’s cafeteria.   Dad and Uncle Norb would have a big ice barrel for beer and pop. 

Leading up to street level was a wide concrete staircase, separated in the middle by an iron pipe handrail.  A big landing was halfway up the steps.  It was a perfect spot for us to put on live plays. Neighborhood kids including my siblings and cousins upstairs would act out the scenes which I wrote.  Another one of the older kids would be the director.  

Two Potato Salads

The concrete yard parties were mostly held to celebrate either a church related event, like a first communion or eighth grade graduation, sometimes a baby’s baptism.  We looked forward to these fun get-togethers.  

Everything centered around the food.  It was a chance to  get some of Aunt Vera’s German potato salad.  Mom made her American potato salad too, which was always one of the best of any of the neighborhood moms. 

I was a picky eater, but I filled up a plate with the two potato salads and maybe just a small piece of Mom’s cold friend chicken.  Other than cakes and pies and cookies, that’s all I ate. 

The potato salads were not anything alike.  Aunt Vera’s had a sweet-sour vinegar dressing and bacon. 

Mom’s was extremely creamy with mayonnaise and the only other ingredient was celery.  Because Dad detested onions, we were not allowed to use them in any cooking.  Aunt Vera pretty much told him where he could go and he didn’t have to eat her potato salad.  Everybody thought that was funny because after a few beers, Dad would be eating and raving about that German potato salad with onions.

If Mom had put onions in anything she cooked, we’d all hear about it.  The whole neighborhood would hear about it.  I grew up learning to cook from an early age and never used an onion all those years.  Dad said he was “allergic” to onions, but we’d see him eat them not only in Aunt Vera’s potato salad but White Castle hamburgers and even, when he was really partying, a five-way chili. 

When he came to visit me after I got married, I had to be careful to not have any onion odor in the house.  He’d walk in my house and say, “I smell onions.”  Mom and I would just look at each other and roll our eyes.

The yard parties would last usually an entire day, until the sun stated going down, and after we cousins were getting tired from playing so hard all day.  Me,  Phyllis, Terry, Linda, Marylou, Tommy, and Ruthie were the oldest of the cousins and were allowed to roam around the neighborhood.  I’d take them down the street to my friends’ houses and we’d play tag, hide and seek, and sometimes just running up and down the street enjoying  abandon wildness.  Everybody got along just fine.  Including the adults, the aunts and uncles. 

The Cutting

On the left side of the backyard, where the yards were separated  by the fence, a little girl named Linda lived.  Her mother’s name was Celeste.  My cousin who lived upstairs from us was also Linda, Aunt Vera and Uncle Norb's daughter. 

The reason I remember Celeste is because she was one of the few women who could go up against my Aunt Vera.  They had similar personalities that said, "You don’t push me around."

The other Linda next door was very, very spoiled.  She had long blond hair and clothes a lot nicer than me or my sisters and cousins. 

My job was to watch the little kids when we were out in the yard.  Terry was almost as old as me, but I was definitely in charge, according to Aunt Vera.  Besides Terry, there was Linda, about the same age as my sister Phyllis, and my cousin Cathy, who was about the same age as my sister Donna.  My sister Nancy was a new baby.  My brother Ray wasn’t born yet, nor Aunt’s Vera’s boy Kenny.

This particular day, watching the kids play outside in the yard, I noticed my cousin Linda talking over the fence with the other Linda.  Then an argument broke out, but I just watched.  Then  the other Linda went into her house, and our Linda began playing with the other kids. 

A few minutes later, I saw the other Linda come back out and climb over the fence.  She seemed to be mixing with the other kids, so I didn’t think there was a problem.  I was swinging Donna around in circles, making her laugh. 

Then our Linda ran over to the fence, and the other Linda ran after her, got up behind her and did something with her hand on Linda’s back.  My cousin Linda, was wearing one of those little sundresses with the elastic at the time and a strap that tied at the back of the neck.  Her whole back, in other words, was pretty much exposed. 

I didn’t think anything was wrong until the other Linda moved away, and I saw a red line running from one shoulder town toward the other side of her back, stopping at the top of her dress.  I remember being confused about the red line, but only for a few seconds.  The red line began getting wider and fresh blood began running down Linda’s back.  I ran to the fence, where the other Linda was climbing back across the fence  to her own yard.  I screamed.  I remember screaming.  I didn’t know what to do but just scream for help.  I must have screamed loud enough, or Terry ran upstairs to get his mom, because Aunt Vera was suddenly there. 

Of course, her shocked eyes rested on me only for a second, but I understood I was in trouble for allowing something to happen to one of the children.  I said nothing, but when I looked down at the wood crosswise rail of the fence, there lay a razor blade.  The same kind my dad used in his razor when he shaved. 

Then my cousin Linda began to wail, the other kids began to cry too, and Aunt Vera yelled so loud, “What happened,”  that Celeste opened her door and came out.  My mother had heard the commotion and ran back inside for a towel, which Aunt Vera took and began applying pressure to Linda's sliced-open back.  

I showed Aunt Vera the blade and told her quickly what had happened.  She looked over at Celeste and began chewing her out for having such a sicko kid.  Celeste spat back that her little girl wouldn’t have done anything like that unless she was hurt first.  I had to relay to Celeste, on Aunt Vera’s orders, what I’d witnessed.  Aunt Vera picked up the razor blade and showed it to Celeste, who looked shocked.  She could not see our Linda’s back, but Aunt Vera spun her daughter around and showed her as she held the blade up.  Celeste turned and went back into her house and closed the door.

Linda had to have stitches, but I don’t remember how many.  That cut was the meanest looking thing any of us had ever seen.  I still remember that incident and how unbelievable it was, like seeing it in a nightmare, which I did more than once, waking in middle of the night and being glad it hadn’t happened again for real.

Cousin Linda Dean

Needless to say, Aunt Vera, and really none of the other neighborhood women, were friends with Celeste after that, and none of the other kids would play with her Linda.  They were too afraid.  They didn’t need to be told not to get around her.    

The other Linda was a little smaller than my cousin, so she was maybe five or six.  She was scary.

I believe that's the goriest thing I've ever watched, that cutting.  One of those memories you don't forget.

Wednesday's Why

When I began writing my family history, I hadn't thought exactly why I wanted to do it, other than my father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and I suddenly needed to know more about him. 

I'd grown up with him and knew him as my father.  I wanted to know more about where he came from, more about his roots.  Thus, I began researching online ancestry sites and creating a family tree.

Over the last 10 years, my initial reason for writing my father's family history changed. 

 I changed.  

What I always thought about myself began to change.  How I felt about my life as a kid growing up in the house where we lived, the neighborhood, my family...everything took on new life.  

Some forgotten good things came back to memory.  I made peace with the bad ones.  

My "why" I do this changed.

Writing family history teaches you about yourself as well as your ancestors.  Writing family history passes on stories and events that your family members need to read and pass on to their children and grandchildren.  When you write family history, you are giving the best gift possible to the people you care about and the ones who will come after them when you're gone.

By publishing your family history on the web, in other words "blog," you may even help others you don't know.  

This morning I read a blog that helped put my Why into even more focus.  It answers the questions by others of ...

"Why do you blog all that stuff?"   

"Blog" being the key word here. 

Aren't blogs supposed to be merely what we're doing in our day-to-day lives, or here's how I made a fortune blogging.  

The author here refers to the early "Facebook syndrome."  Here's what I had for breakfast, now I'm going here and there, then I'll have a meeting somewhere...

We family history writers should say instead.
“I write and publish my family history on the web”
“I write my family stories and share them on the internet” 
“I write my family history and share it world-wide”
By reframing it and calling it by the content of what we’re actually doing, it gives the activity a clear weight. We are writing and publishing our own and our family’s stories as an alternative, or a prelude, to writing a formal manuscript. Along the way we gain other benefits, and I shared my experiences a while ago in this post. ~    courtesy of

So we have the Why of writing family history in the first place, and now the Why we put it in a blog.

One of the best questions to ask when you begin writing family history is Why?  Having the why keeps you going.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Family Traditions: Liturgical Celebrations

Catholic families, when I was growing up, celebrated the traditional church holidays as well as the mile-marker sacraments such as Baptism (or Christening), First Communion, Confirmation, Marriage.   In a big family, such as mine, this involved a lot of celebrations throughout the year. 

These celebrations hold some of my most treasured memories.

My First Communion Party, May 1950.  Sander Street

Our celebrations revolved around food, like most other families’ parties.  And beer and pop.  The kids, the cousins, had a blast.  We ran and played, grabbed cookies and sipped pop,  without the adults paying us much mind as long as they knew where we were.  They were busy catching up. 

These Dean Family parties were the best times  for all of us.  My father and his four siblings teased  and joked while Grandma smiled proudly over her five grown children, still close to home, and her growing herd of grandchildren.  Life was good then.

A Christmas Celebration with Aunt Clara and the Mertz and
Berding Cousins.

My fifth-grade Confirmation celebration was one of those parties, but even better because it included  my mother’s famly too, the Joneses.   

My cousin, Marilyn, Uncle Buford daughter, was my Confirmation sponsor.  Uncle Buford was my mom’s only sibling. 

The   sponsor didn’t really have to do anything, just stand behind you  as you knelt at the communion railing, as the Bishop came down the line, slapped you on the cheek and said your Confirmation name.  You had to have picked a saint’s name to be confirmed. 

I remember pouring over lists of saints’ names for several weeks before the grand event.   I thought about “Ramona,” after my Dad, Raymond. 

Seriously, there was a St. Ramona on one of the lists the nuns gave us. 

Mom said,  “No, you will not.”  She obviously didn’t care much for that name.  Dad liked it of course.

I cannot tell you how many girls in my class chose “Mary.”  The ones whose name were not already Mary.   I was always a noncomformist, so I wanted a “special” name no one else would choose. 

Mom reminded me of my long departed grandmother’s name.  Cecile.  Mom thought that was a pretty name.  I looked it up, and there was a St. Cecila, the patron saint of music. 

Except my maternal grandmother’s name was “Cecile,” not Cecilia.  Close enough, we decided.  Cecile it would be.

 It made sense, seeing as music was a huge part of my life.  And it made my mother happy.  Not having her mother around like other young women raising families always hurt Mom.  She missed her mother.    Dad said choosing Cecile was a good thing.  I don’t think he really cared about “Ramona.” 

Most of all, since I had no memory of my Grandmother Cecile—having died before my first birthday—her name would be part of me forever. 

St. George

Confirmation was an evening ritual inside the low-candle-lit,  cathedral-like church.  I almost felt like I was going to a special party in my brand new,  black suede, first-time-ever pumps—shoes with no straps!  And nylons, which I’d only the Easter before been allowed to exchange for white cotton socks.  

 Grandma had bought me, on one of our shopping trips downtown, a navy blue satin, circular skirt with an iridescant-like sheen to it.  We’d found it on a sale rack in Shillitoe’s Bargain Basement.  I wore a white frilly blouse and felt like a movie star. 

I guess Confirmation was sort of like a debut, at least for the girls.  We got to dress almost like adults.

Aunt Vera had shampooed and pin-curled my hair early that morning and brushed it out after I was dressed.  It wasn’t my favorite hairdo, but I had poker-straight hair and my mother and grandma both wanted it curled.  Aunt Vera was the Pin-Curl Queen.  She fastened the tiny spirals as tight as she could, and your scalp finally became numb after hurting for hours. 

When we arrived at church that evening, I remember being proud beyond words of my cousin Marilyn.  She was tall and beautiful, and mature.  She was older than me and my classmates. 

The only dark spot on my confirmation coming-out, was when the Bishop came down the line and stood in front of me, and lightly slapping my cheek, pronounced me “Cecil.”  Without the  “e” on the end.  Cee’-sul!  Like a boy’s name.  Emphasis on the Cee. 

And Marilyn heard it.  The girls kneeling on either side of me heard it.  Next day the whole class had heard it. 

Mom said some people had called her mother Cecil because her name wasn’t Cecilia, and they didn’t  realize the  “e” on the end was there for a purpose.   It should be pronounced Ce-seel’, accent on the second  syllable. 

It didn’t make it any better that my dead grandmother had to bear such disgrace, but I decided to look down with contempt on anyone not learned enough to know how to pronounce a simple name.  A beautiful lname. 

Finally one of the nuns informed me that the Bishop had pronounced the Latin version of Cecile.  I don’t think that was true.    

Eventually the teasing died down as it usually does, and I still liked my Cecile name. 

When I began doing family history in earnest, I liked my name even more when I wrote about my Maternal Grandmother Cecile Leeds.  I hope she knows I am proud to have her name.

My Maternal Grandmother, Cecile May Leeds

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Three Flights Over a Bakery

Me and Grandma on Sander Street , circa 1948, when
Easter Hats  were worn to Church on Easter Sunday, and I finally got
to wear "nylons."

 Grandma and Uncle Junior moved from 2223 Clifton Avenue, the house next door to the Prosit, before the 1949 city directory was published.

 Frank Junior was born in 1931, on my birthday September 22nd to be exact.  A fact he never let me forget.  So he was approximately 18 years old then.  I was seven.  Perfect age for teasing.

One of my vivid memories is breakfast at Grandma’s, watching Uncle Junior eat his Wheaties cereal in a very large bowl, like a vegetable bowl for mashed potatoes or something.  He could eat one whole box of Weaties every morning if Grandma let him. 

A fairly recent photo of Grandma's Apartment building.  The bakery
was where the white door under the yellow awning is now.
Another memory of Grandma’s apartment on McMillan Street, Apartment #3, is the German bakery downstairs.  I don’t remember the bakery’s name.  I wish I did.  The bakery was similar to all of the other  bakeries in the city, mostly German, some Greek and Jewish. 

The bakeries are different now.  That era is gone.  For instance, the one-of-a-kind cheesecake.  Cheesecakes now don’t consist of a sweet yeast cake foundation; it’s graham cracker crumbs instead.   

Granndma's bakery went out of business early on, but Virginia Bakery on Ludlow Avenue continued business well after I moved to Tennessee, and every trip home I went there to buy a cheesecake.  I begged for their recipe, promised I wouldn’t share it, but the sweet, older lady I dealt with said, “Now, Honey, you know I can’t give you that.”  Yes, I understood. 

Well, now – Huge FYI – the family of the Virginia Bakery owners have published a book, and it has the most popular recipes along with the history.  And the cheese cake is included in the recipes! 

Visiting my grandmother usually included a delicacy from the downstairs bakery.  She’d wait until I got there and then send me down to purchase the goodie myself.  She often instructed me on what specifically she wanted.  Almost always the Cherry Royal Cake.

Actually getting upstairs to Grandma’s apartment was a process to begin with.  Entering the tiny hallway with the mailboxes on the left with their corresponding buttons, you pushed the button to ring the the person you were calling on.  You then waited for that person to push the button on their end which sounded a loud buzz and unlocked momentarily the door in front of you. 

This made my grandmother very nervous.  For some reason, it scared her that you might try to turn the doorknob before she pushed the buzzer, and she would say every single time, no matter how many years you’d been visiting her, “Now, don’t try to open the door until you hear the buzzer.” 

Then you had only the length of time the buzzer sounded to open the door.  This worried her too, that you might forget to open the door while the buzzing was in process.  If this happened, then you had to go through the whole process again, starting with, “Now, don’t try to open the door until you hear the buzzer.”

Once inside the heavy, leaded glass door, you faced three flights of wooden stairs.  The second landing was outside Grandma’s brother Clarence’s apartment door.  Uncle Clarence and Aunt Marie seemed to always know when I was visiting, or they simply opened their door every time they heard footsteps on the staircase. 

I always stopped to visit with them and watch Aunt Marie’s parakeet stand on her outstretched tongue.  Which I thought was totally gross, but I marveled at the feat because it made her so happy.

I loved Uncle Clarence and Aunt Marie a lot, in spite of the bird in the mouth.  Their granddaughter, Sharon, was about my age, and sometimes she came to visit when I did, and we’d play games together in Grandma’s attic room where the wringer washer, stationary tubs, and clothesline were.  Grandma kept a box of dress-up clothes out there for us among other fun things to play with.

After leaving Uncle Clarence and Aunt Marie, as you started up the last flight of stairs, you’d see Grandma’s house slippers waiting on the top step.  The farther up you got, she’d stoop down so you’d finally see her face.  And she always had this big smile greeting you.

I walked to Grandma’s apartment anytime I wanted to on Sander Street, but I always called ahead on the phone, because Grandma did not like to be surprised.  Her buzzer intercom system kept her feeling safe, and I guess her brother living a flight down checking out everyone visiting gave her added security.  I used to wonder if she was afraid my Grandfather Frank would try to come back.

And I’ve wondered often what my life would have been like if I hadn’t lived within walking distance to my grandmother, if she hadn’t welcomed me visiting her as often as I did.  If she hadn't enjoyed having me around as much as she did. If she'd had better things to do than taking me shopping and riding buses all over Cincinnati and watching her favorite television shows at night.

I have to say I would have been a pretty lonely child who would not have had the guidance Grandma gave me.  I wouldn’t be writing family stories, because she was the inspiration for that.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Organizing Memories Monday: Corralling the Information Flow

I love my news feeds.  Let me just say that first.  If I can read someone's blog or website via a feed, so much the better.  Otherwise, I have to go to all of their sites individually.  Yes, news readers are gold.

I can't think of a better way to stay on top of all the information on the web that I'm interested in, that helps me with writing, inspires me, provides such useful tips and education.  If you're a wise subscriber, it's all there for you on one awesome page.

There's a problem, however, if you use Google News ...Google's refusal to allow one to cancel a subscription.  

Oh, sure, it looks like you're cancelled, but if you've tried it, you know it doesn't work.  I venture to say I cancelled some of my subscriptions a dozen times and finally gave up and decided it was just a lot easier and quicker to delete them every time I read my news.  Still, I love Google.  

I only use Google now to collect all of my subscriptions, and I read them on Feedly , an attractive magazine-like venue that's easy on the eyes.  It  also places a feedly mini strip at the bottom of most sites you visit allowing you to click various options for saving the site, including adding the site's news feed to Feedly.  

So every few days--I wish I could do it everyday to keep up better--I'll pull up my Feedly to see what info is out there that I need to either read or save.

The first thing I do is go through and delete every subscription I would opt out of...if I could.  

Then, with a clean list of possible feeds, I to through them quickly.  After you've used a news reader for some time, you learn how to do this.  A quick scan sometimes lets you know you're not interested.  If I'm not sure I want to read the feed, I "save it for later" along with the sites I know I do want to read.  

After culling the articles, I pull up the saved ones.  This time I stop and read certain ones right then and there and then delete them.  If I want to hang on to the article for later quoting of reference, I send it to EverNote. If I don't have enough time to read all m saves, it's easy to come back later and finish them.  They stay safe in the "save-for-later" folder.

Also some get liked on Facebook, or tweeted for followers.  

This is the best solution for me at this point to read all of the good stuff on the information highway.  

Please leave comments on other tips and tricks,  I'm always open to new ways to stay efficient.  

Sander Street: A Father's Classic Gift

Dad takes a picture of me on a sick day from school
A more modern Amazon set of
Children's Classics


Sometimes during those long nights on Sander Street, waiting for Dad’s heavy footsteps on the wooden porch,  We'd get a surprise. He might come through the door carrying a big sack of White Castle hamburgers.  Maybe Empress Chili.  One night it was Chinese in those little white cartons with the wire handles.

But one particular middle-of-the-night, he really gave me a surprise.

With an eighth grade education, my father had a secret fondness for reading  and education.  Grandma and I may have been the only ones who knew it. 

Dad harped on me all through school for one reason or another.  First it was my handwriting in the second grade.  He called it “chicken scratching.”  Indeed, he had beautiful penmanship on his side.  Next, it was reading, and had it not been for his pushing me I might not have become a book  junkie. 

To reinforce the reading wish he had for me, one night he came in a little earlier carrying a brown rectangular box, which I spied through my half-closed eyelids from the rollaway bed.  He went to the living room first to talk to my mother, which was usual.  I wondered if he’d brought her a present, if that’s what was in the brown cardboard box. 

Then I heard Mom say, “Wait until morning.”  With that, he turned and huffed into the bedroom, still carrying the box, then stopped, and knelt by the side of the rollaway bed.   I opened my eyes before he could say my name.  Excitement danced in his eyes.  He lifted the box onto the bed next to me and said, “Look, I got you something.” 

I sat up and pulled back the already opened flaps on the box top and saw eight hardback book spines in a neat row, all in different colors. 

Dad loved giving gifts.  He always gave them immediately, as soon as he got them.  He couldn't wait.  
He pulled one of the books  out of the box and proudly announced, “Look, this is Heidi. This is a set of children’s classics.”  He handed the Heidi book to me. 

I remember touching the book gently, running my fingers over the bookcloth, reading the imprinted title and author’s name, Johanna Spyri.   I’d already read the library’s copy of Heidi, and Dad must have noticed me sitting on the bottom step of the old staircase reading when no one was around. 

He pulled the rest of the books out of the box, Treasure Island, Five Little Peppers, Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, Little Men, Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn, and-one-by-one placed them in a pile on the crumpled covers.  I was spellbound.  I was shocked.  I didn’t know what to say. 

We were not a demonstrative family, especially when it came to outward shows of affection.  I must have thanked him, though.  I don't remember.

I stayed mad at my father so much for drinking and driving Mom crazy, and here he goes and does something so amazing. 

All Mom said was something to the effect of, "He should've waited for your birthday."

The next morning, or when it was time to go to school, I lugged that big heavy box of books the two blocks to St. George to show my prize off to everyone.  I was so proud of my father that day.  I wanted the nuns and other kids to see what a good father, what a smart father, I had.  He bought me BOOKS!  

I had to hide those books of course, up high, in a closet, so the little kids wouldn’t get them and tear them up.  I wish I still had them, but teenage years soon came around, and they were put up in an attic somewhere, at one of our houses, and I never saw them again. 

But the memory of that night is still with me, as well as another night a few years later, when Dad surprised me again.  But that’s another story of the years in Mt. Auburn.

When I showed my books to Grandma, tears shone in her eyes.  My father couldn’t afford books when he was young.  Grandma said my father was always a reader and loved books.  He wanted me to have something he wished he could have had. 

The gift of those books, when it wasn’t Christmas, or my birthday, or anything, changed me in several ways.   I learned to treasure books more than I probably would have otherwise.  And I felt different about my father.   I would continue getting angry at him, but it was like I learned something about him I hadn't known before.

The book junkie's wall of books today.  My husband Gary and youngest son Jeff
are also book junkies.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sander Street: Rock 'n Roll at the Friar's Club

St. George First Communion photo, May 1949.  First Row, second from left. 
                         In my own world, daydreaming, as usual.

We moved to Sander Street in Corryville about 1949.    

We were the “war babies.”  Peace and prosperity was the theme…at least for a couple of years.

We were worried about Russia.  They had exploded an atomic bomb.  One morning the  Enquirer’s front page headlines warned Russia was going to bomb the U.S.  The story even had maps detailing where the Communists would strike.  Dad laid the paper aside, mumbled something with cuss words in it, and left for work. 

I looked at the paper, the maps, understood what bombs were and wars.  My Dad and Uncle Norb had been in one.  Though I never told anybody, I was scared half to death one of those Russian atomic bombs was headed for Cincinnati. 

I already had a hard time sleeping at night because of Dad coming in at all hours, making noise and arguing with Mom, the baby crying for nighttime feedings, and now the bomb threat. 

I listened every night for airplanes coming to bomb us.  Would Mom and Dad even be aware of it?

I figured it would be at night when the bomb came, like most bad surprises. 

Then the Korean War came, and Uncle Junior went to fight.  Along with the rest of the family, I prayed he’d come back home in one piece.

Uncle "Junior," Frank Dean
When I was about 12, I joined the Friar’s Club on the corner of McMillan and Ohio Avenue to take swimming lessons with the rest of neighborhood girls.  The Friar’s Club was a boys’ club,  but in the summer, every weekday morning, girls were allowed to come for swimming, playing games, and just hanging out and listening to music on a jukebox. 

Friar's Club in Clifton.  Torn down now.  Courtesy of QueenCityDiscovery

The club also had a huge ballroom that had accordian doors to close off certain sections depending on the need.  Every month or so, there’d be a guest artist come to perform, and the big ballroom opened up to accommodate dancing.  The first I remember were the Isley Brothers, an up-and- coming local Cincinnati band that later made it big with “Shout!” 

Also Brenda Lee came to sing at the Friar’s.    She was just a little girl at the time.  I think she sang “Jambalya.”  Her family lived in Cincinnati in the ‘50s, and she sang country hits for Jimmy Skinner’s Record Shop over WNOP radio in Newport, Kentucky.

But those weekday mornings the neighborhood girls and I listened to early ‘50s  rock ‘n roll. 

Fats Domino’s  I’m Walking, I’m in Love Again, and  of course Blueberry Hill.  The Dell Vikings’ Come Go with me.  And the Satins’ In the Still of the Night, which we harmonized. 

That’s when I discovered music could help me tolerate what was going on at home.  It became an escape from my reality.  Rock ‘n Roll had made its first appearance, and I jumped on that wagon as fast as I could.  Like all the other kids my age at the time, it was “ours,” our music.  We defined ourselves apart from our parents. 

And this was all before Elvis went into that studio in Memphis.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Deans in Cincinnati: The Clifton Years

Private Raymond C. Dean, 1942-43

Norbert Frank Dean, in the Navy,  1941-45
where he got his dancing girl and serpent tattoos

New Deal for the Deans

In the 1940 Census, Frank and Clara are living at 1455 Columbia Parkway, which is confusing, because their address on Gladstone Avenue was also 1455.  On further research, these two addresses are one and the same.  Part of Gladstone became Columbia Parkway.  People who live there now still think it’s confusing.  This is the first census where Grandma, Frank, and all five children live together. 

My Dad, Raymond, at age 20, is working in a retail bookstore as a stock clerk, a position he’s held for four weeks.  For the period March 24-30, he worked 44 hours, and his “salary” shows $40, and it’s unclear if this is total earnings received for the four weeks or just the period of March 24-30.  His status is PW, meaning public work.  For the question of how long he had been unemployed, he reports “0”

Uncle Norb, now 18, is a laborer for the “CCC Reforestation Project—The Civilian Conservation Corps, one of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs to put the unemployed to work.  Norb had been unemployed for 56 weeks and has worked, at the time of the census, 26 weeks.  His salary is $180, again not clear the length of the pay period.  Norb is classified as GW—Government Work, as is his father Frank.

Frank’s government placement is “watchman” for the WPA, “Works Project Administration,” the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, which employed millions of unskilled workers for construction of public buildings and roads.  Nearly every community in the United States had a new park, bridge or school constructed by the agency.  Frank had been out of work for 82 weeks and has worked 40 weeks.  His salary is $570. 

Close to Clifton--The War Years

My father left for the army in August 1942, one month before I was born, and the Cincinnati Directory for that year lists Frank and Clara residing at 1 West Hollister, close to Clifton Heights, but more Corryville.  Frank is a sheet metal worker for K&BM Company.  Norbert is listed at the same address as a “soldier,” when in fact he was in the navy. 

#1 West Hollister Street, Present Day 
Then, on the next page, there is a separate listing for Raymond, my father, also at 1 West Hollister.  He works as a carpenter. The directory was received in the Copyright Office in January 1942, so Dad was living at #1 Hollister Street when he entered the army.  My mother was eight months pregnant, but her name is not listed on the census.  Usually only those working were listed.  Grandma is listed along with Frank, “Frank & Clara Dean.” 

My maternal grandmother, in Morrow, Ohio, was dying of breast cancer during this time, and my mother stayed at the home and took care of her.  She may have been staying in Morrow then.  My grandmother, Cecile Leeds Jones, died in September 1943, only weeks short of my first birthday.

December 7, 1941, America entered the war, and the U.S. enlisted more than 10 million men and women into the military. 

By the end of the war, more than 12 million American soldiers had joined or were drafted into the military. Widespread rationing occurred. For example, families were given coupons to purchase sugar based on the size of their families. They could not buy more than their coupons would allow. However, rationing covered more than just food - it also included goods such as shoes and gasoline.
Some items were just not available in America. Silk stockings made in Japan were not available - they were replaced by the new synthetic nylon stockings. No automobiles were produced from February 1943 until the end of the war to move the manufacturing to war specific items.
My Father was released from the Army on April 7, 1943, with an honorable medical discharge.  Apparently the long-term effects from the chorea’s neurological disease.  I was seven months old when he came home.  In the 1944 Williams Cincinnati Directory, my parents and I live at 2212 Fulton Avenue, and Dad works at Wright Aero Corporation.
2212 Fulton Avenue, where my parents lived, in one side of
the duplex in 1944, when I was two years old

2223 Clifton Avenue, Next to the Prosit Saloon

Grandma and Frank had moved to 2223 Clifton Avenue by the 1944 city directory.  Frank works as a  meterman.

Before the next directory, Frank would be living somewhere else, and with someone else. 

Clifton Avenue is where my father threw my grandfather down the stairs and out on the street.  The scene of “The Big Fight.” 

The people I remember most in the upstairs apartment on Clifton were my two aunts, Dorothy and Clara, my Grandma, and Uncle Frank, dubbed “Junior” by my grandmother.  I have no memory of my paternal grandfather until years later when he visited us on Sander Street shortly before he died.

All of my life I pictured my father as a teenage boy having to make his dad leave whatever home they lived in.  I remember Grandma saying that my Dad “threw his father down the steps,” and I of course pictured this taking place at the attic apartment on McMillan Street because I spent more time there with Grandma than on Clifton Avenue. 

I now know Frank was tossed out of the 2223 Clifton Avenue apartment and can picture this happening.  I know now that the apartment was on the first and second floor, not just the second floor.  That means he must have been in an upstairs bedroom when Grandma told my Dad to “make him leave.” 

Uncle Norb, according to the 1944 directory,  is listed “USN,” United States Navy, living at “223” Clifton Avenue, which I’m sure was a typo and should have been 2223, the same address as his mother.  I don’t remember Uncle Norb at the Clifton Avenue apartment,  because he was in the navy.  His enlistment date was December 13, 1941, and release date October 10, 1945. 

In 1945, I found Grandma listed in the directory as a “finisher” for the Sperti Company, still at 2223 Clifton Avenue.  Sperti is the company that made sunlamps.  My father owned one, which he may have bought at an employee discount by way of his mother.  He used that sunlamp a lot for his severe eczema and several times had me lay under it for toothaches or monthly cramps. 

In that directory for 1945,  Aunt Dot, is listed as a bookkeeper at the 5th/3rd Union Trust Co., and Aunt Clara is a clerk for the W.A. Merrill Company.  Both of them were living with their mother in the Clifton Avenue apartment. 

Grandma, Aunt Dot, Aunt Clara, and a friend
in the side yard of 2223 Clifton Avenue

Grandfather Frank is listed in the 1945 directory.  He is still a meterman, but his address has changed.  He now lives with Helen Dean, at 1405 Republic Street, in Over-the-Rhine.  

Grandma never divorced her husband.because of her Catholic faith, but Helen’s daughter, Louise, who I happened to find online, said her father, my grandfather, received something from the State of Ohio allowing the marriage. 

Grandma always told me Frank was guilty of bigamy.  She explained to me that the Catholic Church did not allow divorce, once married you were always married until your spouse died.  She told me my grandfather had broken the law by marrying another woman when he was still married to her.  I believedher of course and I never knew anyone else besides me whose grandfather was married to two wives.  But then I never asked any of my friends either.

In 1949, the Cincinnati Directory shows Raymond Dean at 2223 Clifton Avenue along with three other tenants occupying the other apartments in the building.  Grandma had already moved to 226 West McMillan, Apartment #3. 

I was seven in 1949 and started school at St. George after having only attended part of the school year in Morrow at my grandfather’s home.  I don’t remember now if I started at St. George while we lived there in the first-floor apartment on Clifton or if we’d already moved to Hollister Street.

The 1951 directory shows Clara Dean and Frank E. Dean, “Uncle Junior,” living there in the attic apartment.  Junior, age 20, is listed as a stockman. 

Once I discovered Uncle Junior was in fact living there in Grandma’s attic apartment, I remembered him there.  He was still eating Wheaties in the mornings out of his big bowl and teasing me, still reminding me about Susie the Gorilla at the zoo sharing my birthday and how much alike we looked.  Then he’d mess up my hair.  He still tried to mess up my hair on my wedding day.

From 2223 Clifton Avenue, we moved back to my Grandpa’s Morrow Farm, in an upstairs two-room apartment, a kitchen and a bedroom.  We stayed there until about 1948.  We show up next in the 1951 Cincinnati Directory on Sander Street, walking distance to Grandma’s apartment.  From St. George School, it was an easy walk down Calhoun Street to Hughes Corner and then up three flights of steps, and by then I was allowed to walk there by myself.

Deans in Cincinnati: The Dirty Thirties

The Pendleton Years

My Aunts, Dorothy and Clara Dean, probably during the 1930s

The 1930 Census shows  Frank and Clara and their four children still living in the 8th Ward of Hamilton County, 1111 Pendleton Street,  where they had moved the year before, where they were paying $20 per month rent.  Frank is now driving a cab for a living. 

1111 Pendleton Street, Present Day (Photo by Author 6/2012)
On one of those floors the Dean Family of Six Live

Pendleton Street is in Over-the-Rhine but also classified as an area all in its own – “Pendleton.” 

My Grandparents owned a “radio set” on Pendleton, which was one of the questions on the 1930 Census.  The family probably listened to popular shows, like The Shadow, big band musical programs, the old-time soap-opera-like serials, and of course the Fireside Chats of President Roosevelt.

My father, Raymond, was age 10, probably a student at St. Paul’s, even though he teased me that he’d attended St. George when I was enrolled there.  He said some of the nuns who taught him were still teaching there and they remembered him and they would take it out on me.  I’m still not sure if he ever was a student at St. George. 

Living across the street from the Catholic school, I can’t believe the children would not be enrolled there.  I can only imagine my grandmother’s security in living mere steps away from a Catholic church.  I remember her walking to St. George some weekdays as well as Sundays when she lived in the apartment at Hughes Corner.  She was actually closer to St. Monica’s then, but I guess she’d gone to St. George long enough when she lived down the hill on Clifton Avenue at Warner Street, next to the Prosit, that she considered St. George her home parish.

St. Paul's Catholic, Over-the-Rhine, 1910 ~

“St. Paulus Schule,” across the street from 1111 Pendleton, home of Frank
and Clara in 1933 and their four children.  (Photo by Author, 6/2012)

Republical Herbert Hoover had won the 1928 election over Democrat candidate Al Smith, and within seven months after Hoover took office came the stock market crash and ensuing Great Depression.  The president initially believed the depression was just a slight economic downturn, but quickly twelve million Americans became unemployed and businesses all over the country declared bankruptcy.  Though President Hoover tried to boost the economy with tax cuts to people too poor to even pay taxes and government loans to businesses which were afraid they couldn’t repay the loans, the country continued to sink financially. 

In the 1932 election, the country overwhelmingly elected Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who would institute the “New Deal” programs which put many people back to work and gave the country a much needed morale boost, but the depression continued until the World War II.

In Ohio, by 1933, more than forty percent of factory workers and sixty-seven percent of construction workers were unemployed. In 1932, Ohio's unemployment rate for all residents reached 37.3 percent. Industrial workers who retained their jobs usually faced reduced hours and wages. These people had a difficult time supporting their families. Many of Ohio's city residents moved to the countryside, where they hoped to grow enough food to feed their families. ~

No one on my Dean side of the family moved to the country to grow their own food, except for the Deans from Tennessee and later Kentucky who’d always been farmers. 

Frank, however, was a city dweller, and in 1933, he is working as a “paperhanger.”  The family still resides on Pendleton Street, where they remain for the next three years.  Who would want to give up $20 per month rent during times such as these?

My father Raymond was now 13, Norbert 11, Dorothy 9, and Clara 6 years old.

My father did not continue school after the eighth grade.  He went to work, his first jobs shining shoes and selling newspapers on the street corners.  The Depression was in full swing and practically devouring people, stealing their dreams, forcing them to watch their children go hungry, robbing them of their self-worth.

Grandma told me my Dad helped buy food during those hungry times with the small amounts of money he made.  Grandfather Frank was not a permanent fixture in the home and not a stable provider.

These were the lean years, when one head of cabbage was all you had and it might have to last a week, according to my Grandma, as she remembered those poor times.

Amidst the Depression climate of severe need, unemployment, and poverty, Prohibition continues and makes criminals of those intent on making, selling, and buying liquor.  Organized crime increases in power.  The passion for wealth from corruption extends to law enforcement officials.

The Depression stole focus away from Prohibition; the concern was more for the unemployed than for the evils of alcohol, and polls showed 78% favored repeal. As unemployment soared, Americans favored legalizing beer to help create new jobs. President Roosevelt made this his first priority after he took office. Immediately after his inauguration in March 1933 he urged Congress to modify the Volstead Act. On April 7, beer containing 3.2 percent alcohol by weight became legal for the first time in thirteen years.~ “Brother, Can You Spare a Drink,”

Then on December 5, 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment is passed, repealing the 18th Amendment outlawing alcohol, and remains the only constitutional amendment to be repealed in its entirety. 

Prairie Dust and Heat Waves

Aside from the lawlesness and corruption associated with Prohibition and the dire poverty of the Depression, another reason for dubbing the 1930s “dirty is because of the the Dust Bowl, severe drought, and intolerable heat of the 1930s.

The Dust Storms did not contain themselves to only the Great Plains.   

On Wednesday and Thursday, May 9 and 10, 1934, the rest of the world began to know first hand about the dust storms of the Great Plains. "A gigantic cloud of dust, 1,500 miles long, 900 miles across and two miles high, buffeted and smothered almost one-third of the nation today,  a United Press story in the Hastings Tribune of May 11 reported

...States in the full path of this and other recent dust storms were Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, northern Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and portions of West Virginia and. Pennsylvania." ~Adams

That same summer, followed record temperatures, including these in Ohio.

… 1934 was the hottest month ever recorded in Ohio. Many heat records were set on July 21, including 106 in Columbus, 109 in Cincinnati, and 111 in Wilmington and Hamilton…Estimates of the death toll in Ohio were about 160 dead just during the week of July 20-26. ~ Ohio History

 When the worst heat wave in Cincinnati history hit in 1934, families slept outside on the grass along Central Parkway.  Ethel McCreary, 91, lived in the West End then, when the grass was watered by automatic sprinklers. Police officers would walk the street each morning to wake the sleepy masses. “It was a regular beat for them,” Mrs. McCreary said. “They'd wake them up before the sprinklers went off.”  Sleeping outdoors — a safe adventure then — was among many ways Cincinnati residents stayed cool during the heat wave of 1934. Temperatures got as high as 108 degrees that July, and the stifling heat blanketed the Midwest and Central Plains for 10 days. Almost 1,400 people died across the country, 89 in the Cincinnati area. In a time before the modern inventions of keeping cool, the heat could take a devastating toll. ~ Erin Gibson, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Sunday, August 01, 1999

The East End Years

In 1935, my Dean grandparents had moved to 1455 Gladstone Avenue, between Columbia Parkway and Riverside Drive in the East End, about three miles miles from Pendleton.   Frank is employed as a laborer. 

Gladstone Avenue Present Day (Photo by Author 6/2012)

Gladstone Avenue was about two blocks from the river.  This would prove unfortunate for the family, as it turns out, because they were in one of the hard hit areas of the 1937 Great Flood, historically one of Cincinnati’s worst disasters.

I heard stories as a child about how families were rescued out of second-floor windows by rowboats, in bitter cold winds. 

On January 13, the rain began and continued throughout the month and into February.  In the first week, six to 12 inches of rain fell, totals never before or since equaled in the state.  

The damage stretched from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois, leaving homeless one million persons and 385 dead.  Property losses reached $500 million. Federal and state resources were strained to aid recovery, as the disaster occurred during the Great Depression.

One hundred thousand people in Cincinnati were left homeless, as the flood affected the city from January 18 to February 5. The river reached its peak on January 26, at 79.9 feet…Ten percent of the city's area was flooded, the water supply was cut, and streetcar service was curtailed.

At Portsmouth, the rising river threatened to top the flood wall, erected 10 feet (3.0 m) above flood stage. City officials deliberately opened the flood gates and allowed river water to flood the business district 8 to 10 feet (3.0 m) deep, thus preventing a catastrophic breaching of the flood wall. The Ohio River eventually crested 14 feet (4.3 m) over the top of the flood wall. Among the flooded structures was Crosley Field, home field of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. Additionally, the amusement park Coney Island, Cincinnati, Ohio was submerged, causing pieces of carousel horses to float away, which were recovered as far downriver as Paducah, Kentucky[8].

View from Gladstone Avenue, 1937 Flood ~ Facebook/ Cincinnatis-East-End-Columbia-Tusculum-Linwood, with permission.  The elevation appears as an advantage here. 

East End Flood, St. Rose Church, 1937 Flood ~ 
with permission

I’m fairly sure Grandma would have gone to St. Rose Church and the children attended the school as well, while they lived on Gladstone Avenue.  Catholic school then was strict parish specific.  My father Raymond would have been 17 years old, Norb 15, Dorothy 13, Clara 10, and Frank Jr. age 6. 

Since my father only completed “grammar school,” according to his U.S. service record and my Grandma, he would have been working at age 17.  The directories usually listed everyone in the home who worked, and Raymond was not listed at his parent’s address.

The only directory listing that could have been my father is “Ray,  laborer, 2136 Hatmaker.” 
Hatmaker Street is three-tenths of a mile from the corner of Eighth and State Streets, otherwise known as Knowlton’s Corner, a major hub for city bus riders transferring to other buses in Cincinnati’s efficient web of city transportation.  I’m not sure if it’s still like this, but when I was a kid, riding the streetcars and later the buses with Grandma, Knowlton’s Corner was a popular place.

Since my father didn’t drive, he may have moved to an apartment closer to where he worked, or he didn’t want to live with his parents and was able to pay his own rent. 

Hatmaker Street was about six miles from Gladstone Avenue, a long walk, even for my father,  if indeed he was the Ray in the 1936-37 city directory.

At the time of the ’37 flood, Cincinnati and the rest of the country were eight years into the Great Depression, which officially began when the stock market crashed on October 29th, 1929.  I remember Grandma telling me the stories of the depression, how food for one meal had to be stretched for a whole week, and about the rations on such things as sugar and gasoline. 

By the time Frank, Jr., was born, the depression was bearing down hard on families.  The country saw food riots, foreign workers deported, and other workers marching against loss of jobs.

By the late 1930s, the depression was weakening, but many Americans were still poverty stricken.  Then they watched as German forces began taking over neighboring countries.  With the invasion of Poland, World War II erupted in Europe.
The real event that changed America into a nation actively at war was the attack on Pearl Harbor. This was precipitated in July 1939 when Franklin Roosevelt announced that the US would no longer trade items such as gasoline and iron to Japan who needed it for their war with China. In July 1941, the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis was created. The Japanese began occupying French Indo-China and the Philippines. All Japanese assets were frozen in the US. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor killing over 2,000 people and damaging or destroying eight battleships greatly harming the Pacific fleet. America officially entered the war and now had to fight on two fronts: Europe and the Pacific.~
And America went to war, including my father. 
The last record of my grandparents or my father, of the 1930’s decade is the 1937-1938 city directory, where Frank and Clara are still on Gladstone Avenue, Frank still a laborer, and a Ray Dean, who is also a laborer, on Hatmaker.