Friday, November 18, 2005

Weekend Radio Memories

Cream of Wheat is so good to eat
Yes, we have it every day.
We sing this song, it will make us strong
And it makes us shout Hurray!
It's good for growing babies
And grownups too, to eat.
For all the family's breakfast
You can't beat Cream of Wheat.

It's a Saturday morning in the 1940's and that commercial is playing for my favorite radio program, "Let's Pretend." (Kudos to the jingle writer for burning his commercial into my brain so thoroughly that it's lasted about 60 years.) Later in the day I might play with a friend or go to the movies (a double-feature). Still later I might have to clean up my stuff from the living-room, if it happened to be my parents' turn to host their monthly card game.

Dad loved to play pinochle. After dinner, on card game nights, we transformed the dining room into a home-casino by reversing the table pads on the maple dining table to their green baize side. Then we put out decks of Bicycle cards, the carousel of red, white, and blue melamine poker chips, and the ash trays…at least half of Dad's friends were cigar-smokers. My mother would have baked a cake or pie for the coffee break, or bought a box of cookies from Jack Rose's Bakery around the corner, and we filled cut-glass dishes with sliced pineapple and dried apricots, dates, marzipan or chocolates.

What a collection of guys Dad's card-player cronies were: Aaron G. the dentist, Jules S. the optometrist, Sam S. the news photographer, Otto R. the dress manufacturer, and Ben F. the disbarred-lawyer who sold encyclopedias. Mrs. R. and Mrs. F. never appeared, and maybe no longer existed. Mrs. S. was exotic because she had an English accent from Leeds…Sam had met her on assignment before the US entered WWII. Mrs. G was exotic because she was Aaron's second wife, worked as his dental assistant, and was not even Jewish!

My mom, Mrs. S., Mrs. G., and my mom's oldest friend, an unmarried lady who "went to business," made up a foursome for Canasta at the bridge table in the living room, which was why I had to remove my stuff.

As the evening progressed, the cigar smoke wafted up to my bedroom where I hid reading a book. Eventually, as the shouting and cursing (in Yiddish) (by the men) got louder and louder, I drifted off to sleep. The sounds and scents of them having a really good time were familiar and comforting.

The next morning, Sunday, my favorite radio program was "The Children's Hour." The song I remember from that one was:

Less work for mother
Let's lend her a hand
Less work for mother
And she'll understand
She's your only treasure
Just make her life a pleasure
Less work for mother dear.

That jingle could have been an appliance, a prepared food or a laundry soap commercial, but it was probably for Horn & Hardart automats, New York's only fast-food and take-out chain, who actually did sponsor the program. I just remember feeling guilty every time I heard the song, like I was supposed to be the one to make less work for mother. Not through buying her take-out food, but by drying the dishes better or practising the piano longer, or something else I couldn't figure out. However, before I did anything for mother, I just had to listen to my program…


peripateticpolarbear said...

How cool!

Fred said...

We'd do the same thing with our dining room table. Whenever we had company, we'd have a big dinner, then out came the cards and poker chips. We had the felt, too.

Great memories.

Tan Lucy Pez said...

Oh! "Let's Pretend!" I loved it! And Good Ol' Buster Brown. We "saw" wonderful programs on the radio.

Yael K said...

You capture the flavour of that era so beautifully that I feel that I was there! Ever considered writing up a book of your memoirs from childhood? I'm so enjoying reading these vignettes whenever I get some time, which sadly, is not enough.

Savtadotty said...

Thanks, guys. Yael, I think this blog is that book.