Remember With Me – “The Good Old Days of My Youth”
Sometimes the news of the day is so bad, so threatening, so terrifying I choose not to think about it and instead, I concentrate on more pleasant thoughts. Reminiscing does that for me, I can let my mind drift back – way back to a simpler time, when no one had nuclear weapons and everything was very far away. Even going to a neighboring city was an experience and an adventure.
This blog is meant to help you escape. Even if you are a youngster and don’t remember any of what I’m recalling you might find it entertaining and for the moment at least, forget about Iran and North Korea and Russia and hurricanes and instead enjoy my daydreams. As you read, drift back and remember with me.
I was born in 1939 about the same time that Hitler was invading parts of Europe. I don’t remember the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor but I do remember the end or at least some parts of World War II because of radio. It was an early, constant and permanent influence in my life.
There was no nightly TV news then because there was no TV but we did get live radio reports from Edward R. Murrow and his crew. I vaguely remember him broadcasting through static from London. He would always start with, “This is London,” and you could hear the bombs falling and exploding in the background.
Because of my youth, my memories of war news are slim but one part of the war era left an impression on me that will never die — the Music. There were no radio disc jockeys or top 40 stations. Music, when it was played was live yes, real live performances from the Aragon Ballroom, the Palladium, Coconut Grove and The Radio City Music Hall.
Most radio stations had live music and their own studio musicians, even the small stations. To this day when I hear a Glenn Miller recording of “Moonlight Serenade” or “In the Mood,” or hear Doris Day sing “Sentimental Journey” with the Les Brown band; I am overwhelmed with nostalgia.
During World War ll, more than any time in our history everything revolved around the war effort; the radio shows, movies, magazines, books and of course, the music.
There were a lot of great songs produced in the period as well, some became known as “Evergreens” because they are timeless. Songs like; Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, I’ll be seeing you, and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.
Family entertainment at night was — the radio. In the evening we would gather around it and listen to murder mysteries and science fiction shows. If you closed your eyes you could visualize special effects that were even better than they have in today’s movies.
Radio was theater of the mind. An active imagination made the programs even better. We listened to Inner Sanctum, The Thin Man, Gangbusters, Fibber McGee and Molly and The Burns and Allen Show, among others. Most homes only had one radio and it was a big floor model made of quality wood. I don’t know of a single one that had a remote control and while we only got three or four stations, that was enough.
Unlike today, our old radio was full of vacuum tubes and had to “warm up” before it worked and “fight night” was one night when we warmed it up early. Because my Uncle Sam Pancotti was Italian a Rocky Marciano fight was a big event. We’d gather around the radio, my aunt Ada would make popcorn on the stove (the old fashioned way where you kept shaking the pan over the burner) and then we’d listen to the blow by blow. Rocky had a 49-0 record and is the only undefeated heavyweight champion in boxing history.
Radio offered great variety, too. Every morning you could listen to “The Arthur Godfrey Show.” He had guests, played music and did interviews much like the morning TV shows today. Godfrey believed that his employees should not have agents, that they should negotiate directly with him. Well, Julius LaRosa a featured singer on the show, and a little taken with his own stardom, hired one.
Godfrey never let on how upset he was with La Rosa until he fired him while live on the air. “Julius, is leaving the show,” he said, “And we wish him the best of luck.” And that was the end of the Godfrey, La Rosa relationship. It also marked the beginnng of the end for Godfrey as his show’s ratings slipped steadily after that. La Rosa’s career fizzled and died as well.
The rest of the broadcast day on radio was made up of soap operas like Stella Dallas. Like TV later, radio had a complete line up of dramas, comedy, variety and game shows.
As a youngster Saturday morning was my favorite time for listening to the radio because that’s when they broadcast programs like “The Lone Ranger,” “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon,” and “Buster Brown.”
All the shows were sponsored by breakfast cereals and if you saved enough box tops you could get great prizes like an Atomic Ring that you could take into a dark room and when you looked closely you could see particles light up and shoot through the ring.
The ring (one size fits all) also had a secret compartment for messages. It never occurred to me that everyone who had a ring had the same secret compartment so it was hardly a secret.
When I was in high school in the mid 50s Wednesday was a special day. That’s when Ron Marinelli from WMFG radio in nearby Hibbing, Minnesota (population 15,000) would broadcast from the Tibroc hotel in Chisholm and he would draw a huge crowd out on the street. The window to the studio was small so people would elbow each other aside to get a better look at him. I wanted to be just like him. A few years later when he hired me I thought I had been magically transported into big time show biz. I couldn’t believe I was actually working with Ron Marinelli who in my mind was a huge star.
Times were so much different then. To start a car you stepped on the starter, you had to shift gears manually and 70 miles an hour was really fast. Telephones were on party lines (you shared a line with other families and each family had their own special ring), there were pay phones on nearly every corner and people died a whole lot younger.
Medical science was in its infancy. Physicians still made house calls and carried little black “Dr. bags” that contained all the magic they needed. My mother had our doctor’s home phone number and called him often to come out to treat my asthma. Car tires had inner tubes and flat tires were not only common, you fixed them yourself by the side of the road. Almost no one had two cars and only a few had new ones.
The Scaloni family had a bakery about ¾ of a mile from us and my mom knew just when the Italian bread would come out of the oven. She’d give me a dime to run to the bakery, buy a loaf of Italian bread when it came out of the oven and run home so we could put butter on it while it was still hot.
For a year or so after World War II there were still shortages of all kinds of things. My mom and dad had a little side-street grocery store across the street from the Chisholm High School. One day we got a case each of Almond Joy and Mounds bars. During the war it was hard to find those bars, I think most were sent to the GIs fighting overseas. So, when mom put a sign in the store window that we had them there was a line of kids waiting to buy them that extended all the way back to the school. I think they were 10 cents.
Also, there was very little commercial refrigeration available and our store sold Ice Cream cones along with Coke, 7 Up and Root Beer. The ice cream came in a tub that was in an insulated canvas container. We’d scoop it out of the container and make cones as fast as we could. None of that ice cream ever melted or went to waste. The soft drinks were kept in a big double walled tin cooler. You filled it with bottled drinks early in the morning and then the ice man would come and pour ice cubes into the cooler until it was full. Just the tops of the “pop” bottles could be seen. By the end of the day we were reaching into elbow deep very cold water in order to extract a Coke.
Grandpa “Pete” Aronson came to the store early in the morning to sweep the floors, straighten up things and do some light dusting. If a customer came in to buy a loaf of bread before we got to the store to open the cash register, Grandpa would leave the ten cents the customer paid, near the bread. If they bought soap, the money would be near the soap. He apparently didn’t like leaving notes so he figured if the money was near the product we could figure out what was purchased.
We got TV for the first time in 1954 but the closest station was in Duluth, Minnesota some 75 miles away and their signals were very weak. We would stand in front of the store windows where the TVs were on and hope to see an image through all the snow
on the screen. We were fascinated if we could even see a test pattern. I remember that my friend Jim Randy’s parents were one of the first families to get a TV but in order to see anything they had to buy a huge TV antenna, that was on a big tower and you could adjust the antenna by turning it. Sometime we saw shows with a minimum of snow but most often it was just audio. No matter…we watched anyway. “I think I saw something,” was not an uncommon expression.
Those thoughts, my friends, are but a few memories of the “Good old days.” There were some not-too-good memories, too, but I chose to ignore them for this column.
And from where I sit, that’s the truth.