GOING TO THE MOVIES WITH GRANDMA

REFLECTIONS (updated every Wednesday)

By Steve Liddick

Saturdays were special in the 1940s. There was no school and it was the day I got my allowance. My 50-cents and I would get on a bus to the city to see a movie. The bus ride cost a dime. The movie ticket was a budget-busting 15-cents and a box of candy was a nickel. That left ten-cents for the bus ride home and one lonely dime for two comic books.

I would usually stop off at my grandmother’s apartment in the city on the way to the show to say hello, maybe get a snack, and ogle the pretty nurses from Grandma’s kitchen window as they went by on their way to the hospital next door.

Grandma was a pretty hip old lady who understood kids. She knew the young would always have oddball fashions and terminology all their own. She understood the need of the young to be the same as their peers in fashion and different from grownups in their language.

“Where are you going, boy?” she would say.

“To the movies, Grandma,” I’d say.

“Wait, I’ll get my purse and go with you,” she’d say.

“Uh . . . ”

Now, when I said I was going to the movies, I meant I was going to the theater Grandma would not have been caught dead in. The grungy Rio Theater showed a western and mystery double feature, 24 color cartoons, a Three Stooges short subject, a Superman or Rocketman serial and a live talent show on stage. We all got to holler and cheer and boo at what was on the screen, sit with our feet up on the orchestra pit railing, and be obnoxious where our parents couldn’t see us.

But, what my grandma meant by “wait I’ll get my purse and go with you” was, “we’ll go to Loews Regent Theater.”  Instead of watching Lash Larue whip the bad guys into line or Red Ryder and Little Beaver thunder across the silver screen, we would be watching Howard Keel sing to Jane Powell. Or maybe it would be Fred Astaire dancing alternately with Ginger Rogers, Vera Ellen, Cyd Charisse, Ann Miller or Mitzi Gaynor. And you couldn’t holler and cheer or boo at what was on a classy screen like the one at Loews Regent Theater with its plush carpets and gilded decor. Certainly not with your grandma sitting right next to you. They didn’t even have an orchestra pit railing and even if they had it would probably be covered with velvet and you wouldn’t have been allowed to put your feet up on it.

But grandma paid for the tickets and the candy and I got to spend the time with her.

Many years later, long after Grandma had passed away, MGM came out with a video compilation of clips from their movies of the 40s and 50s.

Those Saturday mornings all came back to me in a warm wave as Howard and Mitzi and Cyd and Fred and all the rest sang and danced in glorious Technicolor.

But the best part of watching those videos was that for a couple of hours I got a chance to sit beside my grandmother one more time.

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CHICKEN CORN SOUP

REFLECTIONS

by Steve Liddick

Every year, when the corn was at the eating stage, church women in my Perry County Pennsylvania home area would make chicken corn soup as a fundraiser. I don’t know if they still do. If so, a bowl of it probably wouldn’t cost a quarter anymore.

Whatever the price, it’s worth it because it was heaven in a paper bowl with a plastic spoon.

My personal recipe, which is a long-standing Perry County tradition, is very simple:

First you steal a chicken

Defeatherize and clean it, boil it down, debone it, toss the skin and bones. Cut the meat into smaller pieces. Save the water you boiled the chicken in.

Then you walk out to a farmer’s field and pick some corn. My dad always said to “Leave the money on the fence.” I would say, “What if there’s no fence,” and he’d say, “Now you have the idea, son.”

Okay, moving on:

You cut a lot of corn from the cob and add it to the chicken and broth.

Now here’s the good part:

In a bowl, you mix an egg and a pinch of water or melted butter in some flour and mix it around until you have a dry dough with tiny eggy-floury chunklets and you drop those—a few at a time—into the boiling soup. Those are called rivels (RIH-vuhls) and they add to the magic.

After it has boiled awhile, salt and pepper it to taste.

There you have it.

But I have to admit, the homemade version is nowhere near as good as those church ladies made.

Maybe it’s because everything tastes better when someone else does the cooking.

 

STILL A FARM BOY

REFLECTIONS

by Steve Liddick

Most people who live in California come from somewhere else. That includes me. It is an automatic assumption that you are not from here.

It’s not like that where I actually do come from. I think most people who live in Perry County, Pennsylvania started out there and are still there—or not far away. I seem to be the exception.

Careers sometimes send you to places you would not have chosen on your own. The weather is often a factor that drives people south. Itchy feet is a common cause among the young.

When people ask me where I’m from, even though I have lived in a lot of places and been all over the world, it’s an easy answer; I claim a little green hunk of paradise among rolling Pennsylvania hills and sparkling streams. It has a rich history that goes back well before we were the United States of America—and has a population that appreciates it.

I’m sure many who still live there don’t see my ancestral home as I do. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I looked over that fence in 1958 and set off for what I thought were greener pastures. In fact, it turned out to be many years of bumpy roads and stormy skies. It is true that times would not always have been ideal if I had stayed closer to my roots, but in all the other places I’ve lived, I never felt truly connected. If you are going to have troubles anyway, it is more comforting to suffer them among those you grew up with. They forgive you your shortcomings because they were standing right next to you when you acquired them.

Thomas Wolfe wrote that “You can’t go home again.” It’s true. Not because where you came from has changed. It is because you have changed.

Still, there will always be enough of Home that stays with you to keep you warm when life gets cold.

 

Books by Steve Liddick: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=steve+liddick

Steve LiddickAuthor of “All That Time,” “Old Heroes,” “Prime Time Crime,” “Sky Warriors,” “But First This Message: A Quirky Journey in Broadcasting,” “A Family Restaurant is No Place for Children,” “Campsite Gourmet: Fine Dining on the Trail and on the Road,” and “Eat Cheap: A Cookbook and Guide To Stretching Your Food Budget Dollars.”

GRANDMA: THE HUMAN CALCULATOR

My Grandmother, (Mrs. Harry R.) Erma Pricilla (Carpenter) Kiner was an amazing woman. She fed and clothed five children through the darkest days of the Great Depression on the $11.00 a week my grandfather, Harry Kiner, earned as a fireman on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Admirable, of course. But one of the things I most admired about her was her mastery of arithmetic. She could do mental calculations much faster than I can do them with the most sophisticated calculator today.

While most farm kids of Grandma’s rural Pennsylvania elementary school years never got past the eighth grade, check out just one test given students of that era:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/12/1912-eighth-grade-exam_n_3744163.html

The next time you hear of someone in those days who only got an eighth grade education, don’t feel sorry for them. You can be sure they had acquired more scholastic skills in elementary school than a lot of today’s students have after four years of college.

Nineteenth century arithmetic was a tough test. History was hard, too, although there was a lot less history way back then than there is now. Not to take anything away from Grandma for that.

The “Good Old Days” were tougher than we think.

It was kind of comical to watch Grandma doing the numbers in her head. She would close her eyes and flutter her eyelashes, bob her head around, mutter the calculations process as she went along, and then rattle off the answer. All this at warp speed.

As I said, she was an amazing woman.

She made a great rhubarb pie, too.

 

Books by Steve Liddick: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=steve+liddick

Steve LiddickAuthor of “All That Time,” “Old Heroes,” “Prime Time Crime,” “Sky Warriors,” “But First This Message: A Quirky Journey in Broadcasting,” “A Family Restaurant is No Place for Children,” “Campsite Gourmet: Fine Dining on the Trail and on the Road,” and “Eat Cheap: A Cookbook and Guide To Stretching Your Food Budget Dollars.”

JIGGS CLOUSER: MECHANICAL GENIUS

REFLECTIONS

by Steve Liddick

I once worked with an extraordinary man named Jiggs Clouser. He was in charge of the print shop at the Perry County Times, a weekly newspaper where I was an editor for a couple of years. Jiggs could fix anything. He’d take a look at the problem, figure out how it worked—or stopped working—and, before you could say Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, he’d have it diagnosed and back in service. Since he was often working with century-old printing equipment, parts were rarely available and he would have to improvise.

“If all the paper clips I’ve used to fix things were to disappear,” he said, “this whole place would collapse.”

Jiggs passed away a few years ago and I have often wondered how his fixit-skills would survive in this age of plastic. Even Gorilla Glue can’t do much for a material that deteriorates in the hot summer sunshine.

We recently bought a wireless weather station. It is mounted high on a pole in our back yard and transmits information to a screen in the kitchen of our house about the windspeed and direction, the temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and rainfall amount. It even shows when rain is forecast. It is a truly amazing instrument. But it is made of—you guessed it—plastic. Being a weather device, it is out in—you guessed it again—the weather. Extreme climate conditions and PVC do not get along well, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how long it will last.

I just know that Jiggs Clouser is out there somewhere, looking down at a world largely made of plastic.

I wonder if they have paper clips in Heaven.

 

Books by Steve Liddick: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=steve+liddick

Steve LiddickAuthor of “All That Time,” “Old Heroes,” “Prime Time Crime,” “Sky Warriors,” “But First This Message: A Quirky Journey in Broadcasting,” “A Family Restaurant is No Place for Children,” “Campsite Gourmet: Fine Dining on the Trail and on the Road,” and “Eat Cheap: A Cookbook and Guide To Stretching Your Food Budget Dollars.”

 

TERROR ON ORE BANK HILL

My first car was a 1931 Model A Ford sedan. I don’t think Ford called it a sedan. Probably some snooty name like “touring car.”

It cost $50.00 and took me all summer working at a gas station to pay for it. I recently paid $75.00 just to fill up the gas tank on my Chevy pickup truck. For that kind of money I could have bought one-and-a-half Model A Fords. Unfortunately, it’s not 1953 anymore.

I loved that car. But, of course, everyone loves his first car. Having a four-wheeled escape pod meant there was now a whole reachable world out there to explore. Prior to that, I couldn’t get any farther away from home than my bicycle would take me.

As kindly as I felt toward that car, it was also the cause of one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.

I was driving on a road that took me over Ore Bank Hill, on the curviest road in the county. Once you reached the top, it was a steep downhill run for several miles, with nasty switch-backs and curves not banked to accommodate speeding vehicles and centrifugal force.

As I chugged to the top of the hill and started down the other side, I came to the first curve. I was picking up more speed than I was comfortable with, so I slammed on the brake. Teenagers do that a lot. Nothing subtle about most anything they do. A gentle pressing of the brake is not in a teen’s playbook.

Well, the Model A had a rod that connected the foot pedal to the mechanical braking system under the car. The problem was, the rod was made of cast iron. Cast iron does not handle slamming very well and it snapped, leaving me in near free-fall. Those old cars had no compression to help hold the speed down and it was impossible to down-shift in those pre-synchromesh transmission days.

So there I was, on the scariest road imaginable, careening downhill in a top-heavy vehicle with no brakes. I was seventeen years old and certain I would never see eighteen, whipping this way and that, wrestling the non-power steering wheel, skinny 21-inch tires squealing at every curve, picking up speed for several hair-raising miles.

Finally, I got to the bottom of the hill and was able to coast to a stop. Thinking back to that experience I wonder once more how I managed to survive my youth.

Anyone who doesn’t believe in God has never ridden a Model A Ford with no brakes down Ore Bank Hill.

 

Books by Steve Liddick: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=steve+liddick

Steve LiddickAuthor of “All That Time,” “Old Heroes,” “Prime Time Crime,” “Sky Warriors,” “But First This Message: A Quirky Journey in Broadcasting,” “A Family Restaurant is No Place for Children,” “Campsite Gourmet: Fine Dining on the Trail and on the Road,” and “Eat Cheap: A Cookbook and Guide To Stretching Your Food Budget Dollars.”