Mom was a teacher, so she was always learning and always teaching. She taught me that pattern as well. The school year from September to the end of May was defined from Monday through Friday and the weekends were divided up as well. Saturday morning duties were always: change the sheets, do the laundry and clean the house. We would eat lunch and by 1 PM we were on our way downtown. The goal was to go grocery shopping, but there was another important task before that. It was spending time together, looking in the 4 or 5 stores that made up our “downtown”. These 4 stores were at the intersection of 4th & Beale Street and the two biggest stores: J.C. Penneys and Central Commercial were diagonal from each other. The other two stores: Sprouse Ritz and Alex’s Toggery were on one of the other corners. It was fun to see what was new and mom and I would try on clothes and look at everything else while talking and seeing who else was doing the same thing.
Most Saturdays we would walk down to the corner of 4th & Andy Devine to Kingman Drug Store and while mom was getting what she needed (her face cream “Deep Magic”) or whatever she wanted to look at, I was allowed to look at what I wanted to. I would check out the glass encased counter with perfume, make-up and fingernail polish. I would walk down every isle and end up at the kids section to look at games and puzzles. There was a soda fountain in the back, a long counter with a silver metal- wrapped edge and bar stools evenly spaced and attached to the floor. The mirrored wall behind the counter had shelves of glasses and various bottles of flavorings. Occasionally (not often) we would get a drink while we were there, but only if we were really thirsty.
Mom & I didn’t spend too much time in one place, looking. We would check out the new items, get what we needed and move on. We had a comfortable routine and she always made it fun. She would call my attention to “shady characters” and make sure I noticed “wild outfits” people were wearing. We would always see someone we knew and stop for a few minutes and talk. The conversations were always polite, asking each other how they were doing, and what they were doing. People would say what they were shopping for, what was on sale at the grocery store, family that was sick, visiting and what was coming up in the garden. These were quick connections that seemed so normal and expected yet frustrated me sometimes because they distracted mom and slowed us down.
The last shopping stop was Safeway and it was always busy on Saturday. The gathering spot for the entire town, if we hadn’t seen anyone we knew downtown, we would see someone we did know at Safeway. I loved grocery shopping and mom taught me so much. Lessons like: how to pick the best produce, like looking carefully for any bruising, molding or signs that it was “too old”. We loved peanut butter at our house, really fresh peanut butter. Skippy was the brand of choice. These were the days of no expiration date, no safety seals, so the way WE knew to tell if peanut butter was fresh was to test the screw-on lid. If it unscrewed easily: no sale; however if I tried with all my might to unscrew it and failed, into the basket it went. We were always on the look-out for new products and mom was game for trying anything new. I remember when Whip-N-Chill came out. It was so fun and came in two flavors: chocolate and strawberry and of course we tried them both. The product was so much more fun than plain instant pudding because it “magically” formed into three layers when whipped with water and chilled… thus the unique name! I was certain the top layer tasted like a cloud.
Sometimes we would plan several meals ahead of time and buy those products specifically, but often we decided after we looked around and saw what was on sale. Mom always got the basic starch foods: pasta, potatoes, rice. She bought the standard canned vegetables: green beans, corn and tomatoes. We always had to get canned fruit: sliced peaches, pears, pineapple and fruit cocktail. Those were the days when fresh fruits and vegetables meant they were “in season”. Peaches, nectarines, grapes, cherries, strawberries & blueberries were to be enjoyed as special summertime delights. August was for fresh corn and the best apples and hard squash didn’t arrive until after school started in the fall. The produce section as well as other parts of the store defined the seasons. It was not only correct, but expected to see signs about Christmas and Easter and traditional foods accompanied those holidays.
The frozen section held certain standards at our house. We bought the rectangular boxes of frozen vegetables: corn, Italian green beans, spinach, brussel sprouts, Fordhook or baby lima beans and peas…always peas. We would buy frozen French fries, O’Brien potatoes and when they came out: frozen waffles. Every week we bought ice cream. Mom let me pick out half gallons of the most delicious concoctions on earth. Toppings too like chopped walnuts, Hershey’s syrup, butterscotch topping, marshmallow cream and RediWhip. Heaven on earth! We would get popsicles and ice cream sandwiches in the summer making the freezer at home like a magnet: I was drawn to its delights.
Mom defined our meals by the meat. A chicken dinner, meatloaf, pork chops, hot dogs, hamburgers or some kind of fish. Those were the days of limited bottled sauces, so mom concocted different flavor sensations: some good, some forgettable and all without measuring anything. Ketchup, worcestershire & soy sauce, mustard plus every kind of herb and seasoning mankind ever discovered was in mom’s kitchen. We used a lot of Campbels soup recipes as guidelines too. She was delighted when flavoring packets, bottled & jarred sauces came on the scene as it gave her even more options.
Evening meals at our house always had balance and variety with meat, vegetable, fruit, dessert.
There was always a tablecloth or placemats and the plates, silverware and drinks at each setting. Every evening meal (dinner) included a little dish placed near the fork with some kind of fruit in it. Meat was served on a platter with a large fork and the vegetables (already buttered) were in a pretty serving dish. Everyone had a paper napkin and there was always salt and pepper in the center of the table. This was a daily routine, not something special just for holidays.
I would set the table with the plates placed in front of every chair, approximately 1 inch from the edge of the table. Knife next to the plate on the right side with the teaspoon lined up straight beside it. Dinner fork was on the left side of the plate and sometimes we had a salad fork to the outside of that. The water glass was always about 2-3 inches to the left from the tip of the knife. I made sure the designs on the plates or glasses always faced the chair. This may sound obsessive to detail today, but back then, it was just the way it was done. It meant the table was set, ready and awaiting another meal together. It mattered to mom and the consistency of this routine was comforting.
When the meal was over, the dishes were stacked to the right of the kitchen sinks and the left-over food secured in little plastic tubs, foil or plastic wrap. Casserole left-overs were easy as the entire baking dish was covered with foil and refrigerated. Mom was the dishwasher and I was the dryer. She didn’t even have an automatic dishwasher until after
I was married. Sometimes mom would get started washing the dishes and I would say I had to go to the bathroom (hey! I really did have to go!) I would return just as she was finishing up and she would say, “You sure timed that right!” Most of the time we would use the dishwashing time to talk about what was going on or sing. Two part harmony rang out over the soapy water and before we knew it, the dishes were done. The dishcloth was used to wipe off the faucet, the counters and the stove top. Damp towels were hung on the oven door handle to dry.
The daily and weekly routines were comforting to me and lessons were woven in without me being aware of them. Mom taught me many things besides shopping and home economics. She taught me how to be polite, patient, helpful and kind. I also learned a lot about having fun and humor. Lessons taught with love as only a mother could. Thanks, Mom.