Our Family Scrapbook

Don’t Step in the Horse Patties

If you’ve ever had to step around horse patties when crossing a street, you may get a kick out of this story. If you haven’t, boy did you miss some good times!

There was a time, not so long ago when humans actually walked the earth with no personal electronic communications devices! Can you imagine? Superstores and “big box” stores didn’t exist. People walked to the market and to church. The concepts of “designer jeans” and “designer drugs” had not yet been invented. It wasn’t all that long ago, either. In fact, I remember it like it was yesterday. Take a little trip with me back to the 1950s—the good old days of rock ‘n roll, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, jukeboxes, Howdy Doody, black and white television and, yes, horse patties in the streets!

Back in the fifties, when I was a kid, we thought we were lucky if we had a telephone, and even luckier if we had a private line. If we had to share a “party line” with one or more neighbours, that often meant we couldn’t make a call until the other party hung up. What’s more, there was only one telephone in the house—and it had a cord on it. It wasn’t hands-free, didn’t have voicemail or call forward, and you had to use a rotary dial to make the darn thing work.

1950s bakelite dial telephone.

Telephones were inconveniently installed in the front hall, so that mothers—who spent most of their waking hours cooking, baking, and doing dishes—would generally have to run, at break-neck speed, to answer the telephone before one of us kids got it. I can still visualize my grandmother, four feet, ten inches tall, her hands covered in bread dough, doing the 10-yard dash from the kitchen to the telephone bench in the front hall. She had that course perfected! She could high-jump over laundry baskets, sprint with cunning serpentine maneuvers and uncanny accuracy around pets, boots, and small children, and tumble the last three feet, with the grace of a gymnast, her hand landing precisely on the telephone receiver before you could say, “jiminy cricket.” “Don’t touch it,” she would holler before answering the phone with a perfunctory “haaayy-lo.” Ah, modern conveniences!

How’s a kid supposed to cool off on a hot day? If we’d had a nickel, we could have bought a Popsicle or a Mello Roll ice cream cone; if we’d had seven cents, we could have bought a bottle of Coca Cola. But, alas, nickels weren’t easy to come by, so we had to use our ingenuity. But, after all, we were kids of the ‘50s; we were nothing if not resourceful. Every morning, around 9 a.m., the ice man would come clippety-cloppping down our street in his horse-drawn cart. We kids, dressed in our bathing suits, would always put on our saddest faces and greet him with, “Sure is hot today, huh?” Or, “Watcha gonna do with those ice chips?”

He knew our game and, being a good-natured guy who had kids of his own, always went along with it. “If you kids stay away from my cart until I get this block of ice into your grandma’s ice-box, I might just be able to find a nice chunk for each of you when I get back. As if under prison guard, we kids would stand beside that cart, hands behind our backs, waiting obediently for the iceman’s return. True to his word, he would present each of us with a fistful of ice—our daily “Popsicles.” Boy, were they good—once we had gotten past the sawdust!

As if the ice-chunk “Popsicles” weren’t thrilling enough, there was also the monthly visit from the coal man.

We kids loved to use coal to write on the sidewalks, so of course, we begged the coalman for errant chunks.

The coal was dumped into the corner of my grandmother’s basement via a chute from the coal truck. It landed in the “coal bin” which was a corner of the basement that was fenced in to keep the coal in one place. My grandfather would get up early every morning before the rest of the family to shovel coal into the old coal furnace. He’d sit on a little bench smoking his “roll-your-own” while waiting for the coal to start burning. He muttered and mumbled a lot as he coaxed that old furnace to heat up. By the time the rest of us got up, the house was toasty and comfortable.

Fun Fact: have you ever wondered why kids in the 1950s used to have a milk moustache and today’s kids don’t? The answer is that the ice boxes (we didn’t have refrigerators) didn’t keep the milk very cold, so when kids drank their milk, they ended up with a big white moustache.

P.S. Our milk and bread were delivered by horse and carriage, too.

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