The Purse From 1957

In 1957, Patti Rumfola was a student at Hoover High School, in Canton, Ohio.  At some point that year, she lost her clutch purse while attending the new school, which was built just the year before.  You can imagine her wondering what happened to the purse, but when you’re a freshman life moves on pretty quickly, and it probably wasn’t very long before the purse was forgotten.

edaed322-04c9-42ce-b75c-61a6c93c0aab-pattiIt turns out that Patti’s purse somehow fell behind lockers at the school.  Last year, a custodian at the school building — which is still in use, but now serves as the North Canton Middle School — was working on the lockers and found the dust-covered purse, which had been lost for 62 years.  The custodian and some secretaries at the school took a look inside, found a library card, and tried to track down the former owner of the purse.  They learned that Patti graduated from Hoover High in 1960, became a school teacher in Maryland, founded a theater arts guild and young women’s club in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, got married, had five children — but unfortunately died in 2013, at age 71.

The school district located Patti’s kids and delivered the purse to them, and they opened it last fall, to get a peek into the teenage life of their Mom through this inadvertent time capsule from the Eisenhower Administration.  Inside they found old-fashioned black and white photos, including snapshots of family, friends, and a dog, membership cards, a football schedule, some religious medallions, a stick of Beech-Nut peppermint gum, make-up, a comb, a compact, some pencils, a pen, and an eraser, and some Lincoln wheat pennies that Patti’s kids kept as keepsakes of their Mom.  Kudos to the school district for not throwing away the old purse and diligently working to find Patti and her kids.

Imagine finding a long-lost trove of bits of your life during your teenage years, or opening up your old school locker from your freshman year 50 years later, with its contents undisturbed during the intervening decades.  What would you find — and what memories, fun or embarrassing, would the contents suddenly stir?

Gummed Up

Let me begin by saying that I am not a “gum person.” Even as a kid, I didn’t particularly like the gum experience, except for the blowing bubbles part. I would inevitably end up sawing away at an increasingly tasteless wad — and then the unsightly disposal issue would arise, where no underside of a school desk was safe.

However, as someone who knows some members of the Gum Nation, and who walks through convenience stores from time to time, it’s hard for me not to notice the Gum Renaissance that is currently underway. Gone are the days when choices were limited to Wrigley’s, Beeman’s, Dubble Bubble, Chiclets, Bazooka, and those long cellophane wrappers with garishly colored (and horribly artificially flavored) gum balls. Now there are entire aisles and point of purchase displays devoted to all things gum. New brands like Mentos and Icebreakers have entered the market, along with artisanal gums, sugar-free options, and “natural” gums — and I suspect if I looked carefully enough I’d find vegan, lactose-intolerant, and gluten-free offerings. It’s as if the same competitive processes that broke the Budweiser/Pabst/Miller High Life dominance in the beer market have turned their attention to chewing gum. Are there “craft gum” competitions out there?

And gum is so popular that media-savvy companies like Disney are associating with it. One of the gum packages pictured above features a Frozen II character and is for a flavor called “Arctic Grape” — which seems a bit oxymoronic, by the way. And speaking of packaging, we’ve definitely moved away from the slim, white rectangles that slid easily into the pocket of your jeans. Now gum comes in bulky, bright plastic receptacles that clatter and clearly aren’t pocket friendly. Today’s gum demands attention and a special storage spot.

Yes, it’s truly a Gum Nation these days. Those of us who don’t partake just live in it. And school desks probably aren’t happy about it.

On The Rocket Ride

Recently I went into a store that had a roped-off area crammed with a bunch of vintage items from the ’50s and ’60s, like a jukebox, a soda bottle machine and some old toys and games.  Two of the most striking items in this modest museum of memories were the rocket ride and the motorboat ride.

In those days virtually every grocery store and five-and-dime had at least one of these rides outside, right near the front door, ready to entice any youngster who was going shopping with Mom.  It might be a space ship, or a motorboat, or a race car or fire engine out there, colorful and gleaming and impossibly tantalizing to the childhood imagination.  It was savvy marketing, directly aimed at the kid.  You’d see the contraption going in and then spend the entire time in the store pestering and begging your Mom to let you ride, saying “please” and “it’s just one dime” a hundred times and promising to be good if she’d just grant you that one request.  Moms must have groaned every time they saw the rocket ride outside a store.

Most times, your Mom would say no and you’d pile back into the station wagon, but once in while your Mom would break down and fish out a dime.  You’d climb in, pretending to be an astronaut or fireman or one of the Hardy Boys in their boat, and grab the wheel.  When your Mom dropped the coin into the slot, the machine would rumble and shake and tilt and turn, the storefront and the parking lot would drop away somehow, and you’d have your two minutes of living a dream while your Mom checked her watch.

Now the rocket rides and motorboats and the small-scale imagination zones they created are gone, and the sidewalks in front of stores are crammed with Redbox kiosks and potted plants and pallets of windshield fluid.

I’m guessing that Moms everywhere had something to do with that unfortunate development.

Lunchbox Land

Kish and I met Russell for breakfast at Dell’s Fine Food in Fostoria, Ohio today. In addition to winning countless awards for its barbecue and making the best pancakes Kish says she’s ever had — which is the highest praise any pancake could possibly hope for — Dell’s also features an impressive display of old-fashioned lunchboxes, from back in the day when many kids took a lunchbox and matching thermos filled with hot soup to school every day.

I’m sure I had a Mercury astronaut lunch box, a Jetson’s lunchbox, and a Monkees lunchbox, and a few others, too. My thermoses always broke — the glass inside shattered if you dropped it — and I eventually became too self consciously cool for a lunchbox and carried a sack lunch instead, but I still have a soft spot for the lunchbox days of the ’60s.

47 Years Of Working

Earlier this week I got a document called “Your Social Security Statement” from the federal government.  That’s the document that tells you how much you and your employers have paid in Social Security taxes, tells you what your monthly Social Security payment will be at various retirement ages, and also gives some pointers about how, and when, to start getting the benefits.

The statement also tells you, year by year, your taxable earnings for Social Security and Medicare purposes.  As I looked at it, I realized, with a certain chill, that I’ve been working for 47 years now.

ph-430009996The statement notes that my first job was in 1973, during the Nixon Administration, when the 16-year-old me got hired as a “bag boy” at the now-defunct Big Bear Supermarket at the Kingsdale Shopping Center in Upper Arlington.  I had to wear a collared shirt and tie and a long white apron, and I bagged groceries at the checkout lines, helped old ladies put their groceries in their cars, and retrieved shopping carts from the parking lot after the store closed down.

According to the statement, I made slightly more than $500 that year, which sure felt like a lot of money to a kid living at home.  The next year, after I got trained on how to run the cash register myself so I could sub in for the ladies who were the permanent cashiers when they needed a break, I upped my earnings to just over $1,000, and I felt flush with cash.

It’s all there on one page — my earnings from working on the Ohio State Lantern, from my summer intern stint for the Wall Street Journal, from writing obituaries for the Toledo Blade, from serving as a press secretary for a Congressman on Capitol Hill, as a research assistant in law school, as a summer associate at law firms, as a judicial clerk in Washington, D.C., and finally from the law firm where I’ve worked for nearly 34 years.

It’s kind of weird to look at my employment history on that one page, and remember those old jobs that I haven’t thought about in a while.  47 years is a long time, I suppose, but it really doesn’t feel that long, and the memories of those jobs — and the feeling I had when I got that first two-week paycheck that probably netted me about $64 — are still fresh and lurking.  Thanks to the Social Security Administration for the reminder!

War Movies, Old And New

I’m trying to decide whether to go see 1917 this coming weekend.

From the reviews I’ve read, 1917 sounds like a a powerful, well-made movie, with an intriguing dash of extended take technical wizardry thrown in, so it’s not that I’m afraid I’d be shelling out the money to see a clinker.  No, it’s all about the fact that the reviews of the film emphasize that it fully and very effectively exposes the brutal horror of war generally, and World War I specifically.  I’m not sure that I’m ready for that.

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Growing up, “war movies” were a pretty simple genre.  The Americans were the good guys, and the countries we were fighting — especially the Nazis — were the bad guys.  War movies inevitably involved some barracks hijinks and basic training footage showing the tough drill sergeant and the camaraderie of soldiers coming together to fight for a noble cause, and the soldiers who died did so heroically in pursuit of a clear, greater good.  War movies really weren’t really all that bloody, either.  Soldiers who were killed after taking some courageous and selfless action tended to get shot in the gut and die grimacing and clutching their midsections, like Jim Brown’s character in The Dirty Dozen.

Of course, everyone — especially veterans — knew that the movies were a totally sanitized depiction of war, and eventually filmmakers began striving for more realism, first gradually and then more and more extensively.  With Saving Private Ryan and its groundbreaking treatment of storming of the Normandy beaches on D Day — showing men shot through the head, blown apart, searching for lost limbs, dying horrific deaths covered with gore and entrails on a faraway beach — the old war movies were officially gone and a new form of war movie had taken their place.  When I saw Saving Private Ryan, I found it to be a powerful and brilliant movie .  . . but boy, it was tough to watch and hard to take.  1917 sounds like more of the same, and I’m not sure I want to see it.

This sounds like a wussy reaction, and no doubt it is.  And I also think that it’s a positive that the old form of war movie, with its naive treatment of good guys and bad guys and bloodless heroism, isn’t being made to deceive people about what war is really like.  In fact, I feel somewhat guilty about feeling reluctant to go to movies like 1917 for a refresher course on how terrible war actually is.  But is it really how I want to spend a Friday night or a Saturday afternoon?

Bigger Than A . . .

We’ve had our gift exchange, and a Russell has taken the cake — or more aptly, the bread — in the nostalgic present category. He found this vintage aluminum bread box that will fit perfectly on the counter of our kitchen in Maine, which has a decidedly retro look.

Bread boxes were once a staple of American homes — so much so that, if you were playing the Twenty Questions guessing game, one of the initial questions inevitably was, “is it bigger than a bread box?” In those days American kitchens often had more shine and chrome than American cars. But bread boxes vanished from American kitchens around 1980 or so. I can’t even remember the last time I saw one.

If you’ve never seen a bread box and wondered how big it was, now you know.