Brendas' Garden-Neighbors
by Brenda Looney

It was a warm September day back in 1963....September 11th to be exact. I was sitting in Mr. Sherman's history class gazing out the window day dreaming. Summer was coming to a close and autumn was just beginning. The exuberance of summer had ended into a slower paced fall, preparing for the desolation of a cold winter in Michigan. It was a time of change as the beautiful flowers and trees gracefully turned color and began to die. There was a slight breeze moving the branches of the large elm tree just outside the window. I was 13 years old and history class didn't seem to hold my interest that day. Suddenly, I was snapped back from my daydreaming by Mr. Sherman's voice calling my name. "Brenda, you're wanted in the office." He had the most serious look on his face as he hung up the intercom phone.

I slid out of the wooden desk and with my books gathered up in my arms I headed down to the office. I passed the long rows of lockers and felt uneasy as I tried to imagine why the office would want me. I'd always been a good student and never got into trouble, so all the different scenarios I played out in my head just didn't make sense. There was a knot of tension in my stomach and my heart was pounding.

Pushing open the door to the office I noticed Mrs. Mackenzie from church sitting there looking somber. She looked so out of place here in my school office. I knew now that something must really be seriously wrong. The principal told me that my father was ill and that Mrs. Mackenzie was there to give me a ride home. Daddy was never ill. I don't ever remember him having so much as a cold. I knew Mom would never pull me out of school just because daddy was sick. I feared he was much worse than they were saying and I could read the sorrow in their eyes as they looked at me. I knew but I didn't want to be told as if not saying the words would make it not so. We drove home in silence. Mrs. Mackenzie kept her eyes straight ahead and I sat quietly thinking. I dared not ask the question that I didn't want the answer to. After I was home, I was told the truth. My father, at age 49, had died suddenly of a massive heart attack.

After the funeral, Mom tried to adjust to the harsh reality that at age 46 she was a widow with a 13 year old to raise alone and to provide for. She had married very young and had not finished high school. She had never worked outside the home and had no marketable skills. We had been the typical family of the 50's and had lived a simple lifestyle.

Our home was a brick bungalow on a quiet street in the suburbs. There was a big front porch on which a flower cushioned glider rested. There was a glass windchime that would make the most melodious sound when there was even the slightest breeze. On nice days we'd put the birdcage out on the porch and Peetie, our canary, would sing up a storm. Daddy had built a stone flower well next to the porch. Mom had filled it with old-fashioned flowers. There were zinnias, snapdragons, nasturtiums, marigolds, balsams, and granny bonnets. All of the homes in the neighborhood had one car garages. There was no need for a two car garage as all the families only owned one car that was driven by the dads to work. Moms stayed home with their children back then. Life was slow-paced and neighbors often gathered in the evening on the porch just to visit while drinking iced tea. There wasn't one neighbor on the block we didn't know.

I have many fond memories from my childhood. Things were much different then. Life was slow paced and pleasure was derived from simple activities. We didn't have a lot of money for fancy toys like the kids now have, and yet I never felt deprived. I loved playing with my marbles and games of jacks. Checkers, cards, silly putty and my hula hoop were some of the things I remember most. I had the old roller skates that fit over your shoes and you needed a key to tighten them on. Mom would give me some of her old clothes and high heels to play dress up with. My friends and I would put on plays that we made up. We would catch bugs and put them in jars for examination and then turn them loose so they wouldn't die. I loved to jump rope and had little rhymes that we'd recite while jumping. We would take chalk and draw hopscotch lines on the walkway and play for hours. There was little automobile traffic on our street so we could play four-square out in the road. My neighbor, Nancy, had an old player piano in her basement and we would sit down there for hours playing music and singing along till Mom would stand on the porch and holler for me to come in for dinner. How I hated being called away from playing.

The Way We Were by Paula Vaughan

Before school would start each fall, Mom and I would walk to the department store and go straight to the fabric section. I felt special that she would let me pick out the patterns and material for my school wardrobe. She would sit at the old Singer sewing machine and like magic turn the bolts of material into beautiful dresses for me. I'd stand in front of the mirror and twirl around happy as could be. No one in the family went to the barber or beauty shop. Mom cut all our hair and she would buy a box of Lilt or Toni and make me sit for what seemed like hours while she permed my hair. On Saturday afternoons, she would put my hair up in bobby pins or the latest invention called spoolies so that I would look my best for church on Sunday. Church was the center of our lives and we never missed a service. Mom taught Sunday school and daddy was a deacon. After church Mom would fix a big meal and often invite friends from church to join us. The whole family would gather around the big dining room table and daddy would say the prayer of thanks.

School was very important to my parents. Neither of them had finished school and they wanted all of us to do our best so that we could get a good education. Parent's night was well attended as were all parent teacher conferences. Teachers were revered and respected. If I got into trouble at school I knew that I'd be in twice as much trouble when I got home, Report cards were scrutinized and if we didn't work up to our potential there was the big 'talk' all about the olden days and how they had to walk for miles to school to get an education. I loved to read and even though it was a hardship for my parents, I was never denied any book I wanted to order from the monthly book list given out. I'd get lost in Pippi Longstocking books and forget the time. I would sneak the flashlight under the covers to read after the lights went out at night.

My parents put in a huge garden out back. I was given a small plot for my own to grow some flowers of my choice. I'd start the seeds on the windowsill in the kitchen. I was amazed at how such a tiny seed would grow into such a beautiful flower. Daddy grew vegetables in his garden. We always had tomatoes, beans, onions, cucumbers, carrots, beets, cabbage and potatoes. I'd sit at the table and snap green beans that Mom would can. We'd go to the Eastern Market and buy bushels of fruit and vegetables to add to what we'd grown and Mom would put them all up in jars that lined the fruit cellar under the basement stairs. There was nothing better than to open up a jar of pear preserves and pour them over home made hot biscuits in the middle of winter. All the work of growing our food and canning helped with the food budget. It wasn't a hobby, it was a necessity to get by.

mom brenda

We had a small black and white television set that sat in the living room. The programming was much different from today. My parents never had to screen what we watched as there wasn't anything offensive on television back in the 50's. Most of the programs were ones that the whole family could watch together. Some of our favorites were Ed Sullivan, Lawrence Welk, Roy Rogers, Superman and the Lone Ranger. For a special treat daddy would sometimes make ice cream with this crank ice cream machine.

There was no fear of crime in our neighborhood back then. On hot summer nights we'd sleep with the windows and the doors open, hoping that a breeze would blow though the house. I don't remember anyone's house being broken into or any of the violence that goes on daily now. There seemed to be a higher standard of morals and people respected each other's property. Vandalism was something unheard of. All the families on our street had two parents and it was a close neighborhood where everyone knew each other and looked out for one another. There were no 'latch-key' children on our block. In fact that word didn't exist in the fifties.

I never got an allowance and if I wanted money, I earned it by mowing the next door neighbor's lawn for fifty cents. Sometimes! would go mail a letter for them and would be given a quarter for doing so. This was a huge amount of money back then. Stamps for letters were only three cents. Big candy bars were a nickel and comic books were a dime. The ice cream man would peddle his bicycle with refrigerated box on it and I could buy a Good Humor bar for a dime. At the corner store there was a long glass case with penny candy in it. It took a long time to decide what to buy. There were sugar dots on paper, red wax lips, candy cigarettes, and jaw breakers. My favorites were Good and Plenty and Slo Poke all day suckers.

Daddy had worked hard to provide for his family. He had a lot of pride and would work two and three jobs sometimes to make ends meet. Mom would handle the money and pay the bills. There was never one time that they were late paying on anything. The milkman would deliver milk in glass bottles and in the milk chute where he'd put the milk there was his payment each week. They didn't have credit card debt because they didn't have credit cards. People just didn't buy anything they couldn't pay cash for with the exception of a home or automobile for which they got loans at the bank. My parents would 'make do' until they could save up the money for something they needed or wanted. Mom would work hard to make what they had look nice. She'd crochet doilies to put over the tables and colorful afghans to throw on the back of the sofa. Patchwork quilts made from sewing project scraps would adorn the beds. when they saved enough money to go shopping for furniture or an appliance, Mom would bargain with the salesman until he would finally give in and give her a good price.

The skills Mom had sharpened over the years as a homemaker came in handy when she found herself a widow. Sadly, daddy didn't leave much money for her and the life insurance didn't go far. She went to work in a small factory and proved to be the most valuable employee. She was always on time and worked hard. She learned her job fast, and worked circles around many of the younger employees. She used her long ago bargaining skills to help the employees get perks in their contract when union negotiations were going on with the company. Management would always cave in to her demands. They were no match for Mom. She retired at age 65 and managed to save a comfortable nest egg for her old age. Going through the depression back in 1929 made her tough and determined to not spend her money frivolously and she's been known to make a penny squeak when she pinched it.

Mom became self sufficient when she walked out of her parent's home at age 16 to marry the handsome childhood sweetheart with the curly hair and the dark good looks. They worked hard and raised a family and never asked anyone for anything. They gave of themselves to their family, church and community. Theirs was a most abundant life not in riches by man's definition, but by one in much higher authority. Mom is now in the autumn of her life. Gone are the summers filled with the busy life she shared with her husband and children. The colors of her youth are now fading away and she will someday join my father in the winter that awaits her. The seeds of their lives and the lessons given are now planted in their children to carry on.

dad mom

Memories of an Abundant Life  * Family Ties  *  Flowers & Friends
Grandpas' Picture   * In Rememberance   *  Letter to My Father
The Time of My Life   *  My Father   *   To My Husband
Sweetheart Overseas   * My Dove   *   My Favorite Places
My Garden in Bloom   * My Animal Children   *  No More
                                       New Pages !!!
Christmas Gift  * Pumpkin  * Empty Nest  * Beyond Tears  * The Red Rose  * Annie's Story of Great Depression  *
Garden Pictures  * Coming Into Manhood  * I Love How You Love Me  *
Time To Give Thanks  * Autumn Memories  *  Sunset  *My First Mothers' Day  *
The Gift   *  Neighbors  *   Seasons of Life  * Dance *

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