Growing up on Second Streetauthor: William Owen Treacy (Uncle Billy)
In the 1920s and until brother Jim went off to Notre Dame in the fall of 1932, our house was occupied by my mom and dad, we seven siblings and my maternal grandmother and at times a live-in female high school student who helped out with household chores in exchange for her room and board.
Among my earliest recollections was of the icebox and the iceman. This was, of course, before we acquired an electric refrigerator. The ice box stood in an unheated frame anteroom off of our kitchen which was never locked. Hence the iceman, who bore the unlikely name of Mr. Queer, could gain easy access to the alley between us and our next neighbors the Sincells to the south, park his truck and deliver our ice order easily into our icebox. Our order for the amount of ice was a cardboard diamond shaped notice which contained at each corner the numerals 25. 50, 75, and 100, which told the iceman how many pound ice block you wanted. My 4 year old ego received quite a pumping when I was assigned the important task of turning the notice, which we placed on a nail on a pillar of the front porch, to indicate the number of pounds we wanted, to the topmost position. When Mr. Queer was away from his truck effecting the delivery we young’uns would raid his truck bed for small chunks of ice chipped from the bigger blocks, thinking we were getting away with something.
Another very early recollection was when Leo and I were three or four, when it rained we would dam up the gutter in front of our house on Second Street and start paper fold-up boats floating down the stream of gutter water, remembering always Hans Christian Anderson’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier. I remember when Leo, who was then likely four or five, set up a lemonade stand on the Second Street curb fronting our house. He allowed me to assist. The first customer was one of the Offutts from up the street. He stopped his car, paid the purchase price and was given the glass of the merchandise. He promptly spat it out. It seems that Leo in his entrepreneurial haste and zeal had forgotten one essential ingredient, the sugar. Leo took a lot of heat over this misadventure from we siblings in the years following. He likewise took a razzing every time the tune Parade of the Wooden Soldiers played over the radio, usually coming up on Christmas. It seems that Leo was a wooden soldier along with several other first or second graders at St. Peters School in a stage production which required all of them to fall down dead on signal. He simply would not fall down. I don’t know if he stayed in the show or not but his siblings would not let him forget it. And, speaking of Christmas, I recall Mom having given me probably thirty or so cents when I was but three or four to buy gifts for my siblings. I recall buying a miniature artificial Christmas tree at Jackson’s Five and Ten Cent Store for my sister Mary Catherine, “Mamie,” and paying five cents for it. She would have been seven or eight then. Looking back, I doubt that she was thrilled. I was likely no more than three in 1929 when I bounced a rubber beach ball down the steps into the foyer where in the gas fireplace stood a chalk or plaster of paris statuette of a black spotted white horse. The ball bounced into the thing and knocked it over and breaking it. In my young mind I thought I had done something unforgivable, but Mom merely picked up the pieces and discarded them all the while assuring me that it was OK. I believe it was a prize for accomplishing something or other one of my older siblings had won at a carnival. I expect Mom was glad to be rid of it.
And, sometime before I entered school at age five, Mamie acquired a kitten. My playmate from next door, Ned Pollock and I knew that if you threw a cat into the air it would always land on its four feet and that in any event it had nine lives. So, we tossed the poor thing into the air over and over but unfortunately it didn’t always land on its four feet and we learned that it indeed had but one life and that one was gone. Needless to say Mamie came down pretty hard on me when she came home from school. I also recall one day when Leo was in the first grade and I was not yet in school (I started at age five) I was bored with nobody to play with so I asked mom what time Leo would be home. She advised me that since school let out at 3:00 PM he would be home around 3:20 or so. I pulled a chair in front of the hall clock and watched it as it moved at an agonizingly slow pace. I think I gave up that watch after a five or ten minutes, preferring plain boredom to ultra-boredom.
I was six when eldest brother Jim left for Notre Dame in the fall of 1932. Ned Pollock and I had taken a picnic lunch up to the decrepit carriage house behind our house when my mom called for me to come down and bid him adieu as he was about to board the train for South Bend, Indiana. I was put out because I had to abandon my lunch before I had finished it. Incidentally in the Great Depression my dad probably found private school Notre Dame rather expensive and so had brother James attend Virginia at Charlottesville, probably at the urging of his cronies, businessmen in Oakland. Out-of- state tuition proved burdensome and Jim ended up for his third year at College Park, Maryland.
An airplane flying over Oakland in those days was a rare occurrence and was cause for we kids, when we heard it to go outside and scan the sky until we got a look at it.
We never locked our front or back doors at the Second Street residence except when the gypsies were in town with the carnivals. Mom was meticulously in locking them at that time, although I never heard of a gypsy ever being arrested or convicted of house breaking. Mom had a thing about gypsies. Speaking of carnivals I remember fondly the Penny Arcade tent and the Penny Pitch. You would change your nickel or dime for pennies at the former and put them into video shows which when you inserted your penny into the slot, lit up to a series of black and white pictures on a roller which you hand cranked. This made them appear like a movie, like “thumb movies” often a prize in Cracker Jacks and other prize laden offers. They usually depicted scantily clad women doing “hoochy coochy” dances and you had to be careful none of your elders saw you watching them. In other machines you got pictures of athletes for a penny each. I always got boxers, Max Behr, Gene Tunney and Joe Louis. But my favorite was the model village which for a penny activated cars, fire trucks, trains with crossing barriers and the like, all of which came into motion when you inserted your penny. The penny pitch was a flat wooden square painted with a couple or three hundred squares. You tossed your pennies from outside a rail erected to keep you at a distance from the board to try to get them into a square without touching the lines. If you were successful you won whatever number of pennies was indicated in that square. There was one square in the middle of the board marked $1. After the carnival had moved on we kids would always search the area where the penny pitch had been erected for any stray pennies.
Somewhere in the very early 30s Treacy’s Cash Store acquired a larger refrigerator and my dad had the old one placed in our kitchen. Although it had served a busy grocery store well it was only of the capacity one might be found in a one room apartment today. It, of course, was a step up as it would freeze ice cubes with a capacity of two trays. My mom sometimes used the trays to make ice cream using a store- bought mix. And, we kids used the freezer to provide us with a new novelty, frozen candy bars. Its brand name was Frigidaire and that is what we called it with a “the” in front. I remember when I heard my second cousin, John Murphy, called his refrigerator a Kelvinator I was offended. I knew the name of the machine was Frigidaire. This early machine tended to slowly leak freon gas on a near continuous basis and so we had to call a repairman every several months to recharge it. We could detect the smell of the gas almost continuously.
Our home, 115 Second Street then, now 126 N. Second St., contained an underground basement, a first and second floors for living space, a third floor designed for domestic help living space and an attic. The basement contained the coal furnace which supplied steam heat to the radiators on the first floor and a gas hot water heater tank, plus a hot air heater furnace, also supplying heat to the first floor when not using the steam heat. The steam heat furnace had a cold water pipe running right through the fire box so that we had hot water in the faucets whenever the furnace was operating. In the dead of winter this system operated so well that we could often turn on the hot water faucets on the first and second floors only to let out steam before getting hot, hot water. We did not have faucets that mixed hot water with cold so the only way we could mix the very hot water with cold was to use the plug and fill the sink with equal amounts of each.
During my young life, until 1937, my grandmother, Kate Rowan Rasche, lived in her bedroom on the third floor. She was totally bedfast, having suffered a broken hip several years earlier and before the advent of the present medical technical remedial procedures. She would summon my mom by knocking on the floor with her cane. Usually my mom would summon one of us kids to climb the stairs to tend to her needs, often only to be told by grandma that she required my mom’s personal attention. Grandma had neither teeth nor plates and so subsisted on soft foods with a lot of toast, jam and tea, the latter with sugar and cream. She was also nearly stone deaf. She had an ear horn but refused to use it. We had to nearly shout to communicate with her. We had in our orchard in back of the house, besides apples, gooseberries, currants, and grapes, a row of peach trees. We never grew a peach in my memory but I remember Grandma sending me to collect peach leaves which she dried and made into tea. I never tasted it. One time Grandma sent me downtown to buy some citric acid from the pharmacy. I did so and she made me a glass of the concoction which tasted like lemonade. On another occasion she asked me to go downtown and purchase “a nutmeg.” She was not aware that nutmegs by the 30s were only available in a spice can already ground up. My mom educated her on that point. Grandma also listened to me practice “There was an old nigger and his name was Uncle Ned”, a song which both poked fun at and in later verse dignified “Uncle Edward.” I sang it later on the Accident, Maryland, high school stage. I was then pre-school so I suppose I was three or four since I started first grade at age five. Grandma, by the way was an accomplished artist, composer, and poet. She was awarded a lifetime subscription to Etude magazine for her accomplishments in music. Today the Garrett County Historical Society often plays her composition called Deer Park Waltz at their meetings. It was distributed by a prestigious music publisher in St. Louis and sold nationally along with several other of her compositions.
When I was probably seven or eight someone introduced me to Oakland’s library. It consisted of two rather small rooms on the second floor above the Garrett National Bank, now the site of the Historical Society’s Museum. The librarian guided me to the children’s section and I was amazed to learn that I could check out a book by merely by signing my name. With the librarian’s help I carried home Wahb, the Biography of a Bear. I was taken with it, the first novel I had ever read. I was transfixed and came near to tears when Wahb, then in advanced years and with accompanying aches and pains, lay down to die on a bed of pine straw. After that I visited the library frequently as did my brother Leo but I only now remember one other title in those early days, Doctor Doolittle and was likewise transfixed with it. We had a ten or twelve volume set of books called The Book of Knowledge and I read and re-read stories contained in that set, one called The Old Lady and the Pig and another, a Hans Christian Anderson short story called The Tinder Box about a soldier meeting a witch on the road and her using his strength and youth to help her retrieve gold and the tinder box from a spacious set of rooms under the roots of a tree.
Saturday during the winter months was the time to “carry out the ashes” accumulated during the week, from the cellar to the alley where the town would later collect them. When I was very small I could only tote a coal scuttle load up the steep stone stairs up to the backyard collection point. My older brothers, stronger, would carry a bushel basket at a time. I got a penny per my load and my older brothers got a nickel for their larger loads. This meant to me twenty cents for the Saturday cowboy – or occasional Tarzan – movie with five cents to spend either on a nickel cone of popcorn or candy from the Oakland bakery or from Bummy’s café. But we would often walk the extra few blocks to my uncle Owen’s store to spend the nickel since he would always give us six cents worth of candy for our nickel. Sometimes in the summer months when there were no ashes to carry we would collect fifteen beer bottles from my dad’s cases of empties in the cellar, wash them and turn them into Hinebaugh’s Restaurant for the penny a bottle refund. We had never heard of “allowances. “
Saturday was also bath day and we did it in the tub. We had no showers. In the late 20s and early 30s my mom would first plunk my sisters, Mamie and Sisser, together in one tub, scrub them while on her knees then let out the water and refill the tub for the same drill for me and Leo. We all held a rinsed and wrung out wash cloth over our eyes while our hair was shampooed. All was accomplished with Ivory soap, “99.44% pure. It floats.” We did the same drill into our teens albeit on our own, without Mom, on Saturday nights a tub bath one by one. The only people we knew in town to have a shower were attorney E. Ray Jones family.. And, as teens, we took tub baths when on heavy dates or to dances. We always had a can of Old Dutch Cleanser to scrub out the tub. In between tub baths we took “sponge baths.” This consisted of filling the sink with warm water and scrubbing your whole body with, usually a washcloth but, I remember at least one red, rubber sponge. The sink bowl water got quite gray before you let it out for the rinse water.
Saturday, besides being carrying-out-the-ashes and tub bath day was also Lambert bread day. Mrs. Lambert baked bread on Saturday mornings and her boys delivered it up and down our neighborhood the same morning. We paid ten cents per loaf. We loved it cut thick and toasted with butter and jam on it. The money provided the Lambert boys, Leo’s and my buddies, with movie money for the Saturday cowboy and adventure flicks. Incidentally, the Lambert home on Third Street was without electricity and was then lighted only by gas lights.
And, on Saturdays when Leo and I were around 9 and 11 we would strap on our roller skates, tightening the toe end clamps with a “skate key” and head down Crook Street one block to Third. At that point Third Street was paved with concrete all the way to the center of town, ideal for skating. We would wait there for an Amish or other horse drawn vehicle – there were lots of them – which we would hang onto down past the blacksmith shop to the right turn onto Green Street where the Amishmen parked their buggies and wagons at Helbig’s flour mill on Wilson Creek while they shopped in town or traded at the mill. Then we would wait for another such vehicle to hang onto to take us back to Third and Crook Streets. None of the Amish or other farmers seemed to mind.
As I mentioned we had plenty of hot water as long as the coal furnace was in operation in the winter. A water pipe ran right through the fire box and heated the water. It was not, of course, operating in the summer and so, on Saturdays it was necessary to go into the basement and “light the tank.” In the basement was an uninsulated upright water tank with a gas heater coil attached. Even the smallest of our kids were trusted to turn on the gas under the coils and light it with a strike-anywhere, what we called a “farmer” match.
I was probably around seven or eight when Dr. Broadwater determined that Leo should have his tonsils and adenoids removed. This was a very popular procedure in the thirties, why I don’t know. As Oakland had no hospital then it was necessary to have it done at the hospital in Cumberland, some 58 miles east. Mom Treacy and I boarded the train in Oakland and got off in Cumberland to visit Leo. I remember that it was the first time I had smelled ether in the hospital. We stayed overnight in a downtown boardinghouse and I remember eating our evening meal in a nearby restaurant. Mom ordered vegetable plates for the two of us, paying thirty five cents each for them. I remember thinking that a ridiculously high price. But the evening was crowned when Mom took me to a movie in a nearby theatre. It was something about hazing at West Point of plebes, but the stage show before the feature was my then favorite cowboy, Ken Maynard, doing rope twirling, whip cracking and shooting blanks from his revolvers. I had bragging rights at St. Peters School for many days after. The only other notable medical thing that I remember was Leo and I getting the measles. I must have been around four of five and Leo accordingly two years older. We were confined to bed and were visited by Dr. Broadwater but I do not remember what he did for us. I remember learning that Sisser, Estelle, had at some time contracted scarlet fever and likewise was visited and treated by Dr. Broadwater. For some reason she was kept in bed with the roll-down blinds drawn to keep out the light.
Somewhere in the late twenties or early thirties infantile paralysis hit Oakland. Many families were infected. To escape this scourge my dad decided to send my mom and us seven siblings to Brookside, a wooded resort in nearby Preston County, West Virginia, a short distant from Oakland. There we lived in a cottage without electricity and Casey tells me my dad brought us an automobile light and battery from Treacy’s Garage. Meals were served in a common dining hall and we young’uns all dined together. Brother James was just old enough to dine with the adults, maybe fourteen or a little more. After but a few days there my parents learned that the disease was far more prevalent in Preston County than in Garrett County, Maryland and so we all returned home to Oakland. Thankfully none of our family contracted it. In high school, several of my early forties classmates and friends had suffered with physical scars and disabilities from that outbreak.
We boys from an early age were expected to tend the coal fire. This started by “shaking down the ashes” in the morning which had accumulated over the night, stirring up the coal and embers not yet fully burned into a brisk flame and shoveling in more coal to last the morning. Then, if we were not at school or at work in the store, keeping it healthy during the day, then before bedtime, shaking it down once more to hearty embers and “banking it” for the night. This was forming a wedge of fresh coal over the live coals with the thick side at the back of the furnace so that the fire would consume an ever thickening layer of coal over the night, ready to revive in the morning, providing warmth to the often quite cold rooms upstairs. Usually the pipes and radiators had cooled down while the fire was “banked” over the night. As they reheated the metal expanded and they made a noise as if someone struck them with a hammer over and over at different locations in the system. Another sound in the house was that of the steps to the upstairs which, after having become trod upon by many, many feet during the day, would creak at night – scary when you’re a kid home alone.
The larger radiators were on the first floor with the smaller ones in the bedrooms and one in the “back” bathroom.. We had a small gas heater in the “front” bathroom which you turned on and lit with a match. The smaller radiators in the bedrooms did not always work well on frigid nights, so when I was a tyke, my mom would heat a brick in the kitchen’s gas oven, wrap it in a towel and put it in the foot of my bed so that I could warm my feet as I fell asleep. Mom would enlist Mamie and Sisser to put Leo and me to bed with a story. They would recite This is the House that Jack Built or The Old Lady and the Pig and we would usually nod off before the conclusion of the story. The radiators were made of cast iron and each was equipped with a stainless steel valve which allowed cold air to escape into the room until the steam thoroughly heated that radiator and started to escape steam at which point it closed. They say that your olfactory senses are quite powerful and remain in your mind for ages. I believe it. I can remember from age 8 very clearly how gloves and mittens wet from playing in the snow smelled as they dried on top of a hot steam radiator.
What we wore: We boys, until age ten or so always wore knickers down to just below our knees where they were covered by the tops of our knee socks. In the early thirties the fly on our pants was closed with buttons, no zippers until the later thirties. If you caught a buddy with one button unbuttoned you told him “It’s one o’clock in Petersburg,” or “two o’clock” if two such buttons, etc. After age eleven we graduated to long pants always with cuffs on the bottom. (Cuffs disappeared early in WWII to save material for the war effort, although they never regained popularity after the war.). In the winter we wore what we called “long handled” underwear in the coldest of days, but by the time we were in high upper grade school we no longer wore them. And, as kids we for a period wore “high-tops” in the winter snows. They laced up past mid-calf and they had a side pocket to enclose a penknife. Very masculine. For a time we boys wore aviator style head gear, the kind pilots wore in open cockpit planes, lined with imitation fur complete with goggles, also very masculine. Amelia Earhardt hadn’t come along yet. The girls wore dresses or skirts and tops, no pants or shorts for girls in those days. I remember well when my buddy, Ed Dixon, told me one summer that I was wearing girl’s shoes, hand-me-downs from Mamie and Sisser. I confronted my mom on this and, of course, she denied it, but I got out of girls shoes after that. What we now call “dress shirts” were the standard everyday shirt. They were always long sleeved and we rolled up the sleeves in warm weather. I don’t recall when short sleeves came in, probably after WWII. In the early ‘40s knee sox came into fashion for girls and for a brief period girls wore snoods, particularly to dances and on dates.
Some things we said: When we talked about speed, particularly by autos, we used phrases like “He was going like sixty!” or “He was going a mile a minute!” Another expression you heard your elders say was “ It’s a god’s plenty” meaning it was more than enough, and “It’s a God-Send” meaning that divine providence had intervened to provided what was then needed. Adults would often confront us kids with “So, do you think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?” knowing that no amount of rain mattered to the plant. And, the pre-5 crowd often when asked his or her name by a contemporary would respond: “Puddin’ Tain. Ask me again and I’ll tell you the same!” I only learned lately that this was an old Irish/Scottish thing, a tain in Ireland being a prince or dignitary, the equivalent of a Scottish thane. The puddin’ or pudding thing being a ridiculous appellation to Tain. The same crowd said such pithy stuff as: “Ole’ Tommy Stanton aint’t no good. Chop him up for kindling’ wood,” and “I made you look you dirty crook, you stole your mother’s pocketbook.” Later, when we were a more sophisticated eight or nine we would say: “It’s none of your beeswax!” to mean: “It’s none of your business!”
And Mamie taught Leo and me the ancient childrens’ game by holding one of the participants’ object of value like a piece of faux jewelry or a belt or badge over the seated “judge’s” head while the players chanted: “Heavy, heavy hangs over thy head. What shall I do to redeem it.“ If the “judge” guessed correctly he got his pledge back and someone else became “judge.“ Around the same time Mamie taught me to recite upon seeing a person or thing, the jingle for example upon seeing brother Leo: “Leo bum beo, tialigo feo; T legg-ed, ty legg-ed, bowlegg-ed Leo.” I thought myself quite sophisticated upon accomplishing it.
Some things we did: As pre-teens and early teems we dammed up Wilsons Creek just north of Third Street in somebodies pasture. We called it “The Mud Hole.” It was there that I first learned to first dog paddle and then on to swim free style. Probably when we were nine or ten we had one of us while standing would take a deep breath and hold it while a buddy locked his hands in front of you and squeezed your chest from behind. This cut off flow of blood to your brain and you passed out. The guy behind you would then gently lay you down on the ground where in not many more seconds you would regain consciousness. We had no idea what we were doing. When I was probably eight or nine I would walk out to Thaddeus Hinebaugh’s farm around a mile north from 115 Second Street where my pal, Lee Thayer , Mr. Hinebaugh’s grandson lived. Mr. Hinebaugh owned two work horses, Bob and Bird, which he used to plow and harrow the fields. When they were idle he allowed Lee and me to ride them. Usually Lee rode Bob, a gentle and obedient creature and I had to ride Bird, a not-so-gentle and disobedient animal. Sometimes we rode over Crooks Crest, past the Oakland Golf Course to Lee’s other grandparent, Dr. Hinebaugh’s place. Of course we rode bare backed. The horses were very broad backed and so my short legs had no way but to stick out with no hope of using my feet to clamp on, and with no hope of sliding off the back while going up steep hills without holding firmly to the horses mane.
When Leo and I were likely twelve and thirteen, we were assigned the task of sprouting and sacking 20 pound sacks, a peck, of potatoes from the basement of Treacy’s Cash Store for sale in our Clover Farm Store next door. Potatoes all grow sprouts over the winter while stored. The sprouts needed to be removed before they would sell. These were potatoes grown on the Treacy farm on the Fingerboard Road and harvested the previous Fall. They sold for 25 cents a peck, a twenty pound sack, and we were paid a penny a peck for sprouting, sacking and weighing them. This earned us each probably 20 or 25 cents every Saturday. This really great deal did not last long however. The next year we were impressed into serving as warehouse boys either into Treacy’s Cash Store or the Clover Farm Store. In my case I had been employed by Mrs. .John Sweeney as a milk delivery boy to six or seven customers to whom I delivered a quart or two each day for five cents a day or thirty five cents a week. I had bought the route from Tommy Stanton for thirty five cents. Of course I had to give up this job when impressed into service at Treacy’s Cash Store, so I sold the job to my second cousin on my mom side, Johnny Murphy, for thirty five cents. There I worked initially about twenty or twenty five hours per week. At the end of my first work week Aunt Annie, who managed the store for my dad, went to the cash register and handed me my first week’s salary, a quarter coin. I complained bitterly to no avail and so stalked out the store’s back door, slamming it as hard as I could in the hope that I would break the pane of glass which rattled from loss of its glaziers putty. To my dismay it didn’t break. The following day, Sunday, my dad spoke to me saying: “I heard that you had words with your Aunt Annie last night.” I replied that I had indeed, that I had to give up a thirty five cent a week job with far fewer hours for a twenty five cent job. My dad reached into his pocket and came up with another quarter and gave it to me. Thereafter Aunt Annie, with never a word, paid me fifty cents each Saturday. As near as I know this was the only successful labor uprising ever at Treacy’s Cash Store.
My mom always kept a caged canary and I grew up to its singing. For whatever reason she called the one I remember best “Billy,” the same as she called me. I often was called upon to fill the seed cup or the water cup or to replace the soiled newspaper on the cage floor with fresh and to cover the cage at dusk so that Billy could sleep without interference from artificial light. In June, after cool nights were over, Mom would hang Billy’s cage out on the front porch and it didn’t need covering. Unfortunately one night an owl snatched Billy through the cage bars. My brother Jack was at the time, probably 1935, just back from his prep school, Charlotte Hall Military Academy, where he had been trained in marksmanship. My dad gave him his 22 rifle when the owl appeared high in a pine tree. Jack downed it with one shot.
We always had a piano, an upright in what we called “the music room.” Mom would have it tuned by a professional every year or so. Mom played daily when I was a kid, setting an example for my sisters, Mamie and Sisser (Mary Catherine and Estelle), each of whom practiced their own pieces every day. Mom loved to play the patriotic songs of John Philip Sousa and the waltzes of Victor Herbert. She loved one particular of the latter’s called Popularity. And, she more or less hummed the tunes from Lehar’s Merry Widow and other popular waltzes nearly daily. While she always proclaimed that her grandmother, Catherine Dockery was an incurable romantic, I think the appellation applied at least equally to her.
Somehow we boys , all five of us, escaped piano lessons, my mom believing that boys were supposed to play band instruments. Sometime after World War II we acquired a second piano, a grand, and Mom would have her friend Bess Hinebaugh in so that the two could play duets together.
Speaking of band instruments, my mom would carefully siphon off the few dollars each week as was required to pay to Shaffer’s Jewelry Store on the instruments for the boys, lest my dad would notice the high cost being paid for each if paid for all at once. He was not an aficionado of music in general and would have regarded the instruments as an extravagance. The Oakland band was probably at its zenith around the early thirties when brother Jim played the bass horn, Jack played either the oboe or the flute, and Casey played usually the piccolo but often the xylophone. Leo and I started in the band as students at around age nine or ten, Leo on the trombone and I on the trumpet. Anyhow we did not persist as had our older brothers and both of us quit before becoming even minimally accomplished. Both Leo and I voluntarily took up harmonicas when I was twelve in 1938. I believe it was at buddy Eddie Lambert’s urging. I remember playing Polly Wolly Doodle in unison with three or four of us on our large wrap-around front porch that summer. I remember Casey having a rather elaborate harmonica which he had played in a harmonica band at St. Peter’s School. It had a push button on the side which allowed the player to play sharps and flats. I had only a key of C instrument back then although I acquired a B-flat and another instrument much later.
When I was probably around 9 years old I learned from my pals that Sincell’s dry goods store in downtown Oakland had swim trunks. Many of my pals had already acquired them and I badly wanted a pair. At that time boys wore the same one piece bathing suits as girls, i.e. the ones with straps over your shoulders. Mom I’m sure sensed how I needed these to keep up with my peers and so gave me the one dollar Sincell’s charged for a pair. I marched down Second Street accompanied with a couple of my buddies to make this important purchase. When we arrived at Sincell’s I discovered that I no longer had the one dollar in my pocket! So, my buddies and I retraced our steps back up the street to 115 Second searching for the dollar, all in vain. I was shattered to have to report to mom of my loss and was likely crying. To my great surprise and delight mom gave me a second dollar bill and I was able to return to Sincell’s and buy the dark blue, wool swim trunks.
Brothers Jim and Jack were respectively 11 and 9 years older than I and I was proud of them for reaching the ranks of Eagle and Life Scouts, and for Jim having earned the Maryland gold, silver and bronze medals for athletic accomplishment ( I only ever earned the bronze), but I always felt a closer affinity to Casey, who had progressed but to the rank of Star Scout but I was impressed that he had built an electric motor from a kit he ordered from Johnson Smith & Co. now Things You Never Knew Existed, had a merit badge for having constructing a camera consisting of a cigar box with a pin hole in it, a swimming , life-saving, first aid and several other merit badges. When I acquired a fingerprint set, probably at a Christmas, I fingerprinted Casey and on the form provided and he entered his occupation as “desperado” and so when I asked him what that was he instructed me as to what a desperado was. I was also mightily impressed when Casey and his pal, Regis Kerins, had built rabbit traps and caught rabbits on Crooks Crest just west and uphill from our house on Second Street, brought them home, killed and skinned them for our dining. Casey as a young teen badly wanted to go to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. He had been heavily influenced by the comic strip Don Winslow of the Navy which he had clipped out of the funnies and pasted together. I think the popular song of the day, “Don’t Give Up The Ship”, also influenced him. I was fascinated and hoped he would someday realize his dream.
Somewhere in the thirties my dad walled off a half of the basement from the half which embraced the coal furnace. This resulted in a cool half suitable for storing foods, as opposed to the furnace half would not have accommodated them. Thereafter, my dad would bring a pick-up load of white potatoes from the Treacy Farm on the Fingerboard Road and roll them down a chute thru a window into an 8’ x 8’ bin on the cool side. This served our family of Mom, my dad, seven kids and Grandma quite adequately through the winter. I remember being called by my mom often to go down to the potato bin and bring back a colander full of spuds. And, this cool side had a couple of shelves which held Mason jars of fruits and vegetables which my mom had canned from the previous summer and fall. How she accomplished this, with the seven kids and three adults to deal with I do not know. But I do remember that they always included pickled watermelon rind from the last summer season.
Mom did have some domestic help during this period. When I was pre-school we had a teen-aged girl from the country whose surname was “Feather.” She lived with us and attended Oakland High School. This was probably about 1929. This was likely before the days of school bus service and she could not have attended had she not lived in town near the school. Casey remembers an adult, Beulah Platter. And, later we hired Jody Shaffer, an adult who was adept at caring for us kids as well as doing all kinds of household chores. I can remember Jody running our primitive washing machine on the back room of the third floor. This was before the days of soap flakes or at least before Treacy’s Cash Store sold them. Jody would cut slivers off of a bar of Octagon soap and put them in the machine. This was before Okydol and Rinso Flakes came along. Rinso was also one of those early radio commercials: “Rinso white! Rinso bright! Happy little washday song.” Much later, when Leo and I were in high school we had Mrs. Cyrus DeWitt, a very superstitious lady who helped my mom. During this time Mrs. DeWitt related to my mom about her having visited a gypsy when the carnival was in town. It seems that the gypsy had told her to bring a Mason jar filled with water and a ten dollar bill back to her and she would show her how to make it turn into great wealth. Mrs. DeWitt followed the instructions, presenting the bill and the jar to the gypsy. The gypsy, according to Mrs. DeWitt proceeded to shred the bill and place it into the water and instructed her how to bury the jar in her back yard for ten days and it would be full of bills. She did so only to find green paper mush in the jar and the carnival moved onto the next town.
We ate all of our meals, breakfast, dinner and supper, in the large kitchen, with the exception of Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving when we actually ate in the dining room. Before we acquired screens in the kitchen windows we hung a fly paper over the table and dined while the flies stuck to the sticky surface buzzing their protests. Our diet consisted of a whale of a lot of buckwheat pancakes. My mom would cook them one at a time on a round cast iron griddle. On ordinary mornings we would simply have a few pancakes with what we called “milk gravy“, sometimes now called “sawmill gravy” or with butter and syrup, but on Sundays , after Mass, we would have a pancake breakfast with a fried egg and probably two patties of sausage. Speaking of eggs if a recipe called for a multiple of them, one had to break each into a cup one at a time as often a fresh dozen might contain a rotten egg – all eggs were “free range” in those days and the farmers might not find an egg until it had spoiled. We signaled that we were satiated on pancakes by crossing our fork and knife on our plate. I don’t know if this was just a Treacy thing or not. Speaking of knives and forks we knew that if you dropped a knife on the floor that signaled that you would have a male visitor, a fork a female visitor. A special breakfast treat we kids loved was what we called “toastwiches.” These were two slices of white bread filled with a jam mom made from boiled, dried apricots and chunks of canned pineapple, which were then fried on both sides on the same griddle. Lunches were always light, often soup and a sandwich, but Mom always provided a dessert or a bowl of boiled dried apricots and prunes or of apple sauce and cinnamon. A frequent dessert was “apple float,” apple sauce mixed with hand beaten egg whites- we never owned an electric mixer- and sprinkled with cinnamon. We also had lots of bread pudding, made from stale bread with raisins and custard and rice pudding. I wouldn’t eat the rice pudding and don’t to this day as I could never reconcile eating a vegetable laced with custard. (Who would eat diced potatoes laced with custard?) We had a lot of Jello. It came in “Six delicious flavors: strawberry, raspberry, cherry, orange, lemon and lime, no Jello puddings in those days These were usually congealed with fruit, most often bananas and oranges, but with the lime flavor Mom would add coleslaw for a Jello salad, topped with a dollop of salad dressing. On some special occasions, particularly picnics mom would make “ambrosia,” thickly whipped and sweetened cream with chunks of canned pineapple and marshmallow bits mixed in. Dinner we called “Supper,” regarding the former as too snooty or as too cosmopolitan. Mom always tried to include the proper mix of food groups, well before the federal government got into that business. Mom often fried slices of apples, always with the core and seeds still in them and so we simply ate the outside around them. She also fried sliced green tomatoes. We never in my memory had anything so elegant as steak but curiously I can never remember having any but center cut pork chops, never end cut. . We often had meatless meals such as macaroni and cheese or creamed asparagus on toast serving as the entree. It was not unusual for us to have sardines or salmon served straight out of the can onto our plates. Frozen foods had not yet come along so we ate a lot of canned vegetables. We had never heard of green lima beans. Lima beans came dried and very white and had to be boiled. And, we only had melons, fruit and fresh vegetables as they came along in their respective seasons. There were none of these things imported from south of the border or from the west coast in those days. Like Snow White we could not obtain strawberries in the winter. Celery was always the blanched kind. When the present green kind came along in stores we called it “paschal celery.” It is the only kind sold today. Mom was a stickler for seeing to our bowel movements and, as a result we frequently had side dishes of stewed prunes or a compote of stewed prunes and dried apricots or peaches. When I was a tyke she would often question me as to whether I had experienced a bowel movement by asking me if I had “done a job.“ At that early age I actually thought that the sausage shaped brown thing in the commode was called “a job“ just like a myriad of other words having two or more meanings. Everything was “American” with two exceptions: Spaghetti was, of course Italian and consisted of the usual meat sauce over the pasta but topped with strips of Longhorn cheese, the kind that came in a cloth covered cylinder which you bought in a slice at around an inch to the pound. It was the only kind of cheese we ever had as that was the only kind carried at Treacy’s Cash Store or later at the Clover Farm Store. Hungarian goulash was precisely the same except that it was made with elbow macaroni. Both were heavily laced with curry powder. We never had heard of avocados, fresh pineapples, mangos, kiwi, ugli fruit, or star fruit in Oakland, Maryland. Pizza never arrived in Oakland until into the fifties. We never ate out in a restaurant in my memory. Of course both my mom and dad did so when they traveled to Miami and elsewhere in the thirties. Mom would without fail appreciate a meal prepared by someone other than herself by exclaiming “It’s a banquet.” Looking back our kitchen must have been a torture chamber for my mom. The sink was very low to the floor and so one had to bend down to use it. It had no mixing capability for hot and cold water faucets, and the kitchen counter was likewise a low table topped with a surface of inlaid linoleum. Mom wasted nothing. Whenever toast or some other edible was burnt Mom would scrape the blackened portion off and pronounce that it was merely “overbrown.” For a treat we kids would make banana sandwiches with white bread, salad dressing, raisins and bananas sliced the long way or sometimes a slice of white bread with butter, sugar and cinnamon. We never had mayonnaise. It was for rich people. And raisins in those days came in boxes of either seedless or seeded and so you needed to specify when phoning in an order for them. During the war years, 1942 to 1945 almost every food commodity was rationed, as were shoes, gasoline, silk, nylons, rubber goods and a myriad of other items. We often bought unrationed chicory, grown in Louisiana to mix with and stretch our coffee ration. We used “red” ration stamps for meat, cheese and cooking oils and “blue” stamps for canned fruits and vegetables. There were special stamps for clothing items and shoes. I should mention that in those days butter was scarce and rationed so we used unrationed oleo which came uncolored, white, along with a packet or capsule of coloring which one had to mix in to get a yellow butter like color. This was due to the powerful farm lobby which blocked its marketing in butter yellow and forbade the use of the word “butter” in advertising the product. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter called for a more elaborate cuisine. The first two always called for turkey, with the usual dressing, mashed potatoes, etc. But on Christmas Eve we always had oyster stew at the evening meal. This was partly because in the Catholic tradition Christmas Eve was a fast day from which meat was forbidden. The Easter dinner always included a “bunny salad.” This was a half of a canned pear on a leaf of lettuce with two cinnamon “red hots” for eyes and two almonds for ears on the narrow end, a dollop of cottage cheese for a cotton tail on the big end and sliver of longhorn cheese connected to a bit of parsley to represent a carrot he was chewing on. A frequent salad on holidays and Sundays was Waldorf Salad. I should mention that after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve mom always allowed us kids a glass of one of the homemade wines she had made during the past summer.
Speaking of wine, Mom made new batches every Spring and Summer. The first was made of dandelion blossoms. She would send us kids outside with cook pans to pick perhaps a gallon of these blossoms which she would wash and immerse in a crock pot of water with a generous helping of sugar, cover it with cheesecloth to keep out gnats and wait until it had distilled into wine, when she would bottle it. This was followed with peach peels, elderberries, apple peels and whatever fruit was in season. The exception was wine made from potato peels which was made any time of the year and tasted like champagne without the bubbles. Mom would often give friends a bottle of wine around Christmas, and always to the nuns at St. Peters School.
In the thirties and forties we did not refrigerate near so many foods as we do today. They were not labeled “refrigerate after opening” in those days. We simply put into the pantry jams, jellies, apple butter, pickles, pickle relish, salad dressing, catsup, syrup including Hershey’s, cheese, mustard, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables. Of course we had never heard of yogurt, barbeque sauce, packaged sour cream and the like as they were not yet marketed. But, I must remind the reader that with seven children and three adults in the household non refrigerated stuff didn’t last long unrefrigerated anyway. Of course we never had anything frozen other than ice cream and Popsicles, there being none on the market. Families did not acquire freezers until, at the earliest, the sixties. Mom had always made biscuits from scratch. I remember one day when sisters Mamie and Sisser had procured a box of Bisquick and were touting its merits to Mom. She bristled at the idea that something in a box could ever compete with the real McCoy made from scratch.
Again in the early thirties we heard our first singing commercials on the radio. I remember one touting Tasty Yeast: “Tasty Yeast is tempting – to your appetite. Tasty Yeast is tempting – morning, noon and night.” I never got to taste it as Treacy’s Cash Store didn’t carry it, but we kids were convinced from that jingle that yeast must somehow be good for you we all ate regular squares of Fleishman’s Yeast, swiped out of the meat display cooler in the Clover Farm Store. We kids had lots of cereal and fruit for breakfast, Corn Flakes, Shredded Wheat, Grape Nuts and Grape Nuts Flakes, Puffed Wheat (the box said “shot out of canons”) and Puffed Rice and later when they were introduced Cheerioats which name did not last long until it became Cheerios with the same yellow box. The Shredded Wheat box pictured a drawing of Niagara Falls. I recall Mom warming up with boiling water on cold winter days before pouring milk over them. And we had bananas sliced on all of them through the winters with peaches and berries in their summer seasons. Raisin Bran was yet to be invented – who ever heard of putting dried grapes on cereal? None of the cereals were sweetened. You sweetened them yourself if you wanted sugar. And speaking of sugar it was the only sweetener in those days, no saccharin, Splenda or other sweeteners until after WWII. Mom always had a teapot on the stove, and made tea only with leaves, never tea bags. She would strain the leaves with a small strainer into the cup and always added milk or cream and sugar. We kids drank both coffee and tea as toddlers and up, always with the same additives. Somewhere in the thirties a product called Postum was marketed quite successfully. It was advertised as alternative to coffee which, because of its caffeine content gave you, the advertisers said, “coffee nerves”. We didn’t have decaffeinated coffee in those days. Postum looked and tasted something like coffee and Casey latched onto it. He drank it while all of the rest of us preferred the real stuff.
Somewhere in the early or mid-thirties my dad, James P. , got into the “sauce,” heavily, so much so that Mom Treacy had Casey, then only a new licensed driver transport them to the nearest hospital which was in Cumberland some 57 miles distant from Oakland to have him admitted. There was no AA or any other facility in those days. Looking back I remember showing my dad an 8” x 10’genuine black and white photograph of Tom Mix in his white ten gallon hat, my cowboy hero, which I had procured by sending so- many Ralston cereal box tops to that company’s headquarters. My dad took out his pen and wrote on it “He is high-hatting me.” I was devastated -Tom Mix was no joke to me – but we kids never criticized nor crossed him. I expect this occurred in his drinking period. In later life he gave up hard drink and only drank a couple or three beers per evening.
Mom was terrified of lightning storms. She would light a “holy” candle which had been blessed by a priest and leave it burning until the storm had passed. Speaking of lightning we kids would lie out at night on the lawn and watch the distant flashes of lightning, so distant that you could not hear the accompanying clap of thunder. These we called “heat lightning” or “sheet lightning,” thinking that they were somehow different from regular close-up lightning bolts. We counted the seconds from a lightning bolt thinking that each second represented a mile from such bolt to the sound to our ears. I only learned that in actuality five seconds represents one mile.
Sundays in the thirties in the summertime called for an automobile ride, either in our 1932 Plymouth or our 1934 Dodge. Sometimes this involved a thirty or so mile round trip to Grantsville or often only to The Pines in nearby Corinth, West Virginia, where there was a snack bar and children’s swings, sliding board and a push-around carousel. Being the smallest child I often would be required to sit in the middle of the front seat between my dad and mom. I didn’t like this position since the gear shift “four in the floor” knob would crack against my knees when activated. I, however enjoyed these jaunts except when my aunt and uncle, Agnes and Julius, visited from Chicago. They would always ride along and Julius would smoke a cigar in the closed up car and make me near ill. On those trips my dad would always flash his headlights at an oncoming bus and the bus would always flash its headlights back, a custom now long gone. On these jaunts we would pass many, many farm barns which were painted with a large advertisement stating “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco.“ Sometimes we piled Sisser, Mamie, Leo and me into the car and drove to Deep Creek Lake. There we got out of the car at a place in Thayerville where the macadam surface of a road left the newer highway toward the Deep Creek Bridge, and entered into the water, a vestige of the days when that road crossed Deep Creek before the lake was finally filled in 1929. There we were warned not to leave the pavement as none of us, adults and children could swim.
Perhaps a decade later, when we were early teens we would hitch-hike to Deep Creek Lake and go to Will ‘O the Wisp where you could change into your swimsuit and put your clothing and belongings into a basket, check it and swim from their dock for a dime. If you were flush you could rent a rowboat for another dime.
Going downtown from our home was an experience for me in the thirties. First on Second Street, which was also called Main Street, you ran into Lauer’s Bakery. It was where you usually bought penny candy on the way to a Saturday movie or maybe a five cent ice cream stick or twin Popsicle at other times. Lauer’s had the best variety of penny candy. A Dum Dum sucker went for a penny. My favorite was a pineapple flavored one with flecks of real coconut in it. Also a penny bought a licorice “whip,” a licorice stick of about two feet folded at the middle, or a package of five sticks of grape or anise flavored gum. Licorice also came in a “plug,” a simulation of a plug of tobacco and had a metal symbol attached just like a real plug of tobacco, also for a penny, very masculine. It was an agonizing process to ponder over how best to make your nickel’s worth of selections and it drove the clerks nearly insane waiting on you for ten minutes or more and wanting to get back to their other chores. As early teens we learned that if you visited the business end of the bakery on the days they were baking and packaging cakes you could get a bagful of slivers of various flavored cakes which were machine trimmed off of the cakes to make them fit into standard sized packages. Later, in the early forties we early teen-agers could buy at Glotfelty’s Restaurant, next door to the bakery, a real cigarette for a penny. This meant that the restaurant could break open a pack and make 20 cents on the pack of 20 cigarettes which intact would have sold for but 15 cents. When we were younger we smoked coffee or sometimes dried weeds either rolled up in cigarette paper or stuffed into pipes. We, however never inhaled from this concoction.
In the next block down from the bakery was the Harness Shop and the Five and Ten, more wondrous places. The Harness Shop had a life-sized brown plaster horses head near its door and the indoors smelled of newly tanned leather. It did a lively business tending to the needs of draft and riding horse owners. I had acquired a single shot blank 22 caliber pistol from Johnson Smith and Company somewhere along the line and I wanted a gun belt for blanks to accompany it. The Harness Shop folks manufactured one for me at a price of $1.00. It held around twenty five or thirty blanks. The five and ten had many desirable things for sale. Their candy counter offered candy by weight. We bought a nickel’s worth of nonpareils, jelly beans or nigger babies. Big Little Books went for a dime. They were around 5” x 5” and an inch and a quarter thick. One of my favorites was about my hero, Joe Louis. But I had a number of Dick Tracys. I remember giving my second cousin, John Murphy, a Big Little Book for his birthday. A dime would also buy you a tin steam boat which chugged around your bathtub under candle power emitting bubbles from its stern, or a test tube with a glass “red devil” which you filled with water and the devil which had a bubble of air embedded in its stomach would rise or fall or stop in the test tube on your oral command depending on how much pressure you exerted with your thumb over the top of the tube. Finally there was the Gift Shop on Third Street, run by Bertie Thrasher and her sister. It was a small shop with elegant and to my twelve year old mind, expensive and glittering gifts. It always smelled like perfume and when you opened the front door a bell sounded to summon one of the Thrasher ladies from their adjoining living quarters into the shop.
Speaking of the purchase power of a dime, consider that dimes, quarters, half dollars and silver dollars were all made of pure silver. It would take fourteen times their then purchasing power to purchase similar items today. Back then all dollar and upward bills were titled “silver certificates,” which meant that the federal government guaranteed that it would provide you an equal amount of silver coins in exchange for them with an ounce of a silver going for a dollar.
And we kids loved to visit the blacksmith shop on Third Street next to Wilsons Creek (now covered over) which flowed through town to the Little Youghiogheny. There we watched the smith shoeing horses and I can now remember the odor of the heated shoes being fitted and nailed into the hooves. The smith would always fashion each of us a ring out of a horseshoe nail to wear on our finger. There was a watering trough in front of the shop. One winter when there was an inch thick crust of ice on it a buddy of mine and I threw the layers of ice onto the Third Street pavement where it looked like broken glass. We chuckled as the vehicles swerved to avoid it. Just behind the blacksmith shop stood Helbig’s Mill. There a kid could always get a handful of wheat grain to chew on, compliments of Mr. Helbig, regular wheat, not buckwheat. Wilson’s Creek was also a fascinating place. At it’s entrance to the tunnel underneath town we could catch crawdads under the rocks. They were sought after because if you tore off his head there was a white bone-like member just aft of his head, which, when you saved it could be rubbed on test papers at school to guarantee a good grade. I can attest that it worked for me, especially when tested on subjects that I liked.
My uncle, my dad’s older brother, Uncle Owen, lived directly across Second Street from our house. His wife, my aunt Mary had but one child, Helen, and she was an adult by the early thirties. Hence, Aunt Mary had a lot of time on her hands. She would come across the street to our house, walk in without knocking -not an uncommon event in Oakland even to this day – and seek my mom out for company very nearly every day. I remember Mom being tortured by these walk-in visits as she still had anywhere from two to four or five children plus my dad and my grandmother Rasche to deal with on a daily basis. But, for the sake of harmony she would endure such visits, regardless of how they disrupted her daily obligations and chores.
I recall one holiday, probably the fourth of July when my dad gave me thirty cents and sent me downtown to Hinebaugh’s Restaurant to buy two beer, one for him and one for Owen. Hinebaugh’s did not question this and I carried the beers back to them.
Other uncles on my dad’s side were Mike Canty, Mike Carney and Uncle Henry. They were all Baltimore & Ohio Railroad retirees but without pensions, since they served before Social Security and Railroad Retirement were in the vogue. They would without fail, on the sound of a passenger train whistling for a given bridge or crossing, pull out their retirement awarded pocket watches and check to see if it was on time or late.
Cousin Gertrude: When I rode with first cousin once- removed Bobby Hesen in the Treacy’s Cash Store delivery truck we always stopped at Aunt Margaret’s, my dad’s sister’s home. I would usually jump from the truck and carry the bushel basket of groceries to her kitchen. But when first cousin Gertrude was home from Boston where she served as a registered nurse, she often sat on the porch and tried to engage me in conversation. I always pretended to be in great hurry and left immediately since Gert had picked up a Boston accent and I could not understand what she was saying to me. When sister Mamie graduated from Oakland High in 1940, Gert was instrumental in getting her into nursing school at Boston General Hospital, a highly rated institution. Mamie had been an honor student in high school and was editor of the school paper and president of the student council. She did poorly in nursing school however, and was asked to leave after a year or so. It was only after she returned to Oakland that it was discovered that she had been long suffering from anemia which had caused her to suffer from falling asleep in class and while attempting homework assignments. She received treatment and recovered but never attempted to seek readmission.
Other first cousins in Oakland: Gertrude was a Carney, the daughter of Mary Treacy Carney, as was her sister, Florence, and her two brothers, Jim and Gene. Florence was the wife of Oakland’s very popular mayor of many years. Jim worked operating the town scales for vehicles and as watchman for the B & O Second Street crossing. Some of the town fathers railed against the B & O when it installed an automatic barrier, eliminating Jim’s job. Gene, who went by the nickname “Mike,” was a waiter in Hinebaugh’s Restaurant. He was a comic who, when you asked what kind of pie the restaurant had would recite perhaps ten nonsensical ones, like “Quince, potato, cucumber, etc., and end up with the ones they really had, viz.: apple, lemon meringue, and peach.” Diners would only remember the last three and would order accordingly. “Mike” was my godfather but I never saw him or his brother Jim ever in St. Peters Church. Bernadine and Jim Canty, were the children of Bridget Treacy Canty. Bern married a Howard and ended up in Baltimore. Jim was a postman in Oakland but retired and moved to Virginia. Helen Treacy Baumgartner was the only child of Owen and Mary Treacy. A registered nurse, she was the wife of popular physician, Irving Eugene Baumgartner. The only first cousin on the Rasche side was Julian Brooks, nicknamed “Corky“, the only child of Agnes Rasche Brooks who lived and died in Chicago. There remain today in Oakland and vicinity still more distant cousins on both the Treacy and Rowan sides of the family.
A story about Eugene “Mike” Carney: Sometime after the war they started blood drives in Oakland. Mary Bolden, the wife of undertaker Emory Bolden took the lead in getting volunteers. In her zeal she called people up to encourage them to donate. Thinking that Eugene’s name was “Mike,” she dialed Michael Carney in the phonebook, not knowing that the latter was the local Catholic priest. He answered “Yes” when addressed as “Mike,” and she proceeded to berate him with: ‘You bald-headed son-of-a -bitch. You get your fat ass down to the fire hall tomorrow and give a pint of blood.” He answered “Yes“, gave a pint of blood the next day, and never thereafter tired of telling friends this story.
In the summer of 1938 the Myricks invited us to spend a week at their guest cottage on Deep Creek Lake. Mom had become acquainted with Mrs. Myrick through Treacy’s Cash Store having supplied their groceries. Mr. Myrick was a retired naval officer who was then employed in DC and who came up on week-ends. He had been a pilot on the famous Navy’s NC 4 flight across the Atlantic several years before Lindburg’s solo. We accepted and Mom, Leo and I and perhaps Mamie spent the week there, lighting with kerosene lamps, cooking on a kerosene stove, refrigerating in a spring house and swimming in the lake. It was the year that Oakland had just been flooded when a dam on Wilson Creek burst and buried the downtown in water, and was the summer when “Wrong Way Corrigan” landed his monoplane in Ireland, claiming that he meant to land in California. I remember debating the veracity of this with the Myrick girls, the older one, Charlotte, was around sixteen and strikingly beautiful and she used sophisticated expressions like “Oh Bosh!” All of the Treacy boys from Jack down to me were in love with Charlotte. I recall that there were still stumps floating up to the surface of the water from the bottom where timber had been harvested prior to filling the lake in 1929. The Myricks along with other early lake dwellers would rope them to their power boats and drag them to shore where they would usually burn them, so they would not be a danger to navigation.
I should mention going to school from the 2nd Street house. We walked the mile or so to St. Peter’s School for our first eight years, usually walking home and back for lunch. The only exception was when it was extremely cold or when the streets had not yet been cleared of snow. On the very cold days we would wait while my mom boiled a kettle full of water for my dad to pour on the intake manifold of our 1932 Dodge sedan so that it would start and then he would carry us to school. This never happened in our high school years when we were deemed able to cope with the Garrett County elements, and by that time, anyway we were busy opening up the stores before going on to our high school classes. Opening up the store, whether Treacy’s Cash Store or the Clover Farm Store meant arriving around 7:30 AM or so and first tending to the fire, the same drill as at home, i.e. shaking down and carrying out the ashes, etc., sweeping off the sidewalk, or in winter shoveling off the snow, and “putting out the front.” This meant constructing a display of offerings on the brick sidewalk just in front of the window displays of the store. All of the main groceries did it. Always it included sacks of flour, sometimes sacks of livestock feed, an ice container with seafood products and often a wooden barrel of sauerkraut, very ripe and aromatic which, however,never seemed to deter purchasers.
My mom worried excessively about drugs and other strange new 20th century products. We never had a container of aspirin larger than small tin which contained no more than about a dozen tablets. And, she hid them from us, presumably out of our reach in the top shelf of a linen closet on the second floor. The medicines we kept in the house were mercurochrome and iodine. These you swabbed on a wound with a glass knobbed stem attached to the container cap. The former was very mild but iodine smarted. For internal medicines we kept Oil of Figs and Scotts Emulsion, the former a laxative and the latter, I believe for upset stomach. We kept these as they were the only such remedies sold in Treacy’s Cash Store. Mom was also wary of bleach. In high school I used to envy my buddy, Jim Rook’s, white sox while mine were never quite so white as mom never used bleach in the wash. Rather, she used the older fashioned “bluing” in the wash, a liquid designed to make white things look whiter.
Nobody I knew in Oakland had wall-to-wall carpeting. We had a vacuum cleaner at 115 Second we used on our area rugs but every household did not. We nonetheless every Spring took all of our area rugs out one at a time to the backyard to flip over the heavy wire clothes drying line where we could literally beat the winters accumulation of dust out of them. We had a special wooden handled heavy wire “rug beater” designed for that purpose. On a bright Spring day when we elected to beat the rugs we would often hear other households doing the same. I remember beating a unique beat only to hear it answered by a neighbor’s imitated beat.
So long as we five brothers were in college, basically from 1932 until 1947, we sent cases of dirty shirts and perhaps other items home for Mom to launder, iron and fold. They made special suitcase like mailing boxes for this purpose. They were of brown hardboard and had a window wherein you inserted a card with your mom’s address and she in turn flipped the card over and re-inserted it to show your college address. Parcel Post rates were then very low, probably no more than a quarter to ship such a box home. And speaking of these cases, I remember Mom Treacy using one to cover the only light in the big third floor room for a dance for brother Jim and his friends. She had cut out of it a quarter moon pattern and had covered the opening with a yellow cloth. This was to set the theme for the dance, the then popular tune “It’s Only a Paper Moon”. I would guess the date would be the summer or fall of 1931. I was mesmerized, never having seen such a romantic setting for a real “adult” dance. The big room on the third floor was, until that dance only used for a workbench holding vises, saws, wood turning lathes and the like, a set my great uncle Doctor P. J. Rowan had given to us kids, and it also contained wood curtain stretchers upon which you put the starched wet lace curtains over the pointed ends of all the nails in the rack, stretching them until the dried stiff and flat. They later hung out on the first or second floors in a less rigid shape. These, of course were removed from the room for the aforementioned dance and the tool set was covered with a sheet.
These kinds of stretched curtains hung in the three windows in what we called the “telephone room.” It, of course was where the telephone was. Backed up to the curtains and windows was the overstuffed blue, plush couch which we only used for company. I, as a three or four year old crawled behind that couch with a hand full of “farmer“,” strike-anywhere matches. I had been striking the matches and poking them into the back of the couch but decided that it would be more exciting to light the lace curtain, figuring that at any time I could spit on them and douse the flame. I did so but unfortunately the spit didn’t work and the flames shot up to the ceiling. I was unhurt but, of course, the flame required an explanation. It was probably not my recollection but one of my mom’s or my siblings, but my explanation was, I understand: “The fire came up the street and came through a crack in the window and set the curtains on fire.” Sounds plausible.
Early on, on the unpainted white plaster walls of the third story big room brother Leo and I had scrawled various messages and pictures. I remember going up there one day to see a new message scrawled under the sum of them: “Billy did all of this.” I don’t remember how I responded to this indictment but I’m sure I must have. Suspicion to this day remains that this nefarious charge was attributed to brother Leo. Among the “stuff’ in that big room was an early typewriter which had a totally different keyboard from those of today, no “a s d f ; l k j” or otherwise recognizable pattern. I expect that was why it had been abandoned. There was a leather case for a top silk hat which my dad had worn in the early part of the century and, of course the hat. My dad had purchased it from Captain Brock who was a tailor in Oakland. Captain Brock was one of the last survivors or the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War and was the recipient of the Victoria Cross, presented to him by Victoria. There was also a “fore and aft” plumed military hat which my dad had worn in the Knights of St. John, a Catholic organization. We treated the latter rather badly, knocking it off of my and Leo’s heads but we treated the top hat with respect as it was in mint condition. There was also brother Jack’s “Rat cap” which freshmen were required to wear at the University of Maryland in 1936. They were also known as “dinks.” They identified the freshmen who were required by upperclassmen to render proper obeisance. And there were small blue covered booklets entitled Little Blue Books which explained and illustrated womens’ and mens’ sexual anatomy. I expect that Mom deliberately planted them there figuring that each of us would seize upon them and get a modicum of sex education. I know that I did.
The fourth of July: In the early thirties when my three older brothers were in the Gilbert Brown Boys Band we all sat out on our front porch, which was, incidentally decorated with potatoes hanging in at intervals around the porch, in which we stuck the shafts of small American flags, four or five in each. Potatoes cost no more than a penny each in those days. We also hung a large American flag with 48 stars.. And, we had a German helmet which had been brought back from my Uncle Leo from his overseas army days in World War I. It was planted with flowers. We clapped lustily when the Gilbert-Brown Boys Band came by with its navy blue tunics and white duck pants. As a kid, I was particularly impressed with the American Legion’s snappy marching unit and its drum and bugle corps. They marched in uniform with precision and did a marching “rosette.” As a very young child I could not understand why my elders clapped for the black Ford open-air touring car which held the “old soldiers.” It was filled with probably six or so old men in black suits and usually with long white beards. I only learned later in life that they were nearly all Union soldiers in the Civil War with, likely no more than one Confederate veteran. The latter few from around Oakland had tried to march in January on Robert E. Lee’s birthday but the Garrett County weather had been so severe in January that they quit and joined the Union veterans on Independence Day. My mom remembered one, a friend of hers named Buncutter, a Confederate soldier from Winchester who had relocated to Oakland after the war, as being one of the “old soldiers.” He died in Oakland in 1934.
It was one of these July 4ths that Leo and I had commenced to wrestle on our front lawn. We both wore similar shorts. Mom Treacy often dressed us thus. Leo had in his hip pocket a cache of firecrackers and of “strike anywhere,” farmer matches. Apparently during the scuffle two matches rubbed together in Leo’s back pocket igniting the firecrackers. I remember him running around crying. This upset me as I was only used to my crying when older brother Leo beat up on me. My mom had to get Doctor Broadwater to spoil his holiday and give Leo a tetanus shot. Leo told me much later that Mom bought him an ice cream cone for his bravery in enduring the shot. Probably ten years later when Leo and I worked at my dad’s Clover Farm Store I was looking forward to my fireworks and the parade when my dad summoned us to the storefront where he had purchased a truckload of watermelons. He assigned Leo and me to sell them for twenty five cents each until they were all gone. I would say that to the least that I was “put out.”
Other holidays: Coming up on Halloween we would visit public restrooms in business places and steal rolls of toilet paper so as to decorate trees on the night before Halloween, which we called “Tic-tac night.” We had not heard of “trick or treat.” That was a city thing. On Tic-tac night we would only do tricks. A favorite was to collect people’s garbage cans and hang them up on the metal rungs on telephone poles, several to a pole. Sometimes we let air out of tires of cars parked on the street and we would hold our “Tic-tacs,” notched wooden spools on a sucker stick, against folks’ windows and pull the string wound around the spool to make a harsh and spooky sound to those inside. Once we raided Snyde Neville’s garden, harvested all of the remaining cabbages and threw them on the porch of the house where he boarded. On “Tic-tac” night the town would have its entire police force out, John Sweeney, the day cop and Bun Nethkin, the night cop. They never caught me but one night it was close. Officer Sweeney chased a few of us down the Second Street sidewalk and I and one other boy jumped into bushes and disappeared but my buddy, Linn Grant, ran straight and got caught. He was taken downtown to the town hall and held until his father, Dr. Grant, was called to come and get him. There was no juvenile court in those days. The next night, Halloween, there was usually a parade downtown of masked kids and there was no vandalism. On July 4th we could set off all kinds of fireworks outside of downtown Oakland where they were prohibited. One 4th my buddy Tommy Stanton and I made our way to the flat roof of the “Flat Iron Building” in downtown Oakland. From there we threw torpedoes, which exploded upon impact with a hard surface, down onto Second Street. When Officer Sweeney responded to the explosive site, we would then throw them onto Liberty Street, keeping this up while Officer Sweeney ran from place to place searching for the culprit, never thinking to look up to our vantage point.
St. Patrick’s Day we hardly knew existed when I was in elementary school. Later, in high school it was recognized by the fact that if you did not wear something green you were a candidate to get pinched. It was never celebrated with a parade or any other public recognition like it is today. I do remember Mom, who was then organist at St. Peter’s Church playing All Praise to St. Patrick on a Sunday nearest to the big day.
Speaking of parades, I remember Mom taking me and, I guess, my siblings out on the front porch one evening after dark to witness a torchlight parade proceeding south Second Street. It was an election day eve and the torchbearers, around maybe fifteen or twenty of them were marching in favor of their particular political party, probably Republican. I was impressed. It was a one and only event – I never saw another one.
When I was small we had a set of two concrete steps adjacent to the Second Street curb. It was supposed to allow a person to easily mount a horse or a passenger to easily access a carriage. There were perhaps a half dozen of them from our house to the north. One night they all disappeared from Second Street and every one asked where they had gone but we never found out.
The wallpaper: Our Second Street home was all wallpapered when I was small with a gray and pink very dismal wallpaper. Around the late thirties or early forties we got new wallpaper. It was very uplifting with vibrant colors. I was most impressed at how the paperhangers could handle the vaulted ceilings and the nether reaching surfaces, but they did. I think we did not return to wallpaper and after WWII we had it all scraped off and replaced with paint.
Our garage was detached from the house, probably by about 40 paces. That was the rule when this house was built. The insurance companies would not provide fire insurance if the garage was connected with the residence. Accordingly, my dad had built a wood walkway about two feet above the lawn and level with the back porch to access the garage. Under this walkway was a clay pipe of about 6” in diameter. It had served the original owners as a water well. I was told by my mother that when my dad acquired the house he had wondered how deep the well ran. He threw lighted matches down the pipe figuring he could estimate the well’s depth as the matches struck the water. The well’s gasses, however, intercepted and exploded in my dad’s face as he peered down, knocking him unconscious and burning off all of his facial and most of his cranial hair. He soon recovered with no damage done. I doubt he cared how deep the well was after that.
In that backyard, just next to the alley where we set the ashes and the garbage (which was collected weekly by a farmer in his horse drawn wagon for feed for his pigs) was a black walnut tree. We didn’t use the black walnuts much – they were hard to crack and to remove the meat from but my mom boiled them to make a brown dye hair solution.
When I was very young we had a telephone in what we called “the telephone room.” It was an upright, what is now is called a “candlestick phone.” It sat on top of an office-size desk and it had a unit attached to the side of the desk with a handle which you had to crank to get the operator. She answered with “number please” and we responded with the number we wanted. The phone book was then quite slim, probably no more than four or five pages. Our number was 112W which meant that there were several customers with 112 but all with different letters. The operator whom we called “central” would ring a distinctive pattern so that you would only answer the phone if you heard your ring pattern. Nosey pokes would take up their phones from their cradles and listen to their neighbors talking to one another so long as they were on the W or whatever party line. A few years later our “crank” phone was replaced with one where all you needed to do was to lift the receiver from its cradle to get “central “ to respond.
Opposite the “telephone room” as you entered the front door was the parlor, only used when visitors came to our house. It contained the overstuffed couch and chairs and early on, the piano. It contained a dark blue velvet hanging of gold paintings of elks, woods and streams done by Kate Rowan Rasche. I remember being told that some of the third dimension items depicted, like the sun or some other item were first impressed onto the velvet and then gilded. Anyway it was an impressive hanging. Grandma also supplied our house with a 2’x 3’ green velvet wall hanging with the traditional depiction of the Irish harp and the inscription “Erin Go Bragh,” rendered in gold paint.
One time at 115 Second Street we children, Sisser, Mamie, Leo and I were left alone in the house while our parents were somewhere else. It was a special week, probably July 4th and it was combined with a fire department ingathering of western Maryland units. Anyway, Sisser put a can full of sealing wax on to a burner of our gas stove to heat it to soft warm enough that we kids could chew it. She left it unattended and it caught on fire. Sisser shut off the gas and poured water on the burning wax only to see the flame shoot up clear to the ceiling. One of us called the Oakland fire department which responded not only with our local unit but also with the Queen City of Maryland’s chief from Cumberland. Once the scary part was over we were proud to have had such a dignitary at our house.
Coming up to Christmas my mom wanted to decorate. We had a lot of wreaths for the many, many windows of 115 Second St. facing the street. We would hang one wreath with its single bulb in each of the three windows on the first floor, from the telephone room, the music room and the living room. Our house was without wall plugs which were not yet common, and so each of the wreaths was plugged into an electrical socket in the four outlet chandelier. Hence we had in each of the rooms three wires from the chandelier to these window and each one of these rooms looked like a spider web until after New Year’s. On the second floor we decorated more modestly with only one wreath per window. I remember my mom acquiring a red neon sign sayings “Merry Xmas” in the late thirties or early forties. It hung over the top of the front stairs just ahead of the front door. I’m sure my dad must have had a word about that expenditure but I never knew of it.
Mom always baked a fruit cake, always very dark, probably in late November. The bakery and other stores did not sell them in those days. She would place them in the bottom of an earthenware crock pot, cover them with a tea towel and then sprinkle them with rum every several days until Christmas.
We always had real Christmas trees. Sometimes we kids would cut them from a stand of spruces which grew on a small farm property my dad owned on the Old Deer Park road around a mile from our house. Plastic ones did not come along until well after World War II. They were adorned with two or more strings of colored lights which were wired serially. This meant that if one bulb burned out the serial circuit was broken and all the lights went out. Since you could not see the burnt filament in the painted bulbs you had to take a tested good bulb and go from bulb to bulb unscrewing each and inserting the good one until the strings lit up again. This would happen multiple times during the season. We also decorated with glass bulbs and ornaments – no plastic ones back then. One glass ornament was a figure of a diminutive turbaned black man. I only learned as an adult that this was Balthazar, one of the three wise men. Apparently before my time his white companions, Melchoir and Caspar had also served until they were broken. The tree was usually topped with an image of a framed cherub surrounded sunburst style with white spun glass fibers, high-tech in its day. Besides the tree we always set up a creche complete with painted plaster figures of the holy family, shepherds and animals. It was housed in an open -sided doll house made of simulated logs. And, very early, likely 1931 or ‘32 Mom would set out a mirror onto a shelf or other surface upon which she placed miniature Japanese figures, the females carrying parasols, and an oriental style bridge. The bridge spanned a “stream” of uncovered mirror and the rest of the landscape was covered with salt to represent snow. I don’t recall seeing it in later years. It was likely 1929 or so, when I was three that I announced that I wanted a “ball head” from Santa. Ned Pollack, my pal next door had one. It was a rubber ball shaped as a caricature of a man’s head which, when you squeezed it would stick out its’ tongue, but due to my lack of communicative skills I was unable to adequately describe it. I was razzed mercilessly by my older siblings who assumed I was saying “bald head.” I recall receiving from Santa on Christmas morn a painted wooden chicken on a wheeled platform with a pull string. It clucked as it was pulled on the floor. I remember one or more of them telling me that the chicken was the “bald head“ that I had asked for. This only added to my frustration and outrage and I never liked that damned chicken, still don’t.
Christmas was always a time to get mixed nuts in their shells along with candy in our hung-up stockings. Among them were Brazil nuts which we kids never knew as anything other than “nigger toes.” And when outdoors playing we would routinely shout out that the “last one up the hill (or wherever) was a nigger baby.” Likewise at the five and ten cent store we would order up at the candy counter “a nickel’s worth of nigger babies.” I never dawned on us at that early age that the term “nigger” might offend blacks.
Mom, by the way, never used the word “nigger.” She referred to her black friends and to other blacks whom she encountered as “darkies,” a term of respect in those days. If she did not respect them, finding them offensive or they crossed her in some way she referred to them as “coons.”
Wrapping presents: Through the 30s and into the 40s there was no such thing as Scotch tape. When it arrived on the scene around 1943 or so we called it “cellophane tape.” We wrapped presents usually with tissue paper and paper or cloth ribbons (plastic likewise had not been invented and there was no festive printed paper as today) and tied our own bows as the pre-tied ones were not yet invented. When we mailed presents to some persons out-of-town we had to wrap them in brown paper and tie them tight shut with string or cord. The post office in those days would not take a package merely sealed with glue type tape. And, speaking of the post office, Mom Treacy sent out many, many Christmas cards to folks both within and without town. Most she sent signed only with no written message with envelopes not glued shut but rather tucked in. This way they went for a one and a half cent stamp bearing a picture of Warren Harding- no Christmas stamps in those days. The post office was then in the McIntire building facing the courthouse. Incidentally, if you mailed a 3 cent letter or a 1 cent postcard in the middle of the day to Washington or Baltimore, it would be delivered the next day. And, if you waited until later, up until 5:30 PM or so you could carry a letter down to the B & O station, hand it to the postman on the mail car, who often was friend of the family Ed O’Donnell, who served in that capacity and assure delivery the next day – costs big bucks now.
The First National and the Garrett National in the early forties ran “Christmas Clubs.” These were savings accounts which paid no interest but starting in January of each year called for a deposit of 10, 25, or 50 cents each week and payable in the following December when cash total was needed for Christmas. The bank gave you a card which tabulated your savings each deposit.
Haircuts: Bittner & Stahl was the main barber shop in Oakland. Haircuts were thirty five cents. I remember at a very early age, probably eight or nine, always getting a “Teddy Bear” haircut. This was like a present day crew cut except it followed the contour of your head, not being flat on top. The shop always gave you back two cents “if you were good.” In actually you always got the two cents and went on to spend it at Lauer’s Bakery candy counter. Later, as a ten or eleven year old, I heard that Simon Cogley, who lived in “Hungry Hollow,” a mile or so east of Oakland, a railroader, cut hair for a dime. I went to his home and sure enough he had a barber chair in his small living room. I was successful in getting my hair a couple or so times for a dime a pop, pocketing the extra quarter for myself, but Mom Treacy inspected one such sorry cut and demanded an answer. Thereafter it was back to Bittner & Stahl. In later years Simon opened up a barber shop in Oakland. I told him to advertise for folks to come into his shop and get Simonized. Simon loved it and advertised it ever since.
When I was in high school and earning around $2.50 per week at the Clover Farm Store, I would buy Mom a vial of Evening in Paris perfume for Christmas and she was always pleased. It cost $1.00 at J.W. Jackson’s five and ten cent store downtown. My dad never bought her anything so elaborate in my memory. Before the 1929 crash, however he had given her a full length fur coat and several diamond rings.
After the Christmas season younger teen aged boys would set about collecting up the pine trees for burning in huge bonfires on New Year’s Eve. They would be divided into neighborhood gangs and vie for who could collect the most for the largest fire. Often BB gun fights would erupt in this competition although I never heard of an eye injury resulting. One year my older brothers stored their gang’s stash of tinder dry trees under our spacious front porch. My dad, an inveterate smoker, not knowing this disposed of his still burning cigarette butts by dropping them through cracks in the porch steps. Fortunately for the whole family, they never ignited the trees.
At midnight on New Year’s Eve, Daddy would get his shotgun from the car garaged behind the house and fire one or more shots into the air to ring in the New Year. We kids from an early age were allowed to stay up until then.
In the summer of 1937 my dad decided that since eldest brother Jim was in law school in Baltimore, brothers Jack and Casey were in college at Georgetown that it would be more economical for my mom and my siblings to move to Washington, DC. Jim and Jack would live in our rented home in D. C. and the rest of us would go to school as usual, but with Jim continuing to live in a boarding house in Baltimore. And we so did. Jack and Casey and Leo and I would pile into our 1932 Plymouth and drive to Georgetown where the older boys would attend Georgetown University and Leo and I at Holy Trinity Elementary, Leo as an 7th grader and I as a 6th grader. Sadly, some members of the family did not believe that my dad engineered this move to save costs but rather to ease my grandmother from our household. Grandma was transferred by ambulance from our house to Uncle Denny’s on Water Street when we moved to Washington. There she lived, bedfast during the day when Denny was at his job as a B & O railroad telegrapher until evening when he returned. Grandma died in bed while we were still in Washington. We all returned to Oakland for her funeral. I served as an acolyte at her funeral service.
In the early thirties Leo and I bought and read Big Little Books from Jackson’s Five & Ten Cents Store for a dime each. They were about 5”x5” and around 2“ thick with text on each left side page and an illustrative drawing on the right. I remember owning at least one Dick Tracy, some Popeyes and one I particularly cherished Joe Louis – The Brown Bomber. Joe was my hero and I always rooted for him when we listened to the narration of the fights on the radio, always sponsored by Gillette Blue Blades, “The Sharpest Razors ever Honed.“. It was in this year of 1937-38 that Leo and I discovered comic books. There were only two and they came out only once per month. Leo bought each monthly issue of Ace Comics and I of King Comics. And we continued the same pattern when we returned to 115 Second Street the summer of ‘38. They were both 10 cents per issue. We saved them all and by 1940 or so, Leo had a, perhaps a one and a foot tall stack of comic books. I remember that Leo’s Ace Comics stack contained the number one issue of Superman, when he came down to earth landing in a farmer’s field. If I remember correctly that issue had lost its cover but the complete story was intact. Leo and I and all of our buddies were avid stamp collectors in those days. Aunt Aggie Brooks, my mom’s sister bought Leo and me each a large worldwide stamp book, I believe for Christmas, 1937. We aspired to collect at least some stamps from every country in the world, but mostly honed in on the United States to include the Confederate States. It was a good lesson in geography since the stamp album pictured a map showing where each country was located. It also provided some history as one could follow the devastating inflation in the twenties and early thirties when German stamps rose from a pfennig or two to first a mark, then to tens and hundreds and finally hundreds and later a million or so marks, and finally to the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich.
Sometime early in WWII when I was in high school I started making black gunpowder. I used it to make primitive small and harmless bombs which I would throw up and let fall on the asphalt street. The black gunpowder required three ingredients: Sulfur, pulverized charcoal, and saltpeter. I don’t remember the proportions. Anyway Casey, before he was called to active duty, and I shared a double deck bunk bed. I had ground up a few ounces of black powder in an ashtray which I had left on the top of our shared chest of drawers. I remember that it was a wintry night, snowy and cold. I had gone to bed and Casey was still out, probably on a date. Anyway I awoke to the smell of acrid smoke and cold air. Casey had come in to the bedroom, snuffed a cigarette into my freshly ground gunpowder which, of course shot in flame to the ceiling and filled the room with smoke. Casey had raised the windows to expel it and the rush of cold air woke me up. I, of course had to explain to Casey that he had not only ruined my freshly made gunpowder but he had cracked my ashtray beyond repair. I don’t remember his ever having apologized. I also remember Casey’s utter frustration at having had to live at home on Second Street while all of his contemporaries were already on active duty. He sensed the scorn of other townsfolk whose kin were then serving and who wondered why was he not, not to be assuaged until orders to active duty finally arrived – soon enough for him to participate in combat in the Pacific.
In freshman class at Oakland High School I heard that in a frame dwelling behind the school you could get a free lunch. I went with some friends and, sure enough got a free lunch. I later that night told my mom about it and she was mortified that I had gotten a lunch from an agency set up for poor people. On mom’s remonstrance I never went back. In that same school year, 1940-41, around twenty or so of us from our school “home room” would gather for “sock hops,” dances at different classmate’s homes with music supplied by 78 rpm records either on a hand cranked or an electric player, with treats created and supplied by the host home mothers.
I should mention that in the mid-30s only about half the homes on Second Street harbored a car. And, this was true even while Second Street was reputed to contain the residences of the most affluent families in Oakland. I recollect us seeing Mrs. John Murphy, among the families with no car, a first cousin of my mom’s , walking to Sunday Mass at St. Peters Church on blustery winter days down Second Street and my mom telling my dad to stop and pick her up, even though our car was packed to the gunwales with kids. My dad did so, but only grudgingly since the Murphys bought and hand carried their groceries from the A & P Store, rather than ordering them delivered from Treacy’s Cash Store. Speaking of St. Peters, I at an early age, was taught that St. Peter was the first pope and so I knew that he must have been a Catholic. The Methodist church across the street from St. Peters was named St. Pauls and so I assumed that Paul was a Methodist, and the same assumed that St. John, whose church was on Second Street must have been a Lutheran.
When I was in high school I saved up and ordered a four tube small radio from out of the Montgomery-Ward catalog. It cost me $5.75. Since it was not very powerful, I strung a probably 50 foot antennae from my second floor bedroom out to a tree in the back yard. It gave me the freedom from the old 1920s more powerful radio on our first floor. But its chief value I quickly discovered was that, by scraping a metallic object on the indoor portion of the antenna, I could produce static on the more powerful set on the first floor. Thus, when my dad settled down after supper he always turned to the news on the more powerful set. But, he had a penchant, if he saw one of us kids not otherwise occupied, to find occupation for us. The static served to become him to become disinterested in listening to the news and to drive the few blocks to the downtown for a beer. And so, I could exit the house and meet up and hang out with my friends, usually over a coke at Hinebaughs Restaurant where someone among our group would always play the nickel record machine. I later carried my small radio with me through my navy days from 1944 to 1946. It fit fine in my sea bag as it was only around 8” x 5” x 5” At the several U.S. bases I was able to plug it into outlets in the barracks’ electrical outlets and the same aboard ships at sea. I could not get a signal away from the west coast once fifty miles or so away from the California shore and got nothing until the ship was close to the Chinese and Japanese shores, where there was only music which I could not relate to and language I couldn’t understand. And so it languished until, aboard the General Buckner Bay, a troopship I was aboard on my way home for discharge approached the California shore.
The Farm Threat: When I was probably a junior in high school and Leo was in college and the older three “boys” in the armed forces, my dad announced that we should move to the Treacy farm on the Fingerboard Road out in the county. I was devastated at the possibility. All my buddies and my girlfriend lived in Oakland. I was into activities in high school which could not be performed by a “bus” student. And, I’m sure it would have meant getting up at least an hour or more earlier in the morning to get to the Clover Farm Store to perform my pre-school chores. Fortunately my mom shared my view and put up strong objections, an unusual stance for her. My dad backed down but he decided to move some of the farm to our home on Second Street. He first cut away the bark of two old oak trees in our back yard, clear around so that they would die. They were probably 100 to 150 years old. I hated it but could not stop it. He then encircled the perhaps 50’x50’ fenced area with chicken wire supported by wooden upright stakes. He had a ramp for chickens to go into through a window into a room on the side of the automobile garage and inside he had constructed nests where they laid there eggs. The neighbors hated the arrangement, the stench from the chicken pen particularly, but there were no zoning or other restrictions and so they simply endured it. Sometime later when all of us boys were in the service and the girls were working in Washington, the pen came down and the room adjacent to the garage cleaned. Remembering the farm, my dad had a good sense of humor. In large letters on the barn on side facing the Fingerboard Road he had painted “Jas. P. Treacy’s Frostproof Farm.”
Sometime after I started a law practice in Oakland my mom hired a Jack McCoy to do yard clean-up in the area where the chicken pen had been. Jack was a member of the famed feuding clans, the Martins and McCoy’s of nearby West Virginia, but he was a very humble person, respectful of authority in his daily dealings, if not always of the law. While raking and burning leaves Jack appeared at the back door and asked if he “might have some water.’ Mom gave him a glassful but he was back again in a minute or two asking for more. And he returned a third time and mom asked him what he was doing with all that water to which he replied that the leaf fire had gotten “a little out of hand” whereupon mom got him large kettles full and he doused the fire. I defended Jack when he was charged with assault with intent to murder after he shot his moonshiner brother-in-law in the back. The jury compromised with a finding of common assault, a misdemeanor. For probably 20 years after I received Christmas cards from Jack’s preacher always thanking me for my effort with Jack.
When we were growing up Sincells lived just to the south of us, next door. Mamie grew up with her pal, Lois Sincell and their dog Tuck. The Sincells had a parrot which I never heard do it but my mom recollected their parrot calling out names of long dead Sincell’s. It seems that the parrot lived around 70 or 80 years and had been taught to name the names of the family then living. They died but the parrot never forgot and continued to call out to them. I remember the elder Mrs. Sincell during a particularly wet summer telling me that it was probably due to the bombings and explosions from over in Europe in the early forties. She said that the same phenomenon had occurred in WWI.
The original builders and occupants of our house had lavished fruit and berry trees and plants. My dad never saw to tending them, strange it seems for a boy raised on a farm, but one of Sincell’s trees overhung our yard and I loved to eat the apples which grew and fell on our side of the property line. We kids called them Sincell apples. It was only after I was an adult that I learned that their true name was Granny Smith apples.
On the first floor of our home, near the fireplace which the original owners had converted from wood burning to gas logs we had a gas light complete with a gas mantle and a globe. We lit this whenever the electricity went off during a storm and we needed light. And, it had a gas jet near the floor which one could turn on to a low pressure gas. I found out that if you got a balloon and stretched its by hand a short while, that you could fill it with the relatively low pressure gas from this jet and float it to the ceiling of the room indoors or lazily up and away to the outdoors. Another curiosity of the house was the pipes. They often were half exposed inside the walls of the many rooms. Sewer pipes were sometimes semi-exposed with only a small portion of them seen within the rooms. I never questioned this and so never learned why. I can only assume that central water and sewage had not yet been the norm when the Second Street house had been built in 1914. At that time there was a pump which pumped water from the deep well to the attic where gravity fed it down to the several spigots and sewer water was carried from Second Street down to the Little Youghiogheny under the town sidewalk.
Along around 1936 or so Mr. Casteel came to our back door every Saturday. He was a diminutive man with a humped back. He routinely carried a rather grubby white canvass bag over his shoulder filled with freshly plucked chickens, pounds of butter, pints of cream and dozens of eggs. My mom always bought from Mr. Casteel. Unfortunately, when President Roosevelt decided to change the date of Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the third Thursday, Mr. Casteel had not heard of the change, he having no radio and taking no newspaper. Thus poor old Mr. Casteel came to town with all of his freshly slain turkeys on the Saturday before the last Thursday only to find out that Thanksgiving was already over. My mom bought one anyway and so we had two successive turkey days and I hoped that our neighbors followed suit.
Sometime in the thirties Leo and I were hanging out with John and Linn Grant who lived across Second Street. They suggested that we get some “gunny” sacks and go snipe hunting on Crooks Crest which rose behind our house. Leo and I were eager candidates although we had no idea what a snipe was or how one might catch them. John explained that Leo and I would hold the sacks at the edge of the woods and that he and younger brother Linn would go deep into the woods and drive the snipes into our sacks. This, of course was an old time ruse as there is no such animal as a “snipe.” They would leave us “holding the bag” while they went home laughing. Fortunately their mom, Patience Grant, learned of their devious plan and put the quietus on it thus saving Leo and me the ignominy of “holding the bag.”
In the late thirties Leo bought a bicycle from Ray Krause for $5.00. It was a one speed, coaster brake type with high pressure tires, the ones which had no inner tubes. It had a stand attached to the rear axle which served to lift the rear wheel an inch or so off the ground and hold the bike upright – present day “kick- stands not yet invented. He parked it on the front porch out of the rain and elements. When he was gone one day I took it out on the street for a ride. I was totally new to bike riding and was afraid to put on the brakes. I coasted ever faster down Second Street, made a turn into an alley and ran into a fence breaking off the left pedal. So as not to face Leo’s ire, I wheeled the bike downtown to Kerin’s Garage where I knew Mr. George Kerins had a welding rig. Mr. Kerins welded the pedal back on, charging me whatever money I had come with, maybe fifteen or twenty cents, his usual fee for kids. I don’t remember when Leo discovered the repair but it was not immediately and so I skated by without serious repercussion. A year or two later Leo ordered a high-tech balloon tire (with inner tubes) bike from him Montgomery Ward in Baltimore, paying around sixteen or seventeen dollars and I bought the old bike from him for $5.00. There was no inflation then. My older bike had no chain guard and so you didn’t want the bottom of your pant leg to get caught in the chain. So, you either rolled up your pant leg or wore a “pant leg clip,” a device to hold your pant leg tight against your ankle and away from the chain.
It was around this time that Leo and I were Boy Scouts and we looked forward to the week’s campout at Deep Creek Lake. We both packed our “camp boxes” with clothes, swim and rain gear and snacks to see us through. By then we were permanently employed at either Treacy’s Cash or the Clover Farm store. Had we asked permission from my dad he no doubt would not have countenanced it. So my mom told us not to mention it to him, that she would take care of it. So, when my dad asked where we were after we departed for camp, she would reply: “Don’t you remember? I told you two weeks ago that they would be going to camp.” Of course she had not, but it worked and we were safely ensconced in camp for a week. Another ruse she carried out: Sometimes on a Sunday my dad would propose – in actuality order – a trip to the Fingerboard Road farm to pick poke greens or wild berries in season. We boys would resent this taking from us our only day off from the store work week. Mom knew this and I remember her having packed away a basket of store- bought berries along with an elaborate picnic lunch. My dad never joined in the picking. She produced the berries to my dad to show that we had indeed picked them rather than having lounged away the afternoon dining on a delectable lunch.
Since I had the prescribed chores to do at the store before going to classes at the high school, I was late no doubt more than any other student in my home room. A late student had to go to the principal’s office to get a “slip” admitting one to class. I recall one time when I was late I told Mr. Bittle, the principal, that I had a “good reason” for being late, whereupon Mr. Bittle took pains to explain to me that a good reason was not always the same as a good excuse. And, I remember one such time when I was in his office to obtain a “late slip,” Mr. Bittle greeted me with a “Happy Navy Day.” Back then Army Day and Navy Day were recognized on our calendars even if we did nothing to demonstrably celebrate them.
The original occupant of our 115 Second Street house, lawyer Bill Offutt, was given this house by his father as a wedding gift around 1914. It had a cherry and an apple tree to the south side of the house, and a climbing rose vine which graced the outside wall of the red brick home. It had, just west of the house and garage a windrow of hemlocks which obscured what we kids grew up calling “the barn.” It was, in actuality a carriage house with rooms for the horses, a carriage and either living quarters or at least resting places on the second floor for a liveryman. We, of course never used it nor did my dad keep it in repair. Rather, we as kids played in it, climbing onto the roof, and later after it was torn down using some of the scraps of wood to build miniature shacks which we crawled into to build fires in our diminutive fireplaces. There were probably four maybe five such huts. Bob Glass who was hired by my father to do some carpentry around the property discovered our little huts, regarded them as dangerous and stomped them all down.
Just above the level of the carriage house was a tennis court constructed by the Offutts. It was of hard, red clay and had been enclosed by a chain link fence in its day. By the time of my early years the fence had fallen down. The rumor among us kids was that lightening had struck it. And so we never played tennis on it or anything else. We did, however, pick and eat the gooseberries and the currents from the plants which the Offutts had planted around the upper side of the court and the concord and white grapes on the arbor to the lower side. On one more level and fronting on 1st Street was our orchard of a row of peach trees upon which I never saw fruit and behind it around three rows of apple trees of a couple of varieties. But my favorite apple tree was an old timer which obviously predated the Offutts which stood just southeast of the orchard. My buddies and I could easily climb this tree up high with ease in its sturdy branches, and enjoy its fruit in due season.
Along the west side of Second Street , from five blocks to the north end all of the houses front lawns were buttressed from the brick sidewalk with layers of two , perhaps three deep, one ton oblong squared stones. They needed adjusting every now and then as tree roots tended to jostle them. They were not jostled however in front of Stanton’s house just north of our house in 1938 when I observed John Grant kneeling on the brick walk in front of the stone wall and peering over it through a homemade periscope, at the Stanton residence I, of course was filled with curiosity and so went to observe. It seems that John had installed a lighted candle in the interior of the periscope in the hope of illuminating the image, i.e. the Stanton’s house. John invited me to peer through the instrument and I did , only to find that the only thing to be seen was that of an image of an inverted burning candle.
For years I had a condition on or near my left knee which produced a clicking sound while bending it. All four of my older brothers were then serving on active duty and I didn’t want the condition to keep me out of the service when I turned eighteen. I did not want to be the only Treacy brother not serving. So, I consulted with a local doctor who recommended that I visit with a Dr.Legge of Baltimore. This met with my dad’s approval as Dr. Legge had previously practiced in Oakland and was locally well respected. Dr. Legge said I should have the osteoma, an aberrational growth on my femur removed. So in the summer of 1943 a surgeon actually chiseled the thing off in a Baltimore hospital and I was accepted into a naval aviation program in June of 1944. My dad refused to pay the surgeon all of his fee and so I paid it off in installments after I entered the navy.
Sometime after I was discharged from the navy in 1946 I was sitting in the living room of 115 Second during a lightning storm outside. I don’t remember the lightning coming particularly close but around a close flash near to the north I saw a ball of electrical energy come into the room where I sat and travel along the baseboard on the opposite wall from me. It was blue and translucent and did not move particularly fast. There was as near as I know no electrical wire behind that baseboard. We had no female outlets along the baseboards in those days. It was perhaps a 7” in diameter and it dissipated after traveling 10 or 12 feet, causing no damage.
My birthday, June 28, was only six days before the fourth of July and in the thirties and early forties I let it known that fireworks would be a most welcome birthday present. It was only to be expected from brother Leo and sisters Mamie and Sisser, the older boys not participating. Anyway the three responded handsomely and I had more pyrotechnics for the big day than any of my contemporaries. I loved it. And, on the night of the fourth my dad brought all or most of the unsold fireworks from Treacy’s Cash Store and set them off near our front porch. This was the best display in our neighborhood and drew spectators from nearby neighbors. We had some fireworks then that are no longer in vogue: Pinwheels, which you nailed to a tree and ignited so that they spun around giving off sparks all the while; Spit Devils, a quarter sized disc three time thicker which you scratched on a rough surface to ignite it and it “spit fire” as it jumped around on the ground – some called them “scratch caps.” Torpedoes, which were slightly larger than a cherry bomb which exploded with considerable force when thrown on a hard surface; penny airplanes which hung from a string and flew around in circles when ignited from the tail and was propelled by a jet fire, and this a decade before real jet planes; and “lady crackers,” which were miniscule fire crackers which came in strings like firecrackers. The strings hardly made bangs – more like a series of pfuts. I never bought them – too dull.
Speaking of birthdays, we never had parties where non-family members were invited. With seven children it was just too much for my mom to carry out. But we did celebrate within the family. I remember my fifteenth birthday in June, 1941. My mom prepared a picnic dinner which we carried to Harrington Manor. I can’t remember what the entrée was but I remember the cake. Mom had wrapped 15 dimes in cellophane and placed them on a coconut cake, in place of candles. I was delighted. A dollar and a half was probably as much as I was then earning per week as a clerk at Treacy’s Cash Store that summer. Dimes were made out of pure silver in those days – no “sandwich” coins.
In the Great Depression years of the thirties and early forties we had lots of tradesmen come to our doors. There were knife and scissor sharpeners, umbrella repairmen, Fuller Brush salesmen, vacuum cleaner salesmen, magazine subscription salesmen, along with others. There was even a hit song on the radio about the umbrella repairman: “Tooda lamba, lamba, tooda lay. Any umbrellas to be fixed today?……” And, along with kids, including us, selling chances on some prize or another to be raffled off by St. Peters School (we kids were allotted so many raffle tickets to sell each, at ten cents, three for a quarter and we ran from relative to relative where we were certain to get rid of some). In season country folks sold handmade Christmas wreaths made from crowfoot greens and in the Spring, they sold sassafras roots. The latter, once boiled in water and drinking the juice product was said to “thin the blood” for the warming season to come.
And, in the depression, streams of hoboes, we called them “tramps” came knocking at our back door looking for handouts. Mom always fed them, never turning one away, but serving them outdoors on the backyard wooden walkway in fair weather and inside the frame anteroom to the kitchen backdoor in cold or inclement weather. She would, if she perceived the need give them articles of clothing. They always offered to do work in exchange for their food but Mom could not usually stir up any on a moment’s notice. No doubt our house was marked with the codes used by these itinerants to tell others that this was a “soft touch” home but I never found the code anywhere in sight. Oakland had an unusual share to these tramps as it was on the main line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, used by these men to hop free rides on freight trains to move from city to city. I recall one tramp arriving as Leo and I were shooting baskets at a backboard mounted on a large oak tree in our back yard. He claimed that he had played basketball in high school and joined in with us, but we knew he had not since he shot the ball from an underhanded position, throwing it up from under his waist. We didn’t question him on this as it would only have served to embarrass the three of us.
Mom never packed a lunch for us to carry to St. Peters School except in very severe winter weather. We walked the mile or so to Second Street and back for the hour lunch period, except on Mondays. Each Monday the Oakland Fire Station sounded its siren as a test, sharply at noon. If the nuns would let us out for lunch a few minutes before noon, we boys would all race full force to the firehouse where the fireman on duty would allow us to push the siren button on and in a little while off. I won a couple of times but the competition was tough. And, if we missed the siren’s noon sounding, we sometimes made it over to the St. Peters Church belfry where the sexton, Mr. Rice, would allow us to toll twelve bells for noon. The bell was very, very heavy and would lift a lightweight bell ringer right off the floor as it tolled. The bell not only announced noon, but also 7 AM and 6PM, the latter known as “The Angeles.” Some Oaklanders would rely on these bells to set their watches.
Once each month we received from B. I. Gonder’s Maryland Theatre the month’s movie card. It listed the title of each of the movies to be shown that month along with the leading actor’s and actress’ name. It always hung on a nail in our kitchen. As young kids we were only interested in the Saturday cowboy and Tarzan movies, which always had short subjects and cartoons before the main feature. But Mom never let a Nelson Eddy and Jeannette McDonald musical go by without seeing that we kids saw it as well. Mom was a nut for these two as well as for all musical presentations. All of the movies and short subjects were, of course, only in black and white as was the announcement that the feature had been “Approved by the Maryland Board of Censors.” My dad never attended movies except for one, a musical about the Irish in New York City. It starred Judy Garland as “Nelly Kelly.” Mom had to cajole him into going to that one and, as far as I know, it was the only one he ever attended. Mom told me that when I was a tyke of three or four that she took me to the Maryland Theatre to see some special showing that the St. Peter’s School children were let out to watch. At least part of the presentation, maybe all, was silent with subtitles. The nuns, who were sitting just behind us were bemused upon hearing me ask Mom “What does that reading spell?” I recall one Saturday evening that I had acquired a severe sunburn from having gone swimming in Deep Creek Lake earlier that day. It was so painful that I had to stay away from a Tarzan movie that evening. I was devastated. Tarzan movies only came about twice a year. Tarzan was then played by Buster Crabbe. He was later replaced by Johnnie Weismeuller. I also remember at an early age coming home from the Saturday “oaters” when mom would ask me about what the short subjects were and I would tell her it featured the “fat man and the skinny man,” which were of course, Laurel and Hardys. And, I remember viewing the newsreels before the feature in the early thirties and seeing flicks about the devastation being wrought in the Dust Bowl storms.
Since I had older siblings in Oakland High School from 1928 until Leo graduated in 1942, Mom would often attend and take me along to various performances. The earliest one I remember was a Washington Birthday stage event in which eldest brother, James – we never called him “Jim” – played the role of Washington. He was suitably dressed and bewigged and bore Daddy’s sword from his Knights of St. John days. At a given point of the singing of tribute to Washington he drew the sword from its scabbard and held it aloft hilt in front of his face. At age five or less I was mightily impressed and proud of my brother. Somewhat later I heard my first ever presentation by the high school glee club and remember that they sang “GlowWorm” in four part harmony. I was enthralled. I had never experienced such a thrilling surround sound in my young life. I do not know which of my siblings were in the glee club at that time. And still later I remember attending a play wherein Mamie played a major part. I was still in grade school. It was a mystery and in it Mamie carried a lighted candle stick holder and placed it on a mantle in a darkened living room, and departed offstage. In a later scene the candle and holder slid off the mantle and traveled through the air to the offstage location from which she had carried it in. Spooky! I would later act in plays each of my high school years and sing in glee club events in my junior and senior years. During those latter years brother Leo played guard on the high school basketball team. This was the foremost sport then. We were too poor a high school to field a football team. We didn’t even have a band, and so most of all the students in town attended these games and supported the theatrical presentations. Other musical presentations made an impression on me in the thirties or early forties: On Palm Sunday Russ Brown, husband of choir director Ruth Brown would play The Palms on a trumpet during the service at St. Peters Church and one year he played carols on the xylophone from the church steeple as folks arrived for midnight mass. Russ was an excellent musician. It was he who gave his name to The Gilbert-Brown Boys Band.
In the severe winters and snows in Oakland the town would plough with trucks fitted with a one vehicle wide blade, pushing the snow to the middle of the streets. Mike Maroney, who also served as the town’s grave digger, would plough the sidewalks with a V-shaped blade drawn by his horse. He accomplished this in the dark morning hours leaving us a walkway to school. One winter Mom bought us a wire corn-popper which we tried to make work over the artificial gas logs off the ante-room just beyond the front entrance foyer. It never did work. What we got popped was usually blackened and most of the kernels didn’t pop at all. That fireplace incidentally, is where we kids hung our stockings each Christmas Eve.
And, in those cold winter mornings we would go out front and get our two quarts of milk which had been delivered in the pre-dawn hours by the local Winter’s Dairy. Often the milk would partially freeze before we brought it in and the floating cream portion on top (homogenized milk had not yet been developed) would lift the cardboard bottle cap up on a stack of slush an inch or so over the top of the milk bottle.
We were a well-read household. We took the Baltimore Sun in the morning (it cost three cents per daily copy, ten cents on Sunday) and the Cumberland Evening Times in the evening, as well as the local weeklies: The Mountain Democrat and The Republican. I loved mostly Terry and the Pirates in the Baltimore Sun’s funny papers and Tim Tyler’s Luck in the Cumberland papers. Tim Tyler was a member of the “Ivory Patrol” who in Africa wore a shoulder patch of crossed elephant tusks and protected the slaughter of elephants by poachers. On Sunday the Baltimore Sun had a section of colored comics and ’the brown section,” a rotogravure of pictures printed mostly of Baltimore but also around the state.
I remember being thrilled to see an Associated Press article in one or both of these daily papers about brother Jack’s having had his grocery truck caught fire under the hood and he drove it a few blocks to the firehouse where it was extinguished. The headline read something like “Drives Fire to Firehouse.“ These media plus the radio kept us abreast of events of World War II, from the original depressing news of the setbacks in 1941 and early 1942, to the spectacular Doolittle raid and the beginning of the turnaround in 1942 at the Battle of Midway. We listened nightly to news commentator Lowell Thomas and to Walter Winchell, the latter who always started his wartime broadcasts with “Attention: Mr.& Mrs. America and all the ships at sea :” and then followed up with the daily news events.
One summer night, probably in August in the late thirties, Tommy Stanton, my buddy from next door and I were lying on our backs on Offutt’s lawn looking up at the meteor showers one clear night when we were around twelve, Carrie Bartlett came striding down the sidewalk carrying an umbrella about two thirds as tall as she. Carrie informed us that the Martians had invaded New Jersey and that the whole nation was in danger. Tommy and I knew Carrie to be a strangeling and so we paid no attention to her report and found no confirmation of it when we returned to our respective homes that night. It was only in the next day’s newspapers that the Orson Wells story was exposed.
The cherry tree: On the south side of the house stood a small cherry tree, no bigger than 6 inches in diameter at its base but strong enough for a child to climb. I’m sure that all seven of us kids in turn gloried in climbing it around the end of June and picking the then earliest ripe yellow and red, Queen Anne variety, I think, cherries. I know that I did. Maurice “Casey” remembers that he at age seven was up in that tree that 28th of June, 1926, helping Mom Treacy pick cherries when she apparently went into labor and retired to her second floor bedroom and he learned that I had arrived at 3:10 PM, with Dr. Broadwater’s help.
In the thirties nearly everyone who owned a radio listened to Amos and Andy which came on around seven o’clock in the evening. I remember my parents turning up the radio volume so that they could sit out on the front porch and hear it through open windows. It was a common practice. I remember walking down Second Street toward the downtown and hardly missing a word as others on the street sat on their porches similarly listening.
The living room: This is where the adults read the evening paper, The Cumberland Evening News, and we did our children’s homework. I can remember my dad having three Lucky Strike cigarettes burning in ashtrays simultaneously there. Accordingly it always had a stench of burnt tobacco. We grew up that way. On the west wall was a cardboard reproduction framed picture of Custer’s Last Stand produced for store windows by Mail Pouch chewing tobacco. It depicted Custer standing among hundreds of his slain troops, firing pistols while an Indian was shown scalping a dead soldier. On the west wall was a large thermometer which advertised, again for stores, Clark Bars, and urging that they be eaten three times per day. Later, Mrs. Sincell next door gave Mom an elegantly framed portrait of Blue Boy by Gainsborough which she hung on the south wall, replacing a montage of we seven siblings which was inscribed “The Rogues Gallery.” Below it sat the mantle wind-up clock Uncle Doc gave us with its elegant chimes. Karen Weimer now has the clock in Tallahassee. Mom put up with the incongruity. She had hung in our “sitting room” a picture of the Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris and one or Marshall Foch kneeling in prayer there in uniform in Notre Dame cathedral during World War I. On the second floor hallway wall Mom had hung a copy of September Morn and a picture of the Canadian parliament building complex in Ottawa, the latter because her grandfather, Thomas Rowan had been a masonry subcontractor in its construction in the 1850s.
The library: This room was just west off the living room. It had built-in book shelves along the west wall which held, along with other books the Book of Knowledge, a twelve or so volume children’s encyclopedia, full of stories like “The Old Lady and the Pig” and poems like: “There was an old man who wouldn’t say his prayers. I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs!” On the south wall was a probably 5’ x 7’ map of the United States, 48 of them then which all seven of us children learned the location of the respective states. It was about worn through at the location of Oakland, Maryland from many, many small fingers finding it. The bottom of the shelves contained a several volume work called The War of the Rebellion, a chronicle of the civil war which contained , along with the other local history the account of the Confederate brief takeover of Oakland. This set had been given to us by Uncle “Doc” Rowan, Katherine Rowan Rasche’s physician brother.
The dance: Probably 1939 when I was in the eighth grade in St. Peters School, I received an invitation to a dance at Tom Thayer’s house. I was coming up on 13 years old. The invitation not only specified the where and when, but stated that I was to accompany Mary Lou Browning, picking her up at her home and walking her to the dance, and , of course, walking her home. My sister, Mamie, aka Mary Catherine, took me in hand and, on the second floor landing of our Second Street home, taught me how to do the “square.“ Mrs. Thayer rolled up the rug in her living room and we danced in sock feet. She furnished candy cigarettes for the boys, but I can’t remember for the girls, something feminine, I’m sure. We were furnished “dance cards” which listed the ten dance partners we were to sign up to dance with during the affair, assuring that the first and last dance was with our assigned date. The music was, of course, from a 78 rpm records, played on a hand cranked Victrola. Mrs. Thayer had made sweetened Rice Crispies squares and other delicacies from scratch. There were none pre-prepared in those days.
The pennies: My older brothers were respectively: Jim, 11 older than I; Jack, 9 years and Casey, (Maurice) 7 years. So, when I was around 9 or 10, they were buying beer at fifteen cents a bottle at bars after work at Treacy’s Cash Store on Saturday nights. On Sundays, I would ask them if I could have the pennies left in their pockets from their Saturday nights soirees. Invariably they would agree. So, I would collect at least 5 cents and as much as 7 or 8 cents, a tidy sum considering that a penny in those days had the buying power of 13 cents today.
Leo reminded me that with every Thanksgiving and Christmas meal we always had a serving of sauerkraut along with the other festive traditional dishes. Maybe it was a carryover from mom’s dad, Henry Rasche’s German roots.
And, speaking of Christmas, when I was around nine or ten, I received a present from Santa which exceeded my wildest dreams, a Mickey Mouse watch. I wore it to school where I learned that my pal Foster “Toad” Mann also acquired one that Christmas. We would seriously compare our respective times every school day at St. Peters School to insure accuracy. We were the only two in the whole school to own watches. Only many years later did I learn from my mom that Uncle Denny had given her $15.00 to buy us kids presents, a tidy sum in those days. Denny knew that my dad would frown on that kind of money being lavished on Christmas presents. I think the watch sold for maybe $2.95, possibly more. So called “Dollar” pocket watches did indeed sell for one dollar at Jackson’s five and ten cent store in those days. Speaking of Mickey Mouse, back then he was not just accompanied by Minnie, Donald Duck, Goofey and Pluto, but also by Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle the cow and Clara Cluck the chicken.
In the thirties we had but two game boards in the house, that of Parcheesi and checkers, both kept in the library. Mom would join in with us kids for the former and my dad, we called him “Daddy”, would play checkers with us. He was an expert at the game and could easily defeat any one of us if he wanted to, but I suspect that he didn’t always want to. Later, when these games came into vogue, probably in the early forties, we acquired a Monopoly set and a Chinese Checker board. Again, Mom would join in with we kids in these two games, but not my dad. And, in the early thirties I received from Santa a set of Lincoln Logs which I loved and, in the mid-thirties an Erector Set, a simple non-motorized one which I loved even more.
On the “landing,” halfway up the stairway to the second floor was an oak banquette upon which Mom had several pots of flowers and of ferns, lighted by three stained glass windows. Mom would reward me with a penny for watering the plants. This usually required carrying several pans of water from the kitchen, no mean task for a five year old. She would also pay me a penny for walking downtown on a shopping errand. Sometime, probably in the late thirties we acquired a red clay figure of a man’s head which sat in a tray of similar material meant to be filled with water. It sat on the same banquette. We sprinkled grass seed into grooves scratched into his head where hair would normally grow and it would sprout into green “hair.” For some reason or another we called him “Oscar.” Today these sets are marketed as figures of small animals which grow “fur” and called ChiaPets.
Treacy’s Cash Store did not stock paper towels, paper napkins or Kleenex. I don’t think any of the Oakland stores did in those days. Those items were all cotton and part of the weekly washing and ironing. I remember first hearing of Kleenex around 1940 or ’41. Boxed sets of three or so cotton handkerchiefs, monogrammed with ones initial were common Christmas and birthday gifts back then.
In the thirties Oakland, like all of Maryland, was segregated. There were but a few black families in town. They sat in the balcony of the Maryland Theatre and were not served at all in restaurants. The only blacks I had ever come close to was “Shine” Notes, a young man who used to hang out at my dad’s Treacys Garage and Betty, our parish priest’s housekeeper. So I was more than curious when the town’s black tailor, a Mr. Swan came to our house to rehearse for someone’s wedding. He had an accomplished singing voice. Mom played his accompaniment on the piano. I wanted to peek in the door and watch as it was the first time we ever had a Negro in our home, but I didn’t, likely because Mom had told me I was not to. Speaking of Betty, the housekeeper, I had come out of St. Peter’s Church one Sunday after Mass where Father McViegh was greeting departing parishioners. I was probably three or four. Anyway, in the conversation I referred to Betty as Betty McViegh since I knew that she lived in the rectory along with Father McViegh. This brought peals of laughter from all who heard it. It was inconceivable in those days that a black would ever be in any kind of a relationship with a white.
One thing I do not remember myself but was told to me by either parents or siblings: With nearly all of the front porches utilized on a summer’s evening, as I mentioned listening to Amos & Andy, one did not want to be seen by strollers drinking a toddy and therefore, my mom and dad would have a whiskey on the porch of an evening, in a coffee cup.
Mamie was the one who told me that she remembered she and mom going to the third floor of our house one night and looking out the window to see a Ku Klux Klan cross burning on the far hill near the town cemetery. This would have been the early thirties. Mom was frightened as she did not believe it was to intimidate the very few blacks in town but was rather directed at Oakland’s Catholics. The Klan was strong in Oakland in the late 20s and early 30s. I was told that my dad recognized one of his Treacy’s Garage employees in a white hooded gown by the shoes he wore under the gown in a parade He told him that he was to either resign from the Klan or get fired. He resigned.
And, from a third floor window I could easily see the town street light across Second Street and about one house down. At age ten or so I owned a single shot BB gun which I had purchased from J. W. Jackson Five and Ten Cents Store for one dollar. It was quite powerful enough that I could shoot out that light from that window. With the hole in the glass it let in oxygen and turned a brilliant blue followed by an orange flash before turning dark. Please keep this within the family and don’t tell the town authorities.
Just next door to us lived the Stantons. They had a large front yard which we did not. So, we as kids would play over there: Softball during the days and “Mumbly Peg” in the evenings. The latter was played with pocket knives and a stick carved to a point. It consisted of ever more difficult attempts at sticking your knife into the ground from various physical positions. Whenever you missed your opponent would take his knife and hit the sharpened stick into the ground with the handle of his knife. You then had to then grab the peg with your teeth and pull it out. Needless to say you ate a lot of dirt. This, of course, was a game for boys of maybe ten to twelve. Prior to that age we would play “hide and seek,” “red light-green light.” “statue,” “red rover,” and other games with both boys and girls. After dark we would in the right season catch “lightning bugs.” More cosmopolitan kids called them “fireflies.” We would put several of them into a glass jar to make a sort of lantern. But sometimes we boys would tear their glowing rear ends off and stick them on our noses or try to write something with several of them. One night, after catching many “night crawlers,” a group of us offered Bobby Stanton, then probably seven or eight, a nickel if he would eat one of them. He accepted and so the group each contributed a penny or two to make up the nickel. I’m sure he swallowed it whole, alive of course. I don’t remember him chewing at all. In the Fall we would rake up the fallen Oak and Maple leaves into deep piles and run and jump into them with our bodies in a horizontal position where the leaves would provide a soft landing, In the winter after a snowfall we would trudge from our house on Second Street to Shreve’s house on First Street up the incline of Crook’s Crest and then ski down to Stanton’s front yard, usually over a ski-jump constructed out of packed snow. “Bunny” Shreve was a contemporary and buddy of brother Jim.
One of Oakland’s few town drunks lived just across the street and a couple of doors to the north. When Leo and I were very young we would hide either on or near our front porch to watch Harper Bartlett stagger from side to side up the sidewalk on Second Street to his home. We were a little afraid of being seen observing him, not understanding what, if detected, he might do.
Life was immeasurably simpler and far more frugal in the thirties than today. Whoever needed them would ask “Where’s the scissors?” or the paring knife or the butcher knife or the flashlight, the whisk broom, the hand mirror, or the magnifying glass. This was in a household of seven children, two parents and Grandma Rasche. Now, in my household of two we have at least eight pairs of scissors and multiple numbers of everything else named.
We had a chopping block in the warm side of the cellar. It was a vertical section of an oak tree trunk which stood about 28 inches high from the floor. There it was my and Leo’s job to behead chickens as required. I remember well learning what the phrase “like a chicken with its head cut off” meant when I, with Leo helping, beheaded a chicken on the block only to have it scramble away and run around the perimeter of the cellar squawking through its bloody throat for maybe ten seconds until it fell still.
We had a hand cranked food grinder which we clamped onto the kitchen work table on occasion to make various dishes. One, in particular called for ground cabbage and carrots mixed with salad dressing. We called this “Winchester Salad” since Mom Treacy had learned of it when she lunched in Winchester, Virginia, on some automobile trip from home. We children all liked it and so made it many times. On these occasions Mom would often give me the cabbage heart to eat as we did not grind it up with the leaves. In the Fall we kids would clamp the grinder outside and grind up the profusion of apples which grew on our property into pulp, catching the juice which ran down from the grinder into a pan from which we made cider. We discarded the pulp.
The room we used as a living room had originally been designed as a dining room. It had originally a button on the floor to summon help from the kitchen which was connected to such room by a walk-through pantry with two swinging doors. It had a colored glass dome light fixture hanging down from the ceiling which contained a bright, probably 100 Watt bulb. This was surrounded by four white tulip socket fixtures for lesser strength bulbs, which we rarely used. But, one use was to plug in a table lamp on the circular table below. One, I remember from when I was around six in 1932 was a vertical cylindrical lamp made of heat resistant paper which pictured a forest on a red background. Inside was another cylinder with grooves in a metallic top which let out the heat from the bulb inside and served to spin this cylinder which was white with black markings to simulate smoke. The result was that the forest appeared to be engulfed in a raging fire. I was fascinated! Years later Mom Treacy bought a world globe for the table which was illuminated by a bulb within.
We had a Victrola record player which sat in the entrance foyer near the gas log fireplace. It was hand wound and would accommodate but one 78 rpm quarter inch thick record at a time. It needed to be re-cranked after each playing. We probably had around 15 or so records. One was Oh Lucky Jim someone had given my dad because the donor thought his business successes were mostly due to luck. Another was a comedy song of the twenties performed by Gallagher and Sheen who were then popular showmen. My favorite was a rousing performance of Columbia The Gem of the Ocean and Dixie. There were a couple of one sided records given to us by Uncle Denny which had the audio to accompany otherwise silent movies. We never played them as their three minute running time gave no clue as to what the movie might have been about. We donated them to a WWII rubber scrap drive, just as we did with flattened tin cans, tin foil, and grease. My mom had a pedal operated sewing machine and she was quite expert in using it to hem garments, manufacture curtains and the like.
We had a waffle iron which was indeed made of iron. It consisted of a collar which sat over the gas burner and supported the container for the batter. The container had two wooden handles and would swivel over atop the collar so as to bake each side of the contained waffle. It was always a treat to have waffles with creamed turkey after the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
I have detailed information about the old late twenties Atwater-Kent radio in a Treacy Newsletter so will not repeat it here. During the war years we listened to Walter Winchell’s evening news -” Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea” – about the progress of the campaigns and we always listened to Edger Bergen and his puppet, Charlie McCarthy, the Jack Benny Show, the Lucky Strike Hit Parade plus we never missed The 64 Dollar Question where we were delighted when a GI won the $64.00, three month’s salary for a draftee in the early days of the pre-WWII draft.
Each Mother’s Day we kids would pick a white apple blossom for my dad to wear in his lapel to church and the rest of us would wear red flowers which grew on a bush behind the garage, the white signifying that his mother was deceased and the red that our respective mothers were living. Most of our parishioners did the same.
With ten members of the household nobody had the luxury of being a persnickety eater. You ate what was served. Mom Treacy did have one ruse to induce kids to try new foods. She told us that if you sampled something you had never eaten before you could make a wish on it and it was sure to come true. And, when we had mixed nuts in the shell in our Christmas stockings and upon cracking one it yielded a double kernel, you would link right arms with someone else and each pop his kernel half into his mouth, all the time making a wish which was also reliably known to come true.
You didn’t need to walk the several blocks to downtown Oakland to spend your occasional nickel. Sherman White’s garage was but two or so blocks away on the “state road,” and had an ample selection of penny and nickel candies. Sherman’s wife Mary, tended the store side of the garage, and she looked out for us kids. I remember one day she put a nickel Baby Ruth bar on the candy scales and then followed it with weighing five penny Baby Ruth bars to show us that the latter was the better buy as it weighed a little more. And Sherman also treated us kids well, often fixing a bicycle problem that we could not handle, free of charge.
The 1929 Wall Street crash must have had a profound effect on my dad. He was heavily into the market and lost tens of thousands of dollars – dollars each of which would go for 13 or 14 of today’s dollar. I recall seeing pictures of my three older brothers, Jim, Jack and Casey born in 1915, 1917 AND 1919 in complete or near complete Boy Scout uniforms, and a picture of Jim and Jack attired in smart suits on a trip to Washington, D.C. Jack had a large steel model of a Ford tri-motor airplane and a hand cranked 35 mm movie projector plus a film of Hollywood star Jackie Coogan milking a cow. Either Jim or perhaps all three of the older boys shared a Lionel electric train. Sisser had a large china doll with eyes that closed when it was horizontal plus a wardrobe for it. One of the older three brothers enjoyed a subscription to the Boy Scout magazine Boys Life. Leo and I, born in 1924 and 1926 never had anything so elegant. The only scout attire we had was our neckerchiefs, no magazine, no sophisticated toys and no trips outside of Oakland and environs.
Toys: All of our toys, if they were mechanized, were wind-ups, no battery powered ones. The only household item powered by batteries was a flashlight and so they were known universally as “flashlight batteries.” They are what is known as Size D batteries today. My first wind-up toy I got for Christmas sometime in pre-school days was a tin chicken which pecked at the ground for imagined grain. The one I cherished most was a World War I model tank which could scale a book one inch thick. I wore it out and it quit. Uncle Denny offered to look at it. He took it apart and repaired it so I could use it a little longer. I was astounded that he could accomplish such a feat. Two “store bought” toys we liked could be purchased at J. W. Jacksons 5 & 10 Cent Store, each for a dime: A tin candle-powered “steam boat” which you could place in the bath tub with only a couple of inches of water and it would travel around the perimeter of the tub so long as the candle burned, chugging bubbles out of its stern. The other was a glass test tube with a red glass “devil” inside. The “devil” had an air bubble in his tummy. With the tube filled with water you could manipulate the devil to rise to the top, sink to the bottom or stand still in the middle by increasing or decreasing the pressure on your thumb covering the top of the tube. You would give oral commands to do these things and then proceed to do them. Each set cost ten cents. I particularly liked “thumb movies.” These were series of photographs taken perhaps a fraction of a second apart, around two inches high and an inch wide. You held them by their bound top with your left hand – assuming you were right handed – and flipped the images with your right hand to produce a moving picture. I remember I had one of Bob Feller throwing a baseball right at me. It became bigger and bigger as I flipped with my thumb appearing to hit me right in the middle of my face. Thumb movies were often included as the prize in the five cent “Guess What” we bought at Lauer’s Bakery for five cents which also contained several taffy pieces. But, we had a lot of homemade toys: When we opened English walnuts without cracking the half-shell we would fill it with paraffin wax and install a toothpick for a mast and glue a sail onto the toothpick and sail it in the bathtub. We would cut the cedar wood from old cigar boxes in the shape of a boat, cut a rectangle portion from the stern and with a rubber band fashion it inside the gap with a paddle wheel. These too we would set to motion in the bathtub. And, like all children we would fashion a large button on a double string so that we could make it spin rapidly making a humming sound as we stretched or relaxed the string. And, we made “spool tractors” out of a wooden spool, with notches cut out of the flanges on the top and bottom, a rubber band, some soap for lubricant and a sucker stick. These you wound up and put on the floor or rug and they crept along until unwound. In grade school we learned how to make paper “pop guns” by folding a pistol shaped paper carefully so that when you snapped it down in a rapid movement with your hand the folded paper inside would make a snapping sound. My sisters made “cats cradles” out of string but I was never very good at it. Coming up on Halloween we would make what we called “tic tacs,” wood spools with notched like the flanged ends like the tractors above but put on sucker sticks and wound with string. These we would sneak up to residents windows, press the spool against their window panes and pull the string to rotate the notched spool, thus making a raucous and we hoped, scary noise inside. We made what we called “rubber band guns” out of one inch board, cut to about four by sixteen inches along with bands cut about one inch wide from an old automobile inner tube. Two such bands held a flat stick of wood to the rear of the board and a nail was driven where a trigger would normally be on the underside. A third band was then stretched from the front of the gun to the back where it was secured between the flat stick and the back of the gun. When you pulled the nail “trigger” this forced the butt of your hand against the flat stick and served to release the stretched band which would travel around fifteen feet or so. We, of course shot each other and on summer nights we would go next door to Stanton’s big front lawn and shoot them straight up and watch the bats chase them. Later, as early teens we made more sophisticated things, one a “box trap” to catch rabbits in the woods on Crooks Crest which rises to the west behind 115 Second Street and, after skinning the caught rabbit we always saved an unskinned rabbits foot to be pocketed and carried for good luck. Another outdoor toy we constructed was stilts, usually made with lengths of two by fours with an upside down wood right angle piece nailed around a foot or so from the bottoms for footholds for beginners and gradually raised to two or more feet as you became more skilled in using them. Another outdoor thing we boys did was to get two empty Carnation condensed milk cans and stomp on their trunks with our heels so that the top and bottom of each was bent in to clamp them to our heels. “Church keys,“ the kind you open beer cans with had not yet been invented and so the milk cans were opened with an ice pick by poking an air hole into one side of the top and a couple more on the pouring side, perfect for the purpose. You would then clank, clank, clank down the macadam paved street, usually in the company of another clanking pal. Enhancing the fun was the knowledge that guys whose mothers used Pet canned milk couldn’t do this as such cans didn’t have the required stiff rims on top and bottom, and even more important was the fact that even Carnation cans would not stick onto girls’ shoes, so it was a “guy thing.” Sometimes we would go to A.D.Naylor’s Hardware Store and buy a nickel’s worth of carbide pellets. They were sold to coal miners to put into their headlamps with a little water to emit the gas flame. We kids would drop a pellet or two into a puddle after a rain and light the bubbles to make it appear the puddle was on fire. We also would wet a pellet under a tin can which was propped up on one side and then put a lighted match under it to explode the resultant gas, sending the can high into the air.
By l939, with the war already in progress in Europe, Leo and I constructed many, many model planes, mostly military. The small balsa wood ones cost a nickel each and we constructed, painted them and suspended them from the ceiling on threads. The flying rubber band powered ones made from balsa wood and tissue paper went for ten cents for the one foot wingspan ones and a quarter for the two foot ones. Another toy we made from scratch was a either a square or an hour glass shaped flat construction made of flat toothpicks. They were bent to hold the form taut. Placed on a table or other flat surface with one corner projecting out into the air we lit them with a match. When the flame reached a point where two toothpicks were taut against each other they all gave way or “exploded.” Another item we made we made was a horseshoe nail ring. We would ask the local blacksmith for the nails and they willingly obliged. These we bent into a circle to form a ring which we would then wear on our finger. Sometimes the smith would do the bending for us when he was not otherwise very busy. While not a toy, I recall when Mamie and Sisser got an unbroken egg into a milk bottle which had a smaller circumference neck than that of the egg. This they accomplished by soaking the raw egg in vinegar until the shell turned soft and the egg became tan and jelly like. Then they they poured hot water into the bottle to heat it and placed the egg into the bottle top where it became a natural stopper. When the bottle cooled it sucked the softened egg to its interior. They then poured in baking soda and more water which rehardened the shell and restored its color to white. And again not quite a toy but when we blew soap bubbles in the living we delighted in having my dad take drags on his cigarette and blow smoke filled bubbles. These, unlike the clear ones tended to sink to the floor rather than float.
Other pursuits that I followed in my young and mid teen years were electrical gadgetry and film developing. In the little frame room above the “outside pantry” off of the kitchen I rigged up devices which would send Morse code signals via clicks or buzzes and would likewise send light signals. I constructed several on-and-off magnet contraptions. These were mostly powered by what we called a “dry cell” battery. It was a much larger one than the flashlight battery, these being the only two sizes at the hardware store in those days. But I also had a dynamo removed from an old telephone which you had to crank to raise the operator to give her the number you wanted to call. It was powerful enough to give you a shock if that was what you wanted. Otherwise I would use it like the dry cell powered devices. As to film developing, my pal and second cousin on my mom’s side, Johnny Murphy, taught me how to do it and we set up our lab on the third floor in a room that, inexplicably, had no windows and so was dark enough. We had the necessary chemicals held in three old cook pans Mom had given us (one, I remember had a hole in it which we stoppered by drawing a strip of rag through the hole) and we rigged a dark room red light to work by, shielding the bulb with the cap of an old, red Orphan Annie cup made to shake up Ovaltine with milk. All we produced were black and white prints as color photography had not yet come along.
Somewhere in the early or mid-thirties a family named Balgiano came to Oakland for the summer, no doubt to escape Baltimore’s oppressive heat. They were accomplished ballet teachers and performers and offered to give lessons in Oakland. Mom Treacy took them up on it, bought Mamie and Sisser toe shoes and costumes and I remember seeing them practicing their routines in the big room on the third floor. Apparently many other parents likewise availed of this opportunity, unique for little Oakland.
Mom Treacy used some adjectives to describe familiar household items that you do not hear anymore, for example: She called green tea “gunpowder tea,” bath towels “Turkish towels,” and green peas “English peas,” the latter, I suppose to distinguish from snap peas. We never had black-eyed peas in my memory. Mom did do some Southern style foods, such as fried green tomatoes, corn bread, boiled ham and fried, never baked, pork chops.
Mom Treacy used to describe how her father, when he went to a city on business, never failed to come home without treats for his wife Kate and the children which were not available in either Oakland or in Kennedy, Minnesota when they lived there. Mom kept up this tradition and we children could always expect exotic candies such as stuffed dates, Brazil nuts encased in glaze, marzipan and the like. One time, coming up on Easter she brought Leo and me stiff picture cards with an attached metal ribbons horizontally grooved, along with a metal bands which fit around our thumbs. When I pulled the band down the length of the ribbon of my card it played the words “Happy Easter.” Another time she brought us stiff cardboard cards with four holes cut out of each. The pictures on the cards were printed so that when you inserted your index and middle finger into the top two holes and down through the bottom two the fingers seen looked like bare thighs, knees, and legs. My particular card pictured a boy fishing off of a dock in short pants with his feet in the water. Thus the pictured boy seemed to have real flesh and blood legs.
On the far side of the back yard was a row of tall and skinny hemlocks which had probably been planted to obscure the carriage house on the far side. Leo and I would climb these to a height where they would bend over with our weight and hang onto them as they carried us down to the ground, only to spring right back up after we landed. We called the carriage house the “barn” as we were not familiar with its proper name. It was in a bad state of deterioration as, unlike the original owners, it was never used by us since we traveled by automobile. We played in it climbing all over inside and out and on the roof all the time shooting at each other with cap pistols. There was a patch of variegated grass between the hemlocks and the “barn” which we always called the “snake grass.” It seems one of our siblings had seen a snake in it sometime in the past. I never did. Speaking of snakes we kids called dragonflys “snake doctors” in the belief that if you saw them flying in a tight pattern close to the ground there had to be a wounded snake around there, so be careful. And we were convinced that whatever one did to a snake it would not die until sundown that day.
Casey remembers that from 1924, when he was but five years old, that our dad always parked a brand new Ford on the street in front of 115 Second for many, many years. By the time I was five and later our dad always used the garage behind the house and by then had switched to Dodge Brothers automobiles.
Back to the war years: Maryland being a coastal state we regularly participated in air raid drills monitored by Oakland’s Air Raid Wardens. Our warden on Second Street was Frank Kley who ran the local electric company, a volunteer job like all other civilian volunteer efforts during the war. We were required to pull down blinds on our windows to block out light and to extinguish outside lights. It was not that Oakland was a likely target, it simply was to prevent a German plane from using Oakland’s lights as a navigational aid. The Army Air Corps had advised us that German raids on the Atlantic coast were a distinct possibility. I have written extensively about my participation in the Maryland Organized Militia, the Maryland Minute Men, likewise unpaid volunteers in a Glades Star issue and so will not repeat them here. In those years we collected tin foil, lead foil, rubber, grease in cans and metal, all in support of the war effort. We would buy war stamps in ten cents or so denominations and paste them in a folder saving up to turn them in for a $18.75 war bond, redeemable in ten years for $25.00. I don’t remember anyone in my class of 1944 ever saving enough for such a bond. That $18.75 would equate to over than $265.00 in today’s, 2012’s dollars. My female classmate friends in high school would knit olive drab wool scarves and other items for the troops while listening to lectures in classes.
Leo was discharged from the Navy and back at 115 Second by the Spring of 1946 while I was still with my PBM (Patrol Bomber by Martin Aircraft) seaplane squadron on the Chinese coast. Casey’s ship was likewise in the same waters. I got a letter from Leo marveling how he was able to send multiple copies of the same letter to me, to Casey, and to perhaps others by using his newly invented Reynolds ball point pen which he had purchased at the Bainbridge Navy Base Exchange while he was there processing for discharge. In the letter he explained that how a ball point pen could make such copies using carbon paper between the sheets. He also explained that unlike ink pens of the day it would not leak in an airplane flying at high altitudes and could write under water. He had paid $12.95 for it, the equivalent of over $170.00 in today’s dollars as I write this in 2012. I cannot remember if I got the carbon copy or was graced with the original. Incidentally it was during this time that I received a cablegram from Mamie and/or Sisser informing me that Casey’s ship was likewise on the Chinese coast at Tsingtao. I was able to connect with him there and go ashore for a luncheon after a rickshaw ride to the restaurant.
While I was still in high school Mom got a letter from Leo who we knew was being shipped to the Pacific someplace. It was his first letter from his overseas location. Unfortunately he had written it on both sides of lightweight “airmail” paper and must have disclosed his destination and perhaps the ship’s name which carried him there plus other then-classified information. The censor – all letters were censored for information valuable to the enemy – had clipped out all of the offensive words from both sides of the paper leaving the only intelligible phrases “Dear Mom” and “but I’m OK now. “ Needless to say this caused considerable anxiety until it was cleared up in subsequent letters – written on one side of the paper only – that he had been seasick on the trip to Hawaii. In another letter in the same period he had described his good fortune and having found a ten dollar bill half buried in the sand while standing in a line to see a movie on Oahu. That ten would equate to $130.00 at this writing. Somewhere during the course of the war the postal authorities commenced “V-Mail,” the “V” for Victory. You wrote your letter out on a special post office provided form and then it was photographed by a 35 millimeter camera and transmitted to its destination in that shrunken form where it was enlarged to a size around a third of the size of the one your originally wrote, but easily readable. This saved a lot of weight and bulk in mails to and from APO and FPO locations. We five boys used these between ourselves and of course to others, in Jim’s case, of course to wife Laura Ellen. Servicemen did not have to put a 3 cent stamp on their letters during the war years, you just wrote “free” in the upper right hand corner of the envelope. When Jim served in the Paris Judge Advocate office his letters to me were censored by either of Jim’s friend “Doc” Broadwater or Julius Renninger, both Oakland boys and lawyers. On Jim’s letters to me they would always scribble a greeting to me, like “Hi Bill !-Doc (or Jules.).“ Speaking of Julius Renninger, he and his parents lived just across Second Street from our house. Julius married Mary Broadwater, the doctor’s daughter sometime in the early thirties and they returned to the Renninger house from their honeymoon. That evening Mom Treacy instructed Leo and me and probably some of our pals to go to their backyard around dusk and beat on kettles and pans until Julius came out and rewarded us with maybe a nickel apiece. We had no idea why this worked or that it was a familiar practice called a shivaree. It was designed to keep newlyweds up and out of bed until they paid the ransom.
I was discharged from the Navy and back at 115 Second Street in July, 1946. Being a habitual smoker, I had packed as many cartons of Camel cigarettes into my seabag as it would hold, having purchased them at sea on the way back from China, outside the revenue imposed US three mile limit, for 5 cents a pack. I was greeted by my older brothers there, Leo, Jack and Jim, all smokers, with essentially demands that I give them packs since “You only paid a nickel for them.” I tolerated this for a while but cut them off telling them that I would have to pay the full taxed price when my cache ran out.
In the thirties and well into the forties most people in Oakland who suffered a death in the family had the undertaker transport the corpse laden coffin to the home where he or she died – no hospital in Oakland in those days. The viewing was held there and the coffin later transported to the church for the funeral service. And, until that time it was customary to display a black ribbon bow or a grapevine wreath with black ribbon on the front door. I witnessed this on Second Street several times. Additionally, in many families members took turns sitting up with the corpse continually through the day and night in shifts so that the body was never unattended.
While it doesn’t quite fit as growing up on Second Street, I will add that while I was practicing law in Oakland, Senator Millard Tydings chose me to run his re-election campaign in Garrett County because I had run a nearly successful campaign for the office of State’s Attorney running as a Democrat in a two to one Republican county and losing by only 46 votes. I traveled around the county with him introducing him to various Democrat leaders. Later in the campaign his son, Joe Tydings, came to the county in his dad’s behalf. Joe had been my friend and legal fraternity brother at Maryland Law School. Joe and I likewise traveled the length and breadth of the county in his dad’s behalf. Since we had no guest bed Joe slept on our sofa in our living room. Joe later became U.S. Senator from Maryland.
Shortly following World War Two we installed a “stoker” coal system in the basement. You filled the stoker bin with coal and its motor would grind the coal into the fire box and provide forced air onto the coals creating an intense heat. The temperature was controlled by a thermostat. And still later we replaced the fuel with natural gas.
Leo and I inherited 115 Second Street upon my dad’s death. We sold it in 1958 for $16,000.00, taking into account for inflation, this would be, as of this writing in 2012, the equivalent of $224,000.00.