Tag Archives: Skaneateles

Grocery Stores, Yesterday and Today


What a difference a few years makes! (Well, more like fifty, but what’s a half a century between friends?)

Just after World War II, we moved to a little town in upstate New York from Ohio. I remember going with my parents to the Atlantic & Pacific (A&P) store in the business section in our new town. In those days, this was situated in a row of brick buildings which backed against the Finger Lake for which the place was named.  On Saturday, the store was crowded with people, who stood in a series of lines up to a counter. Behind the counter was a two story wall—at least, that’s how tall it seemed to me, filled with canned goods and boxes. There were a pair of ladders which could be moved back and forth against the wall, section to section, which were climbed by teenage helpers. When it was your turn at the counter, you presented a list to the shopkeeper, who, in turn, got a cardboard box from beneath the counter. He called the items to the boys, who fetched them, climbing up and down the ladders like monkeys, tossing cans of peas, corn, spinach, soup and beans into the shopkeeper’s hands. There were also a section devoted to boxed products, the few baking mixes that were available and a selection of cereals, ones like Quaker Oats, Post Toasties, Shredded Wheat and Wheaties.  (We ate Quaker Oats or Wheatena in the winter and switched to Wheaties in the brief upstate summers. Later, I remember the corrupting delight of summer bowls of Sugar Pops or Frosted Flakes.)

Along the back of the store there was a small refrigerated wall unit, but it didn’t hold much except iceberg lettuce and some milk, butter and margarine.  We went next door to the butcher shop for meat, and waited while a hunk of chuck was ground to burger. We didn’t “stock up” because the freezer compartment of our refrigerator—itself a modern miracle—wasn’t very large and often was frosted over. Mom wasn’t a devoted housekeeper, and she went shopping every couple of days, as needed, for perishable items like meat. (The only times we ate fish was if someone opened a sardine can, or if a someone caught a fish, or, once a year, when Mom went the through the ceremonial two day process of cooking a batch of salt cod. The milkman brought us glass bottles to our door in his truck. The milk, I remember, sometimes froze and popped the paper lids.  I also remember the revelation that came from eating fresh peaches, all juice and fuzz They were so very different from the taste of canned, which was almost everything we ate.

Last week, in the vegetable section of the supermarket, I noticed pre-chopped tubs of “mirepoix.”  I won’t even begin to ruminate on the culinary developments which have led American consumers to ask for that! To say the least, the “grocery store” has undergone some drastic changes during my life time.

~~Juliet Waldron


Hand-me-Down Bride

Roan Rose

Historicals With a Time Travel Feel @ Amazon and Secondwind Publishing


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My 1950’s Hurricane by Juliet Waldron

Well, the East Coast was just treated to Irene, who rained and blew and left a mess in her wake. The storm came straight up the coast, traversing Bos-Wash, one of the country’s most heavily populated areas. I’m extremely glad I wasn’t in the Carolinas, New York or New England, which seem to have had the worst of it.

Today, you always know a storm is coming. You even witness its gestation, here in the age of overkill. A storm isn’t really “weather” anymore. It’s a media event, a “windfall,” if you like. Every TV meteorologist hams it up, staggering about, microphone in hand, up to their knees in surf. I fully expect to lose one of them soon, to a wave or an airborne street sign.

In 1954 I was nine. We lived in a rural area, just outside Skaneateles, New York. When Hurricane Hazel came to visit, we had two local TV channels that came in reliably, so we knew to expect wind and rain that night. Nothing out of the ordinary was predicted. My parents had a date with friends to go out to dance and hear jazz in nearby Syracuse. They weren’t “afraid of a little wind.” Besides, our house was named “Windswept.” After two years in residence, we were used to hunkering down during upstate gales.

Eleanor, fourteen, was duly brought from a nearby farm to stay with me. My parents left; she and I watched TV together. Outside, it began to rain. There were big gusts, but we weren’t concerned when I went to bed. After all, no one had issued any kind of warning. My room was on the northwest corner of the house. Outside one window was an enormous poplar tree. Tonight it heaved and creaked like a ship at sea. There was a steady stream of cold boring through the leaky windows, so I hurried under the covers.

I couldn’t go to sleep, though. This wind was louder than ever, and the tree began to groan, a noise I’d never heard a tree make before. It was frightening, because I was always keenly aware of the great presence which stood so close against my window. When the electricity went out, I got up and used a flashlight to go downstairs. Eleanor was keeping a brave face, but it was clear she was worried. She’d called her parents a little earlier and they’d counseled her to sit tight. Back on the farm, they had their own problems. They expected her to handle the situation.

My parents had set out candles, a kerosene lamp, and filled jugs with water before leaving. (Power outages were not unusual.) We had flashlights and the rest in hand when things began thudding against the siding. We hurried to sit on the central staircase. By closing doors, here we were away from all windows.

The storm shrieked. The house shuddered at each gust. The wind developed a deep note, each blast ending in a throaty rumbling growl which vibrated the floorboards under my feet. I began to imagine an enormous restless predator, prowling and snuffling around, figuring out how to get inside. Then, with a huge crash and shatter, it did.

Wind screamed and tore at us as we crept downstairs to see what had happened. Debris stung. A huge, leafy branch lay on the living room floor surrounded by glittering glass. It had taken out one window. Mom’s white curtains streamed horizontally. There was nothing to do but retreat up the stairs and wait for my parents, who were having a series of adventures with live wires, fallen trees, etc. getting home. As soon as they arrived, my dad closed the outside shutters and then took Eleanor home. He said he saw stars on his return, almost as if we were beneath the eye.

Our power was out for days. We pumped water by hand from the well and ate out of cans, using our camp stove. The beautiful town, when we finally saw it, was a ruin.  Scores of ancient maples and elms had come down in whole or part, blocking streets and crushing homes. Sustained winds of 90 mph were recorded at the head of the lake, far higher than anyone had expected.

So much of this story would not happen today. Eleanor’s parents and mine would probably not be considered “responsible,” but we kids learned some valuable lessons about “keep calm and carry on.” Even if I do get exhausted by today’s weather hype, I have to admit it’s probably a safer world than back then, when Hurricane Hazel, even in her last throes, could spring such a nasty surprise on a small upstate town.


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