In the Old Days

Since the magazine’s theme for the month of March involves dining and entertainment, let us take a look at what those words meant to some of us old-timers when we were growing up in the 1920s and 1930s. You will find that our ideas of dining and entertainment have changed drastically over the years!

Of course, the economy impacts our spending habits, and the Great Depression was in full swing during the 1930s. In those days, spending on non-essentials such as dining and entertainment took a back seat. Unemployment was rampant, and those who found work on local farms earned as little as $1 per day. Needless to say, “affluenza” was not a problem around here.

I asked a few of my peers what the word “dining” means to them today, and most of them said “eating out.” Then, I asked them how often they ate out when they were young. Some said “never” and some said “very few times.” For me, eating out meant eating somewhere other than at our kitchen table, where we usually had three big meals each day. We called them “breakfast,” “dinner” and “supper.” Only when we had company did we eat in the dining room.

Picnics were one of my favorite forms of eating out. It could be eating on our picnic table in the backyard or, before we had roadside parks, stopping under a shade tree for a picnic lunch of sandwiches while traveling by car. Back in the day, we looked forward to church picnics, called “dinner on the grounds.” Each family brought a dish of something special. You could count on finding some deviled eggs, one of my favorites, and then, at the end of the table, there was always a selection of yummy homemade pies and cakes. Now that was real eatin’ out!

Frisco always had restaurants for those who could afford to eat out. In the early years, there was Sapps Café, where I was told you could get a great steak for a quarter. Up the street was Tripletts Café. Its specialty was a bowl of delicious chili for a dime. The school kids’ favorite, and the closest thing Frisco had to a fast food place, was McTee’s. There, if you had a dime, you could enjoy a juicy hamburger and a Coca-Cola®.

A grandchild once asked me if Frisco had a drive-in eating place in the old days. I laughed and told him, “The nearest thing to a drive-in here was Curtsinger’s Drug Store. It was there that couples often came to finish their date with an ice cream cone or a cold drink. They pulled the car up to the curb in front of the drug store and flashed their lights for service. The ‘soda jerk’ on duty came running, took their order, filled it and brought it to the car on a tray that fit on the car door.” I know that story to be true because I was, for a time, that soda jerk.

We ate out recently at a new place and found the food and service to be fine, but the noise level was about three decibels above that of a passing locomotive, leaving little chance for conversation. That is not my idea of dining!

Let us look at entertainment in the old days. Without a doubt, the ways we entertain ourselves have changed even more over the years than our dining habits have. Today’s marvelous electronic age brings more entertainment opportunities to our fingertips in an instant than we could ever have imagined just a few years ago. You youngsters with your iPads, smart phones, videogames and tablets, should never want for entertainment. Speaking of tablets, we old-timers had our tablets, too. They had a red cover with a picture of a Native American on it with the name “Big Chief.” Inside, there were lined pages for us to practice our handwriting. There, with a lead pencil, we wrote in a form called “cursive,” in which the letters joined. It is a form that, to the next generation, will be a secret language, one that they can neither read nor write.

So, without electronic gadgets and no television to watch, what did folks do for entertainment in the old days? We youngsters of the 1930s entertained ourselves well by playing baseball or football on vacant lots, before Frisco even had a park. When we grew tired of that, we pitched horseshoes and played marbles. Then, we might have a game of hide and seek, crack the whip or red rover. When we reached the teen years, there were occasional parties where we played “exciting” games like musical chairs, post office and (my favorite) spin the bottle. For that, the girls sat in a circle and a boy would spin the bottle. The girl to whom the bottle pointed got to “go walking” with the boy, and if the boy was lucky, he might get a kiss while on the walk.

Adults (we called them “grown folks”) also had parties, which by today’s standards, were pretty tame. They played a game called “Forty-Two” with dominoes, and with cards, they played Hearts, Spades or Rummy. Then, they might get in a circle and play a game of “Gossip,” in which the first person whispers a message to the person next to him or her. The message makes its way around the circle, and like real gossip, by the time it gets back to the originator, the message is entirely different. Yes, you youngsters might say it did not take much to entertain those old folks.

Most families had a radio that furnished hours of entertainment. In the afternoon, there were soap operas such as “Ma Perkins,” “Stella Dallas” and “One Man’s Family.” We kids listened to “Little Orphan Annie” and “Dick Tracy,” itching to order his decoder pin and longing for one of his wrist radios. At night, the whole family gathered around the radio to hear such shows as “Amos and Andy,” “Fibber Magee and Molly,” “The Shadow” and “Lucky Strike Hit Parade” to hear the top songs of the week.

With television still years in the future, newspapers and magazines furnished a great deal of entertainment for people of our generation. In the newspapers, my favorites as a child were the comics. I remember “Popeye,” “Li’l Abner,” “Maggie and Jiggs,” “Katzenjammer Kids,” “Barney Google” and best of all, “Gasoline Alley,” starring Uncle Walt, Skeezex and his girlfriend, Nina Clock.

Some of the magazines we enjoyed were Collier’s, Liberty, National Geographic and The Saturday Evening Post, with covers by Norman Rockwell. Then, there was The Country Gentleman, featuring a series about a delightful character named “Scattergood Baines.”

Probably the most popular form of entertainment we had in Frisco was the once-a-week movie. It was open on Saturdays, and admission was only a dime. Until about 1927, our pictures were silent. Oftentimes, there was live piano music to fill the soundless void. My wife, Beth, tells me her mother, Bess Hill, was the Frisco theater’s piano player for a time. One advantage to silent movies was that the audience could cheer the hero and hiss the villain, but when “talkies” came along, we had to learn to be quiet.

When we went to the picture show, we could expect a feature film, usually a western, starring someone like Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson or Lash LaRue. The feature was preceded by a cartoon, a newsreel and, best of all, a thrilling serial that usually ended with the heroine being tied to the railroad tracks with a train bearing down on her. We could hardly wait until the next week when, sure enough, the hero came to her rescue just in the nick of time.

So, we of the old days were generally happy with our dining and entertainment, having no idea what changes were to come. “Kinda” makes me wonder what is coming next!