Behind the Victory Flagpole – From stoves to phones and more


Now and then I like to shake myself back into the reality of how things are today, by reading what my friend, Bill Jackman, had to say about his memories of yesteryear. I’m quoting some of his writings.

On the topic of stoves he says, “Seems like back in the good old days things came in matching pairs; cook stoves–a tan enamel with a medium green trim. Of course, the late-nite pot, also the same tan enamel with the same medium green trim. Both were necessities, one to avoid wakin’ everyone on squeaky stairs, the other to cook, bake, heat the curlin’ iron on and also the other iron used on an ironin’ board. The stove was also a shelter for Bob and Snooky, the dog and cat, who spent their night under the stove keeping warm.”

Changing to the subject of phones he said, “Communicate? What was that? We didn’t have these things you talk in while drivin’ your car or pinnin’ diapers on a baby. We had certain devices, but ours had to stay plugged into the wall or they just wouldn’t work. You also exercised your finger more–rotated that finger clockwise to contact whoever you wished to. These things had a ring to them–didn’t need to listen to musical tunes–couldn’t just carry it into the little building with a half-moon on the door and yack away. Yes, we had phones–easy phone numbers–four numbers and a prefix. Ours was Cherry CH-4124. There were various prefixes–Cherry, Juniper, Halifax, Aldrich, Franklin, Liberty and Hyland, to name a few.

Telephones came in all shapes and sizes depending on what year you bought them. Early kinds had no rotary dial or no push buttons. The ones that were mounted on the wall were made of fine oak. If you wanted to make a call, you turned the crank on the right side, to the right of two bells with a brass dinger between them. When you got a call, dinger would rap those bells. Your hearing piece hung down on the left side but circled up to hang on a hook. You took it off the hook and held it to your ear. There was a mouthpiece you talked into above the bottom box. The box held the batteries and was also a little writing shelf. I don’t understand the battery thing­ —something to do with transmitters.

Anyway, the operator placed your calls–you just cranked to call her and she just rang you when someone called you. Imagine the phone ringing–hey, you get a personal call. Personal means private, but 17 other houses all get the ring and are most likely listening in on your conversation, as is the operator. That means 18 extra people are hearing the news, better yet, 18 extra people are spreading the gossip they just heard. Was the way of life back then. The large party lines were mostly out in the country, but where I lived on 44th and Queen in the ‘40s and ‘50s, we only had one party line and we knew who it was. Oh, you betcha, we got to know them pretty well!

Another necessary “appliance” which was, and still is used today is a toaster. When I was a sprite I thought, ‘Why not just slap a piece of bread in a frying pan and make toast that way?’ That’s what I did, and my mother always wondered why her frying pan was so messy. But the kind of toaster we had toasted two pieces at a time. You plugged it in, the heat element was in the center and you propped your bread on two wire shelves, one piece on each side. When you figured one side was done, you turned the bread over. But if there was some distraction and you weren’t paying attention, you ended up with a couple pieces of charcoal.

Now the one thing you couldn’t do without was some form of refrigeration. Most people had an icebox. People that had them would leave a sign in the back window, so the iceman, on his way through the alley, would know who needed ice. He, in turn with ice tongs, would carry that ice block to the house and put it in your ice box. If I recall, it was 25 cents a block. These blocks were cut out of a lake with old fashioned saws. In those old ice boxes, there was no enormous freezer to make huge ice cubes, a foot square. The fridges of today can spit out ice cubes whenever you need them. We were at the mercy of the ice man in those days, if you did not want your food to go bad. So, such were the appliances of days gone by.”