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Looking back at a simple morning in 1939

It was a cold, snowy and dark Monday morning in January of 1939. I was 3 1/2 years old and always the last one to wake in our household. I still slept in a crib that I thought was too babyish for me. I crawled up and over its slatted side and to the floor in my footed pajamas. I could hear the hustle and bustle of everybody going about their tasks.

My 5-year-older sister was in the bathroom getting dressed by the plug-in electric heater that just barely warmed that room. She was a third-grader at Dickey Avenue Elementary. I had to wait until she was done.

I could hear Dad in the basement feeding that fiery maw of the coal furnace with his clanging coal shovel. The coal rumbled as he scooped it from the coal bin. The iron door clunked heavily as he closed it.

I made my way downstairs to the kitchen. Grandma was cooking oatmeal and had boiling water on the stove to pour, with a pinch of salt, into the drip grind coffee maker.

I was cold. I snuggled in a tattered flannel blanket under the long-legged gas range and oven with Aunt Diddle, the family cat. Snowball, our Eskimo Spitz, tried to join us, but Aunt Diddle hissed him away.

Mom came downstairs carrying a huge wicker basket full of dirty clothes she had just emptied from the bathroom clothes hamper. She met Dad as he was coming up and she was going down to the basement.

After Mom came back up from loading the “Easy” washing machine, the little family of five gathered in the kitchen. Sis and I sat on one side of the table in the breakfast nook, leaving space for Grandma (if she would ever sit down), and Mom and Dad sat on the other side.

It was Grandma’s task to make and serve breakfast. Sis, Mom, and I had oatmeal, but Dad had his cherished cornmeal mush and maple syrup. He was in a rush, so he poured his coffee from his cup onto a saucer and noisily sipped the cooling liquid.

Soon, Dad was out the back door and on his way to work in his ’34 Ford coupe, Mom went back downstairs to tend to the laundry, and Sis ran out the front door in time to join her buddy, Esther, for a snowy walk to school.

It got comparatively quiet. The only sound was Mom singing a little off key to the accompaniment of the slop, slop, slop of the washing machine. Grandma adjusted the damper, which was a chain and pulley device, and sat down for her oatmeal and tea with saccharin.

I half walked / half crawled down the open cellar steps that still scared me, to see how Mom was doing. Sometimes she would put too much soap in the washer, so that I could wonder at a foot-high column of suds that rose above the washer. She said it was ice cream. I pretended to believe her.

Grandma called for me to get dressed. She dressed me in warm clothes and then helped me struggle into my heavy wool snowsuit. Then out the back door went Snowball, Aunt Diddle and me.

I sat on the back steps, contemplating the milk bottles that sat next to me that had been delivered a few hours before. Each bottle had popped its lid as a cylinder of frozen milk forced its way upward.

It had been snowing almost enough to cover the soot-covered snow from the previous day. I stood up from my perch on the steps, brushed off the seat of my snowsuit, and headed across the street to call on my playmate, Mary Joyce. Maybe we could build a snowman.

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