Childhood memories of older people, good times
Nobody told me that one gets old. Well, maybe it was too subtle, whatever they said, and I always had a mindset that age is a state of mind (and you put up with the aches and pains as the body wears out).
I always heard the saying, “Save your pennies for a rainy day.” Now I know they meant — when you are too old to work but still expenses continue to go on. One day I was jogging down Chestnut Street, after I had retired, and met an older woman walking up the sidewalk. She said to me, “Oh, how I wish I could do that!“ Now I am the woman who sees someone running by and think, “Oh, how I wish I could do that! “ So they were telling me about growing old, but it did not sink in.
Also people said that when you could not do all the things you used to do, you will have memories. The recipe of life is made up of never-forgotten memories. One of the ingredients is memories of things you did and the other is the people you will never forget.
I have fond thoughts of the people in the first 10 years of my life (not counting family.) At the age of three, we lived across the street from Bessie Bowers and her mother and father were both blind. When we were outside, she would say, “Come over and visit us.”
So, I would say to my brother,” Let’s go across the street and visit the old people.”
He was shy and told me that we shouldn’t bother them. So I would grab him by the hand and start running across the street, knock on her kitchen door and announce, “Bess, Bess, this is me and my brother.” The house was so quiet, I still remember hearing a large clock ticking. The parents couldn’t get out much and said they enjoyed our visits. From that time on, until we graduated from high school, Bessie always knitted us a warm pair of mittens for Christmas and gave us a Parker Brothers’ game. During those Depression years, we looked forward to receiving those gifts.
We moved from there when I was 4 to Harbor Road (then called Ocean Avenue). Next door to us was an elderly lady, Mrs. Ott, in a large farmhouse living alone. So, I would go to visit her. She wanted to give me a treat and it was always a baked apple. I ate plenty of green apples after climbing a tree; in spite of the fact my father would tell us not to eat unripe apples. They would give us “coromobus.” That sounded horrible because we didn’t know what it was. A few years ago, while researching something, I found it was an old sickness but it didn’t describe it, and I don’t believe it was from eating green apples. The apples looked so awful to me when baked. Each time I would tell Mrs. Ott I had just eaten, but I would like to take it home and bring the dish back another day. I don’t think she caught on, because I carried home many baked apples and fed them to our pig, Salomi, who loved them.
Another nice lady on that street, Veronica Camanoni (Whysong), started the first Brownie Girl Scout troop in Camden. Again it was during the Great Depression, and we Brownies had no money, but she did and taught us to knit. She bought the yarn and needles and we could make ourselves a scarf of any color we chose. I have been knitting since the age of 8 but never again made a bright orange scarf with a bright blue fringe. She fed us cookies and milk. We played “catch” with a tennis ball, and the one who caught it the most times won a candy bar. We learned to seal letters with sealing wax on fancy stationary, and I had never seen it before or since. Although in those days none of us had a Brownie uniform, we earned badges and I remember that the “Golden Hand” was the highest. She was so wonderful that I felt, at that time, when we became Girl Scouts at age 10, we should give her a badge of honor but we never did.
The seven years we lived off High Street, Frank Kennedy’s store was on our way to school or back. It was a candy, ice cream, newspapers and cigarettes store. The room in the back was a pool room, but I never saw that; it was off limits to us. Whenever we had a penny or maybe two, and three once in a while, we stopped for penny candy. He was the kindest and most patient man. We had to study his candy case and figure out the most we could get for our money. It took time, but he didn’t seem to mind. Sometimes there were three candies for one penny or more, but we also had to like them. I don’t remember any candy we did not like. If we had a nickel, they sold suckers (lollipops) that were like hard taffy, so that would last us for hours. One time there was a contest in his store that whoever saved the most wrappers from these “Tar Babies” would win a giant one. We three Dyer kids pooled our wrappers and bought one every time we could save five pennies or had a nickel. We thought we had won the Megabucks, when he called and said we had won the giant “Tar Baby.” Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy had no children, and they bought us presents at Christmas (I don’t remember how many times). I do remember one year of receiving a doll’s steamer trunk with tiny coat hangers in it. I do not remember what my sister and brother received. I was going to do an article on him and spent two hours looking for his obituary on microfilm. When I found it, the obit was only four short lines reading that word had been received of his death wherever they had moved. Words came loudly out of my mouth in the Walsh History Center: ”This wonderful man died, was on Main Street a number of years, and they only put four short lines in the paper!” People there must have thought I was crazy.
We moved to 98 Chestnut St. when I was 10 and what a lovely home we were moving to, (the rent was $25 a month). Our landlady lived in an apartment down in back and was connected from our pantry door, down some steps and into her little apartment. I called her Aunt May Wilson. Every evening after doing the dishes, I could go to visit her. She taught me every card game that existed and we played them all. She belonged to a group of 70- and 80-year-olds who played Whist in her friends' homes. When they needed a fourth person, Aunt May would take me, the 10-year-old but I enjoyed it so much. That lady was closer to me than any blood relative (like an aunt or grandmother).
Those were some of the people, who made my memories before I was 10 years old. They were wonderful years, Depression or not.
Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian.