Elkhart Trips

I had several memories of my grandma and grandpa White’s house at 135 Pacific Street, Elkhart, Indiana. It seems to me that we made several trips to their house by car. All four of us kids sat in the back seat, with mother and father in the front.

It took us eight hours to drive from Hannibal to Elkhart, almost all of it on two lane highway. One of the highlights of the trip going to Elkhart, was a hamburger shop along the road in Springfield, Illinois that sold hamburgers for a dollar a dozen, and a two-pound sack of French fries for a dollar!

On nearly every trip we would stop, and father would buy one of these special treats for us. I don’t remember much about the hamburgers; I do recall the big, greasy, paper sack full of fries was particularly delicious.  On the return trips from Elkhart to Hannibal, father would stop in Springfield at the Dixie Crème shop for fresh, hot donuts of all flavors. What a treat!

One of the cars I remember us making this trip in was a 1954 Nash Statesman. It had a huge back seat in it, with deep, soft seatbacks that made it much more comfortable to make those long trips.

There weren’t many games suitable for use in a car back then, so we entertained ourselves by singing songs, reading Burma Shave signs along the road, and playing “I Spy” and the alphabet sign, where you looked for letters of the alphabet on road signs.

One of father’s favorite songs, which he liked to sing very fast, went:
Mares eat oats, and
Goats eat oats, and
Little lambs eat ivy.
A kid’ll eat ivy, too,
Wouldn’t you?

It took me a long time after I learned to sing the song to figure out the real words. At first I thought the song was:

Maresey doats, and
Goesey doats, and
Little lamsey divey.
A kiddle e-divy, too,
Wouldn’t you?

One of the neat things about that old Nash is that you could pull the front seats forward as far as it would go, drop the backs of the front seats all the way down, and they matched up with the front edge of the back seats, to make a very comfortable bed! Of course, that was in the days before cars had to have headrests or seat belts.

We traveled to Elkhart in that car two or three times, as I recall, and those were the most comfortable trips I can remember.

My grandma and grandpa’s house was a little four-room house that had two bedrooms added upstairs, and a great big bathroom with a very large closet. Almost all of the unused space in the house was converted to closets to hold the possessions of their big family.

My mother was the oldest child in the family, with Uncle Jack (Wallace Jr) next, followed by Jo Ann. Those three had already left the family to make their own way, but Helen, Betty, Charlotte, Pat, Don and Tim still remained in the early years. There were a lot of kids, and a lot of clothes to be stored out of the way, and yet, their home was neat and tidy.

There was a large electric clock that hung on their dining room wall that always fascinated me. The face of the clock had a clipper ship painted on it, with a lot of sails fully filled with wind. Each of the sails had painted on it the name of one of grandma and grandpa’s children. The clock was a gift to them from my father, who had hand painted it for them.  The clock disappeared after grandpa’s death, and no one seems to know what happened to it! What a sad loss! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have it today?

My grandpa White was named Wallace Benjamin White.  Grandma was Nellie Frances (Teall) White. They are buried at Grandview Cemetery, Hannibal, Missouri.

Their house in Elkhart I remember as being gray. It had a screened in porch on the front of the house, with the entryway at the far end of it, which opened into the dining room, which was in the center of the house, with the living room on one side, and the kitchen on the other. The steps to the second story bedrooms were in the dining room. The big bathroom was off the kitchen, and there was a back porch, converted to a food pantry off to the other side.  There was also a back door in the kitchen that opened onto the driveway.

Their house was located in an old neighborhood that bordered Christiana Creek, which had flood control gates on it somewhere. When the gates were closed, the water was only ankle deep, and we could wade across to the city park on the other side. When the gates were open the water was too deep, and the current too swift to cross, so we would have to walk several blocks to reach a bridge to cross over. More than once we waded across to the park, but then would have to walk all the way around to get home!

There was a deep spot in the creek, not far from where we usually waded across, that was called the swimming hole. Neighborhood kids had made a swing with a rope and an old truck tire that you could ride from the bank and drop off into the deepest part of the water.

The creek also had some real good fishing holes, too, and my Uncle Don, who was nine months younger than me, would grab a couple of fishing poles, dig up a few worms, and we’d go fishing.

One evening we decided to go fishing for catfish, using dough balls made from slices of bread and a chicken liver. We were real lucky that night, and caught a stringer full of fish. But, we had stayed so late into the night, and had gotten so tired, we didn’t feel like cleaning the fish that night. So, we hung the stringer of fish on the clothesline to keep the fish away from animals for the night, and went to bed.

Well, by the time we got up the next day, the fish had been hanging in the sun long enough that they had spoiled. Whew! What an awful odor! We had a miserable time getting rid of the rotten fish, and it took a long time to get the odor off our hands, and out of our minds! Still, today, after all these years, I have a dislike for fish with a strong odor or “fishy” flavor!

Back in the days when I was a youngster, cigarette and cigar companies used to put advertising on radio and TV, in newspapers, and on billboards along the highway. The pads proclaimed the satisfaction of improved social standing if you smoked their brand. Lucky Strike and Camels targeted “real men” who wanted a full, rich smoke. Ads often showed men with a pack of Luckies rolled up in the sleeve of his white tee shirt. The ads all showed admiring girls with the guys with these smokes.

There were Winston, Pall Mall, Old Gold, Chesterfield, Raleigh, and others, who tried to appeal to men and women. Their ads talked more about flavor and satisfaction. The ads showed social situations where the smokers were being admired for their choice of the brand they were smoking.

The ads led a person to believe they would be more socially acceptable and admired by others if they were a smoker. It wasn’t until I was an adult that it was determined that smoking was harmful, and all advertising was controlled. First the ads disappeared from radio and TV, and the printed ads changed the tone of their messages to downplay the importance to social standing of smoking.

I remember as a nine or ten year old, sneaking a cigarette from mother of father’s pack, and going down into the basement to smoke it. I didn’t much like the taste, and the smoke burned my eyes, but after all, it was important in those days to be big enough to smoke!

On several of our family trips to Elkhart, Uncle Don and I would walk downtown to a cigar store and buy a Rum Soaked Crook cigar. They were two for five cents, so we’d get one apiece. They were pretty nasty tasting cigars, but the tip was soaked in a sweet dip, so they left a nice taste on the lips. We sure thought we were big, smoking cigars!

We never had enough cash to buy a pack of cigarettes . . . they cost nineteen cents. But, we could usually find enough empty pop bottles lying along the streets that we could turn them in and get a nickel to buy a cigar apiece. Those glass bottles had a return value of half a cent each, so once we had found then of them, we’d take them to a grocery store and get our nickel.

Our families never had much money, and I can remember that most Christmases were pretty sparse, with only a very few gifts for anyone. Sometimes there wasn’t enough money to buy new decorations for the tree, which often was a small fine found growing along the highway or railroad. There was always great discussion about which side of the tree to turn to the wall to get the best side facing the room. Then, limbs would be tied with thread to the trunk of the tree, to pull them up and fill in the holes.

Decorations were often strings of popped corn, some tinsel, and a few lights. I remember one year when my father dipped the light bulbs into blue paint, so we would have some color on the tree.

We usually got school clothes, some candy and nuts, and one toy each on Christmas morning. I remember one Christmas in Elkhart, when the only thing under the tree was a bushel of red apples. We counted the apples, decided how many each person would get, put them back under the tree, and spent the whole day going back to get an apple, spreading them out so they would last all day.

I can only imagine how sad my parents and grandparents were that they were not able to do anything more than that on Christmas, but I’m sure they felt some relief when we made a bit of a game of eating our apples one at a time, so they’d last the whole day.

About Larry E. Vaughn Jr

Larry E Vaughn is a Missouri-based blogger/ content writer, and former career counselor. His published works can be found at HeliumNetwork, and InsideBusiness360 . He wrote for CabForward.com℠ and has additional websites at GodsWoodShed.com, Vaughnkitchens.com, larryevaughnjr.com, and is publisher of The Self-Employment Journal, http://paper.li/levaughn#/..
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