We loaded into Dad’s old 1949 Chrysler four-door sedan. C. Earl Dampman, our dad, told the three eldest to sit in the back and be quiet. The two youngest were up front and were good as gold. It was five children and Mom and Dad on the one-hour-long (or more) drive. In those days, the average speed of cars was 35 to 40 mph.
The seats were hot, picky and wool-upholstered, and the back seat took all the bumps. That meant that if you got carsick you should stick your head out the window or the little triangular glass pane if your sister/brother would not let you borrow their window.
When Dad lit up his unfiltered Lucky Strike or Camel cigarettes, look out, as the fumes came into the back seat. Therefore, sitting back or sticking your head out the window for oxygen was not realistic, so carsickness was an event.
After the longest ride in the world, he landed us in the back alley, which smelled so good. It was the neighbors up the hill who drained their wash water. We all had wringer washers. The wash water had to be emptied from the tub via a hose that led through the grass yard to the alley and down the hill past our grandparents’ to the drain in the road. It was a clean smell.
Our brother had to be the first to get out of the car. We raced him to greet our grandparents, who were so happy to see these seven relatives from Thorndale. Our mother made sure our faces were clean and all four girls’ dresses were neat. One girl had to get to the bathroom ASAP, and don’t let anyone get in the way! Mom had to clear the way for this kid.
The huge meals Mammaw prepared for us were delicious. She made the best mashed potatoes and gravy and roast beef. She always had a dessert for us, and we were offered second helpings.
Feasts to remember
The Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were feasts to always remember. World War II had ended in 1945. Wars take a financial toll on households for many years. You just don’t bounce back immediately. There was a food shortage. Our Dad brought home fish, rabbits, deer meat, and one time an eel. Our grandparents seems to have plenty, and shared their food with their families. One time Mammaw baked each of us a small roasted chicken. It was delicious! Later we found out her friend wanted to get rid of his pigeons. It was considered a delicacy.
Then we ran outside and around our grandparents’ yard and played hopscotch on the cement walk. We also played games on their front porch as we swung in the fanciest glider. Pappy made a wooden bench on the back porch which fit at least four kids. We were happy to play with our cousins, too. Our parents stayed inside to talk with our grandparents and all the aunts and uncles that were already in the living room.
Our Dad had three younger sisters whom we thought were very fashionable. They wore nail polish and gathered skirts and high heels. Aunt Betty still lived at home so she invited her other two sisters to her bedroom where they lit up their cigarettes in the long cigarette holders. We could hear them laughing and see the smoke coming out the bedroom window. We thought they were so vogue, so stylish. Little did they know how dangerous those cigarettes were and how they ruined their health.
When the city truck started spraying the insecticide up and down the streets, we were summoned inside immediately. It was dangerous to inhale this mosquito killer. We sat on the steps in the living room leading to the second floor while the adults sat on the many chairs and sofas that Mammaw had placed doilies on the arms and backrests. There on the steps we sat and played games. We were small enough to sit there if others had to go to the only bathroom upstairs. The game I remember was when the two oldest grandchildren put a stone in the palm of their closed hand. Then the three youngest had to guess which hand. If you guessed right, you were a certified genius and proceeded to go to the next step.
We always left our grandparents’ home waving goodbye as they stood on their back porch watching us until we were out of sight. We loved this happy three-story home with the clothesline and small garage in back.
The ride back to Thorndale was usually at night. It was treacherous if snowing as there are many, many hills through French Creek and up Barneston Hill. Mom did not drive and always thought it was tough on our Dad, who had to get up early. It was tough to put chains on the car tires. He had to put the chain on part of the tire and back up the car and finish the chain with a few hooks. Some times the chain came off with a terrible clanging. There were no snow-tread tires in those days.
Anytime Dad inadvertently hit an animal with his car at night on the way home, he would stop the car, to our Mother’s dismay.
Well he happened to hit a raccoon one night on our way home and stopped the car. He shut off the ignition as you needed a key to open the trunk. I can still hear Mom saying “Oh no, Earl!” as it was still alive. The next few months were difficult for Mom. The raccoon was kept in our basement until it was healthy. Our little neighbor boys were invited to see our “pet.” One day we came home from school and our “rattoon” (as our neighbor called it) was gone and Mom was in good spirits.
Family reunions: Important. In the summer we all met at French Creek State Park and hit the best picnics with the best food and the best swimming.
Porches: In this year 2022, most houses are built without porches as they cost $15,000-$20,000 extra. It really stopped much social life with the neighbors.
Telephones: In those days, there was not much communication on telephones. We may have had one but it was a party line and any neighbor could listen to your conversation, therefore, it was not used often. We never had a television until the mid-1950s, therefore, we all enjoyed visiting family and having reunions.
Transportation: In 2022, automobiles can get you to Birdsboro via Thorndale in 30 minutes. The windows can be opened all the way and even the roof-top. The suspension on our car is great. No bumps in the road.
Toys: There were no toys carried along for this drive. Actually, we did not have many toys.
We did have dollies, but I can’t remember taking them along.
Composure: We were to sit and look out the window and be quiet. No fussing. Dad’s long arm and hand could reach us in the back seat. You could not duck your head as he found it.
The author lives in East Fallowfield, Chester County.
If you know an interesting story, please write it in 600 words or less and send it to Mary Ellen Wright, LNP editorial department, P.O. Box 1328, Lancaster, PA, 17608-1328, email it to [email protected]. Please include your phone number and the name of the town you live in.
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