Monday, November 28, 2016

My Memories of Growing Up in Tonawanda: 1959

Wearing Mom's skirt and shoes for dress-up. 1959.
A reader informed me the car is a 1957 Ford Sunliner
which I believe belonged to Skip and Katie Marvin.
1959 was the first year I remember. The teacher told us America had a new state--Alaska. Learning there was a dated YEAR made a big impression on me. Suddenly time became linear, not a circle of revolving knowns.

1959 changed my life. The next few years were some of my happiest.

It was the year Disney released Sleeping Beauty. The year Barbie was born. I watched Bonanza, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Twilight Zone, Rocky & His Friends, and 77 Sunset Strip. I have said that Twilight Zone taught me many of my core values.

My family went to the drive-in and watched Journey to the Center of the Earth. I adored that movie! 1959 movies that I later saw on television included On the Beach, Operation Petticoat, North by Northwest, The Diary of Anne Frank, Miracle on 34th Street, Ben Hur, and Anatomy of a Murder.*

It was the year my brother was born.

Here I am holding Tom
It was the year Mom bought her first new furniture, a hutch, a turquoise couch, matching chairs, and rock maple colonial tables.

And it was the year I met my best friend, Nancy Ensminger, in Girl Scouts. Our moms called us The Two Nancys, always together, and different as night and day.
Nancy Ensminger at my Military Road House

Nancy had a big brother, while my brother was born a month before I turned eight. Nancy was easy going, happy, cheerful. I was wound up, intense, and tended to be fearful. Nancy had long dark braids. I had artificially curled blond hair. We both were horse crazy, liked to read, wanted to write, and had vivid imaginations.

We spent hours pretending. We played with my Beyer model horses. Grandma Gochenour went to the Goodwill in Tonawanda and brought me home Auburn model animals: fox, bear, chickens, ducks, cows--every kind of critter.  Mom bought me plastic animals from the store: models of dogs, knights on horses, cowboys and Indians. Nancy and I created personas and story arcs with them. There was Red Scott Collie, our hero, and his girl Snowball the Poodle. Their buds were two huskies, Dusty and Goldy (gray and gold colored, of course!)
Gone Fishing Barbie outfit
We played Barbie dolls. My Midge doll became "Philip** the Boy From Mars" by dressing her in the Going Fishing set of jeans and a plaid shirt.

The dolls also acted out musicals. Nancy's brother Bruce had a record player and recordings of Camelot and Oklahoma! I memorized all the songs while our Barbies or plastic animals played the roles. "Poor Jud is dead, poor Jud Fry is dead..."

Nancy at the field behind her house in 1965. The open land went to
the railroad tracks and Sheridan Park housing.
Nancy's house was on Military Road. Behind her house were open fields, barren and hilly. We roamed there, acting out other favorite story arcs: we were orphans in Scotland who solved mysteries, riding our horses across the landscape.
The fields behind Nancy's house. 1965
We imagined turning the shed behind her house into an office where we would publish our newspaper. We would write the stories and sell the paper at school. Nancy wanted to grow up to write stories and become a missionary to Africa where she would tame a Zebra. I wanted to be an author.
Nancy and I in junior high and as juniors in high school
My world was now full of friends. My cousins, the scout troop, the Rosemont girls, Nancy, and the children of family friends.

The Randalls were family friends who lived on Rosemont. Their daughter Jackie babysat me. She was great! And her brother Mike, a year younger than I, sometimes came to play (likely when no boys were around) and we traded comic books and acted out astronaut fantasies. I was interested in the Space Age and Mike and I both believed in life on other planets. Once we walked to the store across from school to buy penny candy.

Mrs. Erickson, my third grade teacher, did not like me. She always had negative things to tell Mom. I remember she would not say 'Hitler',  or "helicopter' because she would have to say 'hell'. She liked boys better than girls.

Mrs. Erikson once took me out into the hall and shook me by the shoulders and told me to stay there. Why? because I had a 'lazy tongue' and did not articulate. (I learned to articulate in choral singing later.) Another time she sent me back to Second Grade, Miss Hurley's class. There sat Mike. I was so embarrassed. Mike grew up to be an actor, puppeteer, and weatherman, well known to Tonawanda folk.

Mom's best friend Doris would come over with her son, Tom. One time I was showing off, climbing over the railing of the porch. Tom said he could do that but I didn't want him to. I wanted to be the only one to do it, and besides I was older and thought he was too young. Well, he was accomplishing the feat when I tried to stop him. I grabbed him and managed to pull his pants down! Was I in trouble...again.

I liked to climb the willow tree. It had a nicely curved branch a few feet off the ground. I remember the girl across the street would climb it with me.

In 1959 Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty came out and Mom took me to Buffalo to see it. I was enthralled; a part of me always wanted to be a princess. Mom said I could look like Sleeping Beauty, if I lost weight.
Sleeping Beauty by Madame Alexander, 1959
Or, What the Dog Ate
My Great-grandmother Greenwood gave me a Madame Alexander Sleeping Beauty doll for my birthday. Mom said it wasn't to play with, it was too expensive. I couldn't undress her or comb her hair.

But I took the doll to Christine's house to show her. I set it on the ground while we played in her back yard. My Pepper had followed me; she found the doll and chewed on it and ruined it. I was devastated. Mom tossed the doll out. I took better care of the Little Women dolls Great-grandmother gave me, which I still have today. As an adult I bought myself a 1959 Sleeping Beauty doll to replace the one lost in childhood.

I started piano lessons when I was eight years old. I had enjoyed tinkling on the piano at the Kuhn's house when we visited. My Grandmother Ramer and Mom regretted giving up their piano lessons and since I showed an interest, they determined I was going to play! My grandmother bought me a used piano.

My teacher lived in the Sheridan Park project.**. I remember holding my two quarters in my hand as I walked down Ensminger Road to my lesson, and studying them while the previous student finished their lesson. I had John Thompson books which were geared toward teaching students classical music, basic theory, and offered brief biographies of the composers. Hence started my love affair with Classical Music.

My brother Tom and his godparents, Katie and Skip Marvin and Tom Richards
My brother Tom was born in August 1959. He was the cutest thing, with ruddy checks and blond hair and big eyes. Where I had been colicky as a baby, Tom was quiet and stoic. I liked him way better than any old Tiny Tears baby doll.

Me, Dad, Tom and Mom at Great-Grandma Greenwood's house in Kenmore
I have that student lamp on the table!
...Until he started teething and drooling all over. Yuck. And the he started crawling and walking, which meant I had to keep my crayons and scissors and paper dolls picked up.

Tom on Mom's brand new turquoise couch.
On the bright side I was the big sister and could boss him around, make him play school, and best of all I could read to him. I loved reading out loud. I loved sharing my favorite books.
Nancy 8 yrs, Tom 3.4 yr. Gramps wrote I was the
image of my mother.
Tom had vision issues just as I did as a girl, and it made him clumsy, too. We were watching Babes in Toyland on television, Tom sitting on the piano stool, when he fell off and hit his head. He had to be taken to the hospital for stitches. I was not blamed, but I felt guilty. I was the big sister and should have been watching out for him.
Nancy and Tom
Aunt Alice and Uncle Kenny lived in the upstairs apartment where I lived as a little girl before my family moved into the downstairs apartment. My cousin David was born in 1958 and Beverly in
1961.

Tom, David Ennis, and me. The pool was under the willow tree. Rosemont Ave is in
 the background. I remember I had come home from Day Camp on this day in 1960.

David and Beverly, Easter. Note Mom's starched frilly table doily.
Don't ask about the plant in the bird cage.
I have not a clue.
Cousin Beverly and I. Easter.
I loved roller skating but the sidewalks were uneven and I spent summers with scabbed knees, and yes, I picked at them. My Grandmother Gochenour and Aunt Alice went roller skating in Tonawanda**** and started taking me along. It took a while to learn how to stop while roller skating, but I loved it, especially when everyone gathered in a circle to do The Hokey Pokey.

Dad bought me a new Schwinn two wheel bicycle; the store was just next door, behind the Texaco gas station (which was next to my family's Ashland gas station on Military Rd.) It was blue and had streamers. I loved riding the bike. One time I was riding down a street several blocks away and saw a girl in her yard. We talked and made friends. I believe her name was Nancy Pritchard.

Grandma Gochenour bowled and took me along to watch. She went to the bowling alley across the street at Military and Ensminger Roads, built after the Ensminger house was burned down by the fire department. One time I met a boy who was also with his grandmother. He talked my ear off about baseball. I didn't know, or care, about baseball. I sat and listened politely, of course.
Mom, Me, Dad, Tom and Grandma Ramer. Easter.
Mom redecorated the house. The dark wood wainscot was painted turquoise, the wall paper was light brown, white, and turquoise. Dad made wood valances for the windows. Mom bought Colonial style furniture. I still have the hutch!
Mom's new furniture. 

Mom gave me that brown chair in 1972. The upholstery was still good.
 

I still have this hutch!
We went to Putt's farm in the spring in fall, went on group picnics with the guys from the garage, boated and fished on the Niagara River, took trips to Watkins Glen. It was a rich life. I loved the smell of mowed grass, the sight of the gas flame burning at the gas works along the Niagara River which I could see from my window, my school, my family.

Then my dad decided running a garage was strenuous, that we needed health insurance for Mom's health issues, and that Detroit was the answer. We would move near my Ramer grandparents and Dad would find work in the auto industry. It was spring, 1963.

* If you want to know the real important things that happened in 1959 check:
 http://www.onthisday.com/events/date/1959

** I dont recall knowing that Philip was Nancy's father's name.

*** A reader reminded me the piano teacher's name was Mrs. Cota.

****The same reader reminded me it was the Rainbow skating rink.