Thursday, April 2, 2009

Downtown and Across Town

Obviously, I do not remember the taking of this picture, but notice (since it's uncropped) the proportions of 616 size roll film.  I do remember my teddy bear, in much later bedraggled condition, and my sister rode in the wicker baby carriage after I had graduated to walking.  We skipped the stroller; they were not yet common, anyhow.  But my brother and my sister were just a bit, a critical bit, more close-spaced.  And we got the Model A.  My parents realized that they needed a folding baby carriage as well as a stroller.  At least, I think that we got the stroller then, so that Lorna used it.  I never did, and perhaps we only got it when the final child came, and my brother needed the stroller.
I was about to transition to Kindergarten, though, when I remembered how much time and experience was connected with this wicker baby carriage.  Carriage: its suspension was like that of a carriage.  It wheeled beautifully.  It went up and down curbs beautifully; it was comfortable and protective.  It was very heavy, though, and, of course, it was not collapsible.  I often have felt that my younger siblings were transitional to the next generation.  They certainly were transported as 1940s babies.  They went to post-war schools, too.
When a young woman took her two youngsters downtown, where three main streets contained everything (beyond the corner grocery, if you had one) that you might need, the vehicle was the buggy.  If you ever wondered why it was so much larger than a baby, you would know if you came home not only with the used diapers sequestrated wrapped in newspaper but with what you had gotten at Penney's, at Woolworth's, at a couple of minor merchants, and at the grocery (where, incidentally, in the era of the wicker buggy, my father worked).  We might stop, too, at the Snow White dairy for an ice cream cone.  I confess, of course, to loving Woolworth's most, as today children love WalMart (or any other -Mart).  Sometimes I'd get a new coloring book or a new penny doll for my doll house.  Penny dolls really did cost one cent (then inched up to several cents).  Not that I always got anything extra.  I certainly did not beg for anything.  It would have been counterproductive, but I just didn't think of it.  They liked to give me little treats when it seemed right.  We stopped and talked to other young women my mother knew.  My mother noticed that other mothers had children that had to have leashes, lest they dart into the street or make a break for freedom in Penney's or the somewhat up-market dry goods store,  Riley's.  What I loved was watching and listening to the pneumatic tubes that took the sales slip and money for payment and returned the change and the sales slip marked Paid.   Remarkably, these pneumatic tube systems lasted a long time.  They had them in the university library to take slips requesting books up to the stacks  for a page to fetch the one required (but then, was it in the late 1950s?, they opened the stacks).  One dry goods store, the iron-fronted Sinsheimer's, in my home town had them for as long as it stayed open.  At some store I have the memory of such a system running on a pulley, like a miniature ski-lift.  What was it all about?  Not only to prevent the the basic-wage personnel from handling money.  Not to prevent hold-ups, I think.  One was remarkably safe.  My grandmother felt free to say no to hoboes when she didn't happen to have extra peanut butter and jelly—or when she saw that they didn't like peanut butter...  It was certainly useful, on that small scale of commerce, and before cash registers kept count of the till electrically, to have all the cash in and out in the hands of your accounts person up in the office, recording it all in pen and ink.  When I was very little, I still didn't understand what being pneumatic meant.  I thought them wonderful.  
Then, from downtown, we usually walked the other half of the traversal, to my grandparents' house.  What I do not clearly remember was walking back across town.  Perhaps my grandfather when he came home took us home in the 1931 Studebaker.  I know that we never walked home after dark.  When we got the Model A in 1939, my father could have come to get us in it, when he got off work.  Either way, of course, the wicker buggy had to stay where it was until we came to walk it home.  There was, by the way, still no public bus.  Thus, as I now see it, were born collapsible strollers, playpens, and baby carriages.  My first sister and I were the last cohort to ride conveyed like Victorian infants.  Evidently.
P.S. Sinsheimer's building is still there, with a link to the pulleys (so the other stores were the ones with pneumatic tubes).