Living in Oneida, N.Y. in the 1920’s and 30’s

More memories

This is the second part of the story. The first one told about "The House." This is about other stuff. [By Charles E. Page, Feb. 2002]

Usually the first thing in the morning we were awakened by sounds of the clink of milk bottles, and in the summer, the clop-clop of the milkman’s horse delivering our 4 quarts of milk. [about 5AM]. The milk wagon, [a sleigh, in winter], was pulled by one horse, and the horse knew the route nearly as well as the driver did. The man would take several bottles of milk in his wire carrier and jump out the wagon door, leave an order of milk at the back door of a house, and cross the lawn to the next house to deliver theirs. The horse would continue walking without a driver and stop at the next house without being told and wait for the man to return. If the man had enough milk in his carrier for three houses, he could just yell to the horse "a little farther", and the horse would move to the next house and stop.

Through the years we bought milk from several different dairies. There was Rickard [on Field’s Hill, Rt.5], Ulig [down off Spring St., Fred Kent [Middle Road], Hotchkiss [Durhamville, and later Dewan [Oneida Castle]. The later ones used trucks.

Many of our groceries were delivered by horse and wagon, or in the winter, by sleigh. In the morning my mother would telephone a grocery store [maybe Eldred’s or Kinney’s] or a meat market [Newman’s or Pfaff’s] and give her order. She would say such things as " five lean pork chops not too thick". Or for groceries it might be " five pounds of granulated sugar and a large box of corn flakes". She would be very specific describing just what she wanted. After a while the grocer would know just about what each housewife liked. He would pack the items in used cardboard boxes, and about 10:30 AM they would be delivered. The deliveryman would pick up the orders from the various stores and take them all in the same load. They seldom mixed up the orders. This service was free to the customer.

We kids spent a lot of time in good weather at the playground behind the Elizabeth Street School. There were swings, teeter-totters, a slide, sandbox, tennis court, ball field, etc. Sometimes the kids would bring waxed paper bread wrappers, and slide down the slide while sitting on them. After a few times the slide would nice and slippery for a good ride. There was no supervision on the playground then. Usually all the kids did a pretty good job of policing themselves. If some kid got mean and did things like jumping off the teeter-board while the kid on the other end was up in the air, he would usually be ostracized by the others. You could get really hurt by the "jump-off" trick. It was ok to jerk the teeter and threaten to shake off the kid on the high end, but that was expected and usually did no damage. There were sometimes fist-fights but nobody really got hurt too much. [maybe a bloody nose].Usually kids from the same neighborhoods frequented the playground, and we came to know who could "lick" whom, and a sort of natural "pecking order" was established.

Most of the kids there came from east of Main Street and from the "Flats". There was a good ethnicity mix, and we came to know and become friends with kids of different backgrounds. There were some kind of snobbish ones from upper Main and Elizabeth Streets, but most of the kids came from "blue collar" working class families. Among adults ethnic and "class" bias was common. First the Irish and next the Italians were looked down on. In Elizabeth Street School and on the playground we found that all kids were fundamentally the same and learned to like and get along with them all. We learned that class bias didn’t necessarily derive from the wealth and education of the family. There were poor snobs as well as rich ones.

The "feeder" for the Erie Canal ran just below the playground. I think it started near Rt. 5 at Oneida Castle, crossed East Walnut Street not very far below our house, went on down by the playground, along Spring Street [now MacArthur Parkway], through downtown Oneida to the canal near Durhamville. I think for a time soon after it was built, it was used as a "canal" to allow boats to connect to the Erie, but I don’t think it was used much in that way, and boating on it was soon given up. However the feeder remained and I and my friend, Bobby looked for birds, and along with other kids, spent a lot of time playing along its banks, which had grown up to trees and bushes. It was a jungle for Tarzan, a place to cut bows and arrows, and a fishing stream. [no fish that were any good for eating]. We skated and slid on the ice in winter, and sometimes broke out ice floes and tried to pole them along while trying to keep our balance on the slippery ice. At least one time I slid off and went in the water to my waist. The water was only 3 or 4 feet deep, it was cold! Besides fish there were big crabs. Some of the kids who played along the feeder were John and George Dowling, Jack and Don Shaub, Walter Cronin, Paul Rockwell, and "Junior" Hodges.

Many of the neighborhood boys joined the Boy Scouts, although I did not. They usually at some time in the summer attended the Boy Scout camp at Eaton Brook. My friend Bobby joined, but I spent the summers at our own camp. Alberta's father , LaVerne Jones, was a Scout Master for years and below is a picture from his album.


Scout Camp at Eaton Brook

One time Bobby said he had something to show me. We went up along the feeder and somewhere up toward the Castle in the woods near Oneida Creek, he pulled from his pocket a small .32 caliber pistol. At first I thought it was a "cap pistol" but it was real. We set a 2 by 10 plank against a tree, and shot at it from a distance of about 10 or 15 feet. I was amazed. I missed that big plank! [He only had 2 or 3 bullets.] I think he hit it just once. It must have been one of those guns called a "Saturday night special". It was so small and light it bucked in your hand making it hard to hold. We were responsible enough not to fire it where it could do damage, but somebody wasn’t very smart to let Bobby take it in the first place. He never had it again.

Up in that vicinity of the creek there was a swimming hole where some of the boys went skinny-dipping.

My parents didn’t believe in giving their kids weekly "allowances" as many parents did. I guess the theory of allowances was to teach kids to spend money wisely. My parents thought it more important to teach the relationship of having money to the fact of working and earning it. I think they felt they would be more likely to spend it wisely, if they understood money was hard to come by. Being lazy meant no money. Also they encouraged saving in a bank account. We had to help around the house without pay. But when we were older they would hire us for specific jobs. For example, my older sister was hired to clean through the house every Saturday without help from my mother. We were encouraged to bank the money earned, and to save it for our future, not just to buy something that we wanted to play with.

I earned most of my money mowing and raking lawns, and working for our neighbor, Mr. Starr, who was gardener for the Mrs.Will Chapel estate. I helped him shovel snow from the sidewalks around the Chapel estate and he taught me to do a real good job spading gardens. Each spading forkful of soil had to be broken up to a fine condition and had to be full spade depth. There could be no inch of ground that was not fully pulverized to the full depth. He always had beautiful vegetables for his own family and for Mrs. Chapel’s household. He took fresh flowers and vegetables in to Mrs. Chapel’s house every day. In winter the flowers came from her greenhouses. He taught me some about greenhouse management, use of compost, etc. This probably had some influence in my choice of careers and hobbies.

For mowing lawns in those days we had reel-type mowers, which were run by kid or man power. The friction of the wheels on the ground turned the mower reels, which cut the grass. If the grass was somewhat long it was very hard to push. A combination of long and wet grass caused the reels to clog and the wheels to skid, stopping the whole operation. Then you would have to clean out the clogged grass and try again to get through it. You would vow never to let the grass get that high again. Mr. Starr paid me a quarter to mow his lawn. Later I contracted with my father to mow ours for fifteen cents each time. Mrs. Chapel owned the house next to us where Mr. and Mrs. Starr lived. Mrs. Chapel had a chauffeur, a cook, a maid, as well as the gardener. My great Aunt Ora Page worked for her for many years as nurse, maid and companion. We could hardly imagine such wealth. We kids were rather in awe of Mrs. Chapel, for she "was a millionaire". When we finally got to meet her, the time she invited our family over to see the blossom on her "century plant", we were surprised to find she was an "ordinary person".

Some of our friends imagined that my father was rich because he worked in the bank where there was lots of money lying around and in the vault. Little did they know that bank employees were and still are among the lowest paid of workers. At that time, at least, factory workers earned two or three times what my father earned. My mother explained to me once that although they earned more money at that time, work in the bank was steadier without the "layoffs" factory workers were subject to. This was illustrated when the depression hit, in 1929. Many of our neighbors worked at the "OCL" [now Oneida Limited] or Westcott Chuck Company on East Walnut Street.

While in high school I earned money by raking leaves for different people, and had a "steady" job helping Miss Clara Saunders. She lived across from the new high school [now called the "old high school] on Elizabeth St.

In the winter months every night after supper, I walked up to her house and took care of her furnace, that is, shook out and removed the ashes, put on coal, so it was fixed for the night. On weekends I would sometimes spade her flowerbeds, weed the garden, and maybe do other things such as run errands, or scrub her kitchen floor. Once when she planned to be away for a while, she sent me to the Savings Bank with a box of her silverware. Mr. Greenwood at the bank had agreed to keep it for her in the safe until she returned. Years later I learned that she was the first depositor when that bank opened for the first time.

One of my favorite teachers, Miss Mary Harrington, boarded with her. Miss Harrington, a Junior High science teacher, got me and others interested in nature. I, my friend, Bobby Seifert, and some of the other kids began studying birds, and kept lists each year of all the different species we identified. Sometimes in an afternoon when we had a study hall, Miss Harrington would give passes to Bobby and me to go outside to see what birds we could locate. She wrote on the pass for the purpose or reason we were out of school, "to make observations". If either Bobby or I or Miss Harrington saw an unusual bird any time, even it was in the evening or on weekends, we would call one another to come and see it.

One early spring Saturday morning my father drove Miss Harrington, Bobby and me to our camp near Stockbridge Falls, where we spent the day trying to sight a Pileated Woodpecker. We had told Miss Harrington about spotting them in Bishops’ woods. We didn’t see any that day, but had a good time ‘observing" other things and at noon heated some Campbell’s soup on our little wood stove in the camp. My father picked us up after he got out of work in the late afternoon. Miss Harrington’s influence stayed with me.

Besides having our milk and groceries delivered, there were peddlers that came around the streets selling different things. One of the men who later ran "Pete and Tocker’s" store on Rt. 5 Sherrill had a vegetable truck. Then there was John, the banana man, with his pushcart. About once a week in good weather we would hear him coming down the street yelling something about "Nice-a-banan". The iceman also "cameth" to deliver blocks of ice for the ice boxes. [We never had an icebox or refrigerator]. We kids would follow along behind his truck and try to grab small pieces of ice to suck on. Probably some of the ice came from Crystal Lake and now would be considered unsanitary suck on.

Door to door salesmen often came around stopping at each house and tried to sell everything from "Fuller Brushes" to vacuum cleaners. Some were very persistent and would stick their foot in the door to keep the housewife from closing it before they finished giving their sales pitch. [or giving them "The Brush off"].

Quite often hobos coming off the O & W railroad would go through the neighborhood begging for food. Sometimes my mother would make them a sandwich or something, if someone made a practice of feeding them he would find a chalk mark on the front porch and all the hobos would know that house was an "easy mark".

I remember many times when an organ grinder with his monkey would travel the streets. Sometimes he worked the crowds watching circus parade. The man would play his hand- cranked organ, which was a small organ mounted on a stick about four feet high. The monkey, which was dressed up in a uniform, would go among the listeners, mostly kids, to collect money. We would run into the house and beg pennies from Mom and then come out to hand them to the monkey, who put them into his pocket. Every once in a while the man unloaded the money from the monkey’s pocket. The monkey’s hairy hand felt "funny" when we handed him a penny. He did not appear to be a pet. He was bent on his job and grabbed the money without thanks or friendliness to the kids. But we were fascinated by his very human actions. We always wondered if the man was kind to him or just used him.

To be Continued.---- [Maybe] C.E.P.

Copyright©2002 Charles E. Page