Here are some memories from the 50s. Dishwater detergent was new. We
thought it was wonderful stuff. It made so many bubbles. We would put
it in the bathtub while the water was running and let it bubble up.
Then, we'd sit there in a tub of detergent bubbles, little considering
that it was sucking all the oil and moisture out of our skins and turning
it into parchment paper, or something like that.
There was a kind of candy, black on the outside that, lasted just about
forever. After you'd sucked on it for a length of time the outer shell
would dissolve and you'd get a different colour. There was a rainbow
in there, so you'd suck it for a while then pull it out and look at
it, see what colour it was. You'd then put it back in until you got
to the very end, which was a disappointing white.
We used to get a sort of liquid plastic stuff that came in a tube at
Christmas. It came with a holder which you dipped in the stuff then
you could blow into it and make a semi-permanent plastic bubble to play
with. We discovered that you could chew this stuff. God knows, chemically,
what was in it. The slogan popular in the 50s was Dupont's "Better Living
Through Chemistry". I don't know if we lived better but we chewed that
stuff instead of gum. It didn't taste so great but it had an interesting
In the shoe department of the downtown Eatons Department Store in Chatham
there was a machine that looked like a weighing machine with a place
where you could slip your feet inside. You pushed a button and got a
living x-ray of your feet. You could wiggle your toes and see the bones
move around when you looked in the viewing port. We used it just about
every time we went into Eatons, which was often, because my dad worked
there. I may pay the price for that some day. I understand those machines
reliably leaked radiation.
There wasn't much entertainment in Chatham, so wrestling was kind of
big. My sister used to go to the matches with a Catholic girl who was
really keen on wrestling. This girl got really excited at these matches
and she'd jump up and down, pound the shoulders of the person in front
of her and just go right off the meter. When she came back to herself
she'd regret her excessive enthusiasm and confess later to the Priest
that she'd become over excited at wrestling. He's give her a penance
where she had to say some prayers and skip wrestling next week, so she
only got to go every other week.
This same girl had a favourite snack which was boiled potatoes, cold
and sliced, with lard on bread. I understand she was a fairly hefty
Speaking of things to eat, well, my dad ate it but I didn't, there
were things called winkles. These were Periwinkles, snails basically.
You cooked them up in a salted broth and then you picked them out with
a pin and ate them.
Then there was finnan haddie. This was a kind of North Sea fish called
a haddock which was viewed with some awe in our family since we knew
the folk tale that the thumb print or finger print on its back ( a dark
spot) was there because this was the very fish that had been divided
up for the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. Thus every fish of
this kind bore the Lord's fingerprint on its back. . That's a little
out of sync because it's a North Sea fish that didn't originate in the
Holy Land. Still, we were impressed and I still like this smoked fish
called Finnan Haddie. It's really good.
Another favourite fish with my dad was smelt. I didn't understand how
he could possibly eat them. You cut off the heads and tails of the small
fishes and gutted them. Then you dipped them in batter and cooked them
up. A 'mess of smelt' it was called. Well named.
Another big deal, my dad was into protein obviously, was the prize-winning
cow. This cow had won the top prize at a provincial Fair. From the butcher
shop my dad could purchase this thick, juicy steak off the flank of
the prize-winning cow. That was a 'once a year' very big deal.
Chatham, my home town, is in Southern Ontario which is kind of a bread
basket and vegetable basket too in Canada.
They opened up public freezers in Chatham. This was before the advent
of the larger home freezers. You could go to the pea shelling place
and get, I don't know, maybe a bushel of peas and flash freeze them
and have peas all winter. You did the same with corn. There was a lot
a preparation and then you went down to this place where they froze
the stuff up. Later, you could bring some of it home to put in the little
freezer in your fridge. It was all very good because it was really fresh
food frozen at its prime.
My mother made banana wine, another big deal, and it was a fine, mellow
wine. She was the kind of person who would take instructions and study
on them and follow them to the letter, so, she turned out a darn near
perfect product. My dad, who had a slight fondness for the bottle, discovered
this wonderful wine and drank it up . There was a fuss because she didn't
make it to be drunk all at once. It was supposed to be savoured over
time. That was the end of the banana wine making enterprise.
© Sonia Brock 2006