Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A 1926 Happy New Year!

by Connie Cortright

New Year's Eve is approaching quickly. What are your plans for that night? Since historically this holiday isn't much different than we celebrate today, I'm going to share what New Year's Eve might have been like in 1926 via an excerpt from my novel Guide Me Home available at Amazon.com Freddie and Emma. and Jules and Vivi are at a ballroom celebrating the big event:

Emma could hear the music blaring when she emerged from the car. Her feet threatened to tap out the rhythm already, and they weren’t even in the building. “It seems like it’s been such a long time since I’ve gone dancing I probably forgot all those steps for the Charleston and Longbottom, and other dances you taught me.” She took hold of Freddie’s arm as they sauntered toward the lighted doorway, the hem of her flapper dress swishing with the click of her heels.
Freddie looked down at Emma, patting her hand, and smiled. “Just stick with me, baby, I'll help you out.” He leaned in closer. “You’ll be the cat's meow all dolled up in that dress.”
“Thank you.” Emma could feel the heat rise in her cheeks. Finally she was wearing her new silky dress with her black silk stocking to go dancing. Would this night be a dream come true? Excitement coursed through her veins. 
As the clock approached the hour of midnight, Emma floated around the ballroom floor in Freddie’s arms. Since the first beat of the music, this night had turned out to be as wonderful as she hoped. She’d remembered all of the dance steps she learned before, dancing either with Freddie or Jules. When Freddie spun her in circles during the waltz, she felt like she was on a carousel at the park. She wanted the evening to go on forever.
As the music stopped, everyone crowded around the stage in anticipation of the stroke of midnight. Freddie had his arm draped around her shoulder. “You sure are a terrific hoofer.” He gave her shoulder a squeeze. “I could dance with you all night long.” He leaned over giving her a peck on the cheek.
Emma could feel her cheeks burn. She wasn’t used to the show of intimacy in front of people. She stepped away from Freddie. “Thanks. I’ve really had a great time, too.” She looked over at Vivi. “Let’s go to the powder room, Vivi.”
“Great idea.” Vivi looked at Jules. “We will be right back. We still have a few minutes before midnight.”
When Emma and Vivi headed back toward the guys, Emma saw Jules hand something back to Freddie. Freddie glanced up while he shoved the item into his pants pocket. His ears turned red, like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, as his eyes met Emma’s again. What could that have been about? Jules and Freddie were laughing loudly as the girls reached their side. 
“Are you ready for the celebration?” Freddie leaned closer to Emma to make himself heard above the noise. “I’m ready for my New Year’s kiss.”
She turned to him and smiled. “I’ve never had a New Year’s kiss before.” This would be the icing on the cake for her. A kiss to usher in the New Year. It definitely would be a fantastic year if it started out with a kiss from this man whom she surely loved.
  “Five, four, three, two, one!!! Happy New Year!” The room erupted in a symphony of shouting, with the song “Auld Lang Syne” playing in the background. Freddie took Emma in his arms. As he bent her backwards, she put her arms around his neck and held on. She had expected a warm romantic kiss but was instead surprised by a loud, wet smack. Freddie said with a smile on his lips, “Happy New Year, doll.”
Standing up, Emma pulled away from him. What was that smell on Freddie’s breath? It reminded her of Uncle Max after he had been drinking on the night her cousin got married. Was that mysterious object in Freddie’s pocket a flask of whiskey? Her mind raced trying to figure out what to say. “What were you and Jules doing while we were gone?” The bubble burst on her idea of a nice romantic New Year’s celebration.
“What’s eating you?” Freddie straightened up. “You were only gone for a couple minutes. We didn’t do anything.” He shuffled his feet.
“Oh, come on, Freddie. I can smell something on your breath.” Emma put her hands on her hips. “Did I see you stick a flask in your pocket?”
“You betcha. Did you want a swig?” Freddie put his hand on his pocket.
Emma gasped. “Are you serious? I’ve never even tasted any stuff like that.”
“Don’t be such a dumb dora.” Freddie glared at her, his nostrils flaring. “What’s a sip now and then? It’s a New Year’s Eve party. It’s what everyone...” Freddie froze. Scrubbing a hand over his face, he stared at his feet. “Uh, Emma, I’m sorry. Um, I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
Biting her lip, Emma shook her head. What should she do?
Jules sidled over and put his arm around her shoulder, giving her a brief hug. “Hey, come on, doll. Where’s the crime? Nobody’s going to get plastered.”
Emma narrowed her eyes and peered at him. “What do you mean? What about Prohibition? Last time I checked, it was a crime.”
With a shallow smile on his face, Jules shrugged. “It’s only a crime to sell the stuff, not take a drink.”
Emma scowled. Was that true? Oh yeah, what about Ella’s wedding last year? The scowl faded. “You’re right. Our neighbor had homemade beer at a wedding since that was not illegal. Our pastor even had a beer that night.” 
Vivi smiled at Emma as she leaned against Jules. “Let us not ruin the night with this.” Vivi took Jules hand. “I hear the Charleston starting up. Let us go dance, Big Daddy.”
Not sure what to say, Emma stared at her feet. “I’m sorry I jumped down your throat before.” She couldn’t make herself look at Freddie.
Freddie put a finger under her chin, tipping her head until she gazed into his blue eyes. “No, you don’t have to apologize.” He brought his face close to hers and gave her a soft kiss. “I’m the one who needs to apologize for getting angry at you.” He used his thumb to brush a tear off her cheek. “I don’t want to spoil your special night.”
Now Emma was definitely confused. This kiss meant so much more to her than the one at midnight. She’d been angry after the first kiss, but this made up for it. If only her mind didn’t act like a kaleidoscope-change the angle a little and a completely different view emerged. 
Freddie smiled at Emma and took her hand. “The music is calling me.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

by Connie Cortright

Christmas is a time filled with family traditions and decorations unique to every nationality and household. These traditions follow from one generation to the next, but how does Christmas today compare to Christmases long ago?

         What will your Christmas morning look like? If you have children in your household, I imagine you'll have boxes and wrapping paper strewn around the sparkly Christmas tree. What kind of toys will they get? Probably they're either electronic, battery operated, or electric. Most of them will most likely made of plastic, also. Not so for toys from decades ago.

       My mother reported to me that Christmas morning in the 30s was much different. She went to bed on Christmas Eve expecting Santa Claus to come. Until that time, the house wasn't decorated any different than any other day in the year. During the night, the Christmas tree magically appeared decorated with candied cherries, candy canes, colorful glass ornaments, and tinsel. They didn’t have electricity on the farm, so the tree didn’t have lights on it, but but the presents under the tree brought color to the room anyway.

      What kind of toys would boys and girls have received during the 1930s? I think it’s safe to say they had fewer toys than children today. After all, it was the middle of the Depression. There wasn’t much extra cash for gifts.
       Many toys back then were either made out of steel or wood. My father remembers getting tractors, and trucks, all made of steel. At least they lasted a long time that way. Over the years, he and his brothers had so many pieces of farm equipment, including a steel thrashing machine, that they could re-create a farm in their living room.

       Of course, girls had baby dolls back then to care for. One memorable doll my mother received could close her eyes to “go to sleep”, drink water, and “wet her diaper”. That was the highlight of her childhood Christmas memories. Along with the baby doll, she had a rattan doll buggy. That buggy was passed down to her granddaughter many years ago.

       She also received a china tea set one year. I remember playing “tea time” with her using those tea dishes when I was a little girl. I have the tea set sitting on a shelf in my home today.

       We can’t forget about teddy bears, either. Many children had these toys given to them on Christmas Day. Some of the bears even had the mechanism to move their arms and legs.

       Many a lucky girl received a Shirley Temple doll. Her movies were very popular back then.

       There were a surprising number of toys manufactured during this era I recognized from my childhood – Tinker Toys, Erector sets, and Lincoln Logs. Are these toys still sold today? I have no idea.

        There's one gift that's as timely today as it was decades ago, and  will remain the most important thing to remember about Christmas. The main reason we celebrate this season is the birth of Jesus our Savior.

       I pray you all take time out of your celebrations to focus on that "reason for the season". Hope you all have a blessed Christmas Season.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Bank on It

by Connie Cortright

Even though cash was in short supply during the Depression, children were still encouraged to save their pennies in a "piggy bank", but sometimes they were not shaped like piggies at all. Insurance companies and banks gave out such money collection banks.

My mother found three of them from Aid Association for Lutherans, Appleton, Wisconsin when she was cleaning out a drawer lately. All three are shaped like books about 4 1/2 inches tall and 3 inches wide. As you can see from the picture, they are all about the same shape, but have different coloration in them. They are from the 1930s when she was little, but I can't imagine why AAL would have made a different tin book bank every year, or why Mom's parents would have had three different banks for only one little girl.

 The book banks have keys (she still has two of them) that can unlock the bank to get out the hard earned money that was saved - most likely a penny at a time.

There is a slot on the bottom of the book banks where the dollars or coins would be inserted to save - maybe for Christmas. I bet Mom and Dad would keep the key so that the children couldn't open the bank and take out their hard earned money to spend early.

Maybe one of these tin book banks will end up in one of my novels sometime. That might be a good idea.

I'd sure love to hear from anyone who has any memories of these banks, or why a company would make so many different ones during the Depression.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Weather or Not

by Connie Cortright

      I'm watching the first snowfall of the year outside my window. Not surprising since the calendar tells me that it's December already. I really can’t complain about the weather this fall in Wisconsin. We had a great October and November - at least in the Milwaukee area. I'm not sure that I'm at all ready for the cold winter weather to come.

     Of course, we don't want the kind of cold winters that my parents experienced when they were growing up. The stories that they've shared with me about the winters of the 30s makes me shiver.      In fact, both of my parents, in their grade schools years at the time, have attested to very harsh winters back then.

       My mother, who walked down the road to school from her dad’s farm, told me that during those years (1936-1939) she remembers walking on top of snow banks that were much taller than the cars driving on the road. She described it this way: “The snow banks were so high that I could almost touch the wires on the telephone poles”. Those are tall snow banks! 

       My dad also remembers his growing up winters. He said the winters often got down to 25 to 28 degrees below zero. The snow would drift up to ten feet deep on the gravel road going by their farm. A Caterpillar snowplow would then come past their house moving about a half mile an hour cleaning out the drifts and piling high snow banks. AND THEY NEVER CALLED OFF SCHOOL FOR A SNOW DAY BACK THEN! 

       When the roads were impassable, his pa would hook up the bobsled and horses for the trip to school. He would take the fresh milk to town at the same time. The kids would bundle up and sit in the back of the sled by the warm, fresh milk cans. To stay warm while driving the horses, his pa wore a fur coat extending from his neck to knees, with a fur hat and mittens. They would go across the fields, cutting the top wires of the fences on their land. The fields were more passable than the road. 

       When the roads were finally cleared, the kids would sit on their sled on top of the hill in front of their house and slide most of the way to school down the road. They’d have to take turns pulling each other the rest of the way to school. The trip home, up the high hill, wasn’t nearly as fun as the trip to school down the hill. 

       I’m not even sure if they are longing for those “good ol’ days”. Sounds mighty cold to me.