Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Is It The Smell of Success?

I wish there were some ways to capture aromas. I find that I can remember so intensely the smell of some items from my childhood.

Most of the houses in the town of Wellsville, Ohio had furnaces that burned coal. First there was the smell of coal dust when it was unloaded from the delivery trucks and slid down the chute into the bin in the basement. The smell I remember the best is the coal burning in the furnaces.  The snow in our yards was never pristine white; it was always covered by a dusting of coal soot. When the cinders left after burning the coal were removed, it was often used on the streets to provide traction. The cinders even had their own aroma. It is hard to describe, like dirt with an acrid twist to it.

When I went inside the house there were more pleasant aromas. My mother liked to bake and would make her own pastry dough for pie crust. Back in those days lard was used in making the dough rather than shortening. The lard has a richer smell to it. At Christmas time my mother would make gingerbread men and the house would be filled with the aroma of the ginger and cloves used in the cookies. Even during the rest of the year Mom would bake delicious gingerbread that she would serve with a lemon sauce.

My playtime was filled with things that had aromas that stay with me to this day. When I smell Crayola crayons I flashback to my days in kindergarten.  Play-Doh was one of my favorite toys. Not only could I sculpt with the clay, the smell was so marvelous and all of the colors smelled the same.

I may have been the strangest child in the world, but I also loved the smell of brown paper shopping bags when they would get wet. It actually smelled like it would taste good. There were so many things some of which I do still have available to enjoy like KoolAid. For the others I rely on my memory of aromas of my childhood. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Story of Mary and Pomp

Sometime between 1941 when Grandpa Rawlings died and 1947, Grandma Mary married a widower named Bernard Rudolf Pomplin. Even though I have not yet located their marriage license, I do know they were married by 1947. I have a small announcement of my parents wedding that calls my father Henry Rawlings the son of Mrs. Bernard R. Pomplin. I had always wondered how they met. My opportunity to play detective and figure it out came once the 1940 census was available for browsing. Were they both members of Immaculate Conception Catholic church? Did they have mutual friends?  In 1930 Bernard lived on 18th Street in Wellsville, Ohio with his wife Jane, Jane’s daughter from a previous marriage, Helen age 20, Jane’s mother Martha Wilkerson and the Pomplins’ young daughter Justine who was just shy of the age of 4.

According to the 1940 census, Bernard was now a widower and a lodger at 1708 Commerce St. I happen to know that 1708 is across the driveway from Grandma’s house at 1712 Commerce since I lived in that house from 1959 to 1963. The house was set up as a duplex in 1940 allowing the upstairs with its own bathroom and private entrance to be rented. The closeness must have had something to do with them getting acquainted. It was a short trip across the driveway separating the houses. He was 48 at the time and she was 45 and they were both attractive and in good health! There probably was another factor that had an effect on them developing a relationship. The romantic in me wants to have them seeing each other across the driveway and then the music comes up and we do a discrete fade-out. They remained married until his death. At the time that I am writing this, I have not discovered when he died.

I thought the name Pomplin was Irish in origin. In looking back over Bernard’s family, it turned out that his family name was actually Pomplun or Pomplono with Pomplun being the most likely since his parents had emigrated from Prussia.

In playing detective to figure out how Grandma Mary and “Pomp” met and got married, I found out some other things that have left me with other questions: when I located Bernard living on Commerce St., his daughter Justine was not living with him. In searching for her, I found a Justine Pomplun living at the Fairmount Children’s Home just outside of Alliance, Ohio. It was a little shocking to me at first, but then I remembered that it was 1940, daycare was non-existent and  Bernard was a man in his 40’s who had a fulltime job as a machinist on the railroad. I am hoping that my Uncle David has some memories of Justine to share.

Grandma Mary and Pomp

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Growing Up In Wellsville

I was very fortunate to be able to read “Growing Up In Wellsville” thanks to the kindness of Ms. Terri Martin of Wellsville. She made a gift of her copy of the book to a stranger, namely me. Her gift is traveling further since I took it to the Post Office to ship it to Texas to my sister Barbara. The book will probably go on to my Aunt Katharyn after that. I hope that the other copies of the book are being shared.

I have to admit that I was a little surprised that someone had written a memoir about Wellsville. I have treasured memories too, but considering how much the loss of the large industries had affected the village I suppose I thought people would not want to be reminded. When I lived in Wellsville, several times a day one could watch barges of coal moving north on the river to Pittsburgh. The railroad was much more active and constantly humming with boxcars full of raw materials headed to Pittsburgh and Detroit. And of course there were the potteries. I confess that I too am a “plate flipper” and have been for years. Fortunately Ron Price was able to put the economic downturn aside and record his memories of the Wellsville that I also remember. So much was so familiar, like the path to Hammond Park. I could almost smell the ripe wild blackberries that grew along the path. My father would pack us up in our old Dodge stationwagon and drive us out to bridge 55 on hot summer days so that we could cool off. I especially enjoyed Ron’s walking tour of the town. So many of the barely remembered events of my childhood were dusted off and enjoyed again as a result of reading the book. Memoirs can become maudlin, jaded or too perfect that you just know the author’s emotions are playing into the writing. Mr. Price avoids this and provides a very real look at the Wellsville of the late 40’s and early 50’s.

It is unfortunate that the book did not have a wider distribution, but then that is the fate of these independently published books. The authors are not known by the large publishing companies so their books may be the ones that receive instant rejections. I know that the publishing firms are in business to make money, but sometimes I wonder about them passing on some truly wonderful books simply because the author is not a commercial draw. I have been reading a lot of independently published books and I admit started for financial reasons; I get free copies in exchange for the promise of a review on,, Facebook or Pinterest. I have come across some real gems through this arrangement.

I did enjoy Ron’s book so much that my mind has been flooded with my own wonderful memories. Every summer there were the temporary fruit stands on Route 7 where you could buy the best tasting corn, green beans and watermelons.  I so loved the parades that we had. My favorites participants were the fire trucks, the VFW drill team and the float of the “40/8” that looked like their symbolic boxcar. I would dash into the street for the candy the float riders would throw to the children lining Main St. and I especially was proud that my grandfather Joseph Hughes was on that float for every parade. Each year in August we had the St. Rocco’s festival with the carnival and fireworks. I can still smell the Italian sausage sandwiches covered with grilled onions and peppers. And the paper cones of French fries that we sprinkled with vinegar. I played the midway games of ring toss and trying to knock over the cat-like targets. I never won, but the fun was in the playing. I remember being able to purchase strips of tickets from the Knights of Columbus before the festival started. Since the festival often occurred at the same time as my birthday, my godmother Martha Luckino would give me a strip of tickets for my birthday. I loved Broadway and each time we were traveling in that direction, I would shout for my parents to take the “froggy-way”, so named because of the two fountains with frogs over the spouts.

I could go on about my own memories, but the idea was to provide my impressions and opinion of Ron Price’s wonderful book about growing up in a typical American town. Finding copies of this book may prove to be an impossible task, but if you grew up in a small town in America this book was written for you.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cherishing The Memories

Sometimes I envy people who have never suffered the loss of a loved one. The hole in one’s life is painful. But then if I had not lost these people that I loved, would I have learned to cherish my memories of them?

My sister would plan a trip to the grocery store like a general preparing for battle. It made me a little crazy how she would line up all of the ads and her coupons. Then she would refer to her rebating and refunding magazines. Distance between the stores was factored into deciding where to shop. She would insist in involving me in her preparation when all I wanted was to make a list and get to it! Now that she has been gone for 6 years, I read the store ads in memory of her. I even use coupons; I just don’t have a loose-leaf binder full of them. If she were still here thinking about her ritual would not be precious to me, it would still be a source of irritation. I guess the cherishing of memories replaces the irritation. I have always heard that nature abhors a vacuum.

I had started my search for my family origins long before my sister became ill. She was never really interested in what it was that I was doing. Maybe she enjoyed my absence when I would go off to the National Archives branch to do research.  I know she would not have had the patience to search through lists for hours. I even cherish her outbursts of “I do not have the patience for this” when things were not happening as quickly as she would like them to happen. Those things will always belong to my memories of her.

I do not just trace my ancestors, I scan everything. Every photograph I own, my diplomas, my son’s diplomas and every piece of his childhood artwork that I have collected.  After scanning them, I felt that I needed a way to share my pictures, but not like the vacation slide shows I remember from early in my marriage. I wanted to create something that people would enjoy. So using photo editing software, scrapbooking software and movie editing software, I would create my DVDs with pictures, music and special effects. I thought my behavior was unusual until I discovered there are battery-powered scanners that can be carried in a purse. Apparently I am not the only one trying to save their memories in order to cherish them.

I never really wrote letters. Email is something else. I can whip out an email without much effort. I have been doing it long enough that I have learned to review what I have written before sending it out. Yes, I made some big mistakes. It is still easier to pick up a telephone and call my family with news, but email allows me to contact everyone at the same time, send pictures and embellish my messages with graphics. Not everyone sends the lengthy emails that I do, but I still collect the ones that I receive. I haunt the pages of Facebook for pictures posted by my niece, nephew and daughter-in-law so that I can save them.

I started blogging to make myself record episodes from my life. I certainly did not have a cell phone with a built-in camera on the day in 1971 when my eldest sister took me Christmas shopping. We needed some lunch and were seated in a tiny booth in the middle of the window facing the mall. When my sister’s burger was presented, she picked up the mustard bottle and tried to apply some to her sandwich. She seemed to struggle with dispenser at first and deciding that it was clogged, she pushed hard on the plastic bottle. Suddenly there was an explosion of yellow! It covered the table, the window (it went about 3 feet up from the level of the table), my sister’s black blouse and my hair. All we could do was look at each other for a few seconds before dissolving into laughter. I wish I had a camera at that moment, but all I have are the memories. Now I will be able to relive the mustard incident by re-reading this blog.

I suppose that is why I do scan all of my pictures. I want to try to recapture the feelings of the moment.  I just hope I can capture moments in words. I want more of crazy laughing moments like my sister and the blocked mustard bottle, but I also want to try to capture things like the sound of the pressure cooker my mother used often to cook stew. I want to try to convey the feeling of Christmas when the tree was brought into the house and I could feel the cold coming off of it and smell the sap. I want to try to save the mundane as well as the great events.

Bear with me while I learn how to write.