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Growing Up in Frankford Part 7

Continuation of Lyle (Corky) Larkin remembers:

Block Parties

Another of the many things I have found to be unique to Philly were the “Block Parties.” During the warm months you would find police barricades at either end of a given block, prohibiting any traffic. Usually on Saturday morning the inhabitants of this block would get together and start setting up tables in the middle of the  street, complete with “oil cloth” table covers. (Mostly the white and red checkered kind.) Everyone would participate, bringing the “Specialty of the House” to his or  her own table. There were more varieties of deviled eggs than I knew existed, backed beans, luncheon spreads, homemade pickles, fresh baked bread and some of the  yummiest deserts I ever saw. There was either live music or someone would supply their “hi-fi” for playing records, but you could almost always count on somebody  in that block being able to play some kind of instrument, including the “Washtub & Scrub-Board”. Sometime the block party would last through till Sunday evening.

Wash Day

Behind the row homes, were alleyways. Which was a narrow path that separated the back yards, just wide enough for a horse and wagon to go through. The curbs had  a curved steel rail to protect it from the wagon wheels. For us kids, these alleys where a source of magic, for many of them interconnected and each turn had the  promise of a new adventure. Walking down these alleys you would always see women hanging out their wash in the back yard. Mondays seemed to be the designated  day for washing clothes. Women took great pride in hanging their wash out to show everyone how bright and white they got their laundry. There was almost an  unspoken competition going on with the neighbors. You could be sure the whites passed a rigid inspection before they were hung up. I remember a bluing process  that was used to make them look even whiter using ‘Unity Frankford Bluing’. We had a “Ringer” type washing machine down in the basement alongside a double compartment cement laundry tub, which sat on a metal frame. This tub had to weigh over two hundred pounds I remember some men broke it up with  sledgehammers when they removed it. The washer was set next to these tubs so the water that was wrung out of the clothes as they passed through the hard wringers would go down the drain and not back into the washing machine. The agitator would go up and down instead of in a circular motion like the ones of today. The was a  big red button on top of the wringers which was an emergency release in case you got your fingers too close while you were hand feeding the clothes through and the  wringers caught your hand. For the toughest dirtiest clothes, there was always the “washboard.” This was not the fanciest of devices, it was simply a two foot by three  foot wooden frame with a piece of galvanized ribbed metal that you placed upright inside of a tub and vigorously rubbed the piece of laundry up and down on until it  came clean. For many, this was the only source of washing! It seemed like just one step above beating your laundry on rocks down at the river. There was no such  thing as a dryer, so everything was hung out in the back yard to dry. Sometime in the winter the clothes froze on the line, so they had to be hung in the basement. The  clothesline had to be changed often due to being out in the weather, it would get dirty and leave marks on the clothes. Clothes poles were used to prop up the lines and  keep them from sagging in case there were too many heavy things on the line. Solid cast irons were used to make razor sharp creases in the shirts. We had a gas  stove in the kitchen where my grandmother would heat the irons. She had several of these so while she was using one, the other was getting hot on the stove. The  handles were removable so it was easy to switch those heavy irons once they cooled down.

Magic Radio

I can recall many Sunday nights, sitting in the living room on the floor and staring at the big RCA console radio. There was a small semi circle shaped dial in the  middle towards the top with a yellow light in it. We would all sit there watching the radio listening to programs such as Jack Armstrong, Inner Sanctum, The Green  Hornet, The Shadow, Charlie McCarthy, Burns and Allen, Amos and Andy, Sky King and finally, Walter Winchell with the news. This man could really sell the news; he made everything sound even more important than it was! “Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea. Let’s go to press.” That‟s how he would begin each program. I could go on and on with the list of programs that kept us glued to that set for hours each week. These were good times. These were family times. These  were the times when you used your imagination to see things. These were the times before television.

To be continued…

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Growing Up in Frankford Part 6

Continuation of Lyle (Corky) Larkin remembers:

The Ice Man

The iceman was also a very important part of our life, for ice was the only refrigerant at this time. He too would come up to each house with his horse and wagon which contained huge blocks of ice, I‟m sure they were well over one hundred pounds each. He would take an ice pick and very skillfully carve out a piece just the right size for each house. He would then hoist it onto the large leather shoulder pad he wore for protection with a large pair of tongs, and make his delivery. During the summer, it was great to follow the iceman around, for he would hand out small chunks of ice to the kids and we would suck on them like they were popcycles.

Oleo  Margarine

Who in the world ever thought this one up? It came in a pound bar wrapped in wax paper. It looked like a cake of lard with one exception; this package came complete  with one small packet of a very orange liquid. When you opened the package of margarine you were also supposed to open this packet of liquid and mix it into the bar of margarine. This was one of my least favorite chores, I hated to get this stuff between my fingers but the only way to mix it was to squeeze it through your hands until it was all one color, yellow. The next task was to re-shape it into a reasonable looking oblong block, which would later make it to the kitchen or dining room table. YUK!


Diners were a big part of the Frankford social scene. From teenagers to adults, they could always meet at the diner. Most had an outside skin of stainless steel making them bright and shiny Inside a friendly waitress with a crisp starched uniform complete with apron greeted you. The first thing you heard from her was, “What can I get ya hon?” The tables on the window side of the diner were usually covered with white Formica, and had a chrome mini jukebox mounted within reach. You could get five plays for a quarter. B.L.Ts were a popular item to order, which got you a sandwich consisting of bacon, lettuce & tomato. In the center of the diner was a long  counter with various colors of sparkling naugahide-covered stools. The last diner I can recall was located across from the Penn Fruit supermarket on Pratt St. and         Frankford Ave. (Important Note) The diners with the best food, always had the most trucks and tractor trailers parked outside.

Grocery Stores

Most of the stores during these days were “Mom & Pop” stores, privately owned and operated. Unlike the Supermarkets of today, these stores were rather small in size. Upon entering one of these little gems, your nostrils were immediately awakened by the many different pleasant aromas! The wooden floors were always  immaculately clean. There were no wide isles with huge stacks of merchandise. There were simply many shelves behind the counter against the walls; from floor to  ceiling, stacked with can goods and boxes that were out of reach of the customer. The clerk would either have a ladder (on wheels) that slid from one end to the other or, he would use a device that was simply a long pole. That had a mechanical rubber tipped gripper on one end and a handle at the other that allowed him to reach and grab whatever item you wanted.

The Butcher always wore a white bib style apron and took great pride in his display case. Keeping the glass sparkling clean. All the different lunch meats were carefully arranged with little white tags on the end showing you the price per pound. There seemed to be no end to the supply of fresh parsley, which was used to separate the various pork, chops, fresh steaks, chicken etc. There was every kind of sausage imaginable hanging from a rack, which was suspended from the ceiling just above the meat counter. After making your selection, he expertly cut, weighed and wrapped it in white waxed paper and with his red or green grease pencil mark the price on the side of your package. Behind the butcher counter was a walkway of wooden 1x2s made up in sections about four feet long and three feet wide with cross boards holding them together. They were fashioned in such a way that they raised the floor by about three inches with a fresh supply of  sawdust beneath them to catch any dropping from the fresh killed chickens which were kept in pens usually just outside the store. You can rest assured that the floor  was swept and disinfected at the end of each workday.

During World War II, the grocery stores would accept all excess fat from their customers. This fat was rendered into soap and was used for many things in the war effort, lubricants, etc. In return for your efforts you would receive red ration stamps, which were good for meat products, in return. Friday seemed like it was the day to buy fish, for at that time the people who were of the Catholic faith were told by the Church that they were supposed to give up eating meat one day a week and Friday was the selected day. So it seemed the whole neighborhood decided that since they were sure the fish was  super fresh on Friday that would be their fish day also. After you finished picking your selection you went to the front counter where the grocer was adding up your total purchases. He didn‟t have a scanner or a calculator, the grocer was adding up your purchases by hand with a pencil and did the math the hard way. He listed  each item on the paper bag he was going to pack all your groceries in.

There was always a young boy working in these stores and he would be happy to carry all you  groceries home for you using his “Red Flier” wagon to assist him for many times he would have to walk for blocks with a weeks worth of groceries in tow. He would be  happy to get a whole quarter for his efforts. I imagine this was the first form of employment for many young lads.

Oh yes, I mustn‟t forget the “Pickle Barrel.” Almost every store had a barrel located within easy reach so the customer could make their own selection from the many Jewish Pickles (they call them Kosher now.) floating  n the wonderfully spiced brine that gave off an aroma, which filled the store. There was always a pair of wooden tongs and some waxed paper bags nearby so you could package your treasure for the trip home. Some of the things I have a hard time finding today are Large boxes of “Blue Tip” safety matches, Powdered cod  fish, Ladyfingers, Junket custard pudding & Macaroons.

To be continued…

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Growing Up in Frankford Part 5

Continuation of Lyle (Corky) Larkin remembers:

Christmas At Wanamaker’s

Christmas was always my favorite time of the year to go down town and take in all the amazing sights of the city streets dressed up in festive style, with  lights strung across Market St. and the candle cut-outs fastened to the street lights. There was a Santa in front of each of the Major Department stores  ringing his Salvation Army bell while standing next to the ever familiar tripod with kettle. The most fascinating part of the trip was the various scenes the “Window Dressers” created for each of the Department stores. These artists would create complete wonderland scenes or have manikins so real looking  that sometime you actually had to look twice just to make sure. Meeting under the Eagle, was the accepted unofficial meeting place if you got separated  from your partner while shopping. It always amazed me how many people would just be standing there around that huge gold statue of the eagle until  their partner showed up.

To be continued…

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Growing Up in Frankford Part 3

Continuation of Lyle (Corky) Larkin remembers:

Halloween was always a very festive time in our neighborhood, we had a beautiful parade that completely closed Frankford Avenue from the Ruan St. fire station (which used to be the home for the “Philly Boy’s Club”) just north of the Frankford and Kensington Ave. split to Bridge Street which by the way was also the end of the line for the “El”.  There were beautifully decorated floats, people dressed as cowboys and Indians on horseback, jugglers, acrobats, mounted police, etc.   They would march down the Avenue past thousands of people standing at the curb, trying not to let one pass without their seeing them.  During this time, people were more than generous in giving out treats.  I can remember going out with my friends and coming home several times with filled shopping bags (from either the Penn Fruit or the A&P stores) and going right out again,  sometime finishing up with as many as 5 filled bags. The parades stopped about 1950 and it seems as though the people started asking us while trick or treating, “do I know you” or “are you from this block?”  At this point the loot went downhill to maybe quarters of a bag on a good night.

To be continued…

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Growing Up in Frankford Part 2

Continuation of Lyle (Corky) Larkin remembers:

Frankford Avenue was paved with cobblestones (So many streets were paved this way) at this time and was the main shopping area for the northeast portion of Philadelphia. Within a four block area you could do your grocery shopping, take care of your dry cleaning, buy a new pair of shoes or  have the old one‟s repaired, while you waited. One of the places was named, “Vitacolona’s Shoe Repair” These shoe repair stores had sit down booths about three feet high with red leather seats and each booth had a door. The idea was to give the customer a feeling of privacy while having their shoes off. The “Cobbler” would be sure to have magazines or a newspaper handy (usually the Philadelphia Inquirer or the Bulletin later came the Daily News) to keep you occupied while he repaired your shoes.

After getting your shoes repaired you could stop in one of the many soda fountains and get a banana split, chocolate nut sundae or root beer float. At one of the candy stores you could purchase some penny candies Grade A Bars, Snowcaps, Maltballs, Licorice Babies, Coconut Potatoes, Mary Janes, candy cigarettes, cinnamon potatoes, jaw breakers, pills on a strip or rock candy or perhaps just go down the long row of glass gallon jars that stood on their sides with shiny metal lids, and under the careful scrutiny of the shop owner, fill a bag with “penny candy”.

You could go to any one of the many car dealers and purchase a Packard, Kaiser- Fraiser,  Studabaker, Hudson, Henry J, Willys or a Nash. Where are these cars today and don‟t you wish you had kept yours? How about a beer for a nickel, a new suit at Krass Brothers or Edco Youth Center or a dress, at Charming Shoppe, fill your prescription at Antwissles Apothecary at Harrison St.

Perhaps it‟s time to get your hair cut at  one of the many fine Barbers. All you had to do was look for one of those red and white candy striped poles out front and you knew you got to the right place. Inside, the first thing that hit you was the aroma of “Bay Rum” cologne. These shops were always immaculate with their black and white checkered tile floors and big red  leather special chairs. There was always one reserved for the kids down at the end with a booster seat that had chrome handles to straddle the chair.

The barbers took not only great pride in their work but also in their uniforms. They wore white smocks, heavily starched and never the same one twice. When the kids finished having their hair cut they almost always got a Tootsie Pop as a reward for sitting still. I‟m sure many of them got the reward in spite of their antics. Buy some flowers, have lunch, get new glasses, shoot pool, go to the movies or have a cut stitched up at Frankford Hospital on Wakeling St., it was our main hospital. Lastly you could pay your respects to a departed friend on Harrison St., which somehow became the street of Funeral Parlor‟s for this particular neighborhood.

Then there was always the old man with an organ grinder mounted on a pole, which acted as a stand for him to rest the organ on while he turned the hand crank that  played the music. He walked up and down the avenue with a trained monkey riding on his shoulder. This cute little animal had a collar around his neck with a long chain attached. The monkey‟s outfit was a pair of red and black checkered pants, red vest, yellow silk shirt and black top-hat. The monkey would dance to the organ music while the old man turned the crank and when the music was over, the monkey would beg for coins from the crowd by walking around with it‟s hand extended. As you put a coin in his hand, he would tip his hat and give the “Loot” to his owner.

To be continued…