A Thanksgiving dinner in 1948

Freedom

Oh boyoboyoboy – we’re having our first Thanksgiving dinner in Reno since we moved here after the war at our house at 740 Ralston Street. And the best news is that the little red-haired girl is coming, with her parents and grandparents. And her baby brother Mike who like my sister Marilynn is still in a bassinet, unless they get loose somehow. A little birdie tells me that someday Mike will be a dentist and Meri will teach school in Napa for 32 years. But I don’t know that now. Rug-rats, Dad calls them.

SlimDad’s been working hard on the house. He’s got his friend Mr. Maffi helping him to 740Ralstonconvert the coal furnace over to oil. They put an oil tank on a stand that feeds the oil to the furnace by gravity, and while it hasn’t been too cold yet it really helps to get the heat up in a hurry. Dad found a tag on the old furnace that says “1905” so it’s pretty old. But we knew that anyway because the carriage house behind the house had a couple old gigs and axles and wheels in it.

All the neighbors are getting rid of the leaves that are falling off the trees everywhere. Last year, our first in Reno, Dad burned them in the curbside but this year they’re still green and won’t burn too well. Anyway, Mary S. Doten School is closed for Thanksgiving Day and the day after, so I’m going to write about it for my teacher Mrs. Angus to get extra credit against my deportment demerits so I won’t have to stay after school. For a while.

The Thanksgiving dinner is turning in to quite an affair, and a lot of work. Mom is peeling potatoes like crazy and will start soon on the sweet potatoes. The little red-haired girl’s mom is working on the stuffing for the turkey and her grandmother is baking some pies – apple and pumpkin. I got to help clean out a couple pumpkins for that pie. Mr. Thomas, who owns a little ranch south of town on a lane called “Huffaker” brought the turkey over. He’d already cut its head off so it’s in a burlap sack.

The little red-head’s dad made a temporary icebox out of his old Navy footlocker and went to Union Ice Company on the Lincoln Highway just west of Vine Street and got ten pounds of dry ice to keep everything in the footlocker, like the turkey and his mother-in-law’s pies, cold. Dad also went to his friend Mr. Chism’s dairy and got a carton of ice cream – he’s going to start marketing it year-round and would have already but no one has a way to keep it cold.

That seems to be the largest problem in putting together this dinner – all the people in Reno have little tiny boxes in their refrigerators for freezing stuff. If they even have a refrigerator at all – there are a lot of homes that just have iceboxes. So the grocery stores don’t carry much frozen food and there aren’t too many grocery stores anyway. Dad’s  friends the Sewell brothers – Harvey and Abner [whoops – might be Herb. But what does a six-ear old know? (All three were founders of Nevada Bank of Commerce)] – are building a big store – biggest in Reno – on Fifth Street between Fifth Street and the Lincoln Washoe MarketHighway. And a father-and-son, John and Bob Games already have a store downtown [pictured left] but are building a big market on the spot on South Virginia Street where the Shrine Circus used to be held [the antique store in the 1200 block!].  They will go a long way to improving shopping for big dinners like this one. The Gastanaga family already has Eagle Drug and is thinking of offering groceries as Eagle Thrifty. And we have the Twentieth Century Market out South Virginia at the south edge of town by the drive-in. Now all we need are more people with bigger refrigerators, which the American industrial factories can now work on since the war effort is over.

Within about four blocks of 740 Ralston Street, and most other homes in Reno, are maybe four grocery stores – Ralston Market at the bottom of the hill, the Quality Market at Seventh and Washington, the Hilltop Market on 11th Street and the University Market on 10th [Pub ‘n Sub!]. Oh, and the Cottage Grocery on Fifth Street also has a butcher shop which most grocery stores don’t, and the Santa Claus Market on Vine and Sixth is open on Christmas Day.

That’s how it got its name………

Anyhow, there’s no shortage of markets, but all are limited in their selection.

Mom says that a lot of groceries could be frozen for a dinner like this. Like the pies they’re making for dinner, the ice cream from Chism’s dairy, even the turkey. She says that someday turkeys will be for sale frozen, and people will have refrigerators big enough to store them. And Dad says he won’t have to go to Union Ice or Brickie Hansen’s market anymore to get ice cubes for the cocktails. Even the whipped cream will come in a can with some kind of pressure, like hair spray and room deodorant will also. Dad says she’s nuts – why would anybody put whipping cream in a can for topping? I just stay out of it. She is a little batty…

Dad’s friend Mr. Conrad is in the grocery business so he’s helping with some of the dinner. His wife Jean will be my third-grade teacher next year. They have a cute little daughter named Carolyn; she’s a couple years older than I but I’ll bet she’ll still be my friend 70 years from now. Getting dinner rolls is kind of tough this time of year; Rauhut’s Bakery carries them but we’re getting ours from Nikki Pistone, Inezwho lives close by on Sierra Street and cooks and people go and pick up what they order – rolls, sometimes other stuff and ravioli – she’s known by all as the best ravioli cook in town next to some lady in a house Halfway between Reno and Sparks. She’s good too.

The little red-headed girl’s dad is getting the wine – he’s a basko, whatever that is, but he has a lot of friends in Little Italy, walking distance from our houses! His friend Mr. Nieri [Aldo] has saved a couple nice bottles of red wine for us. Actually, they’re jugs – everybody who gets wine from Little Italy has to bring their own jugs and they get refilled from the wine the Italian people crush themselves. Dad says the druggist Mr. Ramos is going to start selling wine in real bottles with labels on them, in red, white and blush, which are the three types of wine now being bottled. Mom grew up in Petaluma, a hoot-and-a-holler from a little town called Napa which is the Portuguese capital of America. The Portuguese know wine and how to bottle it and age it and make barrels for it, but the Irish mothers wouldn’t let their daughters date the Portuguese boys. If I heard that once, I heard it a thousand times.

We’re having some guests – Dad is going to walk to St. Mary’s Hospital down the street and bring a couple of the Dominican sisters up the hill to join us for dinner. Mom knows one of them from Petaluma, which is close to San Rafael, which is the head-shed of the Dominican Order, that started St. Mary’s Hospital. Actually they started St. Mary’s School for Girls which was converted to a hospital in 1918 when Reno needed a hospital more than it needed a girls’ school. I’ll have to hear that story all night one more time. But it will be nice to see them. Last year, when we like many Reno people had ham for Thanksgiving because Dad couldn’t find a turkey, my mother’s Aunt Lola, an Irish Catholic nun loose in the Maryknoll Order came on the train from that order’s HQ in Dubuque, Iowa and she and Dad had too much of Mr. Nieri’s red wine, but we won’t  write about that dinner.

Anyhoo, it’s going to be a fine night indeed on Ralston Street. Dad’s getting out a bunch of his records to put on the changer and I asked him to include Peter and the Wolf. The takeaway for the whole article is of the way things are today in 1948, as compared to the way they might be 70 years later, in terms of putting a dinner together without what I guess will be called a big refrigerator with a huge freezer section, big markets with every grocery item known to man prepackaged or frozen or available somehow, and also some of the cooking tools available – microwave ovens, and range/ovens with such great capacity and alternate cooking temperatures. Think about that as you enjoy your dinner this week!

(Of course, this is only 1948 as I write this, so I know nothing about it….)

Happy Thanksgiving to all…

-o-0-o-

A note about the graphic: In 1941, FDR addressed congress with a goal to revolve around the so-called Four Freedoms —”Freedom of Speech,” ‘Freedom of Worship,” “Freedom from Want,” and “Freedom From Fear.”

Illustrator Norman Rockwell embodied those freedoms in a series of four covers for the Saturday Evening Post; the “Freedom from Want” was published five years ago just prior to Thanksgiving 1943 and immediately became the iconic representation of the holiday.

It is my understanding that Rockwell and the Post released the copyright on the four covers. The original covers are currently on display in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan

Photo of Inez Stempeck holding award, courtesy Guy Clifton

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Walking the Golden Gate Bridge, 1937

GGBaGGB2The backstory:  In 1987 – I, as a Reno member of a San Francisco writing group and in an effort to get the membership off their butts and give up their Dick-and-Jane level of prose, challenged them to write a piece about what would happen should the Golden Gate Bridge fall into the Bay. As part of the challenge I wrote the first chapter, trying to inveigle some of them to get aboard and write a second, third, final chapter, each independent of the preceding author’s work. I threw down the gauntlet, but none came forth with any subsequent chapters. I said to hell with it and forgot about it until I was recently invited to write a SF-based piece on the Ol’ Reno Guy thing. I dragged the following out – it was typewritten, so I just recast it on my laptop exactly as I wrote it originally. Anybody want to add a chapter? Go for it; I’ll gladly make some space available here!

-o-0-o-

It was created on a tide-swept body of water a hundred feet more than a mile across, with currents ravaged by the influx of fresh water from nine major California rivers.

Eleven-hundred feet south of the San Francisco Presidio Joseph Strauss, generallyGGBJosStrauss credited as the designer of the project, began work on an Art Deco tower which, in the ensuing two years would rise 746 feet above the high-water line of the Bay. The tower would be built of steel boxes, three-and-a-half feet square, welded together in multiples and form the massive base, to then taper off as the tower rose above the water. It was topped with a flat plate, upon which would rest ten round steel pipes and a saddle to support a cable. The pipes and saddle were to roll freely during construction.

On the dry land of the Marin shore 4,200 feet to the north, another like tower was built, a duplicate of the one rising out of the water. When completed, skeptics swore that the two towers, viewed from a distance, had a noticeable lean away from each other toward their respective shores. In fact, each tower was 12’-6” off plumb; the cagey engineer knew that the massive load each tower would bear would tug the tops of the structures together to form straight lines. What the critics missed in the years to come was that the towers remain slightly off-plumb inward, to compensate for the curvature of the earth and thus appear parallel from a distance.

GGBcableOne morning a slim galvanized wire, about the diameter of a pencil lead, was stretched across the water, lifted to the top of the north tower, then allowed to sag across the span and rise back up to the top of the south tower. The wire, by then over 7,000 feet long, was connected to a steel eye in a 60,000-ton concrete block on the Marin shore. The spinning machine then pulled a like wire back along the same route, and it was connected to another anchor block adjoining Fort Point in San Francisco’s Presidio. When the spinning machine had made 432 trips across the bay, it had completed a 2-7/8-inch cable. It would make 60 more like cables on each side of the towers. With the completion of each cable, the saddle resting on the pipes atop each tower wouldGGBcableCloseup be moved hydraulically slightly toward the center of the span, so that when all 61 cables were complete, the resulting two 37” main cables for the bridge would be exactly centered on the top of both of the towers. Both of the sets of 61 cables were spread from the main cables and anchored at the Fort Point and Marin (Lime Point) anchorages. 

The two main cables, originally hexagonal, were compressed to round with hydraulic presses and wrapped with light wire. The pipes at the top of each tower, placed to enable moving the saddles, were grouted into place permanently.

Lighter galvanized cables, woven on shore in a plant on the Marin side, were suspended down from the main cables every 72 feet in groups of two, holding a steel structure which would soon support a roadbed six car-lanes wide and a sidewalk on either side. Consideration was give to the fact that most of the weight would be borne on one side of the bridge during the morning commute and transferred across the span in the evening as automobiles returned to Marin County.           

GGBlampsThe pavers followed, and the electricians placed the revolutionary sodium-vapor lights in the bridge’s Art Deco theme [pictured left]. While this work proceeded, the untold story remained the construction of roads leading through the Presidio and Waldo Grade, where a tunnel had to be bored. The access roads accounted for a major part of the expenditure for the bridge, but lacked the flair and excitement of high-steel work over a body of water!

The two slim towers, out of plumb three years before but now bearing the weight of 96,000 tons of steel plus 24,000 cubic yards of asphalt paving, pulled together to appear truly vertical. The massive concrete anchors for the main cables at either end of the span yielded, according to the best surveying techniques available in 1936 – and later confirmed by more modern techniques – not a fraction of an inch [the north anchorage is evident just to the north/right of the Lime Point landing in the photo below]. 

GGBnorth_anchor

 

On May 27, 1937 the bridge opened to foot traffic, followed a day later by the first cars to cross the span. The pedestrians, on this wind-calm day absent of any vehicles, could scarcely sense that the roadway beneath their feet, at the midpoint of the span, could rise or fall 15 feet, or swing toward the blue Pacific or Alcatraz Island a distance of 27 feet.

-o-0-o-

Fifty years passed, and on a bright day in late May of 1987, the noise of cars clicking across the steel expansion joins in the roadway abated, and a pedestrian crowd returned to relive the opening of the span. It was a day of celebration; a day when GGBaVinsonthe bridge reached its 50th birthday. The red-oxide paint on the structure, chosen as much for its rust-resistant properties as its Golden link to the Bay’s early heritage, appeared a little brighter than the day prior. The water below was bluer; the sun picked up the silver in the Goodyear blimp Columbia, slowly orbiting overhead, and the mufti of the ship’s company assembled on the flight deck of the carrier Enterprise, laying on the hook bayward of the Gate. The skies were clear, and the revelers could see the Farallones twelve miles to the west and the verdant hills of Mt. Diablo to the east. Indeed, not a day to be without extra film for the camera.

A two-inch valve opened in the air pipe supplying the foghorn at midspan, just as it had opened every twenty seconds during foggy days for the last 50 years. The rushGGBaTyphon of air powered the typhon to a throaty toot that could be heard to Alameda, temporarily drowning out San Francisco’s own Huey Lewis & the News, performing on a barge 220 feet below the bridge. The horn signaled that the bridge, for the first time in 50 years, was open exclusively to foot traffic. GGBaCrowdScene

People, eventually 800,000 of them, give or take a couple thousand, came in all shapes and sizes; in jogging shorts and late-1930s costumes. They came alone and in groups, some as snakes and serpentines, the old and the young, and those in-between, to walk the Gate. The crowd amazed even those who had years before become accustomed to the sea of humanity convening annually a few miles away during the Bay-to-Breakers footrace.

A Golden Gate District shuttle bus stopped at the Sausalito Vista Point, and deposited another 40 celebrants. Among that group was a family with Bay Area roots. Indeed one of the group – the matriarch from nearby Petaluma – had walked the bridge when it opened in 1937. Some came from near – Napa – others came over the Sierra from Reno, and one journeyed from faraway Tucson. They had come, as so many others did, to walk the bridge as a family. Some might have the opportunity to do it again 50 years hence at the bridge’s centennial. For others it was a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. They walked down the slight grade, directed by the matriarch: the large, the small, the old, young, middle-aged; the good, the bad and the ugly.

-o-0-o-

Five-hundred-ten feet above the group, far from the noise of the crowd, unseen by any living thing save for possibly a seagull resting on a cable clamp, and only a few hundred feet south of the Marin tower, a suspension cable, 2-7/8 inches in diameter plus the thickness of the galvanizing and some 25 coats of red-oxide paint; a cable, scheduled to be replaced in a dozen years pair-by-pair; a cable which, with its miles of neighbors had supported the span under which passed the soldiers and sailors who waged then returned from three world-wide military conflicts.

A cable which had tacitly overseen Marin County grow from a bedroom community GGBconstructionto a major force in the Bay Area economy, twisted, unwitnessed. A few bright strands of wire appeared through the dull coating of paint. The family below, intent on the music of Huey Lewis and the messages being scrolled across the flank of the blimp Columbia, didn’t feel any movement under their feet, nor did they see the few falling flakes of red oxide paint, dislodged by the cable’s splaying. They couldn’t see, five-hundred feet above in the bright morning sun that a side of the cable, which had hung in shadow for five decades, had twisted slightly and was now illuminated by that sunlight.

The massive weight borne so diligently by that cable had been slightly cast onto the strands of the adjacent cable systems, and the Petaluma family far below had no way of feeling that the neighboring cables’ load had been invisibly increased, and that their strands too, had rotated, ever so slightly.

The geometry of the German engineer reliant upon every component doing its job was literally beginning to unravel. As the matriarch led her brood under the Marin tower toward the throng now approaching them from the Presidio, they missed the real drama, slowly but inexorably taking place five-hundred feet above them, that would reshape not only their lives, but the fate and future of the entire Bay Area…