Did you know that a 4-year-old could buy beer…

in the 1940’s?  I’m sure there were laws against such things but it was a different time then.  Daddy would give me a few coins in my hand and tell me to go get a pail of draft beer, “Joe knows what I want.”  Then Daddy would solemnly hand me the clean bucket.  It had been well washed without any soap because good Germans knew that soap would take away the foam on the beer.  Daddy wanted a good ‘head’ on his beer.

So I’d skip over to the tavern on the corner of Armitage and Kedvale.  There was a lot of sawdust on the floor and I loved to slide in it.  Joe knew me and I’d go around to the side of the big bar so I wouldn’t have to climb on those really tall stools.  I’d hand him the coins and the pail and wait for Joe to draw the beer.  He knew just how much beer to put in the pail and how little foam to put on top.  That was so Daddy could pour his beer and create his own ‘head’ of white foam on his beer at home.  I’d walk home slowly so I wouldn’t spill any beer.

When I got to our apartment with the beer I’d walk to the kitchen where Daddy would be waiting with a big pitcher.  He’d tip that pail of beer ever so slowly so very little foam formed at the top of the pitcher.  Then I'd follow Daddy into the dining room while Mommy would put out the serving dishes of food.  There usually wasn’t a lot of meat because we could only buy a little bit of meat every week or month.  Mommy said that all the other meat had to go to the men who were fighting in the war.  I didn’t know what a war was but it had to be important because Mommy and Daddy told me it was important.

Friday was my favorite time of the week!  When Daddy took his chair at the head of the dining room table he’d reach over to his right where Mommy sat and pour some beer in her stemmed beer glass.   I was always amazed at how perfectly he could pour that beer with nary a drop spilt and a nice head of foam on top each glass.  Then he would take my little glass and fill it halfway and lastly he’d fill his own glass.

Next we’d bow our heads, make the sign of the cross and say grace.  I was so proud when they finally decided I was old enough to say grace for all of us.  To this day I can remember the prayer we said before every meal:

“Bless us, oh Lord,  for these thy gifts
which we are about to receive from Thy bounty,
through Christ, our Lord.  Amen.”

Every Friday it was the same. Daddy would take a sip of his beer as he leaned back in his chair. “Ahhh,” he would say, “At last I’m at home with my girls.”  At that Mom and I would look at each other, smile and know we were truly loved.  Then we’d begin the meal in earnest.

I’d sip my beer as I ate but sometimes Mommy would realize that I wasn’t drinking it very fast.  Without saying a word she’d go to the kitchen and get me a glass of milk.  I never did tell my folks that I really hated beer and coffee.  They enjoyed both of those drinks and I thought I had to drink them because all the adults in my family drank beer and coffee.

After dinner we’d clean off the table and put the food we didn’t eat into the refrigerator. Daddy and Mommy would wash and dry the dishes while I’d do my job of shaking off the napkins outside and putting them back on the table.  I’d dig out what I called the ‘table cleaner’.  It was a kind of metal dustpan with a dull metal scraper that I’d use to scrape all the crumbs off the table.  I really hated that chore when Mommy used the fancy lace table cloth.  I’d have to ask her to help me to lift up the lace tablecloth so I could scrape the crumbs off the cloth under the lace.  When I was done I’d pull down the lace table cloth and make everything as pretty as I could.

When the after-dinner chores were finished, I’d run into the bathroom so I could hurry up and take a bath.  When I was in my pajamas we’d all sit by the radio and listen to the news about the war and other things that interested my parents.  Fridays were special because we would make popcorn in the kitchen.  I’d get to drink my flavored milk that the milkman brought every few days while Mommy and Daddy drank the rest of the beer.  Full and sleepy, I’d soon be tucked in my bed after saying my nighttime prayers.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Sometimes at night there were scary loud horns making lots of noise.  Next all the shades and curtains would be quickly pulled closed and Mommy and Daddy would literally run through the apartment shutting off all the lights.  The big floor lamp in the living room would be turned off but I would be told to push a button at the bottom of the lamp that so a small light would turn on.  That was the only light we were allowed to have on.

From time to time Daddy would let me shut that light off and so I could look out the windows.  It was very eerie because of the total silence in the city.  I’d see cars in the middle of the street, stopped and their headlights turned off.  The streetlights would be off and the darkness seemed overwhelming to a child who loved the noise and excitement of the city.  I’d be able to see the stars and the bright moon.  Daddy would tell me the names of some of the stars.    I remember him telling me about the North Star and I enjoyed its brightness.

Mommy told me that when I was a little baby I would cry every time those sirens would start wailing.  But by the time I was almost 4 years old, I knew that we had to turn off the lights so the bad men couldn’t find us.  I’d curl up on either Mommy’s lap or in Daddy’s arms.  I would often fall asleep in the living room and I’d wake up the next day never remembering how I got into my bed.  We could leave the radio on if we kept it quiet.

I have no concept of how long the ‘blackouts’ lasted but we’d wait until the sirens would make a different sound.  That meant we could turn on the lights again.  If I was looking out the window I’d see the cars suddenly turn on their headlights and they would start driving again.  The streetlights would turn on and the moon and stars suddenly seemed very dim.

The blackouts weren’t the only thing that I remember from those years.  I would spend weeks in the hospital because of my cleft palate.   Visits to doctors seemed endless. Although all of those medical situations were a part of my life as a very young child, never were they overwhelming or really troublesome to me.  In that apartment on Kedvale were all the warmth and love I needed and to this day I recall them with a fondness that never leaves my heart or mind.

Filed under: Autobiographical


Leave a comment
  • I don't know about buying beer, but I remember one time my next door neighbor asked me to go to the back door of a tavern to buy some fried fish. Basically, not trusting back doors or establishments with glass block windows, I didn't do it. Now, next door, the former hardware store became a cigarette shop busted for selling reefer.

    And, with regard to the blackouts, there is the paraphrase of FDR: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself...and the boogeyman."

Leave a comment