2020: C – April A to Z… Family Stories
I’m back in 2020 for my fifth year of participating in the yearly April A to Z challenge… and as usual I racked my brain scribbling ideas on paper since the end of last April. It wasn’t until January, that the light bulb finally went off in scrolling through the 85+ of unfinished blog posts in my draft folder. Bingo… there was my A to Z topic…
Family Stories as told to me… mostly by my husband!
From the moment I married into this Italian family… I fell in love with their stories… their memories… and the family. My husband grew up in West Haven, Connecticut… where there was so much to enjoy as a young boy… especially a place known as Savin Rock… although long gone now. It somewhat resembled Coney Island… but was even larger when his parents, aunts and uncles grew up. They had stories… and I was always an eager listener whenever they told those stories… remembering, and scribbling down to preserve, just as I did with the family recipes that had once only been in their heads. 2020 has became the year I’m telling many of those stories… along with my husband’s memories to preserve for the generations to come. Many of those who told me their stories, are no longer with us… and I hope to keep their memory alive in these stories… as they are now my family also… and I love them all!
My previous years of A to Z Challenges are:
- 2016: A to Z Southern Foods and Memories… they said write what you know… and being a girl born in the South… well this was what I knew.
- 2017: A to Z Conversations with Mama… it was a somewhat easy one for me to write as I’d journaled our conversations for years… I researched favorite topics to write.
- 2018: A to Z All About Nancy Drew… this one has been my favorite topic so far, and I don’t know if I’ll ever come up with another one to equal it
- 2019: A to Z Italian Famiglia Foods and Memories… I felt it was time to finally write the favorites of my husbands family foods.
Come sit a spell and enjoy!
Corner Markets, Pharmacies, Diners… and more!
Where I grew up in Perry, Georgia, I only remember a few grocery stores… no corner markets or pharmacies… and no diners! For some reason, you just don’t see diners in the South… seems like they are more a Northern thing… those silver streamlined icons with booths and if you’re lucky, a mini jukebox at your table. Years ago, they all had music at the table… but today, they are far and few in between. Anytime we pass one of those icons, it’s hard to refuse a stop in! Our neighborhoods were completely different in growing up… these memories are his… well most of them are!
I was lucky enough that when I married and came to West Haven, West End Market was still open… and had now turned itself from a corner market into more of a small grocery store; it was a family owned business, with the family still living upstairs. My husband worked at Armstrong Rubber… as did his father… both cashed their weekly paycheck there… and both bought the weekly meats there. I have fond memories of walking in through the back screen door… and I can still hear that slam the door made behind me; every butcher at the counter always smiled as you walked by. I can even visualize the many pieces of wood shavings trampled out from the back butchering room. Everyone had a smile… from the back to the front… they were happy to see you and always inquired about your family… as they knew all your family. They even made me feel as if I’d been coming there for more years than I had.
West End Market… in its early days.
The scene you saw walking in through the back screen door!
“My father bought his meats weekly at West End Market, on the corner of Sawmill and Elm Street – across from Armstrong Rubber. It was convenient for him and many others to shop there. He cashed his weekly paycheck there every Friday, along with picking up his meat order… left during the week. They were old-fashioned butchers who trimmed your meats to perfection… you paid a little more, but you got what you paid for, along with a friendly smile and chit-chat about life and the family.”
“You could buy almost everything you needed at West End Market. They had small sections of this and that scattered all over their store. It was mostly known for their meats… the best looking cuts of meat you’d ever see at a meat counter. West End Market wasn’t always across from Armstrong, it originally was in the old Underwater Scuba building on the corner of Kelsey and Main St.”
I shopped there after Steve and I married when we lived in West Haven – it was a friendly place. I often went on Friday to buy Steve his favorite chocolate pie in the tins that advertised “New England Table Talk Pies with flaky crust”… you paid a nickel deposit on the tin… because you were suppose to return for your deposit back; funny how we still have a couple of them hanging in the kitchen today. I even remember the wooden bar that the Anna used to pull your groceries down the “non-electric” belt.
Mom and Pop Grocery Markets
“Many of the “Mom and Pop” markets, as they’re often called, were only a storefront… a front built onto their home… with them often living upstairs over the market. They were the local neighborhood markets where you bought your daily necessities like Italian bread, cold cuts, milk, sometimes pizza.. and where your mother sent you to buy her cigarettes! Yes, that was the era where I, at ten year old, was sent to buy cigarettes! Every neighborhood had these markets… there was so many because often the wife was home with no car…it was the era of a one-family car.”
You lived in your neighborhood… everything was there you needed… often even a pharmacy or two. Now, all that is gone… for the most part. You also frequented the local family-owned hardware stores, but now they are all gone… only big box stores left. Byer’s Hardware on Campbell Avenue was the last one to close… my husbands favorite place! You never walked in a family owned hardware without finding what you needed… and you were always greeted… asking what could they do for you, and taking you directly to the item you wanted. Try and find someone to help you today in any store!
Mr. Byer’s knew where everything was… you only had to ask!
“Byer’s Hardware always had the look of an old-style hardware store even when it closed in its later years… it still had the worn wooden floor and tin pattern ceiling tiles from years ago. Mr. Byer’s oak roll-top desk, along with the original metal cash register also remained until they closed their doors around 2010.”
“I often went crabbing behind Painter Park in the running stream of water (Cove River) that runs through… running out to Long Island Sound; we even caught crabs there. We bought our cheap bamboo fishing poles at West End Market – probably cost about $1.50 each… the butchers gave us meat and chicken scraps for bait. We tied the meat on a string and dragged it along the bottom… and as the crab followed, the other one scooped the net in and picked up the crab. I didn’t really like crabbing, and didn’t do it often as it was a slow process – I’d get bored. That same stream of water also ran near our house, and we could actually follow it all the way to Painter Park. We rode through Painter Park recently, but the stream isn’t as big as it was, and now looks to be more marshy than a stream.”
“York St. Market, on York St, was another corner store mama sent me if she needed something before my father came home. I didn’t mind walking anywhere as a young boy… it was fun going to the markets. After West End Market closed, it became my father’s go-to place in picking up a loaf of Italian bread or playing his numbers My father became hooked on playing the daily numbers after he won on the number 487. We didn’t even know he was playing… as it was so unlike him. I accidently learned when I was picking up my meat order at West End Market… and the cat was out of the bag! It didn’t take my mother long, after hearing… to ask for her cut!”
“My mother was known for saving cigarette butts around the house – on a ledge in the cellar – and always on a kitchen shelf. She wasn’t really hiding them from anyone, just saving a few butts… for when needed. Stores weren’t as close by… and she didn’t always have a car. The closest store was either York St. or West End Market. She wouldn’t walk, she would send me.”
“I could buy a pack of cigarettes from a vending machine as a kid – and no one even blinked an eye! All kids my age were sent to the store to buy cigarettes for their mother – that was the standard. The only place you’ll see a cigarette vending machine today is in the antique stores!”
“Phaff’s Market was on the corner of Elm and Washington, just up from my grandfather’s barber shop. As many times as I walked by this store headed to the barber shop, I never remember going inside. My grandfather shopped there almost daily… Grandma would call him as to what she needed on his way home. It was usually milk and bread, even though milk was delivered daily, there never seemed to be enough. I always drank milk when I went there and I went there three or four times daily. When they had the farm, we lived right next door, but even when they moved to First Avenue, it was nothing for my mother to go there several times a day.”
“Another market, I think called Jerry’s Market Grocer, (191 Campbell Avenue) was where I often went with my father on Sunday’s to buy hard rolls. It was still open even after I married and we went there too, but now it’s a liquor store called the Wine Press. Stores weren’t open on Sundays when I grew up, there was a law called the “Blue Law”… which prohibited them from opening. Even after I married, they still were closed… so on Sunday, we’d drive to Crown Market in Westville to buy hard rolls and cold cuts for work.”
“Corner markets were scattered all over West Haven, but you only knew the ones in your neighborhood… the ones you could walk to!”
Besides the many diners located throughout West Haven, there was also several downtown. Only one, Jerri’s Diner on Campbell Avenue, remains today – and with the same name; after their remodel, they removed the famous Coca Cola clock above the door. Much of downtown West Haven now has foreign storefront names… it’s very sad to ride through the center of town while remembering what it once looked like… as Steve has described to me. Our favorite diner was always The Elm Diner, just next door to Armstrong. We began going there before our kids were born and went so often that they knew us, our children, and even “our order”… they never needed to come take our order. It was like family there… they watched our kids grow up and always called us by name. Later they moved from the shiny streamlined typical New England diner to a more restaurant look… but it’s still our favorite diner of choice.
“Another store on Campbell Avenue was Dannenburg’s… while it wasn’t a corner market, it was a store where my grandmother and mother often shopped. My grandmother bought clothes for her 7 children there – she charged and paid weekly, but she never told my grandfather… he was very proud and would never charge anything… he’d do without first. My mother also shopped and charged… buying mostly household things like pots and pans and curtains. There were no other places to shop… and no one had charge cards at that time.”
“Bell’s Department Store was located behind Railroad Salvage on Campbell Avenue. It was a store like Dannenberg’s on Campbell Avenue, but on the opposite side of town… further down toward Allingtown. It was located in a large older house that was once a brewery; my father told me that. There were many local breweries years ago in the New Haven area. You needed to drive down a dirt road, almost on the side of where Railroad Salvage sits now. Aunt Mary and cousin Pauline worked there as cashiers when it first opened. I remember standing in line with my mom on opening day.”
The soda fountain at Silver’s is what Steve remembers most… especially the nights after Boy Scouts… if he had a quarter! Sad for West Haven when Silver’s closed its doors.
Silvers – the downtown corner pharmacy
“The big pharmacy downtown was Silver’s… and it was where I went on Thursday nights after Boy Scouts. My scout meeting was on the second floor of the American Legion Hall on Main St… Troup No. 716; later it was shortened to Troup 16. My friend Ralph and I went there after scouts… and I usually had a black & white for 10-cents, or if I was feeling rich, I had a sundae for 25-cents. But first things first… the first thing I did when entering Silver’s was to check the five wooden phone booths for extra change… that often determined what I ordered.”
“Kelsey’s Pharmacy was the pharmacy we often used… as it was the closest to us… just down from West End Market. It was another family-owned business where you walked in, and everyone knew you.” West Haven was covered with corner markets and pharmacies in almost every neighborhood… way too many to even mention… these were the ones that my husband grew up with.”
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