Tag Archives: Memories of childhood

The House O’ Nuts

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(Note: this is not my family’s home movie, although my brother is in possession of the footage my father took, possibly on our second trip to Florida; I don’t remember. Anyhow, this does capture something of the feel of the vacation in question.)

Last week I posted a memory from my childhood, one I’d totally forgotten for decades. Old scenes are making their way back into my mind.

This week I remembered another one, also long-forgotten.

The first family vacation I can remember happened around 1959. We drove from our home in New Jersey to Miami Beach, Florida. I’m guessing it was during Easter vacation (what is now Spring Break). I would have been 6 or 7. My dad did all the driving. My mom rode shotgun. The back seat was my realm. I had my blanket and my dolls, and my mother was afraid I might get bored, so she actually bought me a few new things to keep me occupied. The only gift I really remember was a Captain Kangaroo cut-out book which with I constructed a replica Treasure House with artifacts like Grandfather Clock. (Old timers, do you remember Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans and Grandfather Clock?) There was also a cardboard box on the floor of the back seat with canned juice, cereal, bread, snacks, and a picnic lunch for the road.

We stopped for gas at a place called the House o’ Nuts. In addition to the gas pump, there was a gift shop that sold nuts. After the attendant filled our gas tank, he explained that they also offered a chance to win some money. My mother’s ears perked up. She wanted to play.

I don’t remember the exact mechanics of this little gambling operation–I can’t recall if there was a wheel, or cards, or mathematics puzzles to solve–but at the end of it, my parents were down $25. Now, this was the late 50s. I don’t think my dad earned $100 a week at his full-time job.

As we drove away, my father bemoaned the loss, feeling cheated. This would prevent us from doing some of the things he’d planned to do on the vacation.

A little while later, he saw a traffic cop and flagged him down. Dad related the story of how he had lost $25 at the House o’ Nuts. Mind you, my dad had a strong German accent, which might have motivated the gas attendant to lure them into gambling in the first place. Not everyone was very nice to Germans, especially this soon after WWII. Gambling was illegal in (Georgia? I can’t remember), as the policeman told my father. But for some reason he decided to help.

He followed us back to the House o’ Nuts, and went inside while we waited outside in the car. A few minutes later, the gas attendant came out with my dad’s $25 and a box of chocolate-covered nuts, and explained he wasn’t trying to cheat him, he’d just given him a chance to win some money. My dad said thank you, waved to the police officer, and skedaddled out of there, greatly relieved.

We stayed at a beachside motel in Miami Beach. I remember walking along palm tree-lined streets with the wind fluttering the palm branches and coconuts clonking to the ground. When I heard the wind in the palm trees in Arizona 30 years later, it launched me back in time to that trip (although I didn’t remember the House o’ Nuts until this week).

We saw the mermaids at Weeki Wachee, visited a shell museum, swam in the ocean and in the motel pool, and I’m sure we did all the typical touristy things that northerners do on vacation in Florida. But when we got home and friends asked how our vacation was, Dad regaled them with the story of the incident at the House o’ Nuts.

Miss Goody-Two-Shoes No More

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Photo by Candace McDaniel
Photo by Candace McDaniel

For most of my life, whenever I remembered my childhood, especially my elementary school years, I remembered myself as behaving according to the rules.

But now that I’m well into the last decades of my life, long-forgotten incidents are emerging from my memory that contradict my early self-image.

A few years ago I remembered this incident from when I was a Brownie.

Yesterday I remembered an episode of non-compliance in first grade.

I’ve shared that I am a child of German immigrants, and that I went to parochial school from kindergarten through eighth grade. My parents were careful to speak to my brother and me in English, so that we would grow up with English as our first language. But my mother also taught us a little bit of German, including a prayer.

There were 67 students in my first grade class. Amazing, right? Impossible. But this was during the baby boom. There had been two kindergarten classes, and when we were promoted to first grade, the school had a teacher shortage, and only one teacher for first grade, so they combined us. Our teacher, Sister Gracita, struggled to keep this vast community of six-year-olds under control, and apparently, I was one of her major challenges. She was constantly telling my mother I was “too talkative.” Moi?

I recall one time she took me outside the door of our classroom and told me there were “66 other students in our classroom who are trying to learn” and I was preventing them from doing so. My mind immediately went to arithmetic: 66 students + me = 67, and I lived at 67 Park Avenue! What a coincidence! I wanted to tell Sister, but I sensed she wasn’t interested.

Later that year, we had a visitor to our classroom, another nun. She must have been a supervisor from the diocese, there to observe the teacher, because Sister Gracita had been prepping us on our lessons and our behavior. Toward the end of the visit, Sister said, “And Andrea knows a prayer in German! Andrea, can you please say your German prayer?”

What? All year Sister had been on my case for talking too much, and now she wanted me to perform like a one-trick pony? “No.”

Sister asked again, and I refused again. She asked why, and I said, “I don’t want to.” Sister changed the subject, but later she called my mother and told her I embarrassed her in front of the bigwig. Of course, my mother was mortified, but I didn’t see her point.

Now, 53 years later, I get it, but I’m amazed that I stood my ground when I was six. I really thought I grew up with a healthy respect for authority figures. Now I’m realizing I was a little rebel.