Today’s Gag

December 19, 2011
Copyright © 2011 Jim Sizemore.

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A South Baltimore Christmas

December 1, 2010

Jealousy-Free Memories

By Jake Jakubuwski

For some reason I have no childhood recollection of the aromas of holiday cakes, cookies and pies filling our house with mouth-watering scents that drew me to the kitchen to sneak a taste of the latest treat from the oven. That was the sort of Christmas scene they showed in the movies and on that new thing called television. Nor do I recall a fir tree standing in our “front” room decorated with tinsel and strung with lights. I’m pretty sure that from time-to-time there must have been a tree and tinsel at our house — and perhaps even twinkling lights — but I just can’t remember them. In general, my personal recollections of Christmases in South Baltimore are, at best, sparse. Yet, on the other hand, for some reason I do recall “gifts” that I received at Christmas: a scarf to keep my throat warm; a pair of mittens to keep my hands toasty; a woolen cap that I could pull down over my ears on icy days while I walked to school or played outside. But there were no bicycles, roller skates, wagons or board games in the offing. Whatever I received was something I needed — practical, everyday stuff that was, as I recall, very much appreciated.

I don’t remember how old I was when I stopped believing in Santa Claus, but I do remember one year when, as winter set in, I told my mother that I wanted a pair of galoshes and she said: “We can’t afford them. Maybe Santa will bring you a pair.” I don’t remember what I got instead, if I got anything at all, but I do remember feeling disappointed with Santa, and perhaps that’s when I began to at least doubt his existence. A friend, who has followed some of my other childhood adventures on this blog, has encouraged me write about what Christmas meant to a young boy in a South Baltimore family of limited means, so here you have it. So, what do I remember about those early, materially scant Christmases? Well, snow, for one thing. I remember the streets covered in white and kids whooping and hollering as they belly-flopped on their new sleds. I remember them shooting their cap guns and never running out of ammunition. I recall other kids trudging around in the deepest snow banks to show off their new galoshes — gloating because their shoes didn’t get wet. All Christmas gifts, as I remember.

My most vivid memories of Christmas in South Baltimore are of the week or two leading up to the holiday: Grownups hurrying from one store to another in the shopping area around Cross and Light Streets, all of them carrying huge bags filled with gifts and gaudy decorations for their homes; I remember Salvation Army bands playing Christmas carols and other charity workers standing by their red kettles ringing bells to entice donations from passersby; mostly I remember the various Santa’s (who knew there was more than one?) standing on street corners with their own bells and buckets, soliciting pocket change to help feed and dress the poor. I remember buying a hot dog with all the “fixin’s” for a dime in Cross Street Market, and a vendor who gave me a hard pretzel and said “Happy holidays!” I also remember selling newspapers and every so often someone giving me a nickel or dime tip, and wishing me a Merry Christmas.

On more than one Christmas Eve I remember marveling at how many people were scurrying for streetcars, hurrying home for the holiday. I remember passing the local bars as revelers came out shouting greetings to their friends. Peering inside, I saw the Christmas decorations supplied by the beer companies (Mostly American, National and Arrow beers) glittering on the walls and over the bars. I remember the smell of beer and wine and cigarettes wafting out of the doors, along with the sound of Christmas music from the juke boxes, and how, when the doors closed the cacophony of carols and the vociferous celebration of the bar’s patrons was muted to a dull buzz.

And, finally, after more than sixty years, I can still remember the silence in the streets the day before The Big One, as snow fell (as it always does in my black and white soft-focus memory), covering South Baltimore in a crisp blanket that seemed to give all it sheltered an alabaster sheen to purify us each and everyone for Christmas day in the morning.

Jake Jakubuwski spent nearly two decades as an active locksmith and door service technician. He has been writing physical security related articles since 1991. Seventeen years ago, Jake wrote his first article for the National Locksmith Magazine and has been their technical editor for fifteen years. Pure Jake Learning Seminars©, his nationally conducted classes, are designed for locksmiths and professional door and hardware installers. For more information, click the “Pure Jake” link in the sidebar blogroll and under the “business” label. To locate more of Jake’s short blog pieces about growing up in the South Baltimore area, copy and paste—or type—his name into the sidebar search window and tap “search.”)

Copyright © 2010 Jake Jakubuwski.

A Memory

September 1, 2010

Cousin Raymond’s Schwinn

By Jake Jakubuwski

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I learned to tie my shoelaces—probably five or six—but it was my paternal grandfather who taught me how to do it. I do remember that training my fingers to perform the intricate contortions necessary to accomplish the task was stressful. Intellectually, I could envision what my fingers had to do, but making them do it was a whole ‘nother matter. My grandfather—not the most patient person—exhibited enough restraint to spare me bruises and bumps when at first I was unable to make my fingers obey. Then, suddenly (or so it seemed to me), I sat on the floor by Pop’s chair and flawlessly did the job from beginning to end. Pop reached down and, with a gentle tug, untied them. Then I tied them again!

I ran to the stove, where my grandmother was fixing breakfast, plopped down on the floor, and demonstrated my new skill for her approval. As I recall, she grunted something neutral and then, her attention still on her cooking, said: “Where in the world did I put the lard can?” Later, when she sat the plate in front of me, I wolfed down the eggs and toast and jelly, gulped a large glass of milk, and bolted out the door, on the way to my cousin Raymond’s house to show him my new trick. I had eaten so fast that as I ran up the street I burped and snorted at the same time, and had to return to the yard and wash off the front of my shirt at the water pump. In those days (1943-44), I was living with my father’s parents in Glen Burnie, Maryland. We did not have running water. Instead, there were two water pumps and an outhouse. One pump was under the grape arbor behind the house, and the other was upstairs in the “Summer Kitchen.” I used the one under the grape arbor.

Cousin Raymond was four years older than me and had an electric train; he had an air rifle; he could ride a two-wheel bike—God, I envied him! He was so cool. Raymond rode his bike like a pro. He would pedal his Schwinn full-tilt into my yard and throw it down into a sliding stop that would scatter dirt and gravel all over. He also had a real wristwatch with numbers that glowed in the dark. As I said earlier: I was about five then—maybe six. Raymond would have been nine or ten.

On that day, I ran up the back steps at Raymond’s and pushed through the door and into the kitchen where Raymond and my uncle and aunt were having breakfast. I blurted out the news of my recently acquired skill. Raymond was unimpressed. Aunt Sadie told me I did a good job and Uncle Pete gave me a fifty-cent piece. When Raymond was finished eating we went outside and into the wooded lot behind the house where he had his “fort.” Raymond wanted to know if I thought I could learn to ride his bike. Could I? Full of shoelace-tying confidence, I said, “Go get it and I’ll show you!” Raymond wheeled his bike out of the garage and told me that my lesson would cost twenty-five cents. Being fifty-cents flush, I didn’t hesitate—I gave Raymond the half-dollar. He promised to make change later.

Raymond held the bike steady while I got on it. I settled myself on the “saddle” and grasped the handlebars with a death grip. Raymond told me that when he pushed I was to start pedaling. We started down the driveway, Raymond running as he pushed the bike. He yelled: “Pedal! Pedal!” I tried—but I was on a 26” bike with legs that were not yet long enough. So, I had to stand up to pedal. Then pedal I did—frantically. Raymond let go of the bike and I zipped completely across Fourth Avenue, a busy Glen Burnie street. Cousin Raymond was now yelling: “Steer it! Steer it! Pedal! Pedal! Watch out for the curb!” Too late—I bounced over the curb, ran up a slight grassy incline and into Mrs. Sauers’ flower bed, then tilted over in what seemed like slow motion and nose-dived into the lower branches of a fir tree. At that moment Mrs. Sauers chose to come around the corner of the house. She was pretty calm about the flowerbed and seemed more concerned over the scrapes I picked up when I dove into her tree.

Once Raymond and I retrieved the undamaged bike, I was ready for another lesson. He said it would cost me another quarter, so I told him to keep the change from the fifty-cent piece. This time, Raymond decided it would be better if I rode the bike down the street towards our grandfather’s house. Before I know it I’m back on the bike. Raymond pushes me off to a rolling start. I pedal like a madman. The bike begins to fly down the street. I’m going too fast to turn into the yard! Raymond’s yelling: “Hit the brakes! Hit the brakes! Steer! Steer! Hit the brakes!” Unfortunately, Raymond had neglected to tell me where the brakes were or how they worked. The bike picked up speed and began to wobble out of control as I bounced over another curb. Raymond was further behind me now, but I managed to turn a blind corner, only to run into the back of my Uncle Joe’s 1934 Plymouth. No contest. The Plymouth won.

There must have been a lot of hollering. Raymond now yelling: “My bike! My Bike! Look what you did to my bike!” Me screaming in pain as I slid off the hood (Yeah, I went completely over the car) and into the loose gravel that covered the driveway. My Uncle Joe yelled something I couldn’t make out as he ran away from the Plymouth, which he had been washing when I dropped in—unannounced.

After he realized what he thought had happened, Uncle Joe carried me into the house and laid me on the old mohair sofa. Grandma brought a pan of warm water and some clean cloths. She cleaned my cuts and abrasions. Pop came in and demanded to know what was going on. Raymond was still hollering about his bike. Uncle Joe explained that I must have fallen out of a tree.

Grandma tried to shush us all and shoo us out. And, even though I hurt in places that I didn’t even know I had, I was smiling. In the space of only an hour or two I had learned to tie my shoes; ruined a flower bed; nearly destroyed a bike; dented the hood of my Uncle’s car—and lived to tell about it; had been gifted fifty-cents and had spent it on bike-riding lessons. (How well I rode the Schwinn doesn’t matter—I did ride it.) I figure it was worth every penny.

Text Copyright © 2010 Jake Jakubuwski. “Bikers” Photo Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.

Jake Jakubuwski spent nearly two decades as an active locksmith and door service technician. He has been writing physical security related articles since 1991. Seventeen years ago, Jake wrote his first article for the National Locksmith Magazine and has been their technical editor for fifteen years. Pure Jake Learning Seminars©, his nationally conducted classes, are designed for locksmiths and professional door and hardware installers. For more information, click the “Pure Jake” link in the sidebar blogroll and under the “business” label. (The photo at right is Jake at age 12 or thereabouts. To access all of Jake’s adventures as a Baltimore boy growing up back in the 1940s and 1950s, type his name in the sidebar search window and press the button.)



Domestic Conflict Doodle

January 12, 2009

knives34

Occasionally, when I find myself in a fraught situation, a humorous thought may occur. This rather morbid one came to me in our kitchen during one of many verbal battles I had with an “ex” of mine. She Who Shall Remain Nameless was, for the umpteenth time in our relationship, emotionally out of control, and I remember visually measuring her proximity to me (it was a tiny kitchen) and to the counter on which stood an impressive rack of butcher knives.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.