My sister Carol is hard at work on a sewing card, in our front yard in Silver Spring, Maryland, circa 1958.
Back in the day, little girls and perhaps also some boys "sewed" around the pictures on these cards as an introductory activity intended to help prepare us for real sewing. Carol was probably three or four when she threaded the shoelace-tipped yarn through holes punched in the card; by age five or six, she had probably moved up to simple cross-stitch embroidery using real needles and thread and tiny, child-sized thimbles. All that stuff is out of fashion now, though the old cards, sometimes called lacing cards, are still available on ebay and etsy. Maybe the whole sewing thing is just too girly for modern parents. Or too 1950s.
I never was much of a girly girl, but I really loved sewing cards and cross stitch, and I kept begging and begging my mother to teach me how to use her sewing machine. As soon as I started to learn, however, I gave it all up for good. It turned out that real sewing involved ironing each seam as you went along–and I hated, hated, hated ironing. Also, sewing under my mother's eye required doing the stitches properly–in other words, I had to rip out most of my attempts at seams and do them over and over again.
But Carol was and still is good with her hands. For her, the sewing cards may have served as preparation for piano lessons, or for penmanship at school. But isn't this activity more suitable for work indoors, sitting down on the floor or at a table? I'm guessing Carol put her sweater on and brought the card outside so our father could take a picture without a flashbulb.
It all seems to be true, what the sign says. Destruction specialists meet you right at your car, and they are indeed prompt. They are helpful. Once they've loaded your papers into one of their wheeled carts, they put a put a lid on it, so that all your pre-destructed papers are protected from cameras, eyeballs, gusts of wind, you name it.
But do they really shred the stuff? Well, according to the company's website, you are welcome to come inside the destruction facility and watch for yourself as up to ten boxes of your papers get processed into little shreds.
The viewing isn't free, however; it'll cost you $30. They say the fee reflects costs incurred when the regular workflow is interrupted to do the destructive thing on your stuff right away. Also, inviting a viewer into the facility means that a destruction specialist will have to be pulled away from his or her scheduled destruction and reassigned to escort duty, to protect everybody else's stuff from your prying eyes.
The warehouse in the background of the photo is the home of Office Paper Systems, which contracts with Montgomery County, Maryland, to process mixed-paper recycling from homes and office buildings throughout the county. Added to this paper stream are the remains of the day after FreeSecureShredding's destruction specialists have done their destruction.
Eventually, all the paper, shredded and not, is sold to paper companies, which process it with chemicals, heat, chopping machines, and strainers before mixing it with fresh pulp to make new paper products.
On this date in 1962, as the ad below announces, this store in Rockville, Maryland, first opened its doors. It was called a Super Giant; it was the world's first Super Giant, and it was my Super Giant.
It was a supermarket, of course, and also a department store, selling raincoats and tennis rackets and desk lamps and windshield wiper blades as well as produce and candy and cigarettes. In other words, it was a WalMart before its time, and people came from all over, even from across the river in Virginia, to check it out.
Like any ordinary non-super supermarket in our regional Giant chain, it had those plaid plastic inflatable elephants up near the ceiling. All the fish on ice in the seafood section still had their heads on them and all their bones inside them, and while you waited for the guy to fillet them, you could watch the lobsters swimming in their tank.
In the produce section, somebody would weigh your produce and bag it in a paper bag and write the price on the bag with a grease pencil. At the register, the cashier would key in every single price–no scanning back then–and calculate your change. There were no credit or debit cards and no ATMs; people paid cash or wrote checks. With a local address, you could write a check for $25 over the purchase price.
Just inside the door was a row of gumball machines and usually a mechanical pony you could ride if you could talk your mother into giving you a nickel, which was not likely.
Just outside the door was the corral where you left your grocery cart–we called it a basket–while you found your car in the parking lot and drove back around to pick up what you'd purchased. A store employee loaded your car for you; he identified which groceries were yours by looking at a number on a plastic card you'd been given, which matched the number on your basket. Printed on those plastic cards, in addition to the number, were the words "No Tipping." Every time I looked at one of those numbered cards, I daydreamed a little about tipping over grocery carts.
But the best thing about Giant food shopping, better even than the Frosted Flakes and the Hostess cupcakes, was what came out of the little brown boxes near the end of each checkout lane. In the picture above, a man is writing a check on top of the box in Lane 7.
Those boxes were stamp dispensers. After your order was rung up, yellow Top Value Stamps would automatically start spitting out of the dispenser. If you'd bought a lot of groceries–the average family of four spent $12 a week on food–then you'd get a lot of stamps.
When you got back home, your mother might let you lick the stamps and stick them onto the pages of the stamp books. There were stamp catalogues showing what you could get for your filled-up stamp books: a picnic set with plastic plates and nubbly plastic glasses, a poker caddy full of wooden chips, a striped beach umbrella.
Try talking your mother into buying stuff like that. You'd be wasting your breath. But with enough yellow Top Value Stamps, all that and more could be yours–for free.
I still have a folding card table that my cousin Toby bought with cigarette stamps, found inside the cellophane wrapper on every single pack of cigarettes. And I knew families growing up that saved green stamps. But we were a Top Value Stamps family, loyal, in the marketing sense of the word, to the Giant Foods chain of stores.
We bought groceries from the Giant store closest to our house. The Super Giant was a few miles away, so we went there mostly for non-food shopping. But that was okay; you could get stamps for socks and underwear, too; you didn't have to be buying food.
With all those stamps, all that loyalty, and the great marketing innovation of WalMart-like one-stop shopping with a "spacious 3,000 car parking area"–well, where have all the Super Giants gone?
They came and went in a flash, arriving in 1962 and closing down within a few years, certainly before 1970, despite drawing huge crowds. The picture above was taken in 1964.
Today at this location on Rockville Pike, there's a regular old non-super Giant grocery store occupying a small part of the building. The rest of the shopping center features an Old Navy, a Sports Authority, and suchlike.
And Top Value Stamps have been replaced by airline miles, credit card points, store cards that give you discounts on gasoline.
Someday, even WalMart will bite the dust. Will that be a good thing? We can't know, I suppose, till we see what takes its place.
A good way to wind down a year is to spend an afternoon playing ball with my dad and his neighbors in the activity room of his Alzheimer's care facility in Kensington, Maryland. Some of the people there, definitely including my 88-year-old father, can still throw and catch and dribble and fake and enjoy (almost) every minute of the game.
My dad has been a ballplayer all his life, and in my mind's eye he'll always be the pitcher for the Army Times softball team in the D.C. summer league.
Meanwhile, that's my son Joe on the piano, picking up the tempo of the afternoon. Joe's always been a piano player and I expect he always will be. For the ballgame, he played everything from Oh Susanna to How Great Thou Art to Bach to Mozart to Scott Joplin.
As for the significance of the passing year and what lies beyond the horizon in 2013: I got nothing.
The boy at left, with his eyes closed, is my cousin, Charles Horowitz; the boy at right, with the big grin, is my brother, Charles Horowitz, who will turn 56 in a couple of weeks. In the middle is my father, Bob Horowitz; his brother Lee, the father of my cousin Charles, must have been behind the camera.
The four Horowitzes were camping and fishing that weekend in approximately 1966 at Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland. The two Charleses were both named after their grandfather, whom they never knew; he died shortly before they were born. Both boys were called Charley when they were young but go by Chuck as adults.
Cousin Chuck is a psychologist in San Francisco. Brother Chuck is a physicist in Indiana. I've not heard that either of them is much interested in fishing these days.
In the winter of 1957, my little sister Carol and I posed for a picture on the hood of my grandfather's Chevy, in the driveway next to our house in Silver Spring, Maryland. The house in the background across the street was identical to ours and to all the others in the neighborhood.
Neighborhoods like ours were called GI tracts back then, new subdivisions built for the baby-booming families of World War II veterans, who bought the houses with no down payment and bargain-rate VA mortgages. Every house was soon overflowing with kids; seven children grew up in that house across the street, and the houses on either side of ours both held six children. We never ran out of kids to play with.
A brand new school was built for us; it opened the year before I started kindergarten and was overcrowded from day one. But it was only a few short years, maybe fifteen or twenty, before the demographic bulge had moved on and MacDonald Knolls Elementary School actually closed down for lack of kids. The school building is now privately owned, used for office space with a small daycare center in one former classroom.
The neighborhood in general has morphed from GI tract to what I guess would be designated an ethnic community; most of the families living there now are Vietnamese, as are the businesses in nearby shopping centers.
I took the picture below of our old house about five years ago. It's a leafy, tree-shaded kind of place now, which was definitely not the case back in the day, though neighbors had put out small trees, supported by guy wires that we used to trip over. The house itself looks well-kept and largely unchanged, except for new windows and siding and a fancy new storm door.
Perhaps the most significant change is in the driveway: there are two cars there now, which is perfectly normal in 21st-century America, but back in the 1950s each family had only a single car. On Monday mornings, after the fathers drove off to work, the neighborhood was pretty much empty of cars and we kids had the streets to ourselves.
The second car is necessary because middle-class life now requires a second wage-earner. I read recently that since the Great Recession more and more households are needing a third wage-earner to make ends meet; new household formation in this country is almost at a standstill.
For example, say there's a fire in a multi-story elevator building. In response to the fire alarm, the elevators stop operating normally, and able-bodied people have to exit via stairwells or outside fire escapes. People in wheelchairs are supposed to follow illuminated signs to an Area of Refuge on each floor, usually near the elevator or stairwell, where extra fire resistance has been built into the walls and extra communication equipment is available. Once comunication is established, first responders can locate people in the refuge and rescue them, by overriding the elevator stoppage if possible or by carrying people down the stairs if necessary.
It makes sense, but for reasons unknown to me, Area of Refuge signs are seen very rarely; they're either not there at all in most buildings, or they're so inconspicuous I never notice them.
In fact, this sign in the Double T Diner in Annapolis, Maryland, is the first I've ever seen, which is why I took the picture. I had no idea what it meant and speculated that the worried look on the face of the guy in this picture might suggest he is desperately seeking his own personal place of refuge.
Now that I've studied up on this stuff, I'm still a little confused. The Double T Diner is a one-story, ground-level-only restaurant. What's the need for a Disability-Act area of refuge in a one-story building?
Piano recital season has come around again.
I took piano lessons as a child, as did my sister, but we had different teachers and thus had to attend each other's recitals as well as our own. My teacher organized mercifully brief programs; we took our turns at the keyboard in the school cafeteria, curtsied, raced through our pieces, and then it was time for the cookies, punch, and dixie cups of vanilla ice cream. But my sister's recitals, in her teacher's living room, were endless, and there were only enough chairs for the grownups; all the brothers and sisters had to sit on the steps while the piano-playing went on and on and on. Many of the students were extremely talented–one of them now conducts a symphony orchestra–but what I mostly remember is how long we had to sit there before the cookies and punch.
These children were among a couple of dozen who performed their recital pieces the other day on the Steinway grand at Strathmore Mansion in Rockville, Maryland. They are students of B&B Music School.