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Boomers Shoveled Snow, and Then Shoveled Some More

It snowed again this past week. After years of fewer flakes, this year has been a snowy one for a good portion of the country, even in areas that rarely see the stuff. This past week Mister Boomer’s area added ten more inches to the season total. Growing up in the Industrial Midwest, Mister Boomer flashes back to those winters and the snow that was practically a guarantee. Yes, there would be snow, and it was on the ground from December through March, and sometimes into April. Snow didn’t often accumulate in great amounts at a time, but rather, it snowed often. Adding one to four inches several times a week allowed it to build up very quickly. Once it covered the grass, usually by the first week of December, you wouldn’t see the ground again until spring.

All that snow meant a lot of snow shoveling. It was understood that kids, from the age of seven or eight on, would at least help if not take the chore on entirely. After all, what were kids for? Our boomer parents saw to it that their kids carried their share of work inside and outside the house. For the most part, kids didn’t mind. As soon as the snow stopped, neighborhood kids would be outside with the family snow shovel, clearing sidewalks and driveways. It was understood that there would be no snowball fights, snowman making or sledding until the walkways were cleared.

Since most houses contained multiple children, the job was not too daunting a task for small suburban bungalows, unless there was a major snowfall. As a general rule, it was the boys who handled snow removal. A few households had only girls, so their shoveling skills would be pressed into service at those addresses. It was a rare occurrence to see the mother of the household out shoveling snow. Fathers might be out there if they weren’t at work.

Snow shovels of the era were made of metal and wood. In the early days Mister B remembers the family shovel had substantial weight to it. The shaft was a rounded pole of solid hardwood, attached to a rigid metal scoop. The edges of the scoop were perpetually curled where Mister B and Brother Boomer would hack away at the icy patches. Mister B disliked that shovel not only for its weight, but for the splinters and calluses it would dole out, even through two pairs of gloves. Lighter-weight aluminum models were making inroads into the neighborhood, but the family’s second shovel was an old coal shovel. This tool was fantastic for snow removal, with its large-capacity scoop and shaped handle. It was solid enough to chip ice, too. Mister B preferred this shovel, letting Brother Boomer handle the other.

For several kids in the neighborhood, the parental mandate was once the home shoveling was finished, the houses of the senior citizens on the block were next. Often groups of three or four kids would walk over and shovel the seniors’ driveways and sidewalks without saying a word or expecting a reward; it was part of being a good neighbor. More people should practice this simple rule today.

When the shoveling had ceased, it was time to warm up before heading back outside. While sometimes that entailed playing in the snow, there were other times when a group of neighborhood kids would get together to shovel more snow — this time for profit. With long johns on, layers of shirts and a sweater under a coat wrapped by a scarf and hat and dry gloves, the kids would march down the block slinging the family snow shovel over a shoulder like hobos heading for the nearest railroad track.

Since most neighbors knew each other, the houses that might need the service were pre-selected. There weren’t many left on Mister B’s block, so a walk to adjoining blocks was necessary. One boy would approach the owner by knocking at the door and asking if they would like their snow shoveled. The vast majority of the time there was no talk of payment. Once the shoveling was finished, the same boy would return to the door to announce the job was done. At that time the homeowner would hand over some money, from fifty cents to a dollar. The boy, practicing his politeness training, would thank the homeowner and the group was off to the next site.

A group of four or more might stay out until twilight approached, which was around 4:30. A day’s pay might be two or three dollars each. In retrospect, it amazes Mister B on so many levels:
• That kids had the stamina to do the physical work. Shoveling snow all day is rigorous exercise, yet kids did it for fun and profit. It was that same stamina that enabled the neighborhood boys to mow the lawn in summer, then go play four hours of baseball. It hurts Mister B to see dads out alone shoveling snow these days, when their teenage sons are inside playing video games.
• That kids would stay outdoors all day. The key was in the preparation. Layering helped stave off the elements, though frostbite was always a risk. Many a time Mister B recalls hands so cold as to loose the feeling of touch, even after donning two pairs of gloves.
• That kids would work hard for very little pay. To boomers like Mister B, any money was welcome. Not every household distributed weekly allowances, and fewer paid the kids for doing expected chores around the house, so any money earned was a chance to get a candy treat or a McDonald’s or Burger Chef cheeseburger and a small bag of french fries. Or, in Mister Boomer’s case, a chance to drop coins into his piggy bank or a dollar or two into his savings account. Mister B always tried to save part of his earnings, meager as they were.
• That kids of differing ages and backgrounds worked as a team. Leaders seem to organically rise in each situation. Each boy was counted on to contribute their best effort within the limitations set by their age.

Though electric and gas-powered snow blowers were beginning to appear, there were none in Mister B’s neighborhood in the early days. So much has changed between the 1950s and today. Technology has helped and hindered in snow removal, but it appears Detective Thorn (Charlton Heston) was right in Soylent Green: it’s people. The biggest change in snow removal these days is people!

What memories of snow shoveling come to mind for you, boomers

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Seasons,Suburbia and have Comment (1)

Boomers Ate Chinese Take-Out

Optimism reigned supreme after World War II as young couples migrated to the suburbs from cramped city dwellings, taking their food and cultures with them. Yet following two decades of culinary sacrifice, first due to the Depression, and then rationing during the War, young parents with their Baby Boomer children were ready for an expansion of their flavor options.

While today you’d be hard pressed not to find ethnic foods in chain supermarkets, and all types of ethnic restaurants in every city of a decent size, most boomers will attest to the fact that this was not the case in the 1950s, ’60s and even the ’70s in some regions. Two ethnic varieties that did thrive in the era were Italian and Chinese. A closer examination, however, shows that both cuisines were popular before the War. In fact, as far back as the end of the 19th century, people were enjoying these cuisines that proliferated through the immigrants who come to America. Very quickly, though, these early restauranteurs discovered American tastes were different than what they were used to in the old country. Consequently, the cuisines were altered to suit the increasingly homogenized American palate. By the 1950s, Italian-American foods like chicken parmigiana and spaghetti with meatballs were commonplace, to say nothing of pizza. The same was true of a Chinese-American hybrid.

While these two ethnic varieties were among the first to catch on with a burgeoning middle class, it’s Chinese food that sparks Mister Boomer’s interest the most. Since Mister B is part Italian, the food he ate at his grandmother’s house, especially, wasn’t “Italian” — it was just “food.” Conversely, Mister Boomer first recalls hearing about Chinese food in his suburb when his mother expressed a desire for chop suey. Going to restaurants was more the exception than the rule at that time, as Mister B’s family mainly ate out on Mother’s Day and Easter, or if the family was on a vacation. Take-out food was as rare as going to a restaurant. There was a McDonald’s, Burger Chef and Burger King in the neighborhood, a couple of pizzerias, a Chinese restaurant, a couple of family restaurants and a local take-out-only chicken place, but again, it was considered a “treat” to get take-out.

Mister B’s mom wasn’t alone in her taste for chop suey, since it had been around for decades before she was born. There is an American legend that puts the invention of chop suey in San Francisco in the late 1800s. The story goes that late one night, Chinese cooks were faced with feeding miners (or politicians or rich city dwellers — the story varies) and, having run out of ingredients, combined the day’s leftovers into a stir fry. Food historians now agree that though a good story, chop suey was actually brought to the U.S. by Chinese immigrants since it was a local dish in Toisan, a district near Canton. The Cantonese name, tsap seui literally means miscellaneous scraps. Bean sprouts are one of the ethnic foods that were a staple of chop suey, but after that, the dish was composed of whatever was on hand to toss into a stir fry. American ingredients made their way into the mix, too, like ground beef, tomatoes and corn, so an Americanized Chinese food may have gotten its start with chop suey.

When Mister B’s mom could convince his father that she wanted chop suey, there was only one place to go; the local Chinese restaurant also had take-out. Mister Boomer recalls that there were mainly two things on the take-out menu in the late 1950s and early ’60s: chop suey and chow mein, with your choice of pork, chicken or beef. Like chop suey, chow mein — which means fried noodles — came to America with Chinese immigrants in the late 1800s. Also like chop suey, it was popular for decades as an economical meal. Bohemians in the 1920s were known to ingest the dish, and the frugality of ingredients made it a popular choice during the Depression, too.

Unfortunately, Mister Boomer thought both options were awful. One had a base of rice while the other had fried noodles, but he found both flavorless. Little did he know that things would get worse, in the form of Chun King canned chow mein. Canned foods were big in the Boomer household, so Mister B does not know why his mother did not latch onto Chun King canned foods at an earlier date, but he knows Chun King chow mein was regularly in the cupboard by the early-60s. In fact, the product was first introduced in 1947 by Jeno Paulucci, an entrepreneur who saw the popularity of chop suey and chow mein as an underserved market for ethnic foods that could be eaten at home. In 1957, Mr. Paulucci patented the Divider-Pak. This system separated the noodles and sauce from the other ingredients in two cans: a smaller one for the noodles and a packet of sauce sat on top of a larger can of the ingredients. They were taped together to form a single unit for purchase.

By any stretch of the imagination, Mister Boomer hated the nights when his mother craved Chun King. To Mister B, the predominant flavor was salt, and not much else. In 1966, Mr. Paulucci sold his company to R. J. Reynolds for $63 million dollars, and he went on to invent pizza rolls by combining America’s favorite ethnic cuisines at the time, Chinese and Italian.

Mister Boomer doesn’t eat chow mein to this day, and chop suey is hardly visible on the menus of places he might frequent. Mister B would not consider purchasing any ethnic food that comes in a can, either. When he wants to vary his flavor options, his neighborhood Japanese, Polish, Italian, Israeli, Portuguese, Colombian, Chinese, Thai, Turkish, Indian, Mexican, Lebanese and Greek restaurants will suffice, thank you very much.

Did your family eat Chun King canned products, boomers? How about take-out for chop suey?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Suburbia and have Comments (2)

Boomers Helped Propel Pet Ownership

As we have chronicled here through the past few years, there are many things the Boomer Generation saw — or precipitated — during their early years. Now add pet ownership as we know it today to the list.

Surely pets have always been part of the human experience, and part of the American landscape since the founding of the country, but pets as companions — not workers — were rare outside of the wealthy class. In the late 1800s, wealthy families began acquiring songbirds, which were among the first animals for which there was specialized food and merchandise available for purchase. Goldfish followed, and all along, dog and horse ownership was there, but they were not specifically intended for the pleasure of owning a pet.

After World War I, canned dog food was sold in the U.S., opening up a market to a wider audience that had earlier remained in rural areas and wealthy families. The roaring twenties saw dog ownership increasing when they were first sold as pets in department stores, but the Great Depression held down the number of pets people would buy for the next decade. There is nothing like a major Depression, followed by a second World War, to put the brakes on a burgeoning industry that required discretionary income.

After the War, American optimism was at an all-time high. People began dreaming of a better life, and an ideal life. Suburbia was born both out of the necessity for housing returning troops who were ready to start families, and the ideal American notion of owning a small piece of land and a house. Unlike crowded city dwellings, suburbia offered backyards that enabled pet ownership.

In 1947, cat litter was introduced in the U.S., sparking a new trend of indoor cat ownership. By the time the 1950s arrived, pet ownership, like the Baby Boom Generation, was increasing by leaps and bounds. Where the people migrated, small-pet veterinarians followed into suburbia to care for the increasing number of pets. The “anything is possible” attitude of the 1950s that defined the new modern family briefly spurred a trend toward exotic pet ownership. Monkeys, pigs, wild cats like lynx and ocelots, hamsters, turtles and more all became part of the pet scene.

Movies and TV also helped propel pet ownership. Boomers and their parents would watch famous TV dogs like Rin Tin Tin (1954), Lassie (1954) and even the brandy-loving ghost dog, Neil, on Topper (1957) as a regular part of their TV viewing. Meanwhile, at the movies, more pets were being featured in Bedtime for Bonzo (1951 — a monkey with Ronald Reagan, no less) and One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), among many others. Additional animals were also shown to be pets, like the talking horse, Mr. Ed (1958), though it could be argued that Mr. Ed was far from a pet. The Flintstones introduced Dino, an animated cartoon pet dinosaur that barked like a dog, in 1960.

Mister Boomer’s family first jumped on the pet bandwagon in the very early 1960s, when a local five-and-dime store offered free goldfish as a promotion to sell more of the cookie-jar sized glass aquariums. Brother Boomer brought home a fish and bowl, but alas, like so many others can attest, the fish didn’t make it more than a day or two.

The next pet the family owned was a dog that was brought in, not specifically as a pet, but as a hunting dog for Mister B’s father. It was a German Shorthair, a dog bred for bird hunting. As such, a pen was made in the backyard, where the dog lived in a wooden dog house. Mister B’s father was an annual pheasant hunter. He recalls his father talking about the first time he took the dog with him. The dog was barely out of puppy stage, but when he was let loose in a field, he instinctively began criss-crossing through the vegetation to scare up any pheasants that might be lounging in in the grasses.

Mister Boomer’s sister and mother were instrumental in helping to turn the hunting dog into a real family pet. First, it was cold winter nights that allowed them to plead with Mister B’s father to let the dog into the house. In the beginning, the dog remained in the basement, away from the family, but safe from the frigid outdoors. Slowly the boundaries changed, to where the dog could enter the kitchen and dining room, but not the carpeted living room.

Mister B's family dog, unwrapping a ball that was Christmas gift.

Mister B’s family dog, unwrapping a ball that was Christmas gift.

Mister B’s younger Sister Boomer would play dress-up with the dog, wrapping scarves around his head. Though his expression suggested he didn’t enjoy the activity, he did allow Sister Boomer a great deal of leeway in her play. It wasn’t long before the dog’s favorite place to stretch out was in front of the dining room heat register.

The dog especially loved playing with the Boomer family children outdoors where he could run and jump. One day, however, he was in the backyard when a neighborhood kid entered through the gate to retrieve a basketball. The dog bit him. The family had later learned that the kid had been throwing dirt balls at the dog before the incident. Nonetheless, the damage was done. The kid’s parents were raising a fuss about it, so Mister B’s father took the dog back to the people he had got him from, who owned a nearby farm (yes, really). The Boomer kids could not be consoled. A few months later, word came that the dog had been struck on a road, his owner surmising that he was trying to find his way back to the Boomer family — a scenario worthy of a boomer-era movie.

It would be ten-plus years before the family had another pet. Sister Boomer saw someone giving away puppies in a store parking lot, and pleaded with Mister B’s father until he gave in. As the Boomer children grew and left the household, that dog, a Beagle-Terrier mix, became Mister B’s mom’s constant companion, living a very comfortable fifteen years.

Did your family have a pet in the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Suburbia and have Comments Off on Boomers Helped Propel Pet Ownership

Boomers Knew All About Grass

When Baby Boomers were in their pre-teen years, their parents were very happy to get them involved with lawn maintenance. Many parents of boomers came from urban dwellings with limited yard space, so the move after the War to a suburban sprawl meant a wider expanse of lawns and more grass to maintain.

Push mowers had been around since the 1800s, but they became the first mowers most often used by the fathers of boomers to manage their new suburban lawns. Power mowers were around before the War, but whether it was economic reasons or an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude coming out of the Great Depression, the power mower didn’t capture the public sentiment until the 1950s and ’60s. Was it that our fathers didn’t want to take on the drudgery of a push mower any longer in the Modern Suburban Age, or did they finally have enough money to afford a gas-powered mower?

Gas-powered mowers needed to be started in much the same way as early engines in vehicles did: Single-engine airplanes needed a hearty spin of a propeller; Model Ts had a hand-crank that assisted in starting the engine. For gas lawn mowers, there was a pull cord. This consisted of a rubber handle attached to a rope that was wound around a central shaft on the engine. Pulling the cord spun the internal chamber to put the starting mechanism in motion. In any case, it has been Mister Boomer’s experience that many boomer fathers gladly relinquished the chore to their sons, often at the young age of between eight and ten.

There were four main tasks involved in lawn maintenance: regular weeding, mowing the grass, raking up the clippings (many mowers did not have catching baskets) and edging the lawn. Once or twice a year there would be a need for fertilizing and de-thatching and in the fall, raking leaves. The acceptance and distribution of these tasks varied from household to household. For the most part, lawn maintenance was relegated to the males in the family. Women and girls may have gotten involved in watering, weeding and occasionally raking, but it was the men and boys who handled the bulk of it. On the other hand, the girls would do laundry and clean house.

Mister Boomer’s connection to lawn care seems to be both typical and not-so-typical when compared with other boomers. In the early days in his family, his mother did the mowing. This was not typical for the neighborhood, as fathers took on the task. But as children grew, one by one the oldest sons became the chief grass mowers.

Mister Boomer’s mother, like thousands of other women in her generation, had worked in factories during the War. When the War ended, these women left the factories and became wives, then soon after, the mothers who gave birth to the Baby Boom Generation. Perhaps it was her “we can do it!” mindset that propelled her to cut the grass in the early years of her marriage, or maybe it was that Mister B’s father was not incredibly interested in lawn maintenance. This went on for many years, but one day, when Mister B was around eight years old, there was an accident that changed everything. His mother, clad in flip flops, was ready to mow the backyard. As she had done so many times before, she placed one foot on the mower body, grabbed the pull cord and gave it a tug. As often happened, the mower did not start right away. A couple of tugs later, the engine spurted to life at the same time as the front of the mower lurched upward on its back wheels. The motion caused Mister B’s mother to remove her foot from the contraption, only to have it fall back a second later, directly on top of her right foot.

She yelled for Mister B to bring her the dish towel from the kitchen. Mister B ran out with it and she wrapped her bloody foot, twisting the fabric on top. Keeping hold of it, she directed Mister B to go the neighbors who had a car during the day — one of the only households that had more than one car — and tell the woman there she needed a ride to the Emergency Room. Mister B’s mom hobbled down the driveway holding the towel-wrapped foot and to the neighbor’s waiting car. Mister B stayed behind with Brother Boomer, both tasked to watch their little sister until their mother could return. Fortunately, the blade cut into her instep and nothing was broken, so a few stitches were all that was necessary.

When she returned, however, she announced that she was through cutting the grass. From that day on, the chore fell first to Brother Boomer, who was three years older than Mister Boomer, then split between Mister B and Brother Boomer until the older Boomer got his first job. Then it fell to Mister B until the day he moved out.

Mister B never minded cutting the grass, even though it was physically demanding for a young boy. Weeding and edging, however, were far from his favorite things, especially on hot summer mornings. The weeding tool had a long wooden handle attached to a metal shaft with a thick, two-pronged end that gave it the look of a capital “m,” like a snake’s tongue. You’d have to plunge the edge of the tool into the ground below the weed to grab at its roots, then leverage it out by pushing the handle. It was always easier to pull the weeds by hand, but Mister B would be admonished that in doing so, the roots were inevitably still present to grow back again. Likewise edging was back-breaking and blister-inducing work. There was no such thing as an electric or gas-powered edger then, so it was a purely by-hand operation. A pointed, spoked wheel served as the cutting edge on the tool, which was positioned with a spacer for keeping a standard width away from whatever concrete was being edged. A long handle enabled the user to stand during the operation, but required constant pushing pressure, like a fencer lunging his foil at the ground.

It has been Mister B’s observation that today the task of lawn mowing for many households has either returned to the father of the house, or has been contracted out to a lawn maintenance company. It is a rare sight to see young males — especially eight to ten years old, as in Mister B’s day — out with a mower. For that matter, you don’t see girls out there either. In speaking with other boomers, Mister B finds that in general the children of boomers — and subsequently their grandchildren — seem to be required to do fewer chores than we did.

Certainly boomers did less hard labor than their parents around the house; modern technology helped us in that regard, too. But is the current trend the natural evolution toward a day when machines take over these tasks, or is it the spoiling of a generation too absorbed in personal technology to get their hands dirty?

What was your experience, boomers, and where do you stand on lawn duty when it comes to getting children involved?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Suburbia,Technology and have Comments (3)

Many Boomers Were Treated Right by Burger Chef

Mister Boomer isn’t a regular viewer of the TV show, Mad Men. This season, however, the fictional ad agency on the show is pitching a company that spiked Mister B’s nostalgia meter; the agency is pitching an ad campaign to Burger Chef. This was brought to Mister B’s attention by a co-worker who is a fan of the show. Knowing Mister B is from the Midwest, he asked him if he had ever heard of Burger Chef. “Yes,” said Mister B, “I used to work for them.”

Burger Chef was an early competitor of McDonald’s. The company opened its first restaurant in Indianapolis in 1958. By contrast, McDonald’s opened in 1955 in Des Plaines, Illinois. Unlike McDonald’s, Burger Chef advertised “flame broiled burgers.” Burger Chef burgers were cooked over an open flame and not on a grill top, which became central to their early marketing.

The flame broiled burger was made by a device that was patented in 1954 by a different company. It consisted of an oven with a conveyor system that propelled hamburgers through the oven over a gas-fired flame. The grill looked like the combination of bicycle chain endcaps with a barbecue grill fastened between them. It ran as a continuous loop, so when burgers (and buns) were placed on the grill that protruded from the left side of the oven, completely cooked burgers dropped off the conveyor system at the extension on the right side of the oven. The chain speed was controlled by a dial that was preset via instructions from the home office. If a customer desired a more well-done burger, workers could flip the switch that would stop the conveyor at the mid-point to allow for an extra fifteen seconds of cooking, before turning it back on to complete the process.

Burger Chef grew almost as rapidly as McDonald’s. There were 73 Burger Chef locations in 1960, and by 1968 that number grew to 800 restaurants in 39 states. The company opened its 1,000 restaurant in 1973. McDonald’s had reached that milestone in 1968.

They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and Burger Chef matched McDonald’s burger for burger: there was a hamburger and cheeseburger, of course, but also a Big Shef that was their version of a Big Mac; a Super Shef was a flatter and wider version of MacDonald’s Quarter Pounder. Then there was a fish sandwich, apple turnover and vanilla, chocolate or strawberry milkshakes.

Aside from the flame broiler, however, Burger Chef was also the innovator for a number of things that were later copied by competitors. They were the first to introduce a kid-centric meal with a toy. Called the Funmeal, it appeared at Burger Chef in 1973, and consisted of a burger, fries, a drink and a toy. McDonald’s introduced their Happy Meal in 1979. Burger Chef was the first to offer a Works Bar in the late 1970s, where a customer could add the elements they wanted — pickles, mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, special sauce, onions, tomatoes and lettuce, in the quantities they wanted — for a personalized experience, plus get a salad to go with their burger. Wendy’s Fixin’s Bar and several others followed suit.

The company stressed family wholesomeness on the order of what Disney had done for amusement parks. Employees were required to keep a strict dress code, which included shorter hair lengths and sideburns, limited moustaches and no beards for males, and mandated skirt lengths and “appropriate” hairstyles for females. As the sixties progressed and into the ’70s, this was enough to keep some prospective employees and managers away.

Mister Boomer’s experience with the company first came via his brother, who worked at a Burger Chef location about eight blocks from their home. Mister B would ride his bike over to watch Brother Boomer behind the kitchen glass window, making french fries. There, a hand-operated lever was attached to a white-enameled wall. By lifting the lever, his brother could place a peeled potato vertically in the holder. When the lever was pushed down like pumping a water well, the potato was pushed through blades that cut it into perfect fries, which fell into a waiting bucket. Whether it was because of the freshness of the product or the frying method, their fries were absolutely delicious. The restaurant sold fries by the bagful as well as individual portions. Since every meal in Mister Boomer’s household had to have a starch along with a protein and a vegetable, on occasion Mister B’s mom would give him the money to go and get a sack of fries for the family. By the end of the sixties, fresh french fries were replaced by the more cost-efficient frozen variety.

The next experience Mister Boomer had with Burger Chef was as a high school student in 1970. Mister B found his first job at a Burger Chef that was situated across the street from a major area shopping center. He worked mainly evenings and weekends, but did have some daytime hours over the summer months. He made minimum wage, which at the time was $1.25 per hour in his state.

Workers were pretty much the jack-of-all-trades. Each was trained on the cooking devices as well as preparation and closing procedures, not to mention cleaning. Whenever an employee wasn’t busy, he or she was expected to be cleaning something. Mister B spent many an hour on a ladder spraying Windex onto the storefront’s expanse of windows, picking up debris from the parking lot, wiping tables and mopping floors.

To make matters worse, the assistant manager was an ex-Navy man who had kitchen experience. When it came time to clean the cooking area after closing, he would examine the freshly-cleaned counters with a white glove. If he found a single grain of salt, he made Mister B and his co-workers repeat the cleaning process again.

The flame broil oven needed its own cleaning regimen once a week. First, the chain grill from the previous week had to be cleaned. The previous week’s grill had sat rolled up in a bucket of lye mixture. Now a worker, wearing gloves, removed the grill in the sink and, with a stiff brush, scraped any remaining residue from the grill. While the worker scrubbed and thoroughly rinsed the grill, two other workers dismantled the shut-down oven and dislodged the bolts that held the chain grill. They removed the grill, rolled it on itself and placed into a bucket that contained water, lye and whatever else there might have been in there that has escaped Mister B’s memory. An examination of the burners and cleaning of the inside of the oven would ensue. Once everything was satisfactorily cleaned, the fresh chain grill was attached and ready for the following week’s work.

Likewise Mister B and his co-workers made buckets full of special sauce — which, like McDonald’s, was a Thousand Island dressing recipe that consisted of exacting ratios of mayonnaise, ketchup and pickle relish. He also had his turn at making the tartar sauce for the fish sandwiches. One of the most skillful of the jobs entailed making french fries. There was no tell-tale timer that beeped when the fries were perfectly golden brown. The expertise of the operator meant that at any given time fries could be a bit under or a bit over, based on when they were removed from the fryer. Mister B strived for the golden crisp exterior and slightly soft interior that he enjoyed, and figured other people did too.

After one summer, Mister B had had enough of the burger business. Burger Chef continued on, but lost ground among the growing field of competitors. By 1982, only 800 restaurants remained, and the company was sold to Hardee’s.

Did you eat — or work — at a Burger Chef in your boomer days?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Suburbia and have Comment (1)

Boomers Watched the Image of Mothers Change with Time

Our image of mothers has changed dramatically since the early boomer days. The 1954 “Home Economics High School Text Book” gave this advice to young women to take to heart when they became wives: “Have dinner ready, prepare yourself, prepare the children, minimize all noise, be happy to see him, listen to him, make the evening his.” That pretty much summed up a mother’s place in a 1950s American home.

Our TV shows reflected our image of what a mother was supposed to be, too. Yet Mister B thinks our popular TV shows helped further the image of mom.

In I Love Lucy (1951-57), Lucille Ball’s character gave birth to Little Ricky in the second season, coinciding with her real-life pregnancy. Both Lucys became moms at the same time. While Desi is off doing man’s work — in his case as a bandleader and singer — Lucy tends to the house. She usually ends up in some sort of trouble that tests the patience of her husband. He treats her in an almost child-like manner when he intones, “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.” Lucy as a mom was naive, fairly helpless and definitely second banana to her husband.

Barbara Bilingsley was an idealized version of a 1950s mother as June Cleaver in Leave It to Beaver (1957-63). She wears dresses around the house and constantly looks like she is ready to go out, with perfect hair and makeup. When her boys Beaver and Wally get into trouble, she doesn’t always agree with their father’s (Hugh Beaumont) decisions on how to address the situation and punish the boys, but in the end, it’s Mr. Cleaver who delivers his judgment while his wife looks on in support.

With Wilma Flintstone we see a strong-willed mother who makes her wishes known in the house. Daughter Pebbles appeared near end of the third season of The Flintstones (1960-66), and although Wilma is a stay-at-home mom in the early part of the series, she sees to it that her husband gets her all the modern conveniences that will make her life easier. Wilma was even known to physically bite or hit Fred if she felt it was warranted. Yet in Honeymooners fashion, she could still serve up a mean Brontosaurus steak to please her man.

Unlike most of her predecessors, Elizabeth Montgomery’s Samantha on Bewitched (1964-72) wore pants as much as or more than dresses. A mother to her daughter Tabitha, she was a housewife who was also required to have dinner ready for her husband’s boss on a moment’s notice. While she promised her husband she wouldn’t use her witch powers around the house, she often used them to keep things running smoothly for when her husband got home.

What we often hear or read about the era of the fifties and sixties is that a mother’s job was to take care of the house and her children. What we see in many of our TV shows, like these mentioned, are strong women figures who not only take care of the house and children but do quite a bit to support their husbands without them knowing. In this TV image of mother, she is really the head of the household, but the husband just doesn’t know it.

Mister B’s mom was a traditional housewife in the 1950s, but by the early sixties, she’d had her fill. The first thing to go was getting up and making his father’s breakfast. Since he left by six a.m., she would be up before five, which was no longer acceptable. Soon after breakfast for dad ended, she put her foot down again and told Mister B and Brother Boomer they would get themselves up for school and make their own lunches. About two years later, she started working outside the home. Mister B is sure this scene would be appreciated by those TV moms. Chances are it repeated itself throughout the 1960s as mothers

wanted and needed more than what a suburban house could offer them. They never stopped loving their husbands or their children, or relinquished their role as Chief Domestic Engineer. As time went on, they enlisted our help to keep things running so they could become the mother they always knew they could be.

So in the end, our boomer image of mother was shaped by our own mothers and the mothers of friends around us. Whether they found inspiration in some TV moms, or conspired over coffee with the neighbors, we may never know. The image of what we thought mother should be changed right before our eyes, and it was mothers who spurred it on.

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Suburbia,TV and have Comments Off on Boomers Watched the Image of Mothers Change with Time