Uncle Cliff and my grandfather were raised by a single mom, Nellie, who divorced their father in 1929. I don’t believe their father, Paul, contributed much (if anything) to the household, so Nellie worked full time. When the boys got home from school, they usually had a list of chores to complete before mom got home. Here’s part of a letter from Uncle Cliff, dated March 5, 1997:

[The chores were] things to keep us occupied and out of mischief as well as to keep up the household. One day we were running late, Mom was due home and we weren’t ready. Richard [my grandfather] had this bright idea (I give him credit for this). He remembered the saying, “a watched pot never boils” so we set a pot of water on the stove and I sat there and watched it. As long as I sat there, the pot wouldn’t boil and he would have enough time to finish. I never did figure out how that would delay Mom’s arrival.

On holidays, Mom didn’t have to go to work so that eft the three of us at home to do some major housekeeping jobs. Many a Labor Day or Fourth of July started out with scrubbing the attic floor or “white washing” the basement walls. We didn’t have a paint for the walls, instead it was some sort of homemade concoction of water and flour and whatever. It wasn’t very durable and had to be redone every year or two.

On the Fourth of July, after the work was done, we went out to play with firecrackers. They had penny firecrackers, so called because for one penny, you got a string of 30 or 40 or more small firecrackers. The fun part of penny firecrackers was that you could hold them between your thumb and forefinger when they went off. They also had two cent, and nickel firecrackers. By the time you got to the nickel ones, not too many kids held them when they were fired. We also had a thing called a cherry bomb. As I remember it was larger than a cherry but it had a long fuse and it resembled a cherry with a long stem. This was used to launch an empty tin can into the air. You put the cherry bomb on the street, covered it with a can, it the fuse and then ran. I remember one time when I couldn’t find the can — that is until it came down on top of my head!

The only photo I have of Nellie (far left) with her sons as children; with her inlaws, Lena and Ignatz Frohmberg, circa 1925.
The only photo I have of Nellie (far left) with her sons as children; with her in-laws, Lena and Ignatz Frohmberg, circa 1925.

During the summer we would go swimming at a pool in Woodland Hills Park, about a mile away from home. Every Wednesday was a free day so we usually went then. Otherwise, it cost a dime. Grandma and Grandpa [Lena and Ignatz] lived between our home and the park, so usually after swimming we would stop in and see them and get something to eat. They always had a candy jar just inside the front door and it was always a welcoming sight.