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Growing up in Buffalo in the 50’s

I remember growing up in Buffalo in the 50’s.

We had the junkman who would drive down the street in his beat up truck. He would collect your scrap metal to sell at the junk yard. The local cobbler would repair your shoes if the soles wore out or heel broke off. On garbage day, they would send a man ahead of the truck to bring our can to the curb. Then after it was emptied another man would take it back into the yard.

The milk man used to deliver to your house. I can still remember the rattle of the empty bottles in the wire carrier that he used. We had a wooden door in the side of the house by the back door for the milkman to deliver our milk and dairy products. This was called a milk box. If you didn’t have a milk box, your items were left on your porch in an insulated metal box. The milk would have a layer of cream on top that you would pour off to make whipped cream or to use in cooking. I loved the milk in glass bottles. A fixture back then was the “knifeman”, who would drive up and down the street and sharpen your knives, scissors, hedge shears and the blades of the old reel type, hand pushed lawnmowers.

We had bread delivered to the house and had the rag man as well. Let’s not forget the fruit wagon. He would yell “Apples, peaches, strawberriessssssssssssssssssss.” I recall the popcorn man pushing his cart down our street with that steam powered whistle summoning us to come running. We would bring our precious coins that we had earned by returning bottles to the corner store and get this hot, salty snack. That is, if we had any left after buying our stash of penny candy, ice cream treats, and comic books. My Grandfather was a Fuller Brush man and he used to sell aprons and Fuller Brush products.

Around Christmas, the post office used to deliver a twice a day. We walked to school, coming home for lunch, and played outside till dark, only going home when the street lights came on. We lived on Berkshire Avenue, a one way street and we were always playing in the street, roller skating, playing baseball or tag. In the fall, we played football.

My father worked every day and drove the only family car. This caused us to walk everywhere, parents just didn’t drive their kids around and you walked if you wanted to go anywhere.

We had a few chores, but then it was outdoors in the summer. In the winter we would go to a friends’ house or they would come to mine to play board games. You would walk to a friend’s house and see if they could play. Calling our friends by their name to come out to play didn’t involve texting. We would walk over to a friend’s house and yell “Oh (insert friend’s name here) can you come out to play?” We never rang a bell. If somebody was calling you, you would ask permission from your mother to go outside. It was a simple yes or no and no one got angry if the answer was no. Neighbors got along better than today.

Women were outside and visible around their houses hanging wash or doing yard work, watching their kids in the yards. Our basement contained a wringer washing machine for washing our clothes, our dryer was a clothes line in the back yard and our dishwasher was my mother. When I got older, the kids were in charge of washing and drying the dishes, setting and clearing the table.

The doctors made house calls if you were too sick to come in, or very contagious. Our family doctor visited me when I had the Chicken Pox and the Measles.

We would go home for lunch from school every day and we had a bank day at school on Mondays where we would take our money and get it posted to our bank book. Every Wednesday we would get out of school early so we could walk to St James RC church for religious instructions. I used to stop at Neisner’s and get a small bag of Spanish peanuts for the trip. Speaking of school, there were air raid drills in school. We crouched on our hands and knees, in the hall ways, up against the wall, or under our desks, hoping the Russians didn’t bomb us.

We played with homemade toys such as kites, scooters made out of fruit crates decorated with pop bottle caps, scrap 2x4s, pieces of scrap wood for handle bars and discarded metal roller skates. I made a car out of a large crate and the wheels from an old wagon. You steered using a rope that was attached to the front axle.

There was also the “rubber band” gun. A long narrow piece of wood used as a rifle that we would put a notch at the top of to hold a rubber band made out of a used tire tube cut into 1/2 inch wide trips. You knew when someone shot you because of the sting that you felt.

I have memories of Fel’s Naptha soap that was used for anything from washing clothes, floors and taking baths. Sponge baths all week were the norm then when Saturday night was the night for a real bath in a claw foot, cast iron bathtub.

It was good being a kid in the 50s.

Lead image: By Buffalo cartoonist David Corbett. Cartoon presented by Hyatts – All Things Creative.

Written by Norbert Rug

Norbert Rug

Norb is a writer from Lockport. His email address is nrug@juno.com. If you have any fun stories or memories to share of Buffalo's "good old days", feel free to send him a note.

Norb has now written 500+ articles, over 90 restaurant reviews, and has been published in the Buffalo News, Lockport Union Sun and Journal, Niagara Falls Gazette, the East Niagara Post, The Lockport Star, The North Tonawanda Extra, the Niagara Reporter, and Artvoice. His work has been published on Press Reader, Good Cookery, the National association for Home Care and Hospice, and Konitono. He also has his own blog at whywny.home.blog.

Norb's writings deal with Buffalo nostalgia. He wrote a series of articles on early Buffalo television including Rocketship 7, Captain Kangaroo, Howdy Doody, and Mr.Rogers. Norb has also written on his childhood in the Bailey Kensington area, The Mohegan Market, and sailing on Lake Erie. He continues to write weekly on the city that he loves.

View All Articles by Norbert Rug
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