"Where Do You Live?"
"Above the Store"
The smell of garlic in the pantry from pickling cucumbers. The aroma of stuffed cabbage. The sweet smell of Mama's powder in those little round orange and white boxes with the soft puff. The warmth of the coal-fueled heating stove in the breakfast room while getting dressed for school on frigid mornings. Upstairs.
The smell of vinegar from the jars of pickled pig's feet. The meaty smell of the link bolognas, whose taste was forbidden. The fishy smell from the boxes of dried herrings. A candy case with licorice whips, cigarettes and drops, Mary Janes, plastic bottles with flavored colored liquids, Snickers, Mars, Baby Ruths.
The chill on your hands when you reached into the ice cream "box" for a popcycle or Dixie Cup.
For the rich it was Upstairs, Downstairs. For us it was Upstairs and The Store.
We lived figuratively and literally on the "other side of the tracks," the corner of Meeting and Maple Streets. It started out as 743 Meeting but was changed to 753 when the city re-numbed sometimes probably in the 1950s.
We were bounded on the south by Kinlaw Court, on the west by the railroad tracks, on the north by Brigade St. and on the east by Meeting St. Across Meeting St. was a field where Blacks had roaring baseball games on Sundays until Sires Lumber Company moved there from its location on Kinlaw Court. Jessie Williams, a man with huge muscles, was the King of Swat at the festive baseball gatherings.
Except for Maple St. and a string of houses along Meeting St. to the north and a few to the south, the neighborhood was mainly Black and treeless. Cross the tracks and the neighborhood changed colors from black to white. The houses were bigger, nicer. The streets lined with trees. Maple St. crossed the tracks but neighboring Poplar and Cypress streets stayed west of the tracks
Our side of Maple St. - from Meeting St. to the tracks - was dirt until probably around 1940. There were six houses on the north side of the street and five houses and an empty lot - where we played baseball and other games- on the south side. Three of the houses were two stories, the rest bungalows built and owned by the Sires family.
The neighbors were mainly Baptists or Catholics - the Chassereaus, the Bowicks, the Duffys, the Alphonses, the Barrineaus, the Siemeses, the Wilsons, the Villaponteaus. On Christmas, Mama would give gifts to the favored neighbor/customers. The children of the neighbors were our playmates.
Among the Black customers of the store, Papa was known as "Mr. Sam" and we were known as "Mr. Sam's son" or "Mr. Sam's" daughter. I think George eventually reached the status of being called "Mr. George."
Along the west side of Meeting St. were a string of corner home/grocery stores, all Jewish owned. There were no other Jews in the area except for the Glassbergs, who lived briefly on Meeting St. The northern-most store belonged to the Feldmans (Mrs.Gussie Feldman was Mom's best friend). Moving south there was our store, then Rosen then Rudich. The line of Jewish-owned grocery stores on the west side of Meeting ended at Romney St. where the Lutheran August Gorse family resided. The Baker family's store was across the street from the Gorse's. There were other Jewish stores farther south on Meeting.
The Home/Store was built either in 1919 or 1920 on land that once had a tomato hothouse business that had gone bankrupt. For three or four years prior to that, Mama and Papa had their first store and lived with Solly and George two doors south on Meeting St. on property rented from the the Hutmachers.
The house by the time I came around had four bedrooms - two in the front and two in the back. I'm not sure where we slept the few years we were all living at home, but I think Mama and Papa were in the front bedroom, Solly and Sidney in the other, George and I in one of the back bedrooms and Mickey in her own "sun room," which at one time was part of the porch. The rooms were forever known as the front bedroom, Solly's Room, the back bedroom and Mickey's Room.
As the nest began to empty, room assignments changed. The last alignment with me at home was Mama in the front room, me in Solly's room (finally my own room), Boba in the back bedroom and Papa in Mickey's room. Even from there, his legendary snoring could be heard at the other end of the house
There was one bathroom, located at the head of the interior stairs in the middle of the house. It was an odd location but practical when you came charging up from downstairs needing to "go." There was another toilet in the storage room of the store. It was creepy, spiderweb-laden and rusty. It was used only in desperation by us- and by some of the men who came into the store after work and socialized over several beers.
Next to the upstairs bathroom was the somewhat mysterious pantry where Mama kept her mellowing pickle cucumbers and Papa for a short time had his mellowing blackberry wine. Besides the aroma of garlic, the room also sometimes smelled like the dirty clothes in the hamper. I also remember an exercise set I think belonged to Solly that was always in the pantry. It had bungee-chord like devices with handles that you stretched out to expand the chest or legs. There also was an A-shaped hand squeezer, which I thought if I squeezed regularly I would have strong enough hands and arms to take me to the major leagues.
We ate in the breakfast room, which was between the bathroom and kitchen and off one of the two back bedrooms. There always was an "oilcloth" table covering. The heating stove, with black "pipes" going from the stove to the vents, was in the room, first fired by coal. It was then replaced with a kerosene burning stove. In winter, we got dressed for school near the stove, because every place else in the house was usually freezing.
The breakfast room served as the family room and we spent most of our time there. The radio was there and later the television set.
The kitchen, which was at the western end of the house, was an addition from the original structure. At one time, the kitchen was in the breakfast room. After the kitchen was separated from the dining room, a door was added and the original wall, with its windows, remained. The kitchen was rectangular and small. There was a refrigerator (ice box), stove, sink, worktable, and cupboards for the dishes - one for meat, the other for milk. The Passover dishes were kept in a dusty cupboard downstairs next to the stairway.
At the front of the house, the Meeting St. side, parallel to the two front bedrooms , were the "formal" dining room and the living - or front - room. The dining room was used only for special occasions such as Seders, wedding and briss luncheons-- and Mama's card parties
The furniture in the dining room was heavy and the chairs had a blue fuzzy padding. The windows in both the dining room and living room had Venetian blinds, a little bit of high scale living for us.
Before the hurricane of 1940 devastated the house, the living and dining rooms were separated by only a half wall, with columns to the ceiling on either side of the entrance. After the hurricane, full walls were built with an archway opening.
The only artwork in the house I remember was in the living room. A small Gainsborough's "Blue Boy" print and a tropical scene with a parrot - a print which appeared in a couple of South Sea Island movies.
Then there was the porch - a sanctuary in hot weather. It ran the length of the two front bedrooms on the south side of the house. The flooring was canvas and painted deck bluish-gray. There were always rocking chairs and swings where you could sit and watch the passing scene on Meeting St. You could even catch a glimpse of the top of the Cooper River Bridge.
At one time, there was a hammock on the porch and so was our turtle tank - whose slime apparently got the best of Mama and that was it. In warm weather, Mama would put her canaries in their cage on the porch.
Downstairs, of course, was The Store. To get upstairs without going through the store there was an entrance on Meeting St. which took you through a long hallway to the stairs. The hallway was a place to play games -- and the bannisters on the stairs was fun to slide down.
After World War II, the hallway became a store for Itchy's radio repair business. A new entryway was made on the south side of the house. It opened right at the stairway. After Itchy's business grew and he moved to bigger quarters downtown, the former hallway became a liquor store, which Mama presided over at times. At other times, customers could punch a doorbell which would ring in the grocery store, alerting Papa or George to come over.
Papa and Mama lived upstairs until Mama's death in 1975. Papa then lived with Mickey until his death in 1981. The store was sold in the same year to a woman who turned into a hair salon and school.
Memories are not always factual. So read the above with that in mind. ---Jack