The Best Halloween Ever: Reminiscences from the 1950’s


October always brings back faded memories of the “Best Halloween that ever was”. I suspect it was sometime near 1952. The place was our old “stomping grounds”, the Roger Williams housing Projects in a small little known country called Providence, Rhode Island. My brother John said it wasn’t a country but he’s dead and not capable of correcting the inaccuracies in my recollections.

Halloween came on a Friday, we were ready. We had all got giant brown grocery bags and raggity outfits (everyday wear) and enough of Elsie’s (Mom’s) makeup to make us convincingly ghoulish. I figure we looked a little like Hobo-transvestites. But, it was raining heavy – Elise said, “You’ll catch your death”.  John said we would make a killing (He was right as rain). Nobody went out trick or treating but us!! We went from building to building, apartment to apartment. We filled our bags and squished home. What a stash – candy everywhere! But it wasn’t done. Trick or Treat is always canceled with bad weather.  Saturday was now the big day (Project rules).

The Rain Gods were not deterred. It rained heavy all day and night. We were going back to the “Willy Wonka outlets” to loot up again. We added a little white flower to our hair and became the dead Hobo-transvestite brothers (way before the blues brothers). Again, there was very little competition. The “scaredy cats” and the “sissies” (aka kids with common sense) had folded again. We hauled 2 more large bags of candy back to 135 Rugby Street. God is good, God is great, it would take years before this candy would be “ate”. But it wasn’t done yet. There must have been a typhoon off Nantucket or a monsoon stationed over Providence. It rained again. This was indeed the legendary best Halloween ever.   Sunday night we again headed out. We would never have to steal candy again from the blind guy (link to blog).

Sunday night was a little different. We got a lot of “Hey weren’t you guys here before?….”, “We got nothing left…” “Halloween was three days ago…”, Go home or I’m calling the cops.” A few good souls emptied their candy bowls into our bags, we caught a few stragglers but it was over. We had mostly fruit, junk candy, a few pennies and lots of unidentified objects.

The next day, we looked over our stash. It covered up John’s entire bed. “I’ll never go hungry again as God is my witness”. Elsie set the limit on 5 pieces a day. John said that would  last us approximately 3.14 years (minimum).

But evidently, we had angered the Halloween Candy Gods. On Day 4, the candy all disappeared – every Mary Jane, Tootsie Roll, Good-n-Plenty, Mike-N-Ike’s all gone without a trace. We went to Elsie to inform her that our apartment had been robbed. To our surprise, it was an inside job. Elsie said “I gave it to all to the poor kids.” “BUT  MOM, we are the poor kids!” I was going to do a quick prayer but John said “Don’t bother, Elsie probably sold the candy.” Say it isn’t so…. That was the worst Halloween ending every Biblically recorded (Sucre 10-5).  I was going to cry but John said, “Forget it. Let’s go break some windows in the old factory.” That always cheered me up…..

P.S  Please feel free to trick or treat at your own discretion. Everyone has an unusual story of Halloween past. Hopefully you will share one of yours. As my friend Moriarity would say “It was the best of times, It was the worst of times, It was time to go to Jolly Cholly’s for a hamburger.”


Raising a child in the 1940’s-50’s

Spare the rod, spoil the child.

spankingRaising a child, never came with instructions. Usually you did what your mom and dad did. My mother, Elsie, went by the old adage, “Spare the rod, spoil the child”. She learned this from her German parents. She was a single mother raising three little hellions, so she had prescribed punishments.

Level #1: Level one offenses included back talk, profanity, spilling milk, fighting with your brother or sister, bringing live creatures into the house, etc. These were mostly venial sins. Punishment was a scream, mild slap, and occasionally a six inch bar of lye soap in your mouth.

Level #2: Level two offenses were trouble in school, fighting in the neighborhood, bothering the neighbors, breaking something during “rough-housing”. Punishment for these crimes were no supper, early to bed, slap on the head, ear pulling with profanity, and threats of being returned to the orphanage.

Level #3: Level three offenses were trouble with the police, vandalism, stealing anything, complaints from any neighbor, etc. The punishment was a serious whooping. She would use a stick, coat hanger, strap, belts, and fists. These beatings always came with a barrage of profanity and always left cuts and bruises. The police would have said, “Don’t sass your mother—we’d give you worse.” The sessions were violent, usually lasted about thirty seconds, and resulted in a quick attitude adjustment (we adjusted our attitude really quick). My brother John got punished the most, he ran away quite a few times. I occasionally got smacked, but I was a cry baby. My sister Kathleen was invisible.

The second-generation showdown (my family): I was lucky, I had two cute well behaved girls. Rarely did I have to use any discipline other than stern words. But I only have one incident to talk about. My daughter Megan was in the second grade. She had received three notes from the teacher that she was continually talking out in class (i.e. she was a social butterfly). We talked, she listened, she promised some changes, but two days later I got a fourth note from the teacher. That’s it, I’m going to try Elsie’s spare the rod, spoil the child method. I put her over my knee and gave her one hard spank on the butt. She looked up at me, eyes full of tears, and asked, “Can I got up to my bedroom now?” She got up, went up to her room, and did not talk to me for two days. I really learned my lesson. That was the last spanking.

Sidebar #1: As a school counselor and psychologist, I saw many cases of child abuse. Some cases were where an adolescent child did the abusing, tons of verbal abuse, and sexual abuse were very common. I knew it was time for me to change jobs after the advice I had given a mother. A thirteen-year-old boy was continually pushing his mother around. He’d leave at all hours of the night and even punch her, etc. She’d been to counselors, psychologists, the authorities, etc. but the kid was totally out of control. She asked me, “What can I do? What will work?” I looked her straight in the eyes, and said, “Get a baseball bat and next time he hits you smack him right in the head.” We looked at each other for a minute.  Then we both started laughing hysterically for five minutes. But I knew it was time for me to move away from counseling.

Bad to the bone dogs that I’ve loved

What we have here is a failure to communicate

ee912929-6c68-424f-b938-a6126ba53ed3Isis was the meanest dog that I’ve ever owned. She was named after the cartoon character the Almighty Isis. My daughter wanted a white German Sheppard at the time, but none were available. She settled for a shy, I-need-you, little girly dog (a Sheppard/Tenderwolf mix).

Isis was different from the get-go. She had two different colored eyes, disliked all people, and hated all types of uniform. “Neighbors” were not allowed to walk past her chain-link fence—no exceptions! She was a very dangerous dog, but she loved the family unconditionally. She never took to house training, chose to live on the porch, and owned all the air, surface, and mineral rights in a twenty-mile radius. She had a stealthy personality, with a Navy skill attack level. I’d like to tell you that she never bit anyone, but…

After several lawsuits and the firebombing of our house, we moved to Stuart, Florida (just kidding about the bombs). She ate or decimated every creature near the house including rattlesnakes, sleeping gators, armadillos, and all free-range chickens. Anything that moved got the automatic admission to the “past-tense club”.

Outstanding memories: Things I remember about her are as follows: 1) Mail and package delivery was cut off from us. 2) All meter readers estimated our meters from outside our property 3) There were no neighborhood visitors 4) Animal control people, policemen, or any uniformed person were part of the food chain. She was a loveable dog to the family. My daughters could do no wrong, she understood “bory V zakone”. She was probably the “CYBIL” of canine personalities. She was nine-years-old. She lost her mobility, laid down, heavy congested breathing, she refused to die. It went on for three days full of suffering, we couldn’t take her to the vet. She had bitten them several times – even muzzled. It was like the re-enactment of the crucifixion with canines. I was the Roman soldier that ended the agony.

Sidebar #1: “All Dogs Go To Heaven” fairy tales probably don’t apply to Isis. Her philosophy was bite them all and let God sort out the good ones. She was a very dangerous dog, but she was family. I never had one like that one again.

Garage Sale-ing for additional income

A professional view: Public Service Post #2


  1. Garage Sale days are: Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun. Friday is a good day, Saturday is the best day. Sales on Thursday and Sunday can be good.
  2. Always carry at least $200 in case (30 ones, 10 tens, and the rest in twenties). Quite often sellers don’t have change early in the morning.
  3. Look for Garage Sales in: a) Craigslist (online) b) (online) c) Local newspapers d) Weekly area papers
  4. Map out your Garage Sales the night before, and make a route that you will follow as you search in different areas.
  5. Timing is everything…if it’s a 7:00AM sale then be there at 6:30AM. If it’s at 7:30AM, be there at 6:45AM. If it’s at 8:00AM, be there at 7:15AM. If it’s at 9:00AM, be there at 7:30-8:30AM. Many open early. If you arrive as they’re setting up ask, “Can I take a peek?”
  6. At the Garage Sale, let them know what you’re looking for (guns, jewelry, old things, paintings, china, etc.)…leave a card if you have one.
  7. When hunting Garage Sales, a second person is a big help, you can spot for each other, and “two sets of eyes are better than one”.
  8. Check our “finds” on EBAY COMPLETED AUCTIONS. Don’t buy an chipped glass, overly dirty items, or HEAVY things. “Smalls” do best (small items can, at times, bring big money).
  9. Bring a laundry basket or two (or large boxes) to put in your trunk or back seat for breakable items (crumple up newspaper for the protection of the items). For larger items, you can pay for them and pick them up later. Be sure to mark SOLD on those items.



Buying and selling gold for a profit (A Public Service Post)

Out of work? Need Extra Cash? You need to read this.

gold+in+hands-73This is a guide for identifying gold and silver objects (jewelry, chains, flatware, decorative pieces, etc.). Most pieces of gold and silver are clearly stamped, sometimes in odd places. Sometimes with letters, numbers. Sometimes in Arabic and Mandarin. About ten or fifteen percent of the gold and silver you find will not be marked.

First you have to find the gold and silver (that’s easy). Garage sales are the easiest place to find precious metals (it’s so true!). It’s usually mixed in with other junk jewelry.

Gold Identification:

U.S.A.                                   Other Countries

10K (41.6% gold)                   417 (10K)

14K (58% gold)                      585 (14K)

18K (75% gold)                       800 (18K)

22K (91% gold)

Misc Gold Facts:  Pure Gold (coins, bars) is  .999   %  Gold. Good luck in finding that!   “Solid Gold” is only 10K. If you find Gold teeth fillings, they are usually 13K.  Irish Gold is usually < 10K. Unmarked gold (antique bracelets, objects etc from the 1800s) would require the use of a gold test kit.  Gold can be white, it can be silver, yellow, pink, it depends on what metals are mixed with it.

What’s not gold?: The quickest way to determine if it is gold is to use a magnet. If it picks up, it is NOT gold.  Note: this is not bulletproof as other substances may not be picked up by a magnet. If you see any of the following markings, then this the item is not gold:  GP/GF… EGP…Rolled Gold…Gold Wash…Gold Plated…Gold Filled…Electric Plated (14K/18K)… Gold Tone….EP…Real Gold…14K Gold Filled….14K Electric Plated….14K Rolled Gold….14K EGP

keep-calm-and-sell-your-gold-3Becoming a professional—selling gold for money:  A)    Get a gold test kit online (acids and rubbing stone–$35) B) You need a small powerful magnifying glass C) You need a handheld magnet for screening large boxes of jewelry…it’s always worth your time buying the whole box. Remember: If it’s gold the magnet will NOT pick it up. D) You have to know where to sell the gold…eBay, gold-buyers (you just have to know what you have). E) You need a gram scale (postal scale) around $10, you’ll be measuring and selling your gold by the gram. F) Gold marks appear on the posts of the ear rings in small hidden inserts sometimes, some are numbers, Arabic, Mandarin, etc. Really and quite often next to the gold marks will be initials and symbols, etc. (Not sure? Use your gold test kit!)

Silver: Silver is not as valuable (it’s only worth about 10% of gold), you mostly look for flatware (forks, spoons, knives, serving dishes, etc.) A box of flatware could bring $500-$800. The markings on silver .999 is pure silver and that’ll be metals, coins, etc. 925 sterling is the most popular, and the one you’ll find 8 out of 10 times. Things that are not silver are: anything with Rogers Company for starters, German silver, silver-plate, silver-plated finish, etc.

Bulk metals you can also sell: Aluminum, brass, copper and lead are all sold by the pound.   Iron, steel, galvanized fence have to be sold in 100lb bulk—most likely not worth your while.


Pitching baseball cards in the 1950s

I WAS the best in the world.

Cards+-+GalleryPlayer-1If you’re a sports card collector you would probably HATE this game. Valuable sports cards got scratched, wrinkled, and had lots of bent corners (you as a collector now know why).

This was a game called pitching cards, circa 1950s. We played in Providence, Rhode Island. It was a quick, fun, winner-take-all kind of game. Rules were simple: 1) pitch the card against a flat wall 2) set a limit on how many cards were in the game 3) closest to the wall at the end of the game wins…unless you get a “stander” 4) a “stander” is a card that stands upright against the wall 5) if your “stander” gets knocked down that person gets all of the cards.

I’m not going to lie to you: I was the best player in East Providence. I was so good (how good were you, Mikey?) I had the reputation as the Pitch Card Kid, numbero uno!honus-wagner-IA_20101027085330_0_0

New kid comes to town (OK Corral Re-enacted): I had collected about fifteen hundred baseball cards, from pitching, I was good…but there was a new kid who was challenging me. I told him HOW GOOD I WAS, but he asked me to show him. The first day he was blazing. I lost about two hundred cards. I assumed it was some freak natural event, like daylight savings time, or those mysterious bells they rang on Sundays. I thought to myself, I would get him tomorrow. It was beginners luck, but it was a repeat the next day. He actually beat me six days in a row. I lost my huge stash, I was finished. He smiled, said he would see me again. Humility was my new best friend. This has stuck in my memory for sixty years.

Sidebar #1: King of the Hill was an old-timey game where one kid stood on top of a hill and other kids tried to knock him off. I had my fifteen minutes of fame. It’s better to have pitched cards and lost than to never have pitched cards.

Sidebar #2: Old games like hopscotch, marbles, pitching cards, hide and seek, twenty questions, dare, kick the can, pee-wee football, pididdle, lucky strike, and spin the bottle were all old-timey games. Fading memories like black and white televisions, Polaroid pictures, and ten-cent cans of tomato soup were back in the day.

Uncle Neil gun dealer extraordinaire

Swamp Man of Lakeland County

Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 9.34.13 PMOur Uncle Neil was a gun toting, arms-dealing, citrus barren who raised livestock. He lived in the swamps of Lakeland, Florida. He was a funny, generous guy (oh, he may still be alive). He was a great cook, the el supremo of steak and lamb. He carried a loaded .38 to church every Sunday, and had a bunch of super dogs (The legendary Tess and her brethren….) . He was a Southern icon from New England. Our kids loved him more than they loved us. He was funny, witty, and always had great kid activities (like driving jeeps, blowing up things, etc.). He could chat up a pine stump, but he’s a little older now—kind of short, white-haired, beer-loving Friar Tuck.

Creating alcoholic wonders: He had many hobbies–gun collecting, weed and seed cultivation, but he excelled at making delectable brews. (Beers, mead, citrus wines, love potion #9, Maui Wowie cocktails, etc.) He shot at thousands of squirrels, but I don’t think he ever really hit one.

Visiting the Cob Hill Ranch: When you visited his home, you’re always guaranteed a great meal, lively conversation, satirical humor, and a warm, comfortable bed. Uncle Neil is family, but we’re not sure who he’s related to (but we’re sure glad we know him).

Summary: What is it about some people that everybody likes? He has the Irish smile, a sense of humor, first to have a gift in his hand, or pick a chick up at a restaurant. He is a very generous in nature. He’s had some recently heart surgery, been shot a few times, and is wanted in several states in the southeast. He is, however, the first Florida man to receive an alligator heart transplant! If he dies, or is already dead, I’m first in line to receive his “heart of gold”.

Sidebar #1: Uncle Neil was a world traveler, who visited many places you weren’t supposed to see. He cultivated many seeds, had more cash than Johnny Cash. He loves that old fashioned “to die for” Southern cooking. He’s still active in the gun trade, and claims responsibility for several civil wars (most likely the one in 1861-1865). Uncle Neil, if you’re dead already I’ll go ahead and post this obituary in all of the available saloons, dance halls, peep shows, gun shows, and all of the X-rated channels.

Coming up, his gal Sal…Cheryl