Luzerne County Memories


Bob Howells originally started the memories of Luzerne County on the list server, in 1999. As time progressed I thought it would be nice for more members to get involved in posting their memories. Memories are a wonderful help in doing genealogy research. Old towns, places and people that no longer exist except in ones memories are things that have been mentioned throughout the memory thread. These are a few of the posting for additional postings on this thread watch this page and also check the List server archives. There was such a great response to the memories posting that the list will be doing it again in the near future. I hope those that have memories of Luzerne County as a child will post them the next time it is called.

I was born in 1925, and I remember growing up in the 1930's. Here are my memories of:

* Neighborhood Visitors

* Food Shopping in the 30s

* Home Remedies in the 30s

* Superstitions



Do you remember the UMBRELLA MAN? He came down the street ringing a small hand bell. He carried a small table on his back which he set up on the front porch or sidewalk. The table had an emery wheel which he turned by means of a treadle (not unlike the old sewing machines). He not only repaired umbrellas, but he sharpened knives and scissors. In our "throw away" society of today, if our knives or scissors get dull, we toss them away and buy new.

There was Mr. J--- who owned a dress shop in Nanticoke. He came round with a huge pack on his back and, when invited, would come in, throw his pack in the middle of the living room (we called it our parlor) and proceed to sell his wares which were mostly dresses. Neighbor ladies often came in to see what he had. It was like an impromptu tupperware party.

There was Mr. P--- who, when invited, came in to check you for eyeglasses. He sat his client on one side of the room and put an eye chart on the other wall. He then put a heavy frame over your nose and proceeded to change lenses until a person was satisfied that he could see well. In a couple of weeks, he returned with your glasses. Do you know of any optometrists who make house calls today?

Just once I remember a man come around with a "fortune teller" parrot!!! He carried a tray of small cards which had a fortune printed on them. (Much like the cards that the old scales dispensed along with your weight). After giving the man your money, the parrot would pick out a fortune card with his beak. The kids loved to see him do this, and they would follow along hoping another neighbor would buy a fortune.



There were no supermarkets in my area during the 30's. A lot of "mom and pop" stores existed. There was a larger Grand Union in town, but most business was conducted at the smaller stores. There were a few American Stores in town, but after WW2, they were closed and formed into the ACME markets. The "mom and pop" stores were a blessing to the coal mining families because they could buy on the book.

The proprietor gave each customer a book small enough to fit in a woman's purse or a man's pocket. The book had numbered pages with two pages having the same number. When a person purchased anything, the proprietor would put a carbon paper between the pages and itemize each purchase.

He tore out one page for his record and left the other in the book. Each page was totaled and carried over to the next page. At the end of the pay period (two weeks), the bill was paid.

Most of the stores had sawdust on the floor. Shelves of canned goods lined the walls and a lot of produce was sold out of the bushel basket in which they came. A large stem of bananas hung from the ceiling, and the proprietor would pull as many bananas as you wished from the stem. It was not a self-service store. The clerk "waited on" you.

Usually, the meatcase contained three or four kinds of cold meat which the clerk sliced as needed. Sharp cheese was cut from a huge round piece and weighed. Most of the time, pork and beef was kept in a walk-in refrigerator and the proprietor cut it on a meat block for you.

When we lived in the coal mining patch about three miles from town, a store owned by Carter Bache would send a solicitor (their name for it) every Monday and Thursday to get grocery orders. The orders were delivered on Wednesday and Saturday.

Out of town deliveries were made by truck, but many in town deliveries were made with horse and wagon. Mr. Bache owned Maywood Farms which supplied him with all of his dairy products, meat and produce. One could also buy bakery products and produce from trucks that came around to each block. All of this occurred in and around Nanticoke, PA.



I was talking to my neighbor in his yard the other day when he pointed out a weed. He said, when he was little, his mother would put lard on a boil, apply a leaf of this particular plant, put a bandage on it and in a short while, the boil was healed.

I began thinking of the home remedies that were common over sixty years ago. There was nothing exotic about what was used, just some common things found around the house.

If anyone in the house had a cough, Mom kept a cup of "cough medicine" on the back of the stove. It was a mixture of vinegar and honey. Some people used lemon juice and honey, but she preferred vinegar. If someone coughed, she would say, "You better go take a dose of medicine."

She kept a supply of old bed linen on hand. She used it for mustard plasters, onion plasters, bread poultices, yellow soap poultices and bandages. If I had a chest cold, she would spread the mixture of dry mustard and lard (I think) on a large cloth, fold it over, put it on my chest and pin it to my pajamas for the night. At least, when I awoke in the morning, the plaster was in the general area. The bread

poultices and yellow soap poultices were used for festered sores or splinters. A match was used to sterilize a needle which was used to remove the splinter. Then, the poultice was applied.

Vicks ointment was used frequently for a variety of ailments. It was applied to the chest for a chest cold, applied under the nose to clear one's head, and applied to one's neck if one had a sore throat. It was imperative that a flannel cloth was put around the throat. Some adults would take a little dollop of Vicks and swallow it for a sore throat.

One didn't take a lot of vitamins in those days but children took cod liver oil and adults took "Lydia Pinkhams Pink Pills for Pale People." Castor oil was a popular (or should I say "unpopular") remedy in those days. There were a great many other over-the-counter remedies, also.

For colds, hot soup and hot night-caps were used as remedies. The night-caps were popular with adults (I wonder why? :-) ) For a teething baby, a little paregoric applied on the gums helped ease the pain. For cranky babies, who appeared to be in pain, a drop of paregoric or whiskey in sweetened water and taken in a nursing bottle eased the pain. (The druggist would sell a little bottle of paregoric without a prescription if he knew his customer.)

One day my father came home from work and handed me a bar of lead and a file. He asked me to file a little bit and put it in an envelope for him to take to work. It was a hard task because the soft lead filled the grooves on the file but, nevertheless, I persevered until I had a small amount.

When I gave the envelope to him, I asked what he intended to do with it. He said his buddy at work wanted to make a salve for his piles (hemorrhoids). (True story!) If old "leadbottom" died of lead poisoning, I'll bet the obituary read "died of complications." A few generations ago, "complications" was a common, fatal malady. :-)



People were superstitious in those days. Many believed they could "pow-wow" to heal certain maladies. For example, a lady, who lived near us, would say some sort of "prayer" or incantation and blow three times on a burn. It was supposed to take the pain away and promote

healing. She believed she could stop bleeding by saying the person's name in some sort of incantation. BTW, I don't mean to imply that all people were superstitious, but there were some.

These same people believed that an owl hooting at night was an omen. Living in a mine patch, surrounded by woods, the hooting of an owl was commonplace. Nevertheless, no matter how many scores of times the owl hooted without a tragedy following, the people never wavered in their superstition.

Another bad sign of impending doom, was the howling of a dog at night for no apparent reason. The sound would send chills up the spine of the superstitious, and one could see the faces grow a little pale and observe the look of fright on their faces. Again, even though the howling occurred many times with no tragedy following, just let it happen once, and it would reinforce their belief.

Oh, oh ... Our dog just howled ... could it be an omen of doom? Not really ... he frequently howls when my wife plays the piano.

This page copyright 1997-20162010 by Bob Howells. All Rights Reserved.

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1997-20161997-2016 Mary Ann Lubinsky for the PAGenWeb Project, and by Individual Contributors

 Mary Ann Lubinsky, County Coordinator