Dennis, *1943, U.S.A., Washington D.C., Working Class

My name is Dennis. I was born in Washington, DC in 1943. I suppose we would say that we were working-class people that worked their way into the middle class. My dad was the son of second-generation German immigrants that had a farm in Indiana. He wanted to go to high school and college, but his father wanted him to help on the farm. So my dad lived with relatives in a near by town to go to highschool and started working his way through Prudue University. The Depression put an end to that. He go a job with a New Deal agency and then during World War II came to Washington. Here he went to night school and became an accountant. My mom was an orphan. She was eventually taken in by an uncle. He was a carpenter and totally uninterested in books. A friend convinced her to go to highschool. Her uncle didn't object, but also did not encourage her. She married a man from a well to do family. But they abandoned her and my older brother when her first husband died. It was at this time she met my father. She was a stay at home mom, but took in boarders to make ends meet.

Housing:
We always lived in rented homes at first. My parents would rent a large house and pay for it by taking in boarders. My dad liked to garden so he wanted a home with a nice yard. My brother and I always had separate rooms, although my room at first was a kind of veranda. After the War when the Goverment laid off workers, we lived in Idaho in a small apartment (flat) over a saloon. Our homes in Washington had coal furnaces, later convered to oil.

School:
I went to public (state) schools (American public schools were always co-educated) . It was before integration so they were all segregated (segregation of black and white children). After living in Washington, we lived in southern states (Alabama and Virginia). That was my first experience with regional differences in America when we moved South. School subjects included English (grammar and literature), math, history, civics, science, and of course more advanced courses in high school. I began studying German, but found it too complicated - there were too many ways of saying "the". I shifted to Spanish. History and chemistry were my favorite subjects.

Clothing:
If you watched American TV shows like "Leave It to Beaver" or "Lassie" you can see how I dressed. Flannel and corduroy shirts were common in the Winter and striped "T"-shirts in the Summer. I wore blue jeans (Flannel lined in the Winter). Leather shoes for school and Keds (they were high-top black sneakers with white soles) for play. Mom wanted me to wear short pants during the summer, but I refused. I don't recall a proper suit until high school, but of course I never wore it to school.

Toys and Games:
As for toys, my favorites as a little gut was my teddy. As an older boy they were guns to play war with. I also had toy soldiers. I remember in particular my red coats. They were lead soldiers. None of this plastic junk. My brother and I would stage wars, shooting down the enemy with rubber bands. Then I had a Western set. A kind of minature Dodge City where you could have shoot outs. Later board games and scientific items like microscopes caught my fancy. We also had a great Lionel electric train set.

Food:
I don't recall meals too well. My mom was an excellent cook. I don't recall steaks, but I do recall great fried chicken. We generally had some kind of meat, potatos, and a vegetable with milk. Ice cream was my favorite dessert, but mom made great pies and cakes.

Christmas:
Christmas was great. We certainly did have a tree. Dad insisted on a real one. And there were presents under the tree when we woke up Christmas morning. We were no religious, although I did regularly go to Sunday school as a boy. Our Christmas day meal was always a roast turkey.

More Festivities:
Thanksgiving was a big deal at our house. My dad liked to eat and we always had a roast turkey with oyster dressing. Independence Day (4th of July) was great because we could shoot off fire crackers. And of course there was Halloween. I never was much into costumes, but Trick-or-Treat was a whole different matter. It meant a huge stock of candy for sweets to come. As we were not a religious family, I don't recall Easter being much of a holiday, although Mom used to bake a ham.


Dennis told us his memories via email in December 2005. Thank you very much!

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