This is a continuation of the Reminiscences of my Grandpa, Alfred Duryee Guion, as he was growing up in Mount Vernon, New York during the 1880s and 1890s.
I recall keeping a picture album in which I pasted pictures of Mellin’s food (for babies), Baker’s chocolate, Pear’s soap, Sapolio, and Pearline (washing powder). Advertisements in the papers and magazines featured Smith Bros. Cough drops, Radway’s Ready Relief, Sloan’s Liniment, Carter’s Little Liver Pills, Lidia Pinkham’s Pink Pills for Pale People, Adam’s chewing gum and a round chip gum called Faultless Pepsin Chips. The Sunday papers were beginning to run comic sections featuring Buster Brown, The Yellow Kid, Mutt and Jeff, etc. Ice cream sodas were a new, delightful treat.
My father seldom drank any alcoholic beverage stronger than beer. One hot summer day both father and mother had beer at the evening meal. It looked so cool and bubbly I asked for some. My mother said “No”, but my father said, “Oh, let him have a taste.” What a disappointment! Instead of the nice sweet taste I had expected, it was bitter. To this day I don’t like beer.
As a boy I had frequent colds which worried my mother. The invariable remedy was Scott’s Emulsion of Cod Liver Oil and I can distinctly recall the label on the bottle depicting an old seafaring man dressed in oilers and hat, carrying a huge fish on his back.
Another incident I recall was trying to be kind to a little kitten we had been given. I heard my mother say that kittens liked to be where it was warm, so I figured the oven of our kitchen coal range would be just right. Fortunately, it was between meals and the fire was low. My mother heard the meowing and finally located poor little kitty, none the worse for its experience, and while, because of my good intentions, I escaped spanking, I learned a lesson in the value of good judgment. I used to bite my fingernails. I stuttered. I was frequently punished for teasing my little sister. All in all, I guess I wasn’t a “sweet little boy”.
In the top drawer of my father’s dresser, where among other things he kept a pomade stick for his hair, brilliantine for his mustache, orris root, etc., he had a small 22-caliber Chased pearl-handled revolver as well as the Harrington and Richards five shooter for safety sake, because our house was on the outskirts of town and was occasionally visited by tramps looking for a handout. The fancy little firearm intrigued my boyish fancy and, while I had been repeatedly told never to touch either of those revolvers, one day when my idle hands found nothing else to do, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to take it apart to see how it worked. So down to the coal cellar where I wouldn’t be observed I went, with it and a screwdriver. I got the faceplate off without much trouble when suddenly something snapped and the insides sort of erupted. I had planned to take each part out carefully observing the order so there would be no trouble in assembling them again, but this scattering of parts all over the place was a tragedy. What a hopeless feeling! I tried frantically to fit the parts in again but I couldn’t even get the side plate back. Now, what to do? I knew I was in for a good spanking. Disobedience did not set very well with “Papa”. I thought of not taking it back and hiding it somewhere but knew it would be missed and lying would only make matters worse. With shame and trembling I sought out my mother and told her the whole sad story. She decided the only thing to do was to wait until my father came home from the office that night and make a clean breast of things. What a long fearsome afternoon that was! We children, Elsie and I, always rushed to the door with Mother for the homecoming kiss as soon as we heard his key in the lock, but my greeting that night somehow lacked enthusiasm. Perhaps because my mother interceded I escaped spanking that time, or perhaps they decided I had learned my lesson, which I had.
My parents did not believe in frequent or promiscuous spankings but we knew we would get one when we deserved, and then not a slap or two, but pants taken down in my case, and the back of a hair brush vigorously applied enough times to create a healthy respect for the punishment. I recall one time I deserved it and so reported to my father some months later. I had done or said some minor thing which was wrong, in a fit of ill-nature, and was warned if I did it again I would get a spanking. Feeling ugly and defiant, I deliberately did it again. Down came my britches, whack when the hairbrush, and I can remember the strange feeling of all the ugliness and ill-nature completely evaporating during the process. I knew I had deserved it and felt it had done me good. I often thought of this episode in bringing up my own children, and never since have agreed with those who think it wrong to spank children under any circumstances, the old Bible admonition, “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is still true.
Next weekend I’ll continue Grandpa’s Reminiscences.The story of his early memories, his marriage, the birth of his children and the death of his wife will continue each weekend. At appropriate, chronological times, I will also include early memories that I have recorded with my father, Lad, and his siblings.
On Monday, I’ll begin posting a week of letters written in 1942. Both Lad and Dan have been drafted into the Army, Ced is still working in Anchorage, Alaska, and Dick and Dave are home in Trumbull with Grandpa.