Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries

It was 1935 and I would be nine years old that August.  In order to survive, my parents, baby sister, Alice Melinda, and I moved to Snyder, Oklahoma to live with my mother’s parents.

Times were hard.  The great depression was going full force.  The dust bowl was not far away and Southwestern Oklahoma received an occasional dusting. Since this was farm and ranch country, its economy depended on the grace of God to furnish moisture.  There was very little rain and crops and grass were suffering.

Also, we lived in tornado alley.  Over 100 people were killed by a giant tornado in 1905, three years after the town was started.  Sometime after that, two or three more tornados tore through the area.  There were some people who refused to spend the night in Snyder for fear of storms.

When very dark clouds were in the area, it was not unusual for us to spend considerable time in the storm cellar, The cellar was in the back yard near the back porch.  Daddy would stay close by, watching the clouds and would tell us when it was safe to surface.  Some of the cellars in the area were caves dug in the ground and covered with lumber and topped with soil.  My grandparents’ cellar was constructed of concrete with a covered opening at the rear to crawl out of in case the door was covered by debris.

If these problems were not enough, a year or two later, our town was hit by a spinal meningitis epidemic.  The town was quarantined.  No one was allowed to enter or leave Snyder for about three weeks.  Only two people were allowed to be in a store at a time.  Groceries were delivered to the back yards.  Our family was spared but around twenty-five people were killed or crippled by this terrible disease.

On an occasional summer night, members of several of the churches would gather together to pray for rain.  Either God didn’t hear our prayers or He thought our faith was insincere, since it did not rain until after fall arrived.  Perhaps we should have taken our umbrellas or raincoats with us to the service as proof of our strong faith.

Times may not have been the best, but people shared their worldly goods as well as their happy times.  Then as now the biggest thrill in every one’s life was to get something for nothing. These freebies came in many forms.

There was always a good time to be had at school and church functions that were free.  Our church was known for its pie suppers and potluck dinners.  I had a problem with the potlucks.  I wanted to know who cooked each item and if I didn’t like the cook, I would refuse to eat it.  I may have been a little spoiled.

People were particular as to the brands of oatmeal and certain other cereals they bought.  Some boxes contained china, pottery or glassware suitable for the table.  Boxes of Crackerjacks caramel popcorn contained trinkets that kids loved.  Children would save their pennies until they had a nickel to buy Crackerjacks for the great surprise.

When you would buy certain flour, chickenfeed and some other items in sacks of fifty pounds or more, the sacks were made of colorful cotton prints.  This fabric was suitable for making dresses and skirts for small girls.  I don’t believe that girls wearing such frocks were invited to participate in the fashion parades.

One of the biggest give-a-way was the S & H Green Stamps program.  There were several other stamp promotion companies but they were not as successful in our part of the world as green stamps.  For each ten cents spent with participating stores, we would be given one green stamp.  When the back of the stamp was moistened it could be pasted in a green stamp book.  It must have taken a hundred dollars worth of stamps to fill one of the provided books.  These books could be traded for a large variety of high-quality domestic items.  The stamps would be taken to one of the larger towns which had redemption centers. Everybody took great pride in showing off what they had received for nothing.

Evenings would find the entire family gathered in the front room around the radio.  We would listen to a variety of music, dramas and comedies.  We especially enjoyed Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Eddie Cantor.  After school, most kids would rush home to listen to their favorite fifteen-minute radio show.  Jack Armstrong, Dick Tracy and Little Orphan Annie were my favorite after school programs.  Luckily we were very seldom assigned homework.

The kid’s shows had theirs promotions also.  What we received was a clue as to what would happen on the next day’s episode.  This became very important to me so I would be in the know before my friends.  All I had to do to receive the Little Orphan Annie decoding badge was to mail the metal top of a bottle of Ovaltine to the sponsor.  I was convinced that the badge was free. It wasn’t easy to talk Mother into buying the Ovaltine because I would never finish the entire bottle.  I usually prevailed and I kept in the know.

Movies were important to our drab lives.  We would scrounge around and get money together to attend as often as possible.  All of them ended on a good tone and the villain never won.  We went home happy.

Something that really was free was the Saturday afternoon movie at the Alamo Theater. This movie was sponsored by the town merchants. Crowds of people would come to town for the day on Saturdays.  The parking places on Main Street would fill early in the day.  Many cars would double park so they could visit and watch the crowds of people walk around the streets.  That evening, the theater would be crowded since you could see two features for a reduced price, 15 cents if you were under thirteen years old and all older people paid 35 cents.  I would rush home after the second feature which would end around midnight.  One of our neighbors would watch for the light to go on in my bedroom.  Their daughter would be in trouble if her boy friend brought her home very much later.

Another night when the Alamo Theater would be crowded was certain Wednesday nights, which were called Bank Night or Jack Pot Night.  Half of everybody’s ticket in the theater was put in a pot for a drawing.  The owner of the other half of the ticket drawn won the big prize.  This often was a Shirley Temple doll. Everyone wanted a Shirley Temple doll.  The only other movie star as popular as Shirley was Will Rogers.

One Bank Night, I held the other end of the lucky ticket.  I won forty dollars cash.  How happy could one kid be.  My dad was earning only 28 dollars a month.  I ran all six blocks home.  Everyone at home rejoiced with me.  Grandmother said that we would have to hide the money so it wouldn’t be stolen.  She placed twenty dollars in the bible and the remainder behind a picture hanging on the living room wall.  This was a good move for the money was still there the next morning.

Soon Daddy invested my winnings in a calf and a pig, which were placed on Granddad’s farm.  When they matured and were sold I would be wealthy.  A short while later the pig was killed by a tornado that destroyed the barn and home occupied by the family who farmed Granddad’s land.  Luckily the calf was out in the pasture and lived to maturity.

With the money I received for the calf’s sale, I bought a bicycle and a suit to wear on Sundays.

Life was hard.  Life was good.  It is still hard.  It is still good.  A popular song of the 1930’s was “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries”.  Life is still a bowl of cherries but occasionally we find a sour cherry.  Life is what we make it.  A freebie now and then is still fun.


Jim Pershall

February 2011