My new novella, “The Blueberry Swirl Waltz” is part of the One Scoop or Two Series published by The Wild Rose Press, which will be released soon – just in time for summer.
The setting of this story is Roebling, New Jersey, in 1951. My grandmother, who we called Baba, owned an ice cream and confectionery shop which I borrowed for this book. I interviewed my mother to learn more about this shop since my memories are very sketchy.
Me: When did Baba and your father buy the store?
Mom: In 1935. I was eight. My father died in 1942 and my mother was 50 at the time. So she was 43 at the time they bought the store. My father worked as a steel worker at Roebling Steel and my mother ran the store.
Me: What was the store called?
Mom: It didn’t really have a name. People called it Hathazi’s (our last name) but there was no sign on the outside.
Me: What did the store look like?
Mom: It was on the corner of Alden Ave. and Roland St. next to the Greek Catholic Church and across the railroad tracks from a big part of the town. It had wooden floors, two big picture windows on each side of the door, a counter with six red leather swivel stools on the left side of the shop, two tables and a candy case on the right, a cigarette and cigar case up front on the left, and a pin ball machine in front of the window.
Me: Did you work in the store?
Mom: Me and all my siblings did. My brother and I were the youngest of five, so we worked in the store after school and on weekends. I was about ten when I started working there. There were no rules back then about child labor. I sold everything from ice cream, sundaes, candy, and milk shakes to cigarettes and cigars. It’s how I got so good at adding and subtracting. Sometimes I would work alongside one of my siblings and sometimes alone.
Me: What was the cost of the items you sold back then?
Mom: A cone with one scoop of ice cream was five cents and two scoops was ten cents. A milkshake was about fifteen cents and a banana split was twenty cents. A pack of cigarettes cost 20 cents. We also sold penny candies and bottles of soda (Coke, Dr. Pepper, Orange Soda, and Seltzer Water).
Me: What flavors of ice cream did you scoop?
Mom: Vanilla, Chocolate, Butter Pecan, Strawberry, Cherry and Pineapple. My favorite was strawberry and when the cannister was empty, I got to eat the ice cream in the bottom of the barrel.
Me: I would have guessed your favorite was butter pecan. What were the store hours? Mom: Whatever my mother or whoever was working wanted them to be. When we were in school, she would open during the day. When we worked at night after school, we would close it when we decided we were done for the day. During the summer, it was the same except that we worked during the day too.
Me: Was it hard to work and get your school work done?
Mom: No. Between customers, we would sit at the counter and do our homework.
Me: Did you miss out on getting together with friends because of work?
Mom: Our friends hung out at the store with us. We would sing or dance or just talk. Because I was still young, I would be able to go outside and play with my friends in the street. We played hide-n-seek, lie sheepy lie, pincho oucho, May I, jump rope, and marbles. During the winter when it snowed, all the kids from Roebling would gather in front of our store to sled, since the roads on both sides of our corner slanted down.
Me: What did you wear when working at the store?
Mom: Back then, we only wore dresses. No shorts, no slacks. We had play dresses, school dresses, and Sunday dresses. If I had been at school that day, I would wear my school dress. If not, I’d wear a play dress. I always wore socks and tie shoes. You have a photo of me standing in front of the store wearing a jacket, skirt, white socks, and tie shoes. That was 1943 and I was sixteen. You also have a photo of my older sister standing in the street in front of the store which gives you a better picture of what it looks like on the outside. I can’t find any photos from the inside of the store. We didn’t own a camera back then. I’m not sure who took these pictures.
Me: Thanks Mom. If any readers have any other questions they’d like answered by Mom, send me an email at email@example.com with the Subject “Ask your Mom” and I will ask her.
Part 2 of my interview will be on questions related to her ballroom dance teaching job at Arthur Murrays in her early 20’s. The heroine of this story is also a ballroom dance teacher.