1950, and the cookie-cutter houses in the slipstream of a paper mill promise new beginnings for the families moving to Heath Street. From the tragicomedy of Atom Bomb drills to the wonder of glitzy gadgetry, Dynaflow transmissions and automatic canasta shuffling machines, everything that makes Made in America the password to the future is reflected in the neighbors' prodigious faith in progress.
On Heath Street the seeds are sown for a generation caught between vanity and self-esteem, humility and confidence, duty and liberation. How far we've come - or have we only just begun the journey?
Heath Street Stories
HEATH STREET STORIES
My father was the Jack in “Jack of all trades”. I never met up with anything mechanical my father could not figure out and fix. No machine was ever built that could baffle him. From toasters to drilling rigs, nothing with moving parts escaped his technical mastery. I sometimes think one reason he had such a painful inability to tolerate people was because they failed to work with the precision of well-made machinery. Nothing was ever admired more by Dad than a complicated steel and chromium calibrated gadget with rotating gears, ratchets, cams, cogs and thingamabobs clicking and clacking in perfect synchronization.
In 1950, automobiles required mechanics at the wheel, in the passenger seat, living next door or at least related by marriage. Anyone who couldn’t tell an Allen wrench from a hatpin had no business buying a car. To admit ignorance and submit your sedan to the hands of a licensed garage repairman was the ultimate humiliation, My father wouldn’t hear of such a thing. When he made a trade, our old model had fewer than a couple dozen original parts.
When my mother slipped and sat down on the portable Philco radio, my father fixed it. No use in buying a new one. Dad patiently matched up the hundreds of pierces, some no bigger than an eraser head, and glued them back together again. With two new tubes and a jigsaw puzzle case, the Philco was almost as good as new. Mechanically speaking, that is.
“What’s that?” visitors would ask Mama, coming into the kitchen.
“That thing on the counter with the brown knob and the plastic piece sticking out on the side. Is that a glazed casserole or a tureen? Don’t tell me – it’s a bun warmer.”
“Oh, that.” Mama would smile proudly. “That’s the Philco. I broke it into a thousand pieces, and Ted fixed it.”
“You don’t say.” A look of incredulity came over them as they bent down to examine the road map mosaic of glue and plastic. “Amazing.”
“He’s so clever. He can fix anything.”
They always felt compelled to rap the case to test its sturdiness and then twirl the ersatz knob right and left. Despite everything we did to hasten its demise, that Philco withstood all our efforts at sabotage. It outlived three uncles, two great aunts, two presidents, Marilyn Monroe and a dozen television sets.
When Mama’s old Maytag went on the fritz, she was hoping she’d get a new automatic like her neighbor’s new Kenmore with a spin cycle. My mother’s washer had a crank-powered wringer. And when my father was on the road once, she leaned over the roller bar, got her bra strap caught in the rollers and had to summon help. When even her next door neighbor couldn’t get the darn thing to let go, she brought in reinforcements. It seemed hopelessly jammed until the Maytag repairman showed up. He took almost an hour to finish the job, and then never sent a bill. That was strange Mama thought.
“I don’t get service like that with my Kenmore,” her neighbor said. “You have to pay just for their leaving the store and coming out to the house. Gee, he didn’t charge anything for all his time getting your boob out of that darn wringer? Not even a service call fee?”
“Not a cent. All he wanted was the evidence to show his supervisor.”
“What evidence? Damaged wringer parts?”
“Oh, no. Nothing like that. Just my bra.”
Three jaws dropped open. “Your bra?”
“Well, it was all ripped and stained with grease once he got it off. So I got a pretty good bargain didn’t I?”
When my father got home, he had another point of view. “My god, Jane! A strange man is in the house diddling with your bosom, and you’re half naked?”
“Don’t worry, Dear. I covered my eyes the whole time he was here. I never saw a thing.”
Gracie Allen never had an act as good as my mother’s.