Nearly vibrating with excitement, I climbed out of the family car Daddy had parked on a side street. My family lived on a farm near the village of Stratford and in the late 1950’s we didn’t visit the big city of Marshfield often. My being able to come along on shopping trips was even more infrequent since I’d started attending grade school four years ago. What little I remembered from preschool visits, served to fill me with inflated expectations.
Mom sewed all the dresses that my sisters and I wore, so I knew we would be visiting fabric stores, but those didn’t interest me as much as the drug, jewelry, stationery and five and dime stores. The first place my mother visited was J C Penney’s fabric section. I thought, “Good, we can get this part of our shopping trip out of the way first, then do the fun stuff.”
Looking at floral fabrics that Mom would sew into pretty dresses wasn’t so bad, but then she sat down at a table to look at pattern books. After what felt like hours I begged, “Are you all most done?” She wasn’t. We visited two other fabric stores. Finally, laden with packages, we visited a drug store for a special hair tonic to prevent Mom’s graying hair from turning yellow, a jewelry store to drop off a broken watch for fixing and a stationery store for a writing tablet.
Our last stop was at the Woolworth’s store, my favorite place on earth. Long aisles from the front to the back contained household and yard tools. There were pastel nightgowns and robes, sweaters and shirts. At the very back of the store were cages of parakeets and tanks of fish. That day they also had small turtles for 15 cents each. I begged, “Mom, please buy me a turtle!”
Mom said, “No, you could get salmonella from them. Let’s go. Daddy is waiting for us in the car.”
I sadly followed my mother to the front of the store. Several people were sitting at the Woolworth lunch counter. The waitress gave one a cheese burger. My mouth watered. I wanted to sit down and eat, too. I said, “Mom, let’s stop and get something.” Her negative response wasn’t a surprise. She never said yes.
On my next trip to Marshfield the following year, I saw a big crane and a gutted-out building across the street from Woolworth’s. My brother said, “They tore down an old building to build a new one. When it’s done, Woolworth’s will be moving into it.”
I admired the yellow bricks of the newly finished Woolworth building on my next shopping trip. Inside was big and bright, had more clothing, shoes, birds, fish and bedding. I quickly discovered that this building not only had a lunch counter, but also several booths around the corner for more relaxed dining. I wanted to stop and try a slice of their fluffy cheese cake. A poster showed a huge slice. I said, “Mom, please? It’s only 25 cents!” We often stopped at Clover Cream for ice cream cones on our way home, but we never stopped at luncheonettes.
Some children find growing up an easy thing to do; but not me. I found it painfully hard to learn to be independent. Slowly, at age 17 and with a new driver’s license, I began to change.
One afternoon I had a clinic appointment after school. Daddy let me take the car and drive to Marshfield by myself. After the appointment, I checked my wallet and decided that I could visit Woolworth’s luncheonette. Sitting by myself in a booth, I ordered a shrimp basket, Coca-Cola and a cheese cake. It was the most delicious meal I had ever eaten. I felt sophisticated. Shrimp was grown-up food. A feeling of pride and joy radiated all though my being.
My memory of this visit to Woolworth’s luncheonette came back to me recently when I was in town alone one Friday evening. Usually I eat out with family on Fridays. Reluctant to spend money on a meal when I didn’t have a companion, I pondered what to do. The menu of a certain restaurant appealed to me. I decided to give myself a special treat.
Sitting alone in a booth, I ordered a big pot of tea and slowly sipped it as I ate all my favorite Friday foods. The cozy feeling of being extremely pleased with myself made me smile. Nibbling on calamari, I thought, “Too bad they don’t serve Woolworth’s cheese cake here!”
Woolworth’ Cheese Cake
I was given this recipe several years ago with assurances that it is the same one served at Woolworth’s luncheonettes. It certainly turned out to look and taste like it!
1 3 ounce package lemon Jello
1 cup boiling water
1 8 ounce package of cream cheese
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 can evaporated milk, chilled
22 graham crackers
½ cup melted butter
Add boiling water to Jello. Stir until dissolved and refrigerate to cool. Beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla. Whip chilled evaporated milk until thick. Add the Jello. Fold in cheese mixture slowly. Crush graham crackers. (Reserve some for garnish) Work in ½ cup melted butter. Press into 9” X 13” pan, pour the cheese cake into crust. Sprinkle reserved cracker crumbs over the top. Chill until serving.