Those were the days…

Jul 19, 2010 | 1 comment

Woolworth’s Menu, 1957

     A friend sent me this 1957 menu from a Woolworth’s lunch counter.  What a flood of memories it brought with it!  When I was a teenager in the late forties and early fifties I lived in San Rafael, California.  Woolworth’s on Fourth Street was the place we went to get almost any ‘every day item’ that we couldn’t get at the grocery store or at a department store.  We bought our school supplies there and, when we got to high school and we were ‘allowed to,’ it was where we bought our make-up and toiletries.  We called it “the five and dime” because a generation or so before that most things cost either a nickel or a dime.  By my time, though, the prices were a bit higher.
     Although the items on the menu look familiar, I’m not sure how often I frequented the lunch counter at Woolworth’s.  My friends and I were more likely to drop in at a little hole-in-the wall place next to the movie theater for cokes and a shared order of French fries.  I remember that the ceiling was a mass of paper straw covers hanging down stalactite style.  Only those of us with the best lung power could manage to blow our coke-dipped straw covers hard enough so they would stick.
      I also remember that when I was in high school my weekly allowance was $2.50.  Out of that I had to buy my clothes (except for the annual back-to-school outfit purchased in early September) and any incidental items I wanted.  I remember rationing those after school stops for a coke and fries!  I earned my allowance by doing the family ironing – all except my father’s dress shirts and the bed and table linens which were sent out to the Chinese laundry.  I usually spent Saturday mornings at the ironing board listening to the radio as I worked.  I actually enjoyed ironing and still do.
     As I look at this old menu, I wonder about a few of the items.  Was the bacon and tomato sandwich what we now call a BLT?  Surely it had lettuce on it?  When did we begin calling it a BLT?  And what was “pressed ham” anyway?  When I Googled it, I had to skip a lot of sexual references to find that, in the food sense, it was a kind of lunch meat that is rarely available these days.  Which made me think of our changing vocabularies, interests, social mores…  All those thoughts from a look at a vintage menu!

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    Wow, Sydney. When I was little my mother took me shopping in downtown Seattle (on the bus because we were a one car family) and we’d eat lunch at Woolworth’s. that was where I was introduced to and fell in love with the chocolate malted milkshake. At Christmas my “country cousins” would come from Whidbey Island to shop and we children could buy everyone gifts for very little money. I have lovely memories of Woolworth’s as well as J.J. Newberry’s which we had in Bellevue.

    My mother took my dad’s shirts to a Chinese laundry in Chinatown (now known as the International District) of Seattle which I thought was very exotic. We have Vietnamese who run the laundry in Gig Harbor, but it’s nowhere near as interesting. There was a little Asian shop near the Chinese laundry where we sometimes went and I bought the orange jelly candy with the rice paper that dissolved on my tongue.

    We probably don’t want to know what pressed meat is except it might have been Spam. Maybe they had legal reasons for not just saying “Spam.” There have been times in my life when I’ve been thankful for Spam, but hope to not go there again!

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