The Summer of 1948
The recent passing of my high school classmate Arlene Scola Ellenberger has initiated a virtual time travel trip for me back to the summer of 1948 when she, Bob Baldwin and I worked as soda jerks at McMillen’s Drug Store.
I am sure we were very impressed with ourselves at that point. Come September, we would achieve our goal of being seniors, “top dogs” at Bridgeville High School. Arlene had just had a major success playing the lead in our class play, “Love is Too Much Trouble,” an accomplishment she would repeat in our senior play. Bob was our class president, a born leader in every respect.
In retrospect, 1948 was a pivotal year in many respects. That summer, the Berlin Blockade and the Berlin Airlift confirmed the opinion of many returning GI’s that the conclusion of World War II had not “made the world safe for democracy” after all; the threat of international Communism and Soviet expansionism was serious.
It was also a pivotal year politically. We Republicans were thrilled to have the chance to take back the White House after 16 years of Democratic domination. Harry Truman was considered an “accidental” president who had done very little to justify his re-election.
I assumed that my position behind the counter in a soda fountain was analogous to that of a bartender in a high-class saloon, so I freely offered my opinion on any subject to every customer who occupied a stool in front of me. Surprisingly, most of them were eager to debate with me, despite my youth.
Most of our soda fountain business was “fountain cokes” and simple sundaes, but occasionally a particularly flush customer would order a banana split. First step was to peel and split a banana in half and deposit both halves into a special dish, called a “boat.” Then we put a scoop of chocolate ice cream at one end, squirted chocolate sauce on it, and topped it off with crushed nuts. Next came a scoop of strawberry at the other end, with strawberry sauce and chopped strawberries. Finally, a scoop of vanilla in the middle, with a squirt of whipped cream and a maraschino cherry on top. A work of art!
A lot of our business came from Bigi Bus Line customers. The drug store was an unofficial terminal for the bus line. Bus drivers would frequently come into the store and announce that they were about to leave for “town,” in case any of their customers were dawdling over their banana splits. Bus customers would come in to inquire if the 8:40 had left and when the next one was due.
We earned $3 for each eight-hour shift, which is the same salary I had the previous summer when I worked at the Bridgeville Bottling Works.
Arlene, Bob, and I were making the transition from adolescence to adulthood at the same time our society was making the transition from post-World War II optimism to a long-term commitment of sacrifice to retain our way of life. We both would encounter many twists and turns in the road ahead and frequently wish we were back in the tranquil summer of 1948.
John F. Oyler is a contributing writer. He can be reached at 412-343-1652 or [email protected] Read more from him at mywutb.blogspot.com.