The Quaker gentleman
Albert Warren Stokes, my grandpa and a devoted Quaker, never went to bed at night without reading his Bible and saying his prayers. The way he and my grandmother lived their lives had a profound effect on my cousins, my sister Jeanne and me.
Jeanne and I spent a great deal of our pre-teen and teen years visiting the house on 15th Street where my grandparents were raising my cousins. Dorothy, my oldest cousin, was in her 20s at the time we were teens. She was married and had a daughter. That left Ruth, Eleanor, Jeanne and me to play, go to the movies and church together. I remember, fondly, those warm summer days. We’d sit on the front porch, flirting with the boys who lived across the street. Sometimes we’d all get together and play games like “red rover- red rover, green to come over” and other silly kid games. Frequently, the neighborhood kids hung around with us on the porch or front sidewalk. Sometimes we’d go to the corner where another Ruth lived whose father was the local tailor, or join us at the Logan Theater for the Saturday matinée.
One of my favorite memories is waiting at dusk for the “lamplighter.” He’d come with his little ladder and tools to climb up, lift the lid from the gas lamp that was right in front of our grandparent’s home and turn on the light for the night. The whole process was done again in the morning, only in reverse. It was years before those lamps were converted to electric.
My cousin Dorothy had the back bedroom before her marriage, which was converted to a kind of home office after she left. The small middle bedroom was for our grandparents and the large front bedroom with a huge bay window had two double beds. Most of the time when Jeanne and I visited we used that extra bed. It always felt like home.
Grandpa Stokes had a ritual he used to get everybody settled in for the night. He’d come upstairs from his workshop; stand in middle of the living room or on the front porch if that was where we all were congregated and wind up his little electric clock. He always managed to take his time and it was clear what he meant, that it was time for bed.
Money was tight during these depression days. Somehow, my grandparents managed to allow us a treat in the evenings. Across the street on one of the corners was the local ice cream parlor. They had a concoction called a “yum-yum” that we loved. It was similar to a sorbet ice cream without the cream and it came in vanilla or my favorite, chocolate. It cost all of a nickel. We would either pick a yum-yum or penny candy, not both.
We also loved going to Saturday movie matinées. These shows started with a cartoon and a serial, which always had an ending that left you guessing about what was going to happen next. These were followed by the news, a cowboy show and a feature movie. At the Logan Theater they sometimes had a live show with guests. The kids would often boo. We were never crazy about seeing comedians or puppets. And all of this for one thin dime!
The four of us went to the Mullenburg Lutheran Church on Sundays. Jeanne and Ruth were the first to be confirmed on a Palm Sunday and then take their first Holy Communion on Easter Sunday. Eleanor and I followed a few years later and I fondly remember how thrilled I was wearing my first long dress, and holding my very first bouquet of flowers, white carnations. However, I did have a problem.
A few days before Easter we had to go to church in the evening for some instructions. Suddenly, on our way to church, it began to rain, and I do mean rain. Eleanor and I got soaked and on Sunday morning I came down with a terrible cold. Without warning, right in the middle of everything, my nose began to run and all I had was one of those silly lace hankies.
I was a real mess. Looking back, cold and all, those wonderful days at my grandparent’s home were very special. Albert Warren Stokes and wife Annie Lamar did a great job teaching us how to live Christian lives. I will remember fondly that little, unadorned house on 15th Street in Philadelphia.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer.