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Sylvia O: Questions on Your Life in Food

22 July 2010 2,294 views 2 Comments

As you may know if you have been keeping tabs, I started a series called “Questions on Your Life in Food” last week with my family and am continuing this week with Adam’s family.

We recently spent a weekend in Tulsa, OK with his maternal grandmother, Sylvia (AKA Grandma), where I interviewed her about some of these questions. Others, she answered in an e-mail until she had to sign off to head out to her poker game with the ladies.

This photo was taken around the time Sylvia met her husband, Milton

This photo was taken around the time Sylvia met her husband, Milton

Sylvia O. – Born in 1922 (mother of Paula, grandmother of Adam)

Jodi, you have asked some great questions and I would love to answer them, but it would be like writing a book.  First of all [my parents store] was not a grocery store as you no doubt picture it,  it was a general merchandise store that had everything from clothes, food, feed for animals, seeds for gardens, tobacco, you name it, and much more. I was assigned to be in the store when I was 7, so I could just watch and see that nothing was taken.

I don’t know how my father’s brother and cousin happened to have a store in Stonewall [Oklahoma], but I have always thought it had something to do  with them being peddlers and ending up there. World War I was coming and they would have to go into service, but my father was exempt because he was married and expecting a baby.  My parents were living in  New York so they decided to come and run the store.

Milton's (Sylvia and Milton's store in Tulsa) - mid 1940s

Milton's (Sylvia and Milton's store in Tulsa) - mid 1940s

My mother moved from Oklahoma to Cleveland with the children to live with my grandmother. She was hoping my father would leave Oklahoma and come to Cleveland where she was. After a couple of years, he broke down and took the train towards Cleveland. A few stops in, he met a man who sold him a bushel of apples and he went back home to sell them. Eventually, she came back to Oklahoma with their children, bringing her mother with her.

My father had a grocery store, so we didn’t go grocery shopping.  If my mother was preparing a meal and needed something, one of us kids went to the store and got it.  We didn’t stock up on staples in the house as a result and when the store burned to the ground we had very little in the house to eat.  In later years, my mother made sure there was always food on hand. You see, it was a different time, and also  was the depression years.

Milton at his store (mid 1940's)

Milton at his store (mid 1940's)

You asked if we had a dollar what would we buy? First of all, who got a dollar?   We didn’t have to buy a treat as we could always go to the store and get some candy or an apple.

Was dessert a special treat or a nightly ritual?

As I remember we did have dessert at night.  It might have been canned fruit, pudding or jello.  Fifty cents would buy a quart of ice cream at the drugstore near the general store in Stonewall. We would buy vanilla and the clerk would pack it right there.

What food do you throw out? Do you eat leftovers?

Food was never thrown out, not even today.  I eat leftovers. We were raised with the admonish that there were starving children somewhere in the world and we had to think of them.

Sylvia with Adam - 1978

Sylvia with Adam - 1978

What kind of cooking did your father do when you were growing up?

Also I do not remember my father ever cooking.   He worked very long hours.

Did your family say grace before meals? What was said and by whom? Where did your family get meat from when you were a kid?

We did not say grace at meals.  My grandmother lived with us, and was always saying a prayer over the food.   Since she was kosher we had kosher meat sent to us in Stonewall by bus from Oklahoma City.  My mother did not keep kosher, except at Passover. We ate the meat from our grocery store, as we had a butcher shop too.

What was your life like as a newlywed? How did you accommodate your wife/husband’s foodpreferences when you first got married?

We were married in April 1944. When I was first married, I moved to Florida to be with Milton, who was in the service and stationed there. We rented a room with no burners allowed so we couldn’t cook. There was a shared fridge in the rooming house and we had to put our name on things. We drank a lot of orange juice.

Sylivia in front of her Florida condo - 1998

Sylivia in front of her Florida condo - 1998

Back in Tulsa in 1945, we bought a grocery store and were both working. We used to make waffles and strawberry syrup when strawberries were in season. We would take the ones home that were going bad. It was war time and everything was rationed.  At one time there was no bread. We sold cigarettes and kept them under the counter – selling them only to our best customers.

Milton’s [the store]  ran on credit and delivery and there was a Safeway across the street that was cash and carry. The Safeway was cheaper and we had to sell the store after two years. Milton went to work at the Associated Grocers warehouse.

Sylvia and Adam enjoy Braum's ice cream - 2010

Sylvia and Adam enjoy Braum's ice cream - 2010

What did you feed your kids when they were babies or toddlers? Did you restrict your diet when you were pregnant?

My son David could not digest fats when he was a baby. I would feed him skim milk with nutrients added. Paula [her daughter and Adam's mom], was premature and I fed her breast milk. The Catholic nuns at the hospital gave me a pump and Milton [her husband] would take a 2-3 oz. glass to the hospital in the middle of the night.

When I was pregnant, I ate peanut butter and crackers because I thought I was gaining too much weight. I felt nauseated with Paula the whole time and chewed gum to help calm my stomach. Paula was born in 1948.

Additional posts on “Your Life in Food” can be found here.

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