Times Past: A White Linen Tablecloth and Crudités

Baby Boomer, Phoenix, Arizona

Menu from Neptune's Table, Phoenix, Arizona, 1960s
Menu from a swanky restaurant, Phoenix, Arizona, 1960s

When Charli Mills posted a piece the other day based on a fellow Rough Writer’s memoir challenge, my own writing juices immediately started simmering. A link led me to  Irene Waters’ Times Past blog, where Irene has started a new monthly challenge for writers. What immediately marked this challenge as something special was its sociological bent. Participants are asked to state which generation they belong to at the beginning of their piece, so that in responding to the prompts, and reading others’ posts, writers will gain “social insights into the way the world has changed between not only generations but also between geographical location.” The first prompt is one that has been the crux of numerous conversations I’ve had with fellow Baby Boomers, most of whom have vastly increased their incidence of dining out since childhood. Here’s the prompt: The first time I remember eating in a restaurant in the evening.

The prompt immediately sparked a memory from about 1968. I was twelve and feeling very grown up with my stylish pageboy haircut and straight lime-green shift with a faux belt at the hip. I may even have worn fishnet stockings that night, held up with that queer relic called a garter belt. My mother had only recently allowed me and my twin sister to advance to a one-inch heel on our shiny patent-leather shoes.

The Green Dress
You guessed it; the green dress

It was some special occasion, perhaps my parents’ anniversary or my mother’s birthday. The seven of us had piled into my father’s boat-like Chrysler sedan for the ride over to Giordano’s Italian Restaurant on Central Avenue—upscale indeed compared to Sunnyslope. Russ Giordano was a friend of my father’s, a fellow veteran from the VFW club (Veterans of Foreign Wars). Along with our church, Most Holy Trinity, the Club constituted my parents’ primary social circle.

The burgeoning Southwest hub of Phoenix Arizona, ca. 1960

The Chrysler was a recent luxury. My father’s paint-splotched Dodge pickup had served for some time as both his work vehicle (he earned his living painting houses all across the rapidly growing “Valley of the Sun,” as Phoenix is still referred to) and our family transportation. It was in the bed of that pick-up that we five kids had, until recently, ridden to our modest suppers out. Those were at one of two places in the north part of town where we lived, Sunnyslope, at both of which our play clothes were entirely respectable:

Sunnyslope late 1950s, early 1960s
Sunnyslope in the late 1950s, early 1960s

The most regular spot was the fish fry in the big hall at the Monfort post of the VFW Club on Friday nights, where permed and padded-hipped women called us “Hon” and sashayed loaded paper plates to the long folding tables. We squirmed on our metal chairs just long enough to eat, like skittish colts, the din of voices ricocheting off bare walls.  Nickels for the pop machine embedded themselves in our grubby, hot palms. A hulk of a bald man named Tiny could be seen through the cut-out window at one side, manning the sizzling fryers. Our hunger pangs subdued, we were off to the park across the street, but not without searching out the wizened old vet who always teased us through a little box on his throat.


My family’s other go-to spot was the Northway Fish & Chips in Sunnyslope, where we dug into flimsy cardboard boxes of (yet again) deep fried cod squares or chicken or splayed butterfly shrimp served with a white bun and limp French fries. We gathered round a picnic bench under a festoon of fishing nets and glass baubles, jockeying for a place in the jetstream of damp air blowing from the swamp cooler .

That was before the change. Before the advent of my parent’s business venture. Before the five-bedroom, ranch-style house with the pool. The new Chrysler sedan and matching bedroom sets bought at auction.

And . . . a first grown-up dinner at Giordano’s on Central Avenue in Phoenix. The sophistication of the dimmed lights, the white linen tablecloth, the glass water goblets, the chilled oval tray of chilled crudités (celery sticks, radishes, carrots and fat green olives with pimentos) and salad served before something called an entrée. I sat straight and proper on my heavy wooden chair, dabbing the corners of my mouth with a cloth napkin.

Just as I had surely seen some actress do on TV .


8 thoughts on “Times Past: A White Linen Tablecloth and Crudités

  1. What a rich recall of times past! I remember riding in the back of a pickup truck. If you tossed five children into the truckbed today and drove anywhere it would make national news of child endangerment. 🙂 What a shift, too, that of your father’s success. He must have felt such pride to take you all out. And how beautiful you looked in your dress! Fab eyeglasses, too. Sometimes we forget how much has changed in culture until we look back. This is a great series!

    1. I actually saw some kids riding in the back of a pickup last week. Rather shocking these days, but fond memories for me now. We were not coddled, to say the least. And I talked to my brother the other day. He went through that old house a year back or so. There had been a fire and workmen let him in. It seemed to luxurious and big to us then, after living in our previous 3-bedroom cement block house. Not so special by today’s suburban standards I guess… And yes, my father had an 8th grade education, but he made something of himself. His older brother got the farm. He worked his way up from slaughtering cattle in St. Paul to building a painting contracting business in Arizona and finally opening a nursing home with my mother. People mistook him for the janitor all the time. Thanks for reading and commenting Charli. I do love this series as well. Must go back to Times Past and dip in some more!

  2. Jeanne your memories have made a valuable addition to the wealth of social knowledge we are gathering over at Times Past. You and I are the same age and I had a dress that immediately came to mind when I say you in your beautiful green dress. Didn’t we think we looked great (and of course we did) but to see them now it takes you way back. I love, in these old photos, looking at the decor in the background which dates them more than the clothes do as dress fashions come around time and again. Your restaurants and housing also were fascinating insights and beautifully described.

    1. Great to see you here Irene. Thanks so much for the inspiration to visit that past time. I figured we were about the same age, and yes, you’re right, I thought I was quite the sophisticate. I actually cropped some of that picture out that showed my parents’ typical middle-class, American colonial tastes. I am like you; I love scouring old pictures for such period details. Love watching TCM for the same reason. It is so fascinating to see how people lived. I’ll be back on your site soon to read some more of the other entries. Thanks for the opportunity to participate in such a great project!

  3. What a cheerful sounding place “Sunnyslope” I feel warm just reading this and imagining being able to ride in the back of a pick-up that evidently wasn’t caked in wet mud!
    I’m also struck by the details you remember when mine are a bit of a blur at this age: the dimmed lights, the white linen tablecloth, the glass water goblets, the chilled oval tray of chilled crudités (celery sticks, radishes, carrots and fat green olives with pimentos) and salad served before something called an entrée. (LOL!)
    These posts are fascinating to read – there’s a commonality across the continents and then also a very different feel which is hard to describe except that the ‘language’ we remember in, is necessarily different.

    1. Lisa, so good to get your comment. Sunnyslope started out in the 20s as a haven for TB patients. The dry air, sparse vegetation… When I lived there it was the north end of town. We could stand in the street and see “dust devils” and tumbleweeds blowing in. And yes, rarely any mud! As for remembering details, well that’s always a challenge. Simple passages take me forever sometimes. But I guess we just go for the basics that emerge. There is a commonality across the diversity of national origin, isn’t there! Of course, sharing a common tongue, I think most Americans have an affinity, almost an unconscious memory, of things English. Really, good to “see” you again. I’ll stop in on your blog soon!

  4. I’ve wanted to read this post for ages Jeanne, had it bookmarked, so glad to at last have the chance to do so! Again, I will say it, your writing is exquisite. You draw me in that I am a girl of ten or so, giggling with you in the back of your father’s truck, and then feeling so grown up in my special dress next to you in yours. Love, love, love your photo, so evocative of a different time. You capture the past so wonderfully. I love how you describe the Chrysler as ‘boat-like’. That’s exactly how I described the first big American car I ever drove in when my American GI took me to California with him in the summer of 1979, his brother picking us up at LAX in his huge Ford LTD with bench seats in the front. I had neve sat in such a huge car/boat! I love anything Americana, and this fits the bill. Amazing how quite a few of us share first eating out memories revolving around fish and chips. I grew up with then as a special treat, but of course we ate them out of newspaper 🙂 I hope to get my post out next week, just in time as usual. Irene has set us a wonderful series, loving it!

    1. Well thank you for taking the time to come back and read that one Sherri. There is never enough time is there?! I am always reluctantly culling emails with posts I have meant to go back and read. And in fact, I still want to go back to Irene’s blog and “taste” some more of those first dinners out. You know, when I was a girl, I was always reading books about girls that lived in apartments in New York City with a “super” and trips to the Statue of Liberty, or Gothic romances that always spun off Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights (the heroine was often a governess!) I found my own reality to be so humdrum. But now my memories of it seem more colorful. And funny about the fish and chips. I loved that in England, though I never did get used to the vinegar 🙂 I will check out your post on Times Past!

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