Tradition

“Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as a fiddler on the roof!”—Fiddler on the Roof

Tradition is a funny thing. Sometimes it takes only one occurrance for something to be declared a tradition. For us, this often happens with food:

Other traditions build up over time, gradually ensnaring us, without our consciously thinking about it.

My parents got married 20 December 1944, and celebrated an anniversary around that same time every year. Amazing how that works! Imagine my poor Dad—not only did he have to come up with a Christmas present each year, but he needed an anniversary gift 4 days earlier!

Before the creation of shopping malls, most towns had a local “gift shop.” In Hinsdale, that place was Stolte’s. It was located in the Grant Square Shopping Center, a stone’s throw away from Hinsdale’s official downtown stores. Grant Square was an L-shaped (as opposed to strip) mall, anchored on the north leg by the Hinsdale Federal Savings and Loan (now, Evergreen Bank Group), and on the west leg by Kramer’s IGA (still there!). Stolte’s was right next to Kramer’s, but went out of business somewhere along the way. The Walgreens that had been at the corner of the shops is now located in the larger space previously occupied by Stolte’s.

During the 1950’s-1970s, Stolte’s was the go-to place for gift and knick-knacky items. My dad took my older siblings there to pick out small Hummel figurines that cost only $2-5. Carole, Bob, & Warren could pool their allowances and choose a cute one for Mom for Christmas. My Josef angels were usually acquired from there. Its location next to Kramer’s made it convenient to pop in to see what they had, if you needed a gift.

In December, 1960, my dad wandered into Stolte’s looking for something for their anniversary. He saw a crèche (manger scene) sitting on the shelf, and decided to buy that. The figurines were made in Italy. I don’t know exactly what they are made of. They are lightweight—definitely not ceramic—but certainly not plastic, either. Some Etsy web pages showing similar figurines identify them as resin, and some as “chalkware plaster.” The latter is referred to as be heavier, so I’ll go with resin.

The figures were nicely painted, and pretty, but what really drew my dad to the set was the stable that came with it for the setting. Many stables for nativity sets are very polished-looking. No livestock ever lived in there! But not this one. It was very rough and rustic, with straw on the roof, and reminded him of the ones he built as a kid.

When he was growing up, one of the priests at Holy Cross Church, in Deerfield, held a “contest” in December for the kids to build a manger to house a Christmas scene. They used whatever scrap wood and nails they could put their hands on, and they certainly looked kid-made. This stable fit the bill and spoke to my dad. He bought the set and brought it home.

Mom really liked it, and found a spot for it on the low bookcase that backed up to the stairway. That was its spot until we moved from that house in 1977. I don’t recall its location in the new house. It didn’t actually live in that house very long. When I got married, before Christmas that year, Mom & Dad brought two boxes to our apartment. One was their artificial Christmas tree (the apartment complex forbade live trees), and the other was the manger. Mom had recently acquired a Goebel (NOT Hummel!) manger set, and was giving the old one to me. She said it was mostly mine, anyway.

When she received the set in 1960, I was 2½, and absolutely fascinated by it. On the low bookcase, I could just barely reach the figurines. Mom would arrange them, and I would rearrange them. Even at that young age, I understood they weren’t toys or dolls, and didn’t “play” with them. I didn’t “walk” them around, or have them “talk” to each other, or remove them from the manger area. But I definitely had opinions about where the sheep, wise men, shepherds, and camel should be placed!

Nothing changed as I grew older. Mom would arrange—and I would rearrange—the figures many times each Christmas season. She saw that I was careful with them, though, and realized it was a losing battle to try and keep my hands off them. Twenty years later, she officially gave the set to me. It still goes up every Christmas, and I arrange—and rearrange—the figurines throughout the season.

At some point, my dad purchased a set of miniature white lights he would string around the outside and inside of the stable. That light string eventually died, and never made it to me. Several years ago, though, I found an LED light set that works equally well. So that tradition resumed.

The poor cow is having a rough go of it. I’m not sure why he’s showing so much wear. He and the donkey end up in the back corners, so it’s darker there, and not too noticable.

At almost 60 years old, the figurines are beginning to show a little wear; a little bit of chipping is appearing along the bottom edge on some, and the wire loop in the angel’s back (so she can hang on the nail at the peak of the roof) is a little more wobbly than it used to be. They are holding up fairly well, though, and nothing has broken (knock on wood!).

You may be thinking it’s nice there are several traditions being maintained:

  • the rough-hewn stable reminiscent of my dad’s childhood
  • setting it up each year and rearranging the figurines
  • Miniature lights around it

But there are other traditions surrounding the manger, having nothing to do with what sits out on display.

The original box the manger set came home in and has been stored in for the last 39 years. NO part of the set is made of glass!

We’ll start with the box. There is no “manger box from Italy.” The store packed the set into a “West Virginia Glass” box they had from other merchandise. It still has an address label, identifying the store. Inside the bottom is a divided insert with soft, “mossy” cushion material that I’m sure belongs to the figurines—the dividers are irregularly spaced, corresponding to the figurines’ dimensions. It was certainly not for glassware! The stable sets in on top of the figurines, and reaches just to the top of the box.

The box fits the manger set perfectly. Unfortunately, the cardboard is almost 60 years old, too, and deteriorating. I’ve been taping the top flaps for years, and have begun to tape the verticle corners. “Get a new box,” you say. What are the odds I will find a box with those exact dimensions? I’d say slim and none, so I keep the tape handy, and treat the box gently.

Then there’s the additional packing material inside. When my mom set it up the first time, she noticed the bottom of the stable was rough. The bookcase it was going on wasn’t particularly expensive, but she still didn’t want the top to be scratched if the stable was bumped or slid around on the top. So she took a section of the 20 December 1960 (the day she received the set) Chicago Tribune and folded it to the exact dimensions of the stable’s base. One barely notices there’s newspaper under it.

The layering newspaper sections. Usually it was the front section, but once the sports section was used. You can see the breakdown of the newsprint along the edges.

Similarly, Mom decided she wanted a layer between the stable and the figurines in the tray below—something in addition to what was protecting the bookcase. She was worried about the stable shifting around in the box and rubbing against the paint on the figurines as the box moved to and from the attic. So there’s another, considerably thicker, section of the Tribune from that day on top of the figurines. Along the way, addional sections of the Tribune were added from 3 January 1969, 31 December 1974, and 22 December 1978. Why? I have no idea.

Have you handled 60-year-old newsprint recently? It’s tricky! The paper is brittle and fragile, with bits crumbling off the edges. More than once in 38 years I’ve thought about replacing them with “fresh” sections, but I just can’t. Why?

Tradition.

For the last half century, I’ve been reading the headlines, articles, and captions on those papers. Depending on the year, and how rushed I am with decorating, I may read less or more, but I always (re)read some of it. Actually, only the front and back page of each section. The paper is too dried out now to risk opening them up to read the inside pages. Not only do they document the date my mom received the manger, they document what life was like at the time. I recall what the news was, what the fashions were, and how much they cost. It’s my own mini time capsule.

Remember Pat Harrington, Jr., playing Schneider on One Day at a Time? The show began my senior year of high school, and some of my friends had the hots for him. Seriously? He was 46 at the time! Imagine my surprise that next Christmas, seeing the 1960 photo and article about 31-year-old Harrington headlining at one of the local playhouses! The name and photo that meant nothing to me for years, suddenly had meaning. It boggled my mind, then. I couldn’t find it, tonight, so it must have been inside a section (when they could still be opened up, safely!). But I DID see that “Bob” (Robert) Conrad was starring in an upcoming Hawaiian Eye episode. He was from Chicago, so locals wanted to keep up on what he was doing.

Tradition. It can lock us into stagnation, or anchor us to important people, places, and events. Ideally, we jettison (or at least modify) the former, and cherish the latter.

#52Ancestors

Craft

Row, row, row your boat . . .

While everyone else is thinking artistically this week, I am outside the box once again, writing about watercraft. We didn’t live near the ocean, or have a summer cottage on one of the many Wisconsin lakes within an easy drive of the Chicago suburbs. Dad didn’t own a bass boat, sail boat, speed boat, or a spiffy yacht docked at one of the marinas on Lake Michigan.

He had a rowboat. Well, actually, it also had an outboard motor, so I guess it was a step up from a rowboat.

I was pretty young (under age 5, I believe) when we used it, so my memories are a bit fuzzy. I don’t recall if it was wood or aluminum, or how many seats it had (I think there were 3). What I mostly remember is that it was named the Carole Ann, after my sister. I always felt a little put out that she had a boat named after her, and I didn’t, but that was just me being an unreasonable child. For the 50 weeks of the year we weren’t on vacation, the boat leaned up against the shed (former chicken coop) at the very back of our yard.

I emailed my brothers, Warren & Bill, to see what they remembered. Warren (10 years older) confirmed it was aluminum, and said we didn’t have it until we had the trailer (1958). He also said Dad still owned the motor (and presumably, the boat) in 1970, though both brothers agreed it never traveled to the Door County, Wisconsin, vacations prior to that—just to Minnesota. They also agreed that Dad must have sold it, eventually, since it was still usable.

Taking it on vacation meant hoisting it onto the roof rack of the car and tying it down so it it didn’t shift while driving, stopping, or turning. Warren described it this way:

I remember that we leaned the boat against the longitudinal bar (on the top of the car) from the side of the car. This bar may have been a roller bar. The boat was then slid/rolled to the top of the car and then rotated 90 degrees so the bow of the boat was over the hood of the car. The bow was tied to the bumper of the car. The back may have been tied to the back bumper and the sides may have been tied to the car top carrier. I do not remember those details. 

Warren Haws, to Christine Bauman, e-mail, 7 December 2019, Dad’s Rowboat. Bauman Email Files; privately held by Christine Haws Bauman, Greenwood, Indiana.
Undated photo of the 1960 Country Sedan station wagon hooked up to the trailer, with our boat strapped to the top of the car. The front license plate isn’t clear enough to provide a year. This would have been the night before we were leaving on vacation in early July of whatever year it was. Hooking up the trailer could take a little time, lining vehicles up and checking the lights. It always took longer, when you were in a hurry! So if we needed an early start, Dad would do that the night before. In the morning, we just had to pile into the car and pull out. You can see the trailer step still down and the door open, for the last of the food and clothes to be loaded inside.

You can see the rope in front, anchoring the boat to the bumper (back when bumpers were made of metal, not plastic!). The others ropes aren’t visible, but I’m sure they were there.

Our trips to Scenic State Park, near Bigfork, Minnesota, involved a fair amount of fishing. The boat couldn’t hold all of us, so we rotated. I doubt Mom was ever in it. She didn’t swim, so going in a rowboat would not have been high on her vacation to-do list! As the youngest, I spent the least time in it, because:

  • I wasn’t much of a fisherman at 3 or 4
  • I wouldn’t have the patience to sit still for very long
  • I’m positive I wouldn’t have kept quiet enough!

I do remember going out on the lake, though, especially the time when I caught my first fish. I was so excited! It was a small sunfish or bluegill, and Dad probably filleted and cooked it up specifically for me for dinner that night.

Except, it was a fake. Well, the fish was real; catching it wasn’t.

Apparently I’d been frustrated and upset about not catching any fish on that and prior outings. So while my line was in the water, whichever sibling was also in the boat distracted me. That gave Dad enough time to carefully hook a fish already caught onto my hook, so I could “catch” it.

It’s kind of like the time(s) you let a little kid win the board game by playing poorly, or outright cheating against yourself. I was clueless, of course, until many years later when a sibing spilled the beans. By then, I had caught plenty of fish on my own, so it was only a slight ego blow.

Possibly the last vacation for the Carole Ann was when I was 5 or 6. My dad took his father and father-in-law on a 1- or 2-week fishing trip. The rest of us stayed home, because my older siblings all had summer jobs they needed, earning money for college. Mom stayed home with all of us, and Dad drove the 3 of them up, with the trailer and boat, probably to Minnesota. Both my grandfathers were in their 70s, so Dad ended up doing all the cooking, dish washing, and fish-cleaning. It wasn’t much of a “vacation” for him!

Photo from July, 1963 or 1964. Ed Haws, Christoph Meintzer, Robert Haws, with the day’s catch (and dinner for that night!).

No, the boat isn’t in this photo, but it undoubtedly figured into that impressive stringer of fish . . .

Our rowboat (with its outboard motor) wasn’t the most impressive watercraft, and wasn’t in our lives very long, but it provided a lot of fun and memories to three generations of fishermen.

#52Ancestors

Transportation

“Sometime you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”–Dr. Seuss

Two stories popped into my head—different cars, different drivers, but both needing to be remembered.

It seems our driveway was not such a safe place to drive or park cars . . .

Growing up in Northbrook, transportation for my mom consisted of 2 choices: feet or bicycle. She did not learn to drive as a teenager. Even when Mom was working in The Loop (Chicago downtown) after high school, she walked to the train station and commuted in on the train.

In 1947 (she was 25 by then) my parents rented the house on South Adams, in Hinsdale, relocating to my Dad’s rug cleaning business (At Work), but Mom still hadn’t learned to drive. Milk, maybe eggs, and butter, were delivered as needed, and she’d walk the 1 mile to the Jewel store once or twice a week, at nap time. Mrs. Soubry (the upstairs neighbor—not positive of the spelling) would bring a book downstairs and keep an eye on my older siblings while they napped. Mom would walk home with the meat (and anything else needing refrigeration), leaving the rest in a cart at the front of the store with her name on it. Dad would swing by on the way home for lunch or from his last job, and pick up the non-perishables.

It wasn’t until they bought the house on York Road, in 1952, that Mom learned to drive. It was only 3/10 mile further from the store, but it was uphill both ways, she had more kids, and she no longer had an upstairs neighbor to stay with the kids so she could shop. In addition, she now had children going to school 1.3 (instead of .4) miles away from home. Even though my sister rode the bus, we all know there are times when you need to pick up kids from school, so it was finally time for Mom to get a license.

After her driver’s ed class ($10 for three 1 hour lessons) from a high school PE teacher, and obtaining her license at age 30, she was good to go. She had a fairly decent driving record, as far as I know, though apparently there was one incident, early on in her career. As my Aunt Mary related it:

Ardyth, do you remember the most original event of your entire career as a wife and mother? How you managed this, to this very day, no one can or will state. Bob and Hank came home from work that day and to their extreme astonishment they noticed – and did they EVER notice – that the little 1950 Crosely car you drove was perched on the very top of a pile of gravel by the garage! It was like a picture from Robert Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not.” You will always be fondly remembered for this accomplishment!!

Mary Paulson Haws, Green Valley, Arizona to Ardyth & Bob Haws, typed letter, fall 1994, memories for 50th wedding anniversary book, Bauman Correspondence Files; privately held by Christine Haws Bauman, Greenwood, Indiana.
Drawing by Mary Paulson Haws, 1994, for Bob & Ardyth’s 50th wedding anniversary book. Used with permission from her daughter, Barb.

The Crosley car was way before my time, and I have no photos. Apparently¹ it was an early compact car produced in Cincinnati. Fortunately, it was also fairly lightweight, because my dad and his brother needed to lift it off the rock pile! Dad didn’t take time to photograph it, before moving the car. Thank goodness Aunt Mary provided us with a visual (even though not eye-witness) image of the event!

My aunt’s description needs a slight correction. It was actually a pile of flagstone (not gravel) that Mom landed on. It was waiting for my dad to build the flower bed on the east side of the garage, and make a stable edge to the driveway extension. I’m not sure which rock type would be harder to scale, or retrieve the car from, safely.

How did Mom manage that feat? Most likely she had intended to shift to reverse, but landed in drive by mistake. It’s an easy mistake, especially for a new driver. When the car didn’t start backing up, she probably gunned it, hurling the car up the rocks.

The other story involves my middle brother, Warren. In the fall of 1966, our dad purchased a new 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 sedan. The 1960 Ford Country Sedan station wagon (yes, it sounds like an oxymoron, but that’s the actual model!) was getting older, he had more drivers, but also children soon to be leaving the nest. A second car, seating fewer people, would come in handy.

The Galaxie was custom-ordered, paid for with cash. Because he needed it to eventually pull the trailer (partly visible along the right edge of the photo), Dad had the towing package added on, with heavier shock absorbers, a more powerful transmission, maybe a “better” radiator/cooling system to handle the stress of towing. It was still “wet behind the hubcaps” when it was involved in an accident with Warren. Or so I thought.

The 1967 Ford Galaxie 500, in the driveway, with a bored teenager—NOT the one who hit it . . .

I was only 8 ½ at the time and didn’t pay much attention. I was reminded of the incident when I was taking driver’s ed as a sophomore. The story I heard was that Warren had “backed the new car into the house.” Now, the house was pretty large (a 2-story Queen Anne), so it seemed a little unlikely. It required either tremendous skill or horrible luck. It also surprised me that one of us kids was driving a brand new car! I didn’t question the story, though, and made sure I did not follow in his footsteps (wheel tracks?).

I of course called Warren to confirm facts. The story, with more details “from the horse’s mouth,” was different and even more interesting than the version I’d heard as a student driver, with some distinct differences

  • He did have an accident in the driveway—but he was driving the station wagon, not the new sedan!
  • Both cars were insured, but our dad didn’t want to raise the rates by running the accident through the insurance policy
  • He didn’t hit the house, he hit a vehicle parked on the driveway next to the house.
  • He was in a hurry to pick up his date (“It’s always a girl’s fault!”) and didn’t notice the other car was in the driveway.
  • He didn’t use his rear view mirror (obviously!) or check behind him.

Some parts of his story matched what I heard, but others were out in left field. As I tried to digest the new information, my brother asked if I wanted to hear the rest of the story. What? There’s more?? Bring it on!

Since this accident was all “in the family,” Dad had my brother pay for the repairs. That was reasonable. Dad also wanted everything repaired a quickly as possible. Apparently the insurance agents would cruise through town, checking out cars in driveways to see if they had unreported damage!

The ripple effect was that Warren didn’t have money to rent a tux for an upcoming Senior Girls’ formal dance—a turnabout dance. He was almost the only guy there not wearing a tux, but he had a black suit, so he wasn’t too out of place. Getting to the dance had its own back story, though.

He ended up with two (yes, 2!) dates to the dance. Sort of. One girl (Sue Dahlman) simply assumed they were going, but hadn’t bothered to ask. A classmate from grade school, Carolyn Bayer, actually asked him. Since he thought he was dateless, he told her, “yes.”

The two girls were in line together to buy tickets, Sue in front. When Sue was asked who her date was, Carolyn was shocked to hear her reply with—her own date’s name! Oops. They must have had quite a conversation . . .

Ever the gentleman, Warren went to the dance with the one who asked him. He never dated the other girl again.

Warren and I had a good laugh over the phone as he filled in the back story to and consequences of the accident. I’m sure he wasn’t laughing while trying to scrape together enough to pay our parents back! Fortunately, time has a way changing our perspective, allowing us to see the humor in what wasn’t funny at the time. And my own son’s (we’ll protect the guilty!) “2-dates for Prom” experience doesn’t shock me nearly as much, now. It must be a genetic thing . . .

The timeline bothered me, however. Warren graduated in June, 1966, but new cars typically are released in late summer, the year before the model year. The 1967 Galaxie 500 wouldn’t have come out until after he graduated. Even after 50+ years, he recalled vivid details about the dance—the names of both girls, that 4-5 couples went as a group and had dinner at the home of one of the girls (a bonus, since he had no money to take her out!), not being able to afford the tux.

But he didn’t remember it being the ’67, and thought it must have been another car. Except I don’t remember us having a 2nd passenger vehicle until the ’67. I did the only thing I could do—research! On Classmates.com I found his yearbooks, locating both girls in senior year, but only one in the junior year photos. That narrowed it to senior year, but still left the issue of what car did he hit? The ’65-’66 dance was too early to be impacted by an accident.

It was time for some phone calls. At 97, Mom’s recollections can be hit or miss, but she LOVED that car, so I hoped for the best. Unfortunately, she didn’t really have a memory of that accident, or the circumstances around it. No help there.

Next call was to my brother Bill (lounging on the car in the photo). His memory was clearer than mine, since he was closer to driving age at the time. He remembered being the ’67, and that our dad was REALLY mad—unusual for him. Bill was also told the car moved backwards 20 feet, fortunately, not into the street. That may have been exaggerated a bit to drive home the point. Warren said he wasn’t going very fast; that it was only a fender bender. Fender benders don’t move parked cars that far!

Perhaps the biggest thing I learned is that it’s important to check out the story, if I can, even if I’m sure of it, myself. If that turns up conflicting information, okay. I can deal with that. I can’t clarify or resolve (or at least acknowledge) information I don’t know about, though.

So where does that leave the story? Unresolved. Cars were hit. Bumpers were repaired. Younger children’s driving habits were influenced. It’s still a good story (better than I started out with!), even if the timeline can’t be fully resolved. I’ve got my own variation of Rashomon² going on.

#52Ancestors


¹”Crosley”, En.Wikipedia.Org, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crosley.

²An event where the story told by different eyewitnesses is considerably different. Click the link for a more in-depth explanation.

At Work

” . . . So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.”–John Greenleaf Whittier

Robert Haws (Dad) is no stranger to this blog. He pops up in various stories, and I’ve touched briefly on his work life. This week we’ll take a more complete look. The quote above is taken from a poem he learned in high school.

Dad’s Navy discharge papers included a box for “preference for additional training” he would be interested in. “Comptometer (refresher)” and “accounting” were typed in. Unfortunately, there were tens of thousands of other guys returning home at the same time, all vying for jobs; plus he had a pregnant wife. Time out for education was a luxury he couldn’t afford—he needed a job. So he went to work for Mr. Marshall (Taxes) while they lived with Mom’s parents. Housing was in short supply, too!

In 1946, Dad made the decision to start an independent rug cleaning business, initially partnering with his brother, George (Comedy). Their dad had been on some construction jobs in Hinsdale, and thought the area was affluent enough to support a rug cleaning business. They acted on that suggestion. It took some time to find a place to live, so Dad set up a business phone line in Hinsdale, and had someone take messages until they could move. In pre-Tri-State Tollway days, it was a one hour drive from Deerfield, on the days they had work. Rug cleaning equipment was loaded into the back of the station wagon to go to jobs.

24 May 1948, outside the house at 422 S. Adams, Hinsdale. There is no lettering, but I imagine this station wagon was the first “truck.” Mom didn’t drive, and they wouldn’t have been able to afford 2 vehicles.

In early 1947, Mom & Dad finally found a first floor of a house to rent (above). Toward the end of 1947, Dad had bought out George’s share of the business. By 1949, a new different truck (below) had been purchased, nicely lettered! The early trucks were all used, I believe, because new would have cost too much.

Spring, 1949, my sister, Carole. This may have been the first truck with lettering: a Chevrolet. The hood has “Wallmaster Service.” He always abbreviated “Brothers” on the trucks. Fewer letters, lower painting cost!
Spring, 1949. Same truck as above, but 9-month old Warren sitting on the fender. Yes, based on other photos, there WAS another adult in front of the car, just out of the photo framing, but within reach!

Rug cleaning initially did not keep his schedule full, so as shown on the hood above, “Wallmaster Service” (wall washing) was added to have enough work. As a kid, I remember seeing a large, wooden box (bigger than a trunk) in the basement workroom with that lettering, and asking Dad about it. The wall washing equipment was stored in it, but by then he had discontinued using it.

November, 1952. Dad in a different truck, at their recently-purchased house (not visible—those are neighbors’ houses). Most likely the truck was newly-acquired, probably the reason a photo was taken! Sewers will recognize “Binding & Serging.” We had a machine for each in our basement, with a vast assortment of carpet binding tape and carpet thread. It worked for carpets just like for clothes: binding tape encased a raw edge and was stitched in place, and serging used 4 or 5 spools of thread to put an overcast stitch on a raw edge.

A home with a family business run out of it is different in so many ways. Work wasn’t a place you went to—it was part of everyday life. I understood at a fairly young age there was no guaranteed paycheck every week. If Dad didn’t work, there was no paycheck! It was never a source of worry—there was always money set aside—but it was a reality.

We were the only family I knew of (until high school, at least) who had two phone lines—and six phones! Of course, one line was for the business, which we kids would NEVER touch, unless it was to answer a business call. Each floor of the house had a phone for each line. We needed to be properly instructed before we were cleared to answer the business phone. I would never say, “My dad isn’t home . . .” It was always, “Mr. Haws isn’t available right now . . .” While most people who called for appointments knew it was a family business run out of our home, we always needed to sound professional.

That also meant if a business phone rang, the noise level dropped to zero. The first floor business phone was in the dining room, so if it was dinner, five children were immediately silent. There was no silverware clattering on the plate and no, “Pass the mashed potatoes,” while Dad answered the phone and asked the customer to wait so he could get his appointment book. While he went to the office in the basement, one of us would listen for him to pick up the line down there and make sure he was talking. Then the button was held down (to disconnect) before replacing the hand set. No hanging up noisily! Dinner returned to normal.

1971. I think there was another van before this one, but I didn’t find any other photos. I’m trying to recall why the lettering seems off (the “Bros.” is missing). Something must have happened to the doors, and maybe the only replacements he could find had windows? The “Haws” is definitely curved, which begs for a matching arc opposite, but it’s been way too long ago for me to remember the details!

Dad was not the least expensive rug cleaner. He always said he could never afford to have a sale. Either he’d lose money on the job (expenses wouldn’t be covered), or his reputation would suffer because he’d have to cut corners. Neither option was acceptable to him.

When you are the owner, the day doesn’t end at 5. Sometimes after dinner Dad was in the basement, catching up on paperwork, or cleaning an area rug picked up that day. We kids knew where he was, and could always go down to ask him something or say goodnight. Sometimes we got roped into helping with something (Father’s Day). My sister recalled getting “shampooer rides” when she was pretty young, if a rug was particularly dirty. Dad would have her sit cross-legged on the shampoo machine to add extra weight so it would scrub deeper. I never got that lucky.

We kids also got “hired” to sort the paid invoices. Each month was simply sorted by date, so didn’t really pay much. At the end of the year, though, all twelve months were merged and sorted alphabetically. That paid $10, but was a lot more work, deciphering Dad’s handwriting. It was good preparation for reading census records, though, and I learned that Llewellyn did actually start with 2 Ls.

The summer after freshman year of college, Dad hired me occasionally. My work hours had been cut at the jewelry store, but he was usually able to schedule one job a week that could handle a 3rd worker (me). I didn’t use the machines, but helped with moving furniture, hand scrubbing the edges of the room, and any other job he gave me. It was an interesting experience, watching him at work not in our basement!

The last truck. This one was fitted out for the truck-mounted “steam” equipment he added in the mid-1970s. It had propane tanks for heating the water and built-ins inside (designed & built by Dad) to keep everything secure. This photo was likely taken when he sold the business & retired in 1984, after 38 years in business.

None of us kids followed Dad into the rug cleaning business. My dreams at age four of a “Haws Sisters” rug cleaning business fizzled when Carole decided to become a teacher. I don’t know if it bothered Dad that no one carried on in his footsteps. I’m sure he would have welcomed it, but he never laid on a guilt trip, that I recall.

Growing up in a family business, I learned firsthand things I would later hear in college business classes—and some things that were never mentioned:

  • Be honest, and treat people fairly.
  • Pay yourself first (AKA “save for a rainy day”).
  • If you make a mistake, fix it.
  • If the customer is unhappy, fix it (even if it wasn’t your fault).
  • Stand by your principles. The husband who sent a check for less than the written estimate? Dad mailed the check back and wrote that full payment was needed. The guy stiffed him, so Dad never worked for them again.
  • Respect others in the business. I once made the mistake of calling the other rug cleaner in town “the competition.” Dad corrected me, saying they were “colleagues.”
  • Help out the new guys. People helped him when he was starting out. They may know something you don’t, or have a new idea worth listening to.
  • Keep learning. I watched him take night classes to earn a real estate broker’s license when I was in junior high. That said more than any words would have. So when he bought a PC at age 70, it didn’t surprise me!
  • Do your best. Always. Your name and reputation is at stake.

The work ethic I “caught” at home work far surpassed anything “taught” to me elsewhere. Thanks, Dad!

July 1984. “Happy Retirement, Bob” “The World’s Finest Carpet Cleaner” That sums it up, perfectly.

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