Shaking Things Up!
Linda Knight Seccaspina
Last night I had a dream about a former neighbour’s Salt and Pepper Shaker collection. That is a pretty strange thing to remember in the back of your memory files, but the late great Mrs. Wilson played a large part in my preteen years. Meg Wilson lived next door to us when her daughter Verna was going to Cowansville High School in the late 50s and early 60s. My mother was nearing the end of her life during those years and Mrs. Wilson was like a guardian angel for our whole family. She cooked, she cleaned and she kept the family together.
If I had a problem she was always there with her firm but kind words. I played sick a lot more times than necessary in those days and after she had made us lunch I always went over to her home to play Yahtzee. She made wax candles and waxed leaves, and best of all she had this amazing salt and pepper collection.
It didn’t matter how many pairs she had on her shelves, the pair I was most attracted to most were the milkshake shakers. One was brown for chocolate and the other one was pink for strawberry. Set in glasses with a silver holder it reminded me of the milkshakes at the Bus Terminal on South Street in Cowansville.
We had a lot of great restaurants in those days on South and Main Street, but my father always loved to go to the old Bus Terminal, a hop skip and a jump from the train station and the Vilas Furniture Co. I could never figure out why he loved that place so much as it was very small and busy. We could have sat in a nice booth at the restaurant across the street, but we always went to the terminus.
My Dad liked conversation, there is no doubt about that, and this was one place he could indulge in his favourite pastime. He would always greet strangers with a firm handshake and a very loud greeting,
”Hello, Arthur Knight from Cowansville”.
It didn’t matter where he was located the greeting was always the same and he had this habit of talking with his eyes closed. I never understood why he did that until I met other people that did the same thing. They say that closing your eyes while speaking is a way of going inside to connect with your inner feelings. It is a common gesture that was seen in philosophers. That my Dad definitely was, he had an opinion on everything.
They kept things simple at the Bus Terminal restaurant.They scribbled your order onto a pad of paper and asking for substitutions from a limited list of straightforward mains, sides and desserts would have gotten you a dirty look. I can’t remember much of what I ate there but I always ordered a milkshake similar to Mrs. Wilson’s salt and pepper shakers. A tall glass with a straw and the traditional tall stainless steel cup with the remains was served to you. Another thing I seem to remember is that the traditional small glass of water they served to everyone seemed warm and I bet it came with a great amount of pollutants from the public water system. I think whatever my Dad ate there certainly involved fries served with a side of smoke. It was common in those days for eateries to be shrouded in a veil of cigarette smoke as diners puffed throughout the meal– and my Dad was one of them.
Conversation was always centred around the counter and banter would be continuous between the tables and counter as people loved to flock there for a cup of coffee, read the newspaper, and have a sandwich and a cold Coca-Cola on tap at the fountain. Around Christmas time the counter folks would be eating that traditional roast turkey dinner which cost a mere 75 cents in those days.
The jukeboxes blared above the conversation and you had to wonder how anyone understood anything while the younger crowd controlled the countless song selections. I always took my time sipping that milkshake as I watched people purchase tickets for the daily Voyageur busses and people throwing some change on the counter as there were no credit cards amid boisterous goodbyes.
One day I heard my father talking with the owner of the Bus Terminal and the owner was worried that times were changing and he might have to close. Eavesdropping I heard conversations of how the owner was going to put air conditioning in hoping to draw in customers, especially during hot, summer days.
Then there was the fact that the soda fountain business was slowing down because of others doing the same things. Ice cream sodas and egg creams were on the wane and TV dinners were now available in every grocery store. People just began eating out less in the ’60s. But, the worst thing he said was that transistor radios were putting the jukebox business out of business. As I sat in the car with my tiny ear buds on listening to my transistor radio I thought he had a point. But there was my father throwing his hands up in the air saying there was no way that was going to happen.
My father argued that jukeboxes were a test market for the record companies and that 75% of the records produced during that time went to jukeboxes first. He kept telling the owner over and over not to worry. I sat there feeling sad as I knew all my friends walked around with transistor radios and they were not going anywhere. With my head down I also knew it was the beginning of no longer relying on the jukebox for music.
After that day we never seemed to go to the Bus Terminus to eat, and things were changing quickly. The last time I went to the South Street Bus Terminus was a year later when my father put me on the bus to Montreal where I was beginning a new era in my life. A few years later my Dad drove me out to see Mrs. Wilson who was living on the Hadlock Farm near Frelighsburg with her daughter and son-in-law. Things had changed like the Bus Terminal restaurant but she still had her salt and pepper shakers. There were still some familiar ones, the ones family gave her and the ones she got on vacation. But there sitting on one of the shelves were the milkshake salt and peppers that I loved. Even though life sends lots of change you have to take life with a grain of salt, and even though things come and go in the era of a head shake and a handshake I still prefer a milkshake.