Here is my belated answer to folks who wonder if television influences youthful minds. I was a brilliant five years old when I was influenced, and I knew my alphabet and there was no television. Let this be a lesson to the television industry. I was born in the cultural limits of Boston, but was fortunate to move our family to Maine before I acquired too many memories. There is one memory, however, so deeply blistered into my recollections that even now I shudder at the thought. And where, may I ask, is Ceresota Flour?
I've seen none in the stores and haven't heard the name in years. When I was 5, going on 6, it was a big seller and the favorite of many a loving mother who baked bread, as did mine. She liked Ceresota Flour, but suddenly stopped using it and opted for Mr. Washburn, Mr. Crosby, and Gold Medal.
My family lived in Medford, a suburb of Boston, so my early memory is of going on Saturday with my mother to Boston on the "El" to shop. Not groceries so much, but some, and then socks and cloth for sewing and shoes and simple amusements. My mother was proud to let me read off the words on the trolley-car posters to the amazement of other passengers. We walked from our house on Grand Avenue to the Felsway, boarding there a surface car that took us to Sullivan Square in Charlestown. Then we changed to an elevated train that went into Boston and became a subway train by Haymarket.
Ah! Boston! My hometown. On our elevated train ride into the city, the train went past a billboard mounted on top of a brick building. It was a huge billboard and advertised Ceresota Flour. I always stopped sing-songing the alphabet when we approached that sign, and gave it my full attention. It had a vast portrait of a child more or less my age, wearing the most cherubic expression of pleasure, and under his arm he had a loaf of bread so artfully depicted that it was easy to smell the oven-fresh aroma, even in Charlestown. That part was great.
But from my earliest days, my Mom and my Pop had been extremely insistent that I remember, every living second, that a knife is a tool, and if used correctly it will never harm anybody. One didn't play with knives! Today, mankind needs to learn that simple fact, for the knife continues to be our most frequent crime "tool." Alas! And I was appalled to discover this keen-eyed little friend on the Ceresota billboard with a more-than-lethal kitchen knife drawn up under his jugular in a perilous pose. It bothered me.
Childlike, I would wonder during the week if that knife had slipped and my friend would be there come Saturday. C-E-R-E-S-O-T-A, I would spell out, and then I would clam up and wish that stupid kid on the sign had a mom and a pop to teach him to cut away from himself.
My Mom, sensing my apprehension, would pat my shoulder as the elevated train rumbled by and agree, "Someday he'll find out, won't he?"
I suppose the poor kid never did. As on Keats's Grecian urn, things stay about the same. Yet it is true that my mother would not have Ceresota Flour in the house, because the advertising had an unpleasant effect on her man-child. For all the worrying I did over that lunkhead, I never knew if Ceresota Flour made good bread or not.
Nothing else about those Saturdays in Boston was so morbidly fascinating, although my introduction to crime had a lasting effect. Houghton & Dutton was then a big Boston department store, now long gone with many another. There was a jingle about Houghton & Dutton's that the girls would sing-song as they jumped rope.
Three little girls in blue, boys, Three little girls in blue.
One stole buttons in Houghton & Dutton's,
And now she's in Station Two!
Mom told me Station Two was a police station with a jail where they took bad little girls and boys, and then one Saturday an errand took us in that vicinity, and she said, "There you are, laddie-boy! That's Station Two for you!" It did not look like a friendly place, and I decided on the spot to change completely and live a life of probity and honest dealing, eschewing thievery and avoiding evil companions. I have never regretted that decision. I am grateful to that little girl in blue, boys.
MOTHER took cookies for our trips, and we'd go into a soda fountain and have a glass of warm milk with them, and that was to "stay" me until I could go home and "eat right." Saturday was the day to look down from Washington Street and see the newspaper presses doing the Sunday comic sections. All the peanut warmers whistling on the North End sidewalks were fun, and "that's where the lanterns were hung for Revere!"
At Gilchrist's, another Boston place to shop, Mother always had the pride of some macaroons. A Gilchrist macaroon was high living. And we never went to Boston but Mother went to Filene's Automatic Bargain Basement to look for shoes. Mother had a size 8 foot, quadruple-A, and shoes were hard to find. Other women couldn't wear this size. So the shoes would linger in Filene's Basement, the price going down each day, until Mother caught a pair around 15 cents.
Good cheer reigned that day. And on the way home the little boy about to slice bread, or himself, faced the trains bound in-town, and we couldn't see him. He cast no gloom as we passed.
Television came later.