Legends of Auburn: Sock it to me '66!
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Legends of Auburn: Sock it to me '66!

Jul 31, 2023

A drawing of a trip to the Seneca Knitting Mill by Sierra Crytzer-Shurant, a sophomore at Weedsport Jr.-Sr. High School.

It was always on the hottest day in late August when we got in the station wagon and drove over Routes 5 and 20 to the sock mill outlet store in Seneca Falls to get our new pairs of woolen knee socks for school. Two pairs each. Navy, I think. Maybe deep green to match my uniform. The Holy Family uniform fit me when I left the seventh grade but now, going into the eighth, it was a bit tighter. Must have been those blue popsicles from Frank’s corner store. Trapped in the endless days of August, and looming was the dreaded return to school. This nausea began in June when I got my seventh grade report card. In addition to a column of C’s, it indicated that Sister Mary Very Scary would be my eighth grade homeroom teacher for the fall of 1966. I was doomed.

On the morning of our back-to-school sock shopping at the Seneca Knitting Mill, Mom needed the car, so she drove Dad to work at the National Bank of Auburn. We left after lunch. In the front seat with Mom was our Peacock Street next-door neighbor, Mrs. Shaw. Her son Tim, whom I then called and still call "Shawzie," was dragged along with me and my sister. We piled into the station wagon. No air-conditioning. No seatbelts. As usual, I was stuck in the middle of the backseat. Mom and Mrs. Shaw puffing their Newports. WMBO on the car radio till we got to the outskirts of town and the static took over.

The route was familiar. This was the way to Nana’s in Hornell. I had just spent a week with her. Never wearing shorts or sandals, in a summer dress of her design, with gloves and a hat, Nana behind the wheel of her Bel-Air was always on the go. At four o’clock in the afternoon Aunt Rose Ann would come over to give Nana her pills. She said Nana had “hardening of the arteries.” “Whatever that is,” I thought. Located in Steuben County there was a billboard that read, "It’s Swell In Hornell!" Just past that sign was one that read, "It’s Faster In Jasper!" That always cracked us up. If we were going as far as Waterloo, we might have stopped at Mac’s Drive-In. But Seneca Falls was our destination. There was no stopping. We were on a mission. The knee socks.

This was a time in Seneca Falls before "It’s a Wonderful Life" bounced back and became a beloved hit. A time before the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, which opened in 1982. A time before the skydiving school, where in the '70s we paid $40 and jumped, our parachutes billowing and careening over downtown, the Thruway and Cayuga Lake.

We crossed over the big bridge, then turned into the parking lot. Shawzie stayed in the car. “I’m not going in there. No way,” he said. It was a small dingy store filled with bins of discounted irregular, but perfectly fine wool socks. Mom and Mrs. Shaw picked out the socks and zip-zip we were back in the hot car headed home to Auburn. My turn for a window seat. In the car I tried on the socks. Kinda hot. Kinda itchy. But new! Glued to our ears that summer, our transistor radios fed us the hits: "Paperback Writer," "Summer in the City," "Wild Thing," "Red Rubber Ball." And then came "Sunny." We felt that downbeat bass line go right through us. With 59 cents and a bus ride to Carm’s Record Shop, I got that 45 and played it all the time.

Kool-Aid stands were for little kids. We had shows! Our stage was across the street in Patty’s garage. This might have been the summer we got a brochure from muscular dystrophy on how to put on a carnival fundraiser. We didn’t need a guide, but we sent them our $7 profit anyway. We had put on a show last summer. And the summer before that. We made fliers and tacked them to trees. Shawzie collected picnic table benches from backyards and dragged them over for seating. In the blazing sun there was an audience of smiling moms, screaming toddlers, the elderly Falvey sisters and a few dogs.

Patty was the producer-writer-director-emcee. To keep us in order, a list of show numbers written on a sheet of notebook paper was taped to the back door of the garage by the shovels. The star of the show was Patty’s older sister Debbie. "Skin," we sometimes called her, because she was skinny. Using an upright Electrolux vacuum as an imaginary microphone, Deb pretended that she was Diana Ross. Patty put on the record and with the presence and moves of superstar Diana Ross, Deb lip-synced to "Stop! In The Name of Love." A lifetime later I was an event planner in New York City and was working with Diana Ross, planning her opening night party for her show at Radio City. I said to her, “I have a story to tell you ...” She lit up and laughed. Topping that, I told Deb that I had told Diana.

Every summer Mrs. DeMaio, who lived just up the block, would put a fresh coat of black paint on her back porch. The next day, after that paint had dried, we ran up and down the street, yelling that Mrs. DeMaio was ready to put the finishing touches on her back porch. The gang gathered in her kitchen as she poured a can of white paint into a small tub. She hiked up her muumuu and then dipped her bare feet into the creamy paint. Breathless, we watched her gracefully walk on the black floor and leave a design of white footprints.

Joanne O'Connor

A few days before school started, Nana died. There was a long-distance phone call from Dad’s brother Uncle Jimmy telling him that their mother had died while eating her breakfast. And then Dad told us kids. Nobody we knew had ever died before. In the living room, we knelt in a circle and said the rosary. For Nana.

1966 would be my last summer on Peacock Street. Mom and Dad sold the house and we moved out of the city.

Sometimes I drive around that neighborhood. Frank’s corner store is gone. The screaming kids are gone. Patty’s garage is still there. Last week on another drive around, there were five deer near the garage door looking at me.

Auburn residents Joanne O'Connor and Teresa Hoercher produce the Legends of Auburn feature, carrying on the work done for 26 years by Ormie King highlighting unique people and places in the Auburn area. O'Connor can be reached at [email protected].

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Auburn residents Joanne O'Connor and Teresa Hoercher produce the bimonthly Legends of Auburn feature.

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