Pack Rat – Archive

The Ol’ Pack Rat – Archive

From the Clutter of My Old Office Corner

A continuing saga of a cluttered office.

Submitted by anonymous Verona resident. 2/1/2021

On this cold winter day while sitting at the old desk, my eyes fall on the many sections of a battered wooden Coca Cola case resting on its side against the bulletin board at the back of the desk. Each of the twenty-four 2½ x 2½ inch squares holds a variety of smaller objects collected over the years. Now I am wondering why I saved them!


In one square a royal blue glass jar with its pastel green and white top catches my attention. That’s right, a small Vicks Vapor Rub jar. Vicks was a cure-all for any number of ailments in many a household. One can almost smell the aroma now just as when a dollop was added to a can of boiling hot water. The melting Vicks combined with the steam created an inhaler for those with colds. Or who can forget their mother rubbing a thick layer of the clear gel on their chest at bedtime and covering it with a warm cloth? Or the next day when everyone at school knew what remedy was applied the night before! Indeed, the treatment seemed to work, just as the fading label states, “Vicks Vapor Rub Relieves Distress of Colds”.


As I gaze at two other sections that contain brown and black ceramic door knobs salvaged from a now-razed house, I wonder how many hands had touched each during their useful lifetime. Filling another space is a blue-green telephone insulator. For years anybody driving through rural areas took notice of the telephone poles paralleling the road. The poles were strung with one or more wires, each attached to an insulator affixed to the pole. Speaking of telephone lines, remember the “party line” with multiple families on one wire? Each residence had its own ring, for example, two long and one short. But that didn’t stop others on the line from picking up their own receiver and listening in on private conversations!


A round pressure gauge fills another square. This gauge would control water pressure from a cistern throughout the house. A thing of the past, the cistern was often built into the basement for collecting rain water – used for purposes other than human consumption. Many other houses used pressure systems for an outdoor well pump.

Another compartment holds a cut-off piece of deer horn used to make buttons for one of my children’s school projects. Sharing the same hole are three keys. Who doesn’t have an assortment of keys lying around – their usefulness gone just as the object they opened is now long forgotten. One is the familiar skeleton key. The other is a “church key”. These openers were offered free when needed for every six-pack of beer purchased. Today these openers are seldom used because of modern packaging.


The third key was once attached to the bottom of a can of Spam. With fresh meat being rationed in 1942, urban folks found a likely meat supplement in canned Spam. Spam then became the alternative meat as it required no meat stamps. Spam was eaten cold, fried, baked with pineapple and brown sugar, or prepared using one of the 169 recipes suggested in the Spam cookbook! It was also shipped overseas where GI’s referred to it as “ham that didn’t pass the physical”. That Spam today evokes mixed emotions. The small key is a reminder of its many meals eaten although not always remembered with fondness; yet, once a year I buy the smallest can of Spam I can find and make a sandwich as a token gesture to the past. Until the next time, remember… it’s good for you.

The Ol’ Pack Rat

From the Clutter of My Old Office Corner

A continuing saga of a cluttered office.

Submitted by anonymous Verona resident. 1/1/2021

While sitting at the old desk, I stuck my fingers into the accumulation on the cluttered top and pulled out a tattered magazine. On the cover was a wounded G.I. lying in a tent close to the front lines of a battle while a nurse held his hand. Outside a single star shone on the ruins of a bombed-out church. The magazine is the Christmas issue of LIFE, dated December 27, 1943, at the height of WWII. Price:10 cents. The articles inside are printed in black and white with the advertisements done in bright colors. The main article, “Experienced by Battle”, is a long, “32-page color portfolio of paintings by six well-known US war artist/correspondents”. It provided a moving, descriptive view of what the fighting forces see and do in the action of combat. One of the artists was Aaron Bohrod whose name is familiar to Wisconsinites because of his association with the University of Wisconsin-Madison after the war.


On a lighter note, a young celebrity star, Mary Martin is featured in a six-page “Close-Up” section. A two-page collage of cartoons depicting Bill Mauldin’s Joe, Up Front provided a touch of humor to offset the seriousness of war. One cartoon depicted a less-than-satisfied Joe opening up another can of Spam. Other memories surface while I am thumbing through the pages. Ads included variations of the urging: Buy War Bonds. Occasionally when a house is pictured in an ad, there would be a Gold Star Service flag in the front window. The war ration stamps are unforgettable to people who experienced this time period. Pillsbury’s pancake flour had an added incentive to buy their product: ‘Requires No Ration Points’. And who could forget the Burma Shaveditties? Included here is their ad:


Loose Lips Sink Ships
Don’t Talk Today;
If You Must Talk,
Step up and Say,


Car manufacturers of the past such as GM Oldsmobile and Pontiac featured their efforts in making guns for airplanes. Studebaker made aircraft engines. Willy developed the famous Jeep and also built marine engines. With factories converting their production to the war effort, only 139 cars were produced in 1943 for civilian use, increasing to 610 during the next year.


Other ads are familiar: Borden’s Elsie the cow and Elmer the bull highlighting LIEDERKRANZ cheese; Bird’s Eye touting “frosted” food with a recipe for succotash; Jell-o featuring four colorful salads. There were 14 liquor ads with names like Four Roses, Old Grand Dad, and Three Feathers. Cigarette ads abounded in full-page ads. Seeing the Lucky Strike ad made me recall the Lucky Strike Hit Parade on Saturday night broadcast over our Philco radio. It was my teenage brother’s favorite program. Being the younger of two children, I rarely was able to listen to what I wanted (e.g. Fibber McGee and Molly) unless my brother was not at home. Not often enough as I recall. Until the next time, remember… it’s good for you.


The Ol’ Pack Rat