The Waffleman: Flashbacks To South Philly’s Past

Filed under: Columns,South Philadelphia,South Philly |

Yo! Here we go again. I awoke early one morning to the sound of silence. In this utter silence I thought I heard a sound from outside my window. It resembled the clip-clop of the milkman’s horse.
This sound stirred up some very strong memories. It brought to mind the sound of the milk bottles clanking in his carrier as he walked to our house to deliver the milk.

The milkman's calming clanking of the milk bottle during door to door delivery also offers a taste of nostalgia.

The milkman’s calming clanking of the milk bottle during door to door delivery also offers a taste of nostalgia.

This started a flow of other sounds and memories of growing up in South Philadelphia which I could not turn off. In my mind, I could hear these sounds and see these images again. Wishful thinking, I guess.
I remember the rackety-coo of pigeons scratching for food that a neighbor fed regularly. After he passed away, no one fed the pigeons in our neighborhood. I wonder why not?
Street vendors made sounds which flashed through my mind. I heard the clank of the waffle man’s bell alerting the kids of his presence. John, the rag man, announced his coming with a lusty baritone call: “Raaag Man”! It was the signal for those with rags to sell to come out and negotiate a deal with him.
On Wednesdays and Fridays, the fishmonger’s call of “Freeeeesh Fiiiiish” gave the ladies ideas for dinner. Fruits and vegetables were announced with gusto by the hucksters and his call changed with the available produce. The knife sharpener and the umbrella man called out their specialty as they walked through the neighborhood.
When the peanut vendor roamed the neighborhood, he did not need much of a call. The aroma of his fresh roasted peanuts was enough of a signal to cause a mouth-watering sensation.
How can I describe the sound made by an icepick as it cut through a block of ice? The ice man surgically cut the exact size needed out of a huge block of ice and delivered it – on his shoulder – into the home. We kids then got a chance to collect some of the ice chips from his wagon to suck on and cool off.
The clatter of coal rushing down the coal chute into the coal bin of our home was a noisy affair. When the church bells rang out, they meant, it was either 12:00 noon or 6:00 p.m.
I heard the sound of the rain on the roof and thought of the summer days that were ruined because of rain. We survived though by reading, playing a board game, listening to the radio or actually talking to one another.
The kids playing in the street always yelled for us to come out and play with them. The games we played were not too noisy. But the giggling screams of delight or minor disputes caused by the game were all memorable sounds.
We knew the postal carrier by his two rings of the doorbell. He made two mail deliveries a day.
Mom’s wind chimes were made from flattened spoons. They tinkled in the gentle breeze.
Summer playground in the schoolyard had sounds which were a mixture of glee and joy made by the boys and girls. The rhythmic slap of the jump rope and the high-pitched chant of “Strawberry Shortcake, Huckleberry Finn, when I move out, Let Mary move in” meant a challenge had been made by the jumper to (in this case) Mary. Rollerskates with metal wheels rasping over the rough sidewalks made a happy sound. The cry of “Oley-oley-cats in freeeeee” meant someone just got to home base in a game of hide and go seek.
I remember these sounds now. What I don’t remember is when did I stop hearing them? These sounds of long ago are sweet memories.
Although a touch of nostalgia can’t cure today’s problems, memories are a welcome bit of cheer. In our noise-polluted environment of today, the sounds of: the subway, the bus, car and truck traffic, police and fire sirens, horns hooting, people jabbering, the boom-box playing its blaring music, the car radio which can be heard two blocks away, the washer and dryer with their rhythmic chugging, the electric coffeepot gurgling, the radio and television’s incessant intrusion into the peace of our realm will be the sounds of yesterday – tomorrow.

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4 Responses to The Waffleman: Flashbacks To South Philly’s Past

  1. When I was a kid my aunt lived on the 500 block of Montrose Street in South Philly and directly across from her house was a stable where the Waffle Man kept his horse and wagon. In the summer he would sell snow cones and then later in the year he would sell hot waffles with ice cream. I spent a lot of time in that neighborhood and playing in Sunshine Park. Great memories.

    August 17, 2015 at 11:53 am

  2. Does anyone remember the color TV screens that fit over black and white TVs? They were plastic with blue at the top, orange in the middle and green at the bottom.

    July 21, 2016 at 6:28 am

  3. How did he cook the waffles?

    June 4, 2019 at 12:39 pm

  4. We don’t know. That was then, this is now.

    Tony West
    September 26, 2019 at 8:45 am

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