by Paula Hassler
What's So Bad About A Popcorn Addiction?
by Paula Hassler
Ladies' Home Journal
My brother, sister and I grew up in a small town in Iowa, a state that still calls itself the popcorn center of the USA. And did we ever love our popcorn! We even had a special supply. Our mom liked to go to a certain farm at harvest-time after the mechanical pickers were finished. She would come home with a huge bagful of popcorn ears that would last us all winter long. Our father, who liked to tease here, would say, "Your mother calls it gleaning but some would call it stealing." This always made her smile. Of course, he knew she asked permission from the farmer before taking any.
Mom gave us kids the job of getting the popcorn off the cob. We'd go out on the front porch, sit on the steps and shuck the corn, then scrape the ears together, letting the hard kernels fall into a large pan. Next we'd pour the kernels between two pans while blowing at them to remove the chaff, that papery coating on each kernel. I remember feeling mildly dizzy afterward from all the blowing.
In those days my family sat down for our big meal at lunchtime—Dad walked home from work and we walked home from school—which meant that our evening meals were usually something very light. So sometimes we'd just have popcorn for summer (with tons of butter, of course). Then, if there was any decent popcorn left over from the night before, our mother served it to us the next morning just like cereal, in a bowl with milk and sugar. And for a special treat she'd make popcorn balls with melted marshmallows, which we'd eat for dessert. My family was pretty much addicted to popcorn.
I'm still addicted, but unlike the old days I don't use oil, or butter, or salt, or even a pan. I just stick it in the microwave and eat it plain. But every once in a while I say to heck with it, let's have some popcorn balls [recipe included].
by Paula Hassler
On the Job: I was a Sheraton Girl
by Paula Hassler
THAT'S ME standing on a coffee table in my one-shoulder tunic and diaphanous skirt. It was the opening night of the New Horizon Room at the Sheraton Hotel, 505 North Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Even though I didn't know a martini from a Manhattan, I'd been hired as a cocktail waitress along with six other young cuties from a group of 20 applicants. During the group interview, the hotel executives requested that we girls raise our skirts above the knee. It was 1948, and we thought nothing of it.
The press covered the lounge's grand opening, and a news photographer with a 4x5 Speed Graphic asked me to step onto the table with my drink tray. One burst of his flashbulb, and the next day, the photo appeared in newspapers all around the country as publicity for the posh new room. Several years later, that photo was etched life-size on the room's heavy plate glass entrance door.
Barely 21, after one year of college, I had picked up and moved to Chicago to attend the Patricia Stevens Modeling School. It was obvious to me that a regular university was not my cup of dorm coffee. Not only did I find my pot-of-gold job and learn how to place my feet in a model's stance (see photo), but I also found a place to live, in an old mansion turned into a girls' club at 1040 N. Lake Shore Drive. I had three roommates, and we all enjoyed our view of Oak Street Beach and the Drake Hotel. I paid seven dollars a week for my share of the room.
We Sheraton girls were treated like celebrities. The hotel publicizing a story that we were ferried home by limousine every night. Not true, but we all could easily afford to take a taxi. Another fiction was that we were not supposed to date customers. That excuse came in handy if and when we wanted to use it.
Notice the dainty size of the tray balanced on my right hand. We spoiled girls never had to lift anything remotely heavy, even if we had a large drink order, because Marty the busboy took care of it. Life was good.
Today the hotel is no longer a Sheraton, and the lounge long ago ceased to exist. I often wonder what happened to that plate glass door with my picture on it. It would have made a lovely tabletop in our dining room!
Encounters: Musical Legends
by Paula Hassler
ALL HEADS TURNED as he strode down the center aisle toward the stage. His trench coat was slung over one shoulder, his fedora perched at a rakish angle, and a lit cigarette dangled from his lips. Stardom Crackled from Frank Sinatra like electricity.
It was 1955, and my husband worked in the marketing department at Capitol Records in Hollywood. His job gave us access to recording sessions. We sat there that night enthralled as Frank recorded with Nelson Riddle's orchestra.
They were working on "Soliloquy" from the musical Carousel. Frank made a few wisecracks about it being difficult after repeating one complicated phrase several times. He quipped, "This ain't no 'Let Me Go, Lover,' " an unsophisticated novelty tune of that era. We in the audience hung on his every word and phrase.
My husband rubbed elbows with many recording stars, but that day, we were just two of the many Sinatra fans in the audience.
Honeymoon saved by old-fashioned driver assistance program
by Paula Hassler
An ambitious drive to Acapulco, Mexico, got interesting for young newlyweds when a tire blew and curious Mexican locals surrounded them in 1951.
One summer my husband and I decided to take a driving vacation from our home in Minneapolis to Acapulco, Mexico. It was an ambitious trip, but we newlyweds had two weeks off from work and we were young and adventuresome.
Our brand-new 1951 Chevy sports coupe was in good shape, but on a remote mountain road north of Acapulco the right rear tire blew out. We managed to pull off into a wooded area, and my husband started to work on changing the tire. While trying to raise up the car, he cried out, "Oh no! The jack is broken. It doesn't work!"
It was then that we noticed several men had appeared from out of the woods and stood watching us silently. Soon a few more fellows materialized, and dusk was approaching. I was trying to remember my college Spanish because the men, now about a dozen strong, had more or less surrounded us. Finally, I opened my mouth, and out came, "El levador esta roto y no sirve" (The lifter is broken and it doesn't work).
Aha! Suddenly our audience came to life. Laughing and chattering among themselves, they found a large log and rolled it close to the rear of our car. Several of them grabbed the bumper and lifted the car so the others could put the log in place.
They helped my husband get out our spare, helped change the tire, and then removed the log. Now we were ready to be on our way again.
With many a muchas gracias, we broke out our bottle of souvenir rum and passed it around, each man swigging a good gulp. We did the same. Our newly found friends waved goodbye and (if my Spanish served me) called out their wishes that God be with us on our adventure.
By Paula Hassler • Tempe, Arizona
Water follies provided glitzy 1940s entertainment
by Paula Hassler
Paula Hassler dove into the glamorous world of 1940s entertainment as a performer in the Havana S.S. Water Follies show.
There it was, the most beautiful sight I'd ever seen in my young life: a shimmering green island afloat on the bluest water. Our chartered plane dipped a wing as we headed in for a landing at the José Martí International Airport in Havana, Cuba.
As I drifted off to sleep later that night, after having taken part in a noisy, festive carnival parade through the streets, I briefly reflected on how I came to be a part of the S.S. Water Follies, a first-class water ballet and stage show.
In 1949 I was a 21-year-old from a small town in Iowa, but in the few years before that I had lived in Chicago, New York and Boston. This time, adventure came to me while I was working as a cocktail waitress at Boston's Hotel Touraine.
Sam Snyder, producer of the S.S. Water Follies show, was seated at one of my tables. After noticing my athletic shoulders, he said, "My show really needs more swimmers. How would you like to go to Havana?"
Would I ever! Hollywood glamorized Latin American countries in the 1940s, so I was definitely interested in experiencing that life for myself. I passed a requisite swimming test and the very next day took a train to New York, where rehearsals were already in progress.
There were 17 other girls and more than a dozen other people involved in the show. I was probably one of the few girls hired for her actual swimming ability, but was clueless onstage and didn't know my right from my left.
The show's director was an impatient man, and after I turned the wrong way four times in one rehearsal number, he fired me.
Fortunately, Mr. Snyder was in the room, and I was soon back in the chorus line, trying to remember which way to turn. From that point on, the director always had me in the back row, because he was never really confident that I would remember the choreography.
After our week in New York, then a stop in Miami for dress rehearsals, we arrived in Havana. The show was an upscale production with brand-new costumes and a live orchestra performing in what had once been a bullfighting ring.
We danced onstage and at a certain point peeled off our plumed headdresses and sequined costumes to reveal golden yellow swimsuits and rubber swim caps. Floating on my back in starburst formation with the other girls was one of the best parts, especially when we all slowly sank to the bottom of the pool with 18 shapely legs held high, toes pointed to the beautiful Caribbean sky. I don't recall seeing an empty stadium seat once in our six-week run.
On my first day in Havana, I met a tall, slender Cuban man named Willie, who spoke excellent English and looked a lot like American actor Dana Andrews. Willie had been hired as the water show's master of ceremonies, and he immediately asked me out on a date.
He was a brilliant dancer who loved taking me to Havana's popular nightclubs. We often lunched at the Havana Yacht Club, and I swam in the pool at the Hotel Nacional. At that age, I had no problem doing one or two shows a day, then dancing into the small hours of the night.
After several months in Havana, the producers announced that they had a contract for us to perform in Caracas. I reluctantly said goodbye to Willie and, after Venezuela, to my tropical adventure. I left the show and went to Chicago, where I met my future husband.
In 1959, I sadly watched Castro's takeover of Cuba in the news. A year later, I received a phone call from Willie: He was married with two daughters, and had managed to escape from Cuba under cover of darkness, seeking refuge with his brother in California.
He said that Castro had taken everything he had worked for all his life. Willie bitterly told me, "At first we thought Castro was our liberator, until he showed his ugly Communist face."
There was a time when I wanted to return to Cuba, but that time has passed now. Still, when I hear a tune from South Pacific, the music used in our show, I dream of being a part of the 1940s entertainment scene, doing the aquacade backstroke under the Cuban moon.
By Paula Hassler • Tempe, Arizona
Good Old Days
In the spring of 1948, Good Old Days reader Paula (Runge) Hassler appeared in this ad from Mandel Brothers that was placed in Collegiate magazine. The caption read: "As traditional to college as ivy clad walls is this canary yellow cashmere cardigan and short-sleeved slip-on worn with the classic single-strand pearls and grey botany flannel skirt, modeled at Mandel Brothers by Paula Runge, former student at the University of Colorado and now a Patricia Stevens model. The cardigan is priced at $16.95 and the slip-on at $12.95 in the Sportswear Salon, 4th floor, and the straight-cut skirt with front stitching and panel is yours for $7.95 in the Sportswear Salon, Mandel Brothers, Chicago."
Thanks for sharing, Paula!
Anecdotes by Paula Hassler
The cool-down period in my senior exercise class includes some harp music. One day the teacher asked, "Does anyone here play the harp?"
"Not yet," cracked one of the older gals in the front row.
- Country magazine Aug./Sept. 2015
Speaking My Language
A few days after my friend delivered a baby, she needed to run by the store to pick up a few groceries. Taking caution, as she was still recovering, she asked for help with her bags. On the way to the car, she explained to the carryout boy, "I appreciate your help carrying and lifting because I am a cesarean."
He looked at her seriously and said, "Well, you speak really good English."
- Country magazine, November 2015
A Miscommunication That's on the Mend
My daughter-in-law, Melissa, isn't as into sewing as I am, so I gladly offered to do a bit of mending for her and my son, Bill. When I was finished with a pair of her pants, I sent an email to let them know I'd bring them the next time we had lunch together. Later, Bill laughed as he told me that Melissa had read my message and fretted about having upset me. She couldn't imagine what she'd done to make me write, "I have your darned slacks ready."
- Country magazine, Oct./Nov. 2015
1, 2, 3, Door!
The other day, something funny happened in my exercise class. Before class started, the teacher explained and demonstrated a new and complicated dance routine. Then, as she often did when we began, she asked, "Are there any new people here today?"
One of the regulars in the back row laughed and called out, "Yes, but they left."
- Country magazine, Feb./March 2016
A Balanced Response
Years ago I attended a parenting class. The professor said, "Imagine yourself 10 floors up on a building under construction. A long, narrow plank stretches between far-apart girders. At the far end of the plank lies a $100 bill. Will you walk that plan to get the money?" In unison, the class shouted, "No!"
"Now parents," he continued, "what if one of your children was over there, afraid and in danger?" After a silent moment, a very tired voice asked, "Which Child?"
- Country magazine, April/May 2016
Many years ago, John, a longtime friend, was visiting us during the Christmas season. John told his favorite Santa story to our children, Nori, age 7, and Billy, age 5. At the end of the tale, John said, "If you don't behave, Santa will leave you a lump of coal in your stockings."
Nori and Billy looked at each other with puzzled faces and turned to my husband and me for help. It dawned on me our California kids didn't know what coal was.
- Country magazine, December/January 2017
Aunt Dot and Uncle Jack
THE LAST STEP
My aunt Dot and uncle Jack took a road trip from Iowa to the West Coast with some friends in the 1930s. Along the way, the car started acting up, so they stopped at a repair shop in the next town.
Aunt Dot had fallen asleep in the front seat and murmured that she didn't need to visit the restroom when the others did. After a while, she woke up and decided maybe she'd better go after all. With eyes half-closed, she opened the door and started to step out. Suddenly, she heard her husband shouting, "Dot, get back in the car!"
Little did she know, the car was propped up on a mechanic's lift. One step out would have been about six feet down!
MEET ELLA RUNGE, amateur golf champion and bridge expert in Denison, Iowa, during the 1930s and '40s. Despite her having to raise three kids during the Great Depression, I remember her bouncing out of bed, eager to greet each glorious new day. In addition to golf and bridge, she loved to bake and entertain.
Mom didn't like this photo because her hair was blowing in the wind and she wasn't wearing lipstick. Even though we couldn't convince her this shot would be revered by our family, it continues to embody the spirit my mother passed on to us all.
by Paula Hassler
The Iowan magazine
A Quick Card
Good Old Days
Submitted by Paula J. Hassler of Tempe, Ariz.
Paula's husband, Bill, was an excellent photographer, but in November 1961, he couldn't come up with a theme for their annual Christmas photo card. Paula grabbed a camera, the two kids and a bag of almost-stale bread from the refrigerator and headed to nearby Reseda Park in Sherman Oaks, Calif. "Nori and Billy had fun feeding the wildlife, the background was appropriate for the season, and I shot up a roll of black-and-white," said Paula. Her photographer husband didn't say a word when he saw the prints. "He picked out the best shot and fled to the drugstore to get our Christmas cards made. Another deadline was met, and Christmas at our house was saved!"
Your Travels: 4 generations reunite in Hawaii
by Paula Hassler
Special for The Republic
October 9, 2012
We recently held a family reunion on Kauai. Don and Paula Hassler (in their 80s), their five children (in their 50s) and multiple grandchildren and their spouses (in their 20s and 30s) are shown in this photo. Including the two little ones (the fourth generation), we were a party of 21. Family members flew from many states, including Arizona, California, Oregon, Ohio and North Carolina.
We stayed in an amazing place, with four houses situated around a big lawn and a nice swimming pool. My husband found the property on a website, Vacation Rentals by Owner, that has thousands of privately owned vacation rentals worldwide.
We had four houses (11 bedrooms altogether) in a compound two minutes from Brennecke's Beach in the Poipu area on the southern side of Kauai. It was perfect for our group, but the houses could be rented individually for smaller parties. The houses are situated around a swimming pool and a large common yard with lawn chairs.
We ate dinner every night in the biggest house, and everyone got together for games and conversation. There was one organized activity, an ATV trip taken by our more adventuresome members.
We were amused by the abundance of chickens running loose all over the island. Cars would stop to let the chickens cross the road, engendering jokes as to why the chickens would do that. Puffy brown mother hens clucked around our compound, followed closely by their peeping chicks. The brilliantly feathered roosters gave a wake-up call every morning around 4. Most of us got used to the cock-a-doodle-dos and slept right through the racket.
Three feral kittens were camped in our area, and it was fun watching the roosters and kittens chase one other around the palm trees and flower bushes. The manager requested that we not feed the cats, but probably that rule wasn't strictly obeyed.
We were there the last week of May. The weather was warm, with a strong breeze at all times. Typical of Hawaii, rain showers now and then helped cool things off. The week went by quickly, and the four generations of Hasslers said aloha to the island and to each other when the final day came.
Good Old Days magazine
My Daughter Dresses Funny*
by Paula Hassler
December 6, 1970
* This was my mother's breakthrough article, kicking off her freelance career. Since 1970, she has sold hundreds of essays, anecdotes, and articles to Reminisce, Reader's Digest, Phoenix Magazine, Ladies' Home Journal, the Arizona Republic, and many more publications. This page shows her favorite essays and articles. - Nori (her daughter)