JT's Blog

Things that interest me, things that happened to me, things that I like, even some things that I don't like...

Irv

Irvin Wolfskill’s death in January, 1964, was a major turning point in my life.

Irvin and Frances Wolfskill (they were known to everyone as Irv and Fannie) owned and operated the Sugar Bowl (a combination soda fountain/news stand) in Richland, Pennsylvania. The Sugar Bowl was such a fixture in Richland, that it seemed to me that it must have always been there, so I was surprised to find out that in 1935 Irv and Fannie, according to the 1940 census, were living in Reading, PA.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on a family tree site lately, so I’ve discovered a little bit about Irv and Fannie’s backstory. Jacob Wolfskill and Polly Field, Irv’s parents, lived in West Cocalico Township in Lancaster County. On February 24, 1894, they were married in Lebanon, PA, and on April 3 of that year Irv was born. From what I’ve discovered about that era, this was a relatively common occurrence in the days before The Pill. By 1910 the family had moved to Richland.

Fannie, also from West Cocalico according to the 1900 census, was born to John Pierce and Mary Dreibelbis in 1896, they having been married since 1875 in Lancaster. We hear no more of Fannie until 1935, when she and Irv are married and living in Reading.

Happily, by 1940 they were back in Richland where they belonged, and presumably they had either built or bought the Sugar Bowl in the intervening years. Happily for me, that is, because as I learned a few years ago when I sat my parents in front of a video camera to reminisce, the Sugar Bowl, along with the Neptune Theatre movie house, was where my father first wooed my mother.

This is not exactly the kind of sign that was hanging in front of Irv’s Sugar Bowl

Although we always called it the Sugar Bowl, the sign out front was a Pensupreme Ice Cream sign with a Wolfskill’s banner dangling below it. I recall my mother telling me the story of why Irv named it the Sugar Bowl, but I no longer remember that story. So much for Eric Blouch chiding me for my excellent memory. See, Eric. I don’t remember everything!

I used to go to the Sugar Bowl every week on a Wednesday to pick up the new TV Guide, the Sporting News, and the Sunday News (this was the New York Daily News Sunday insert consisting of the comics and the magazine sections). I couldn’t go on Thursday, because Thursday the Sugar Bowl was closed.

I don’t recall Irv having any employees other than himself and Fannie, so Thursday was their only day of rest. Actually Fannie really didn’t help out that often, but I recall a bunch of us boys used to try to get her to wait on us if she was around.

You see, the Sugar Bowl was a genuine soda fountain where they mixed the Cokes right behind the counter from Coke syrup and carbonated water, and Fannie had a tendency to put too much Coke syrup in the glass, making them especially sweet. This was in the days when a Coke cost six cents.

Anyway when I went on my Wednesday trip to pick up the TV Guide, et al., I almost always browsed the racks of comic books to find the latest Superman or Batman comics. Eventually I learned that Tuesdays and Thursdays were the days that new issues of magazines and comics were delivered, so I modified my routine to get there on Tuesday instead of Wednesday. And I started making extra trips on Fridays to see what new wonders might have been delivered on the previous Thursday when he was closed.

Somewhere around the time I turned 13, I moved from comic books to science fiction magazines, and Irv stocked those as well. Or at least he stocked some of them, such as Amazing Stories and Fantastic Stories.

But he didn’t carry Galaxy, a title I really wanted to read. So I asked Irv if he could get it for me. And Irv was happy to oblige. He asked his supplier, and eventually he obtained the August, 1963, issue of Galaxy Magazine for me. Irv pronounced it Gal-AX-y.

For some reason he couldn’t get his supplier to deliver Galaxy on a regular basis. Each issue had to be individually ordered. But Irv seemed quite amenable to do it. And for the next few months he kept getting the new issues of Gal-AX-y for me, albeit on a time delayed basis.

But that all changed one day in January, 1964, when Irv died suddenly from a heart attack.

For now I did something I probably never would have done had Irv remained alive. I subscribed to all the science fiction magazines. Now I knew I’d never miss an issue. To have done so while Irv was still alive would have somehow seemed disloyal. Irv was almost like family in a way.

But that’s not what I mean when I say his death was a major turning point in my life.

The building that used to be the Sugar Bowl has long since been converted to a private residence.

The Sugar Bowl was quickly sold to a fellow by the name of Bicksler. (Sorry, Eric, I no longer recall his first name. I do recall that he had a wife and high school age kids, but I can’t recall their names either.)

(Oh, I just checked the 65 and 66 yearbooks. The sons were named Dale and David. See, Eric, sometimes I use reference books!)

As I said, Irv had been almost like family, like an uncle or grandfather, and more than that, he knew my whole family, meaning he was on a first name basis with my parents. But this new guy, this Bicksler guy, he was a stranger, and since my parents rarely if ever went there anymore, he didn’t know them and he didn’t connect them with me.

So that’s why I did something that I never ever would have done if Irv had remained behind the counter.

I started buying Playboy magazine.