Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Grandpa Joe and Fred Fitch

Of all the pictures I have of Mom's and Grandma's, I cannot find one of Mom and her father together except for the posed studio photos - no snapshots of just the two of them. Here is Grandma Delphia and Grandpa Joe Ridnour. Written on the back in Mom's handwriting, "Daddy and Mother, 1954." Mom always referred to her father as "Daddy" even when she was in her 80's and was remembering something about him. Never Dad or Father, it was always, "Daddy".
I wanted a picture of Mom from the same era. This one was taken in October, 1957 when we hosted the Ridnour Cousins reunion at our place. Ron and Louis in back; Betty, Ramona and Ruth in the middle; Leslie in front. (Uncle Alvin in his pickup window.) (Note those rolled up jeans, bobby sox and saddle shoes!)

So, who is Fred Fitch and what does he have to do with this blog? One of the things I remember from my youth was a weekly visit down to Grandpa and Grandma's house west of Iveyville. We often were at their place for Sunday dinners, birthday celebrations, etc., but this trip had a specific purpose: for my Mom to "do" Grandpa's hair. At the time, I thought it must be something special that only Grandpa's middle daughter knew how to do. Now I realize that it was a gift of love and care that my Mom gave to her Daddy.
First she would wrap a towel around Grandpa's shoulders. Then he would lean over the kitchen sink where she would wash his hair with Fitch's Shampoo; lathering and rinsing it a couple of times. Then she pulled the towel up over his head to blot most of the water.

Grandpa would then shuffle over to one of the black and white chrome kitchen chairs and sit down. (By then the arthritis in his knees was so bad he didn't walk any distance without a cane.) Mom toweled his hair some more before combing it. Next she poured some Fitch's Hair Tonic in her hands, rubbed it around then worked it through Grandpa's hair; finally parting and combing it the way he always wore it. The entire process would have taken less than a half hour, but in my memory, it seemed to take longer - a big, significant production instead of a small token of caring.
Oh, and those bottles - their shape and size and the colors of the shampoo and tonic! They only added to the mystique of the entire ritual. Fred W. Fitch was an early Iowa barber in Madrid. Later he had a barbershop in Boone where he founded the F. W. Fitch Co. in 1892. He began marketing his hair products to and through barbershops throughout Iowa. In 1917 he moved his company to Des Moines where he built a four story plant at Fifteenth and Walnut. (Today the Fitch Building is home to local artists and a gallery.)
Fitch was the first Iowa manufacturer to sponsor a national radio program. One of the slogans for his shampoo was: "Don't itch it; Fitch it." From 1938 until 1948, the "Fitch Bandwagon" was broadcast for a half hour every Sunday night on NBC. It was unusual because each program was broadcast from the city in which the featured band was playing. It might have been Cab Calloway from New York one week or Tommy Dorsey from Chicago or Guy Lombardo from Los Angeles the following Sunday night.
Fred W. Fitch's story was one of "rags to riches". He became a millionaire with his hair products and savvy salesmanship. He helped found the Des Moines College of Pharmacy and later gave $100,000 to Drake University for the construction of the Fitch Hall of Pharmacy.
Naturally I knew nothing about Fred Fitch when I accompanied Mom on those weekly visits so long ago; nor would I have cared if I had known. The lesson I learned by example was that performing a simple task for someone else could be a memorable act of love.

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