Back Story

My 1950s world had no big-box stores. And when September arrived and school resumed, we didn’t head for the mall, either. Instead, it seems that there was one, and only one, true back-to-school ritual that my friends and I consider to be the most memorable.  

Unlike today, when supply lists and fully stocked store shelves are on display in early July, we normally shopped closer to the day school began. Modern marketing — with aisle after aisle of brightly colored folders, paper clips, sparkling colored markers and illuminated athletic shoes — is a sight we Baby Boomers would have marveled at. Rewind, please.

When the first wave of Boomers began swelling Oak Cliff elementary school classrooms in the mid 1950s, shopping for supplies was a treasured event. However, stores had only one, or perhaps 1¼, aisles to choose from. Not a lot of options, just the basics: Big Mo pencils, Big Chief Tablets, a big pink eraser (lots of bigs in those days), a box of Crayola crayons and a package of both manila and colored construction paper. Music tablets, blunt-tipped scissors, and a cigar box were the standard. And oh, yes, a box of Kleenex. (We can’t forget all those runny little noses during winter and spring.)
For elementary students, book satchels (in lieu of today’s backpacks) provided the feeling of academia — that we were “real” students, and most everyone carried a lunch box. Let’s see. There was the Looney Tunes variety, the Disney line, and the ever popular Roy Rogers and Dale Evans boxes. Then, around 1954, good old Davy Crockett burst on the scene, and no all-American boy (or girl) would be caught dead without Davy staring back across the lunchroom table.

And the No. 1 destination for this annual shopping event? Your neighborhood Skillern’s Drug Store. With locations throughout Oak Cliff, Skillern’s was brilliant to remain open at night during back-to-school shopping time when most businesses closed regularly at 5:30 p.m. And Skillern’s had the one magnet that garnered almost all the business and put other stores in the shade: the “Big Shake” coupon.
A “Big Shake” was your choice of vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry — a milkshake free at the store’s soda fountain counter — and it was a hit with everyone. Just ask any Cliffite from those days, and you’ll get the same answer: the “Big Shake.” (Yes, another big.)

But for some, it was more than just enjoying the shake. It was the entire process of obtaining the shake.

Bob Johnston, Adamson class of ’59, says he managed to parcel out his purchases, buying just enough each time to qualify for a coupon. When his little sister entered first grade, he commandeered even more coupons from her, keeping the fountain staff at the Jefferson Street Skillern’s plenty busy.

Ditto Glenn Straus, also Adamson ’59, but without the sister.

According to Straus, someone demonstrated the fine art of tearing off the first inch or so of the straw wrapper, “dipping the other end in your shake, and blowing the straw covering straight up so it stuck to the ceiling.”

“This was frowned on by the soda jerks,” Straus says, “so you had to be very careful to do this while they weren’t looking.”

Goodness! All this talk about “Big Shakes” has made me both nostalgic and hungry. I think a quick trip to Hunky’s to check out my ice cream options is in order.

And, since it’s September, if I arrive with my book satchel and Davy Crockett lunch kit, I wonder if they just might honor one of my old “Big Shake” coupons?

Hey, now that I think of it, the Hunky’s ceiling would make a great target.

By |2011-05-20T12:50:15-05:00September 1st, 2009|All Columns, Back Story, Oak Cliff History|22 Comments

About the Author:

Gayla Brooks
GAYLA BROOKS co-authored the books "Images of America: Oak Cliff" and "Legendary Locals of Oak Cliff" and writes a monthly history column for the Oak Cliff Advocate. She can date her neighborhood heritage back to 1918, when her father was born in what was then called Eagle Ford. She was born at Methodist hospital and graduated from Kimball High School. Email gbrooks@advocatemag.com.


  1. Toni Smith Ross November 14, 2012 at 5:01 PM

    Great article Gayla! Wonderful memories with all of your columns! Thank you!!!

  2. Charles Theobalt July 7, 2010 at 11:05 PM

    Yep you have done an magnificent job…

  3. Vickie Smith James February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    Wow!!! What memories! I was a 1971 grad of Adamson but I married one of the popular Crew members.He was a 1964 grad from Kimball. I was a car hop at the Dairy Mart on Hampton Rd. I loved growing up in Oak Cliff. I wish my kids would have been so lucky.
    Thanks for the memories!~
    Vickie Smith James

  4. Gayla Brooks Kokel February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    For personal comments, please email me at gkokel@advocatemag.com.

  5. Hank Jones February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    Well, like everyone else, your column brought me a flood of Big Shake memories too. After getting all my school supplies, the crowning moment was sitting at the soda fountain at the Wynnewood Skillern’s and slowly working my way through the Big Shake – pure joy.
    Let me throw in a few other places from my youth. In Wynnewood Village there was Toy World – just the coolest toy store for a kid. Also there was a clothing store (Volk’s maybe?) that had monkeys in the windows. That was a great way for parents to get their kids to go into the store.
    From my house, we could see the neon bowling pin of Zang Bowl – that was in the days before there was an I35.
    Lastly, close to Wynnewood Village was Kip’s which was always our first stop after the Kimball game on Friday night.
    Okay, that’s enough already. But good memories all.
    Thanks for your column; really good reading.
    Kimball Class of ’65

  6. Sherry J February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    I remember the Skillerns on Jefferson St. I begged the manager to hire me for the soda fountain in 1962. It took me several visits to wear him down and he finally hired me. My first day to work was also my wedding day and he said I couldn’t be off so I quit. I didn’t even work one full day. What great memories. I also remember years before the Skillerns (I am not sure the location, but I think 12th was the cross street). My Dad would take us for $.19 cent banana splits.

  7. Mark February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    And even more important was having an older cousin of mine as a manager at Skillern’s. He handed out a few extra Big Shake coupons to my Dad which made the annual event even more rewarding.

  8. Robert Nelson February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    It’s very exciting to see someone from Kimball stirring up good old memories from the cliff. I was very fortunate to have grown up there. My earliest memories for buying school supplies was from Cates Pharmacy in Trinity Hieghts. My aunt owned a dress shop at the corner of Davis and Edgefield and she would give me a dollar and let me go to the Skillerns across the street. It was also a treat to go to Fred’s barbeque in Wynnwood and get a sandwich & root beer for a wooden nickel.
    Keep up the good work, the memories are great.
    Robert Nelson class of 66

  9. Toni Micucci Austin February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    Loved the memories! Does anyone remember Ward Drug at Hampton Road and Illinois? That was in walking distance from my house, and got all my school supply business. Thanks for stoking the fires of the fifties! Toni Micucci Austin, La Grange, TX

  10. Steve Cumming February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    Thanks for the wonderful memories Gayla! I remember that Mother would buy our supplies at Skillerns in Wynnewood Village. But, she also shopped at Page’s Drug Store in the Heights. I loved those Big Shakes at Skillerns! I also remember that Page’s would give a free Limeade when you biught your suppies at their store. Of course, before we had the big box stores we bought all our school clothes at Sears on Jefferson or Montgomery Wards in Wynnewood Village. Later on, Mother would take me to M.E.Moses 5&10 in Westcliff Mall where I would buy my supplies. We always tried to get them early, as if you waited too late you had to not only fight all the crowds, you also ran the risk of them running out of a particular item.

  11. Marilyn Woicik February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    Oh, Gayla I just love it. We do have such fun memories of getting those BIG shakes and buying our school supplies at Skillern’s for my LO Donald days and David remembers it for buying supplies for Cowart Ele. We can not really explain to our kids how fun it was, but we can love our memories of it!Love the article.
    You are doing a great job, keep it up.

  12. Margaret (Brown) Bruyere February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    While I CERTAINLY don’t qualify as a “Boomer” – just wanted
    to add a bit of nostalgia to the memories you’ve posted!! I
    am a January 1945 graduate of Sunset – so you can see I go
    back to Rosemont (in the ’30’s – Greiner and Sunset in the
    ’40’s!!). It truly was a big deal to go to Skillern’s (Davis and Edgefield) to buy school supplies. If you bought
    a dollar’s worth – that would qualify your getting a chocolate soda!! Believe the earliest lunchbox was probably
    Snow White. You could tell which of your classmates was
    “rich” if they had a double box of Crayolas. The rest of
    us kept our single (8 box) intact until Junior High!! Does
    anyone remember where Polar Bear Ice Cream started? There
    was a small store on Davis across from the Kessler Theater.
    They had what was called “a tub” of ice cream – at least 4
    scoops and perhaps 6. The cost: 15 cents!! Good times!

  13. Hope Green February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    You do still look as gorgeous as you did in Kimball! My Mom went to Sunset with your Dad and he and my Dad were good friends. On the second Monday of each month – the Sunset grads from ’35 & ’36 and others meet for lunch at the Luby’s on Ft. Worth Ave and Hampton. I try to go as frequently as I can – I saw your Dad there a couple of months ago – you should try to come!! He’s very proud of you. I loved reading your article – please do include me in information about your next book –
    Kimball Class of ’64 – hope hall green

  14. Linda Shipp Moon February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    As we ‘baby boomer’ kids of Oak Cliff get older it’s so wonderful to read articles about times remembered! To this day I remember my Mom taking me to the Skillern’s in Wynnewood Village to buy my school supplies for Jefferson Davis Elementary School. It was the beginning of school and so exciting to take your ‘school supply list’ with you to the drug store and get your coupon for the ‘Big Shake’ with your purchases. I can still see myself sitting at the counter trying to figure out which flavor I wanted because I just got that one shot at the ‘Big Shake’!

    Thanks Gayla for writing articles that so many of us remember and, as I do, cherish about growing up in Oak Cliff. Aren’t we lucky we were a part of the ‘good ole days’ in the Cliff!

    Oh…you are STILL as beautiful as you were in high school!

    Kimball Class of ’65

  15. Billie Adrian February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    I lived catty-corner across the street from Krayer’s Drug. It was at the intersection of Colorado Blvd And Bishop St.
    My older sister, Rhuie lived in an apartment at that location when I came from Chillicothe to live with her in June of 1945, just before the WAR ended.

    Hi from Cuzn B.

  16. sue mcmeans benson February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    How wonderful to read your article about Skillern’s…Never did go there for school supplies and the “big shake” coupon. We all hit Page’s Drugs In the Heights Center, where the fries were hot at 15 cents and the burgers 25 cents. I must have eaten a million of em!!!!

    Hear you have a book out with some great Oak Cliff pics. Where can we get it and what is the title.

    Hugs, Sue

  17. Linda Wells Nelson February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    So wonderful to see your beautiful face again. I am retired, playing grandma as much as possible to two boys, 5 and 8. My husband Tom and I do a little light traveling.

    Am blessed and loving life.

    How are you?


  18. David Forsyth February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    Wow! Gayla Brooks! I remember you as being our “Most Beautiful Senior Girl” at Kimball High in 1965. Now, you are writing for the Advocate. For my family, there was no Skillern’s close to our home. The nearest Skillern’s was at the Wynnwood Shopping Center. So most L. O. Donald and Stockard students headed for Page’s Drugs the first day of school. It was a zoo. People climbing over other people, grabbing supplies before they ran out of stock. But I also remember looking for Aladin Tablets (can’t remember whether Aladin was spelled with two l’s and/or two d’s) for their round coupon points, so that I could save them and send off for some of their prizes, such as ball gloves, hats, etc. As a matter of fact, my wife and I were going through some of our old school things a few years’ ago, and I came across some of my Aladin coupon points. Are they still in business? I never did save enough of those points to get that ball glove.

  19. Paula Craig February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    I loved Skillern’s, and how I mourned when Hadley’s Pharm. (Is that the right name at Hampton and Ft.Worth Ave.?) sold out and closed the last soda fountain! You’ve gotta love sweet things while you have them.

  20. Penny February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    Thanks again for the wonderful memories and without the calories too! I remember the Skillern’s at Park Plaza shopping center in Arlington. They would have specials where you could pop a balloon and see what the price was going to be for one of their terrific banana splits.
    Did you all have a Pal’s Drive-in? I can still remember collecting those little plastic animals that came on the rim of their cold drinks. I loved the giraffes, monkeys,and pink elephants.
    My big school supply purchase occurred while in sixth grade at Thornton Elementary School. I got to buy one of those “big” zippered notebooks. I thought I was something else being able to carry that to school. My goodness it was “big”!
    My fondest memory was in Jr. High when we would collect gum wrappers and make gum chains as tall as our current boyfriend. That was a lot of gum to chew. I can still make them, can you?
    Once again, I really enjoy reading your history column.
    Memories are so much fun when shared with others!

  21. Lynda (Welch) Kokel February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    I remember those shakes and how great they taste. I did the same thing by rationing my supplies so that I could get the most for the buck!!! My Dad’s company was walking distance to Skillerns…I could make my purchase, walk to his shop and drop off my things and make a return trip for another coupon. I also remember having lunch at the soda counter and it was a real treat. So many great memories of shopping for school clothes on Jefferson Street. If you could not find it on Jefferson, you didn’t need it. I could ride the street car when it was around and then later the bus from our house and go shopping and to the movies at either the Texas Theatre or the Rosewin. The great thing was that it was a safe thing for a kid to do without worrying about any danger. When Sears was built it had everything and it seemed so big to me. I rode the bus to Adamson High School and caught it right in front of our house on South Tyler. I hate to date myself…but…I can honestly say those days really could be called ‘THE GOOD OL DAYS”. I graduated Adamson in 1961.

  22. Mary Maxwell February 23, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    Love it ! I remember this so well and remember that Page Drugs at the Heights Shopping Center had the same feature. Love school shopping for this reason ! Love your articles.

Comments are closed.