I just saw a Facebook post called Older Than Dirt that lists seventeen items that have mostly gone the way of the buggy whip. If you are familiar with ten or more of them you supposedly qualify for the title Older Than Dirt. There were seventeen things listed and I not so fondly remembered all of them, so I guess that I’m officially ancient. I hadn’t even thought about or missed most of the items, but I felt a slight tug of nostalgia when I saw them on the list. I also realized that in many ways I’m part of a generation that has straddled the old ways and the new.
I still recall the weird inconvenience of being on a telephone party line. I must have been about five or so when we finally got our own private line. Before then it was not all that unusual to lift the receiver and hear someone who lived in another house talking away. My mom taught me the code of phone etiquette which meant that I would hang up quickly and be certain that I never mentioned anything that I might have heard. Even then it seemed weird to have to share telephone time with complete strangers, but it was the way things actually were. I had totally forgotten about that strange situation until I saw it listed with a string of other oldies. While party lines may sound unbelievable to young folk, I encountered an even more old time way of talking on the phone when I visited my grandparents in rural Arkansas. They actually had to go through the services of an operator to make a call, something that I had only seen in old movies from the thirties and forties.
I never knew what eventually happened to Studebakers, but my aunt and uncle owned one. It was a sporty little car that was much more adventurous looking than than the big featureless models that most people drove back then. I still remember being filled with awe whenever my aunt and uncle drove up in their Studebaker. They were young and attractive and newly married. To five year old me they looked like movie stars, and when they took me for a ride in their automobile I felt like a celebrity. The last Studebaker I ever saw belonged to my husband’s best friend. The car was old and doing its best to fall apart. The designers had lost their mojo and turned it into a featureless box, which is no doubt why the line of cars went the way to the junkyard, but I would always remember just how sweet the models were in the early nineteen fifties.
By the time my girls were using roller skates they simply slipped on a boot with wheels, but when I was a child we had roller skates that would last a lifetime because the parts were adjustable. The process of properly sizing the skates involved using a metal key to lengthen or shorten and fit the mechanism onto the sole of whatever shoe the skater was wearing. A pair of skates that came to a five year old at Christmas time might last until they were no longer used as a teenager. Our mothers usually found some twine or ribbon to make a kind of necklace on which we kept the key that made the whole thing work. I used to keep mine inside my jewelry box so that I might quickly find it whenever I got the urge to skate.
We had very few luxuries in our home, but one that my mom faithfully used was milk delivery. Our milkman left the white liquid on our front porch in big glass gallon containers. Once the milk was gone Mama would rinse out the bottle and then leave it on the porch to be recycled by the milk company which for us was always Carnation. We got to know the milkman better than the mailman because he came with three or four gallons of milk every week and rang our doorbell to let us know that the bottles had arrived. My brothers were voracious milk drinkers and my mother often attributed their strong teeth and bones to the calcium that they consumed. Eventually grocery stores were close enough that it was easier to just make a quick trip for some milk and the idea of having things delivered to the house went away. Now I laugh that young folk think that home food delivery is a new thing.
We used to use ice trays to make the cubes that we used to cool our water or tea. Back in the day they were made of metal and used a large handle to release the ice. Even the best ones never really worked very well, so when the flexible plastic ones came along it felt as though someone had invented a miracle device. The problem was that the trays took up a considerable amount of space inside the freezer section of the refrigerator so there was never much ice available at any give time. If someone neglected to refill the trays, which happened far too often, we were reduced to drinking things at room temperature like so many Europeans do. The ice makers of today are a joyful luxury that still leave me in awe each time I see the almost boundless supply of frozen water.
The Older Than Dirt list included drive in movie theaters which are worthy of an entire blog, and candy cigarettes which made us feel grown up and sophisticated in a time when it seemed as though every adult smoked without knowing the dangers. There were metal lunch boxes which often featured our favorite movie and television characters like Roy Rogers. They held our baloney sandwiches and apples and thermoses of warm milk. There were forty five rpm records that we played on speakers that sounded tinny, and Blackjack gum which to me tasted like melted blacktop. Our soda machines dispensed glass bottles that we had to either leave once we were finished drinking or had to pay a deposit to take with us. There was Butch Wax for styling hair that I never used because it was a product for the boys, but we gals had Dippity Do which we slathered on our hair along with our curlers so that we might create the enormous bouffants of the sixities. There were five and dime stores which were small versions of Walmart, and home economics classes where students learned how to run a household efficiently long before Marie Kondo came to tell us what to do. Books came with records that in a sense were the first audio versions of our favorite stories, and rather unsophisticated drinkers consumed Boone’s Farm wine.
Yes, I knew about all of those things, but I also realized how far we have come in making the world far better than it once was. I can only think of a few things on the list that we might do well to emulate in a more modern way. Recycling glass bottles was a great idea and I’d like to see it happen again. Those stunning Studebakers of the early fifties were a sight to see. Drive In movies were a great place to take the kids on summer evenings. The metal lunchboxes were akin to Bento boxes and prevented much wasting of paper. Most of the rest were fun while we had them, but hardly worth reinventing. We’ve moved on and in most cases it has been for the best. I like my streaming music and the mountains of ice at my fingertips. Nostalgia is fine but progress is better, especially when it takes the health of our planet into account.