This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Monday, March 3, 2014

I remember when...

Life has changed a lot in the six plus decades I have been alive. I remember when:
  • all the television shows were in black and white. Among the shows we watched when they first aired were I Love Lucy, Dobbie Gillis, The Beverly Hillbillies, the Ed Sullivan Show, The Mousketeers with Annette, Lawrence Welk, and The Twilight Zone. When we got our first TV, Howdy Doody was popular. When a station was not on the air, it would broadcast a test pattern.
  • we listened to serials on the radio before we had television. We quit that when we got television.
  • electronics ran on tubes, not transistors.
  • milkmen delivered milk in the morning. All the milk was in glass bottles, and we would give the milkman back the empty bottles when he delivered the new milk. We could buy milk that was not homogenized, so the cream would rise to the top.
  • Men walked on the moon.
  • the USSR beat us into space when they launched Sputnik.
  • steam locomotives were still in regular freight service. (They were fading out even then. In the late 1950s the Northern Pacific assembled all their remaining steam locomotives in Staples, Minnesota, about thirty miles north of where we were living at the time. They then moved them all to Duluth where they were loaded onto ships and sent to the steel mills to be recycled.)
  • I rode on a passenger train before Amtrak. (Travel by train was rapidly declining even before I was born.)
  • there were street cars in Minneapolis and St. Paul (I recall seeing them but do not remember riding one. New Orleans still has street cars and I rode one there.)
  • we had to dial a telephone. (When I was young we still had to connect through a human operator, and my parents wrote in my baby book that I would call my father at work with that system, but I do not remember it.) Telegrams were already rare when I was young and I do not recall anyone ever getting one.
  • Dick, Jane, and Spot helped us learn to read. (It was an era in which phonics was downplayed and sight word reading was the fad--my parents taught me to read with phonics because the school did not.)
  • I went to a school where all the classes were taught by nuns in habits.
  • I went to high school in an all-boys high school.
  • buying a typewriter to get ready for college was common.
  • there was not a single computer on my college campus.
  • interacting with a computer required computer punch cards.
  • the library card catalog had cards.
  • there were no self-serve gas stations. The attendant would not only fill your tank, he would also wash your windows and check your oil.
  • cars did not have seat belts and there were no infant or child seats available, much less required.
  • studded tires were allowed in the winter.
  • car tires had inner tubes.
  • Eisenhower was president.
  • my mother did laundry on a wringer washing machine and patched clothes on a treadle sewing machine.
  • we had a gravity hot water system to heat the house. (The system had no circulating pump.)
  • we paged through the Sears and Montgomery Ward Christmas catalogues admiring all the toys that were available.
  • it was fun for a kid to go downtown in a town the size of Rensselaer and browse the dime stores.
  • even very small towns still had retail stores in their downtowns, and when franchises and chains were uncommon. (White Castle was an early exception. My father refused to let us eat at one because when he was a college student in the 1930s, his limited funds led him to eat many meals at White Castle. He ended with an aversion to White Castle similar to the aversion many men had toward Spam after WWII.)
  • the normal way of distributing soft drinks and beer was in returnable bottles. We used to be delighted whenever we found a discarded bottle that could be redeemed for two cents. I recall that we found a stash of bottles behind a neighbor's house and thought it would be swell to redeem them. The neighbor objected.
  • beer and soda cans did not have pull tabs.
  • a candy bar cost a nickel and a postage stamp was three cents.
  • dimes and quarters were made of silver and the half dollar coin was in common circulation.
  • you had to spit when you went to the dentist.
  • getting measles, mumps, and chicken pox was a normal part of childhood.
  • the Catholic Mass was in Latin and Catholics could not eat meat on Fridays. (Et cum spiritu tuo.)
  • cigarettes were advertised on radio and television. (Call for Phillip Morris.)
  • girls wore skirts to school, never slacks. (My mother never in her life wore slacks, though she kept talking about how she should try them for the last thirty years of her life.) (A lifelong Rensselaer resident recalled in a conversation how the slacks ban was broken down at the Rensselaer high school by the example of one girl in his class.)
  • shining shoes was common. Some people did this every week to get ready for church on Sunday. For me it was less frequent.
  • we went barefoot in the summer and developed thickly calloused soles. And stubbed toes--I still shudder a bit at the memory of that.
  • we had a neighbor who used to slaughter chickens and I would watch them run around with their heads cut off. This same neighbor cooked on an old cast-iron, wood-burning stove.
  • we played records on a record player if we wanted to listen to our favorite tunes.
Things that my parents remembered but I do not:
  • My grandmothers--one died in 1916, the other in 1945.
  • Living on a farm with no plumbing and no electricity. Kerosene was used for lighting. Using horses instead of tractors for transportation and farm work. (The downside--my mother lost a younger brother when he was killed by a horse kick.)
  • an orphanage
  • watching silent movies in an early movie theater, on the second floor of a small retail store in a very small Minnesota town.
  • mowing a large lawn with a push mower because there were no powered mowers.

My mother-in-law (94 years old) remembers men lighting the street lights in Chicago when she was a girl, and the street cleaners who would sweep up the manure left by the horses. She also remembers the ice man delivering ice for the ice boxes. And much later, she remembers World War II ration coupons.

(I suspect that there are some young readers who will have no clue as to what some of these items refer to.)

What else would be on your list?


Anonymous said...

During the 40's: Rationing of all sorts of things. Collecting string, foil, newspapers, iron for the war effort. Dresses made from colorful seed bags. Blackouts & sitting on the front porch and watching for "Jap" planes to fly over??? Rensselaer??? I was VERY young then & never told my folks how frightened I was. ;) Dad resoling shoes, very limited availability of chocolate,cameras w/flashbulbs. Playing all sorts of games outside sans adults hovering about. The list is endless.

Jim Earnest said...

I remember many of the same things. I do however, remember talking to the operator before dial phone. I remember be almost afraid to talk to her when calling my grandmother. Also party lines were had to wait for your neighbors to quit talking before you could make your call.

Anonymous said...

Nice to remember...

Anonymous said...

I was young when the mass changed from Latin to English, but when I was very young and the priest ended the mass with "Et tu spiritu tuo", I thought he was giving out God's phone number so we could call him during the week.