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Nostalgia September 2017

As I Recall...

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

By Jerry Ginther

It was like wanting to learn to mow the lawn; once I had accomplished that, I was hard to find when it came time to actually mow.

If you’re a baby boomer you might remember a cigarette commercial many years ago that touted “You’ve come a long way, baby.”  Actually, if you’re in that group, we have come a long way together, and we’ve seen and experienced a lot along the way.

At my age – and I date back long before that commercial – I’m beginning to understand the generation gap a little better: you know what you grow up with. We didn’t grow up with cell phones and computers. As for computers, the only one we had was between our ears. Our only printout was accomplished with a pen or pencil. Oh, and, printing with one of those instruments was not allowed after the second grade unless explicitly required by the teacher. We had another method, cursive, and we were graded on penmanship. I don’t understand why that isn’t required today, but I digress.

I never cease to be amazed by the disbelief expressed by my children and grandchildren when I tell them that when I was a kid, the milkman delivered the milk in glass bottles to the front door step for city dwellers. The milk was not homogenized, and when milk stood undisturbed for several hours the cream would rise to the top. That fact is something that probably only dairy farmers would know today.

When we lived in the country we had a milk cow, and my mother would skim the cream and use it for breakfast coffee, cereal and butter. She taught me how to make butter by shaking the cream in a bottle, and it wasn’t long before I was making butter on a much larger scale. I don’t know how many hours I spent as a kid on the crank handle of a butter churn. The process was slow and tiring, but amazed me for a while. Notwithstanding the fact that once it became an assigned chore, it sort of lost its educational appeal. It was like wanting to learn to mow the lawn; once I had accomplished that, I was hard to find when it came time to actually mow.

In that era, we kept our milk and other perishables in a container called an icebox. It was not as large as a refrigerator, but served the same purpose. It is especially amazing to my grandchildren that long ago a man delivered large blocks of ice in much the same manner as milk was delivered. The only difference was that the iceman actually brought the block of ice into the house and placed it in the icebox. (It did ring a bell with some of the young kids when they remembered they had heard older folks refer to their refrigerator as an icebox.) I added that the iceman hauled his ice in a horse drawn covered wagon, but it didn’t look like the prairie schooner our forebearers used to migrate westward.

As long as we were talking about horse drawn vehicles, I also touched on how the garbage was picked up for city folks in those days – picked up and hauled away with horse and wagon. However, there was a big difference in how garbage and trash was handled back then. The convenient trash bags of today had yet to be invented and folks were not required by any law or city ordinance to put the garbage in any container other than the garbage can.  Anything you had to throw away was dumped loose into the garbage can – and readily available to flies, dogs, rats and alley cats. However, some housewives would wrap their garbage in layers of newspapers. I suppose that made it less messy since putting a lid on the can didn’t always deter a hungry varmint. Another difference was that in those days the refuse was picked up from the alley, not street side in front of the house. There were city ordinances against blocking an alley; they were considered a thoroughfare for emergency vehicles and trash collection.

Yes, we have come a long way from those days, but unless one has lived long enough to see a transition between eras of significant change, it may be hard to appreciate the advances. Even we baby boomers don’t evaluate the passing of time the same. Many are glad those days are behind us while some still refer to our past as the good old days and seem bound to return there.

 

Jerry Ginther grew up in Sullivan, Illinois, served two years in the U.S. Army, 1966-68, and was employed by the Illinois Central Railroad as a telegraph operator and train dispatcher for nearly 25 years. He and his wife reside in Texas.

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