Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 24, 2014

‘Good old days’ only in museums

Sep 21, 2012

This column is for the young folks, who were not born during the times often spoken of by their elders as the “Good Old Days.” To hear some tell it the younger generation does not read newspapers, but instead get their information from the Internet and social networking sites, so perhaps my efforts are wasted.

Of course, being old myself, (other’s description, certainly not mine!) I am partial to newspapers. I have never gotten most of my news from television even, because all you get there are sound bites and a very brief overview of what is going on, if you get it at all.

The newspaper, however, can go into more detail about the news items, giving a more complete picture of the world around us. The source of news is not really the topic of this column other than how it relates to days gone by.

When you stop to think that today’s graduating high school senior was born in an era when everyone had or had access to a computer, an era when there was an interstate road system in place with many more highways of the 4-lane variety, an era of cell phones and flat screen television, how can it be expected that they might understand listening to the radio or reading a newspaper to get information? There was no “instant information highway” available to their parents and grandparents at that age.

Most folks over say 60, have been heard to think aloud about those “good old days” when neighbors were neighborly, when, before there was “green” or “organic,” people had gardens and canned and froze their own winter supplies, when people seemed to be more thoughtful and caring. But, those are the GOOD things they miss. How about the not so good?

For instance, modern medicine keeps many folks around longer than could have happened in the past. In putting together information for my graduating class (1962) I discovered that life expectancy that year was 69 years. Today it is 78.6 years. I personally would hate to go back to the days of “bleeding” patients and pre-antibiotic days when, if the disease didn’t kill you, the cure might.

There were no vaccines for smallpox, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, whooping cough, or chickenpox. Neither were there antibiotics, lack of which was probably the cause of more deaths than battlefield wounds. I am thankful for modern medicine and the knowledge of our medical professionals. It is difficult to think back to the days when cleanliness was NOT a given, and doctors didn’t wash their hands between patients, let alone between procedures on the same patient.

As for our food, while I appreciate growing my own and remember the days when nearly everything on our dinner table was grown on our farm, I appreciate even more the inspections that improve the quality and safety of our food chain. Also, the quicker methods of transportation that allows us to have oranges and tomatoes year round, rather than just when they are at their peak, are much appreciated.

I was 8 before we had electricity and 15 before we had an indoor bathroom. Today’s youth cannot appreciate going out on a cold, dark night in February, perhaps in the snow, just to “take care of business.” Of course, we didn’t do that either-we had what was called a “pot” or a “slop-jar” inside for use on those cold, dark nights. However, in the cold, bright morning, someone had to carry it out and empty it! That was one of many chores we kids had in those days.

Farmers used horses before the invention of the tractor, and farming was very hard work then, compared to today. It may be just as difficult today, but in a different way. Farmers can get much, much more done now than they could then, which requires fewer farmers to produce more.

No electricity meant no TV, no refrigerator (unless it was a gas-powered one or an icebox), no radio unless it was battery operated, no running water because there was no electrically powered pump, and no hot water unless you heated it on the gas or wood stove. For that matter, no electricity meant no washing machine, our mothers and grandmothers used a washboard. The thing I would miss most if we did not have electricity is air conditioning. Oh, my!

Most homes did not have central heating; there was a stove in a couple of rooms, or a furnace with one big register in the main room in the house. The further away from either heat source the colder you were. Bedrooms were unheated. Perhaps that is why I still like to sleep in a cold room. I think it is healthier not to keep one’s home too hot. Most folks over-heat their homes. Those who know that I do not keep my house hot have to dress for the cold when they visit, or ask for a sweater or blanket while there. I refuse to sweat so they can be warm. That is NOT being selfish or inconsiderate, it is being “environmentally aware,” conserving energy.

One of the chores I had was ironing what seemed to be mountains of clothes. This was in the days before even steam irons, so the clothes had to be dampened, rolled up and put aside before ironing, or you had to spray them while ironing. There was no ‘wash and wear’ fabric, it all had to be ironed, or worn wrinkled. Wearing wrinkled clothes simply was NOT done!

As for automobiles and roads, before the ignition key, cars had to be hand-cranked to get them started. I guess my folks had one of these, but I was too young to remember it. Most of the roads were dirt-no 4 lane highways then, and not much was graveled even. If it was muddy or deep with snow, you simply stayed put.

Today’s youth read the lighted screen of their phone or touch pad. Before electricity we read by kerosene lamp or lantern, both of which were an improvement over candles.

Yes, there was a lot to like about the good old days, but lots to dislike as well. I guess before we get too caught up in reminiscing over the “good old days,” we need to remember that they weren’t necessarily all good and be thankful for all that we have in the good days of the present.

But, just so your grandchildren understand that life was not always like it is now, take them to the museum. Better yet, tell them stories of the ‘way it was,’ to bring to life the days of the past. They need to realize that life can be lived, and lived well, without a cell phone.

 

Julie Johnston is photographer at The Ledger.

 

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