Sometimes it seems like all people do is complain.
- Contemporary music is (Choose one): (A) Noisy, or (B) Shallow, or (C) Offensive.
- The American business environment is (Choose one): (A) Cut-throat, or (B) Impersonal, or (C) Greedy.
- My pastor is (Choose one): (A) Too Conservative, or (B) Too Liberal, or (C) Too Long-Winded.
- Politicians are (Choose one): (A) Power-Hungry, or (B) Beholden to Special Interest Groups, or (C) Unwilling to Listen to the Voters on My Special Issue.
And conflict, of course, is the political commentator’s bread and butter.
But don’t you—once in a while—just want to “make nice” and focus not on our differences but on the good things we enjoy together?
So Do I.
That’s not to say that there aren’t important issues which demand consensus. I’m just feeling mellow—and I thought that maybe, just for tonight, I would look instead at the wonderful things we have today that earlier generations could not have imagined.
So for tonight, my sentimental journey leads along the path of things better left behind—things that were commonplace in, say, 1950 but from which we’ve recovered quite nicely.
Here is my quick list of THINGS I DON’T MISS:On The Highway
Smudgepots. Does anyone else remember those black cannonballs (aka highway torches) used during road construction that sat, small flame burning, alongside a drop-off at the side of the road? I don’t know how many people drove over them, set their cars on fire and perished, flying off the road in a blaze of glory; but as a small child in the car with my dad, I was sure that would be our fate. How great it is that they’ve now invented reflectors, battery-operated warning lights, and those dreaded orange cones to keep us safe!
Baby Car Seats That Hung Over the Front Seat. Remember them? They were so cool! They had a baby-sized plastic steering wheel or a horse’s head, and sliding wooden balls. Kids loved them. Kids also got flung out of the seat and through the front windshield in a collision. That, because they hadn’t invented seat belts, or shoulder harnesses, or shatterproof glass, or child safety seats.
Windshield Washer Fluid. My dad, driving on a muddy road, carried a squirt bottle. Every so often, he would roll (yes, ROLL) down the window, reach out into the rain, and squirt the windshield so that he could see where he was taking us. Scary; inconvenient; but innovative, I’ve gotta hand it to him!
Cruise Control. I didn’t have this on my first car. My dad probably didn’t have it on his first six cars. So those 600-mile family road trips meant foot on the gas, all the way. (Thanks, Dad!)In The Home
Corded Telephones. Note I didn’t say “iPhones” or “Skype” or “Cell Phones.” I meant plain, old black rotary dial telephones that were—OMG!—stuck to the wall!! I mean, you could carry the handset (I said “handset”!) maybe ten feet away from the base unit; but that’s it. That didn’t much matter, though, because you could only talk for, say, seven minutes or whatever your mother said. That’s because the person on the party line might be needing to call a hospital or something.
Wringer Washers. My aunt had one just like this one. My cousin Patsy once stuck her arm in, trying to pull something out; and she got caught by the wringer and ended up with stitches that snaked up her arm like a crimson railroad track. Oh—and see that wringer at the top? That was how mothers squeezed the excess water out of laundry, before hanging it on the line to dry. (Did I mention that I don’t miss clothespins?)
One-Car Garages. One-car garages weren’t just for bachelors or for poor folks. Once upon a time, most houses had a one-car garage. Y’know why? Because families had just one car. Y’know why? Because mothers didn’t drive. Y’know why? Because mothers didn’t really get out much, except to church on Sunday.
Pressure Cookers. They were ingenious: They were very heavy, with a screw-on lid and a thick rubber gasket that ensured that the seal would not break during cooking. There was a valve that released the pressure, when the contents got too hot or boiled too rapidly. A roast could be cooked in, say, two hours instead of five hours. And the flavors were excellent! Pressure cookers are no
longer necessary because of two handy-dandy inventions that we’ve come to take for granted: (a) crockpots, that let you cook your roast slowly all day while you work; or (b) microwave ovens, which can cook that same roast in, say, fifteen minutes.
Rooftop Antennae. They were rusty; they were bent in the wind; they helped you to pick up the signals from the three television stations that broadcast, 18 or 19 hours a day, in your neighborhood. No cable. No satellite. No dish.
I think I could keep going all evening—citing one wonderful invention after another that makes our lives easier and belies the myth of the “good old days.”
Can you think of other commonplace items from the past which have gone— thankfully!—into the pages of history?