The good old days

You will sometimes hear the elderly say, “Take me back to the good old days”‘back to the days when reading, writing and ‘rithmetic were taught to the tune of a hickory stick. Back to the days when everyone thrilled to love songs filled with memories of a girl in calico writing on her sweetheart’s old-time slate, “I love you, Joe.” Back to the days when Mamie O’Rourke danced the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York and even to the days when I, too, was a kid. Those were the days of youth when outside of a new sweetheart now and then play was the centerfold of our lives. Play, that universal occupation of youth which generally began shortly after breakfast each day and lasted until we were forced by an order from the commanding general of the household to get into the house clean up for supper, get our lessons and get into bed. And the saddest part of this command was on Saturday night when it included the order to get into that No. 2 wash tub and take a bath. In thinking of those early days I remembered a column I wrote years ago where I was telling how people in the country who had to haul water for Saturday night bathing were very conservative with the amount of water poured into the washtub they used as a bathtub. Shortly thereafter, I read the story of a couple of country lads who by chance were spending their first night ever in a hotel room. Having grown up with the Saturday night washtub bath, they were amazed at the beauty of that white porcelain bathtub in their bathroom. One of the boys gazed at that pretty bathtub for a while and then said to his brother ‘Dang, I wish it was Saturday, I sure would like to take a bath in that thang. I also recalled an article I wrote telling that it was 1927 before our family had an electric refrigerator and a bathroom with one of those indoor flush toilets. In the years that followed I became so accustomed to these benefits of ‘in town’ living that I mistakenly assumed that most everyone enjoyed those same benefits. The realization of just how wrong I was in this assumption was brought to mind when a friend told me that in 1948 when she was four years old, her family lived on a farm near Love Field in Dallas and they still used the ‘out house’; had no indoor plumbing; carried water from the well into the house; still used the ice box ( with the drip pan that had to be emptied regularly), and got their milk from a horse-drawn milk wagon. Another friend told me ‘I lived a semblance of that myself in the mid-fifties. I was born and raised in the foothills of North Carolina in a handmade log cabin. We carried water from a spring across the road, and there were no indoor facilities. We bathed in a metal horse trough, and split wood for our woodstove and burned kerosene lanterns to read by at night. Our neighbors had modern conveniences, we didn’t, but I loved almost every minute of it. It was hard for me to believe that in the 20-odd years that had passed since our family first acquired those niceties of life, that there were some people still living as we did prior to 1927. Shortly after this conversation I read that before World War II, our country seemed almost primitive when compared to present standards. ‘In 1940, more than one-fifth of Americans still lived on farms; less than one-third of those farms had electric lights and only one-10th had flush toilets. The majority of Americans were renters. More than half of the households didn’t have a refrigerator, and 58 percent lacked central heating. Coal for stoves and furnaces was still the dominant fuel and was followed by wood in 23 percent of the households. ‘In many families, women spent six hours every week dusting floors, furniture and sills and more hours still washing wood ash or coal dust from curtains, blankets and clothing’and in rural areas more than 60 percent of households didn’t have inside running water.’ Now when looking back to those days, there is little wonder that we find most Americans living far better than their counterparts, even in the 40s, 50s and 70s. I have often said (though not always agreed with) that a possible majority of the retired elderly are better off now than they were when they were working. I know this to be true of those receiving both Social Security and government pensions. These two programs with their yearly cost of living increases plus the health care benefits of Medicare make the retirement years a sanctuary for many of the senior citizens. We find that those not yet ready for retirement are living in homes not only larger but they are stocked with appliances never dreamed of in those earlier days, i.e. such things as central air conditioning, microwave ovens, computers and telephone answering machines, to name just a few. With entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and food stamps, even the poor are living better than they once did and those who feel that this is untrue are perhaps not considering the fact that their wants have increased because of the availability of more luxury items, thus making yesterday’s luxury item today’s necessities. This statement can be more readily understood when you consider the fact that back in 1976 where a typical supermarket had 9,000 products, today they might carry more than 30,000. (Just think of how much space a grocery store has to give cereals alone). I just read that back in the days that I so well remember, milk sold from nine cents to 15 cents a quart, sirloin steak from 27 to 42 cents per pound and breakfast cereal from 15 cents to a high of 25 cents a box’and therein lies the trouble for the elderly-‘we remember too far back. Young folk of today pay from $4-$6 for a pound of sirloin and $3-$4 a box for cereal and think nothing about it. Now in going back to where we started with the elderly saying, ‘Take me back to the good old days,’ I think it is doubtful that any of we oldsters would trade today’s comforts for the hardships we put up with in those long ago days. Consider that thought as you read the early days of: Mama’s Mama Mama’s mama, on a winter’s day, Milked the cows and fed them hay. Slopped the hogs, saddled the mule, And got the children off to school. Did a washing, mopped the floors, Washed the windows and did some chores. Cooked a dish of home dried fruit, Pressed her husband’s Sunday suit, Swept the parlor, made the beds, Baked a dozen loaves of bread, Split some wood and lugged it in, Enough to fill the kitchen bin, Cleaned the lamps and put in oil, Stewed some apples she thought might spoil, Churned the butter, baked a cake And then exclaimed, ‘For goodness sake! The calves have got out of the pen!’ Went out and chased them in again. Gathered the eggs and locked the stable. Returned to the house and set the table, Cooked a supper that was delicious, And afterwards washed all the dishes. Fed the cat, sprinkled the clothes. Mended a basket full of hose. Then she opened the organ and began to play ‘When you’ve come to the end of a perfect day! Bill Bodenhamer is a weekly columnist for the Brady Standard-Herald. Email him at

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