Wednesday, October 3, 2018

LIVING THROUGH THE DECADES




When my wife and I attended college some forty years ago we enrolled in a class of Maine history, and as part of that class we had to locate and interview a person over seventy that had lived in Maine all his or her life.  We recorded these interviews and they became a part of the oral history collection at the university. 

Now I am approaching my eighth decade and I understand how the recollections older people have of the past give them a different perspective of the present.

Young people of today are incapable of relating to me because they cannot relate to my past experiences.   To them the present is all there is.    How could they relate to a time without cell phones, without computers and to a time without television?  


Today kids grow up with computer games.  I grew up with toy soldiers, cap guns and BB guns.   






We played football and baseball in a large field behind the Baptist church.   In the summer time I would leave the house soon after I got up and ate breakfast – usually cereal or toast – take off on my bicycle and hook up with friends;






then come home about noon, make a mayonnaise sandwich with a glass of milk and be gone again tell supper time.    Parents didn’t worry where their kids were – there really wasn’t much to worry about.  


Today, eight-year-olds can browse porn on their computer, but my buddies and I were pretty na├»ve; none of them had sisters so girls were a complete miserly to us.  We thought we knew how babies got in but weren’t sure how babies came out.   We had some wild misconceptions, but one thing we agreed on was young women with tits were great.   We would act totally stupid around girls. 



The telephones I grew up with went through a telephone exchange.  You picked up the phone and the operator would say ‘Number Please’ and then connect you with the person you were calling.  Our town was small and my aunt’s number was 123, my uncle’s number was 26 and oddly enough, I don’t remember our number.   You could pick up the phone and ask the operator for the time or you could tell her you would be out of town for a day and she would relay that to anyone calling your number.   We had a party-line and there were three people on our party – you might pick up the phone and find someone else talking, so you would hang up and check again later to see if the line was clear. The number of rings told you whether the incoming call was for you or one of the other party-line members.  My grandfather still had a candlestick phone in his room, 





but In Jackson, a bigger city, they had dial phones – I thought that was neat.   If you were traveling and needed to make a phone call you looked for a pay phone; you could find them in some service stations and usually there was a telephone booth somewhere in town.




Most of your communication was done by mail.   Post cards were a penny and stamps were three cents.  It usually took a week for a letter to go from the sender to the receiver and another week before you could expect a return.

The radio was the center of home entertainment and Philco was the big name in radio.   We had a large Philco radio and I looked forward to children’s programs from four to five each weekday: programs like The Lone Ranger, Sargent Preston of the Yukon and Sky King.   Wednesday night from seven to nine was mystery time with Boston Blackie, The Thin Man, The Shadow and the Green Hornet.   Then then there was Inner Sanctum, radio’s premier horror show.   On Saturday there was Straight Arrow, Big John and Sparky, Wild Bill Hickock and Space Patrol. 





Sometime during my late teen years portable, battery operated transistor radios evolved, but I never had one.  As a teen ager, at night, I would listen to country music on AM radio from Del Reo, Texas (the strongest station on the dial) and later at night the Black blues and rock stations out of Memphis.





There were no FM stations receivable in Rolling Fork, Mississippi during the forties and fifties. 

The Mississippi Delta was hot in the summer and we slept with our windows open.   We had a window fan and a small radiating fan.





I remember pulling the sheet over my head to get away from mosquitos then getting so hot I would kick off the sheet – the night would go on like that…  In the morning I would wake up with mosquito bites.  



I remember cars from the 1940’s that had starter buttons on the floor – you turned the key on and pressed the starter with your foot to start the car.   As technology advanced the starter button was moved to the dash.  I remember the Plymouth with the push button gear selection on the dash or on the steering wheel.  



There were no air conditioners in the early cars, but you could mount a cooling tube in the window that had a water bath and the forward motion of the car would push air across the water and into the car creating a cool damp interior.





  I didn’t get a car until I was seventeen.  I bought it with my aunt.  It was a 1952 Pontiac Chieftain.  





I had to rebuild the carburetor and replace the starter motor – If you had a car you had to learn to work on it.


I remember cars that no longer exist.  Cars with carburetors and distributors.  Names like Packard, Nash, Kiser, Henry J, DeSota, Hudson, Rambler, Studebaker…



I lived in a time before jet aircraft.   All passenger planes had propellers and flew under ten thousand feet at speeds less than two-hundred mph.   There was no one I knew that had ever flown in an aircraft.





It was in 1947 that Chuck Yeager finally broke the sound barrier – faster than 600 mph – in a rocket powered aircraft known as the Bell X-1.   In my early teens I built plastic models of military aircraft like the Corsair and the Hellcat. 


A different time – a different life: the south was segregated,





and wives were expected to be subservient to their husbands.   Just as there were definite racial lines there were definite gender lines.   


The changes I have seen in almost eighty years are remarkable.   The social, technological and cultural differences during my earlier life are totally unfathomable to young people of today – and yet I lived through them. 


This is by no means a comprehensive look at the life and the world that I experienced and lived through.  It only scratches on the surface.  


I sometimes feel as if I am an alien from another planet that has come to earth and trying to acclimate to a social order that I don’t fully understand. 

the Ol'Buzzard 


   


5 comments:

  1. I've never heard of car cooling tubes before! My father was not able to afford a vehicle until he was nearly 40 years old -- an old used Studebaker truck! Before that, he rode a big heavy bicycle, balancing his tool box on the big metal carrier on the front. I used to ride in that carrier too when I was little, sitting on a cushion so the metal bars didn't dig into my bum, LOL!

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    1. What kind of work did your father do?

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    2. At that point he was a self-employed carpenter. He had no formal training or credentials though so he could not work on any union sites. I remember him building lots of cabinets, fences and doing shingling.

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  2. I grew up with a party line (but not an operator) and our ring was one long and two shorts! I do still remember our phone number. I remember my mother speaking on the phone and telling our neighbour down the road to stop listening to her phone conversations. -Jenn

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  3. I remember all of these things, especially the hot Summer nights spent in a pool of sweat. And then there were iceboxes. I lived with my grandparents and they didn't have an electric fridge until I was in the fourth or fifth grade. We had weekly deliveries of ice. During the Summer, all the kids in the neighborhood would follow the ice truck for a block or so, getting slivers of ice from the iceman. Simple pleasures and fond memories.

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