Friday, February 22, 2013

Travels with Dad: The Way It Was

Today is going to be mostly a photo essay, with a few tidbits that I picked up along the way during our visit to Heritage Village - which sounds like a retirement community - but it's a 21-acre compound in Largo, Florida run by Pinellas County Parks and features a gaggle of turn-of-the-twentieth-century buildings from the 1900s and a few older, some newer.

It seems to me to be a near-perfect opportunity for us to see just how far we've come as a society and to let those whippersnapper kids we've got know just how easy they've got it, so they'd better shape up.

The photo up top is Dad pointing to a railway depot run by the Railway Express Agency, which also happened to be the first company for which he worked. He drove a truck delivering freight that came off the trains in the early 1950s.

Back in the day, pretty much every store was like a Wal-Mart, carrying just about anything and everything your household might need. And in case anyone is interested, that's a 1921 Dodge Brothers automobile parked out front.

The store would usually house the town's switchboard, as well. If you wanted to place a call, kids, you would pick up your phone (see photo) which would automatically ring the operator who would then connect you to an outside line and dial for you. (Note on the phone pic there's no dial.) Back then, *all* your calls were 3-way calls and there was no extra charge. The town switchboard operator also doubled as the town gossip and their information was pretty reliable, considering they could eavesdrop on every call, if they wanted.

Next comes your kitchen. You get one cupboard, seen in the left foreground. Your refrigerator - called an icebox, because it was cooled by one honkin' big chunk of ice - is in the left background. Your stove, in the right background, was usually a wood stove. The little dustpan you see leaning against the door was for cleaning out the ashes. Your countertop space is in the right foreground. No luxury granite counters here.

When it was time for laundry, you lugged everything into the laundry room - outside - and dropped it, one at a time mind you, into a tub filled with water that was usually heated on top of a small fire. You dropped in your corrugated washboard (Google it, kids), then scraped a bar of soap help in a wire trap against it until it was clean. Then you rinsed and wrung it out by hand and hung it on a line strung between two trees.

In those days, men's shirts didn't come with collars. Collars were stiff cardboard and linen creations, sold separately (about a dime apiece). A man would wear the same shirt for three days in a row, but he'd put on a fresh collar every day.

Next you see an old-fashioned, seven-foot long tub in its original condition, circa 1907. You would only bathe about once a week because it was thought that "getting wet all over" would leave you vulnerable to all manner of illnesses; chills, ague, consumption, etc. And in this tub, you could wash three children at a time.

Church was usually just once a week, unless a revival preacher was in town, and it was on Sunday morning. There was no coffee or lattes in the lobby, no plush cushions on the pews or theater seating, no worship band, no audio/video presentations ... just a big wooden box with great acoustics that make a few people singing sound like a gigantic choir.

And God said it was good.

Women didn't get to go out and work with the men in those days, and when the chores were done, they couldn't be allowed to just sit and take their ease because, you know, "idle hands are the devil's playground" and all. So women all took up a hobby that occupied their hands ... knitting, crochet, cross-stitch, calligraphy, and some type of musical instrument (generally piano if a family was wealthy enough to own one). With no television and no radio (no iPod, iPad, Gameboy or Internet, either), music was the primary diversion back in the day, and everyone knew how to sing.

They were certainly simpler days, and probably better days, in so many ways. But there were definitely drawbacks. It took a long while for bathrooms to move indoors because, "who wants that stuff *inside* the house?" Segregation and prejudice relegated whole races to second class and worse living standards. (Still does, in some places.) And unless you were lucky enough to be born into a wealthy family, every day was a scratch for survival, living hand-to-mouth.

But still, it was a more innocent time. People didn't need to lock their doors. Gangs meant groups of friends hanging out together, not seeing how much trouble they could stir up. Profanity was never heard in public and rarely heard at home. 

As science and technology relentlessly drag us into the future, let's remember those days with fondness, and then, perhaps, also be thankful they are behind us. Because today can be pretty awesome, as well.

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