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Saturday, April 16, 2011



With all the news of “going green, recycling and the urgency of not wasting and reusing, guess what? It is nothing new if you were born a baby boomer like me. Today’s younger set has no idea of what it was like when I was a kid or teenager at all. And if they did, they might be quite shocked and so here is my shock of what was done then.

When I was little and into my teenage years, there were no paper towels: They hadn’t been invented and what was used? Dish cloths, tea towels and clean washed old rags. Those rags cleaned up many a mess and were rewashed and rewashed till new ones had to be made. How were they made? People tore up old clean white sheets into pieces: Those pieces were the rags that were used.

Plastic hadn’t been invented yet either but there was vinyl. Everything was made out of wood, metal, glass, leather, fabric or vinyl. Drinking glasses were made out of glass as were pop bottles. I well remember my parents having a set of those different colored metal drinking glasses: Just to put my mouth to one set my teeth on edge! There were no Ziploc baggies yet and what was used? Bowls that were covered with plates that semi-fit. And there was aluminum foil which was greatly used.

Shoes were another story in itself as they were only made out of leather and so were sandals for girls. You had to take care of your shoes by polishing them with shoe polish that smelled to high heavens! I can remember polishing my brown and white saddle oxfords and trying not to get the white polish onto the brown part: Never did that well at all. When you went out to play, you had to wear your old school shoes and not the new ones: No one had tennis shoes at all except basketball players. We bought new shoe laces when the original ones wore out: Some were the norm while others became quite zingy! Worse was wearing those leather sandals because it never failed that I would step on a bee or get a stick caught in them. And guess what? You had to use white shoe polish on them too: That was the only color that they came in till I reached junior high when canvas flats came on the scene: What a welcomed relief that was if ever. There were patent leather shoes for women and girls but you had to put Vaseline on them and shine them or the patent leather would crack--- nothing like today’s patent leather at all.

Men’s shoes had to be polished and buffed. If the heels wore down, the shoes were taken to a shoe store so that they could have new heels put on them. But if the entire shoe bottom got bad, men had to have it replaced. Women’s heels had to have new heel tips put on: I couldn’t count the times I had that done as an older teenager.

Does anyone do this in today’s world? Of course not! People just go out and buy another pair of shoes and throw the old ones out. We didn’t: We kept the shoe repair stores in business.

One quirky thing I remember as a teenager was to go to the shoe repair shop and get taps put on my flats. Why? Everyone else was doing it—girls as well as boys. Guess we liked the sound we made as we walked the school halls. I can think of no other reason at all.

Back to things in the house: We had no cleaners like today. What was used was either homemade or bought at a store and the choices were limited. To clean windows you used window polish that came in a metal bottle: The polish was a pinkish-white. When you coated the windows with it, you let it dry and then you took a cleaning rag and wiped it off to see sparkling windows. There was furniture polish but nothing was in a spray can—yet! It like most everything else came in a glass bottle with the exception of Ajax, a cleaner that is still used today: It came in a metal can with holes on top.

Sweepers were kept for a long time and never replaced from what I remember. They were made to last forever it seemed. They were heavy, cumbersome and did have attachments but a broom was used lots of times even on the carpet or one of those push brush broom things. Kitchen floors were waxed and over a period of time, the wax had to be removed so that a new coat could be applied. No one seemed to replace their kitchen floors for they were expensive and well taken care of. I don’t ever remember seeing a sweeper set outside to be taken away: It just wasn’t done.

Most people had two sets of dishes: One for everyday use and one for special occasions. At my house, we had Fiesta for everyday use and oh how I loved those different colors: It just set my mind on fire. No one went out and bought extra anything such as bowls, platters or the like; you just used what you had.

Clothes were well taken care of and the ones made of wool were put away in the summer in a cedar chest or closet with moth balls [to this day I still love that smell.] If something got ripped, it was sewn and fixed and if kids outgrew their clothes, those clothes were either given away or passed down to other siblings. Clothing was not cheap then. But no one in my family ever darned anything such as socks: That was well before I was born. Still, socks and such were taken care of and sometimes worn even with a hole in the toe for your shoe covered it up. And you prayed that you wouldn’t have to take off your shoes less someone see that hole in your sock.

We didn’t have a television till I was about eight years old: They were so expensive and only the middle class could afford to buy one and it only showed things in black and white. Did we have to pay for services to our televisions? No! We all had antennas on our houses: They were huge metal things that looked like a huge kite gone wrong. But we had no cable and we had no bill. I remember when my next door neighbor got a colored television: The only colors it had were the primary colors of red, yellow and blue. Weird to look at. But if you had a black and white television, there was a fix for kids: There was a television show called “Winky Dink:” You could go to a hardware store or big store and get plastic with crayons to put over your television: You colored over that plastic and you could see color. Have we come a long way or what regarding televisions?

Phones were always black and you had to dial a number. All phone numbers when I was little had five digits whereas today we have more than ten to dial. And most families only had one phone. My family never did have a party line for which I was so grateful. A party line meant that you shared your phone line with a nearby neighbor and you never knew who it would be! I knew someone who had a party line and of course as a teenager, it was fun to eavesdrop on other’s conversations. By this time, phones started coming out in different colors and shapes: What a godsend that was. We had no cell phones much less ever thought of such a thing: We did what we were told to do as kids or teenagers [well, some didn’t] and knew what would be waiting for us if we didn’t mind—either a spanking or being grounded or worse.

Grocery stores only had paper bags: Plastic bags hadn’t come on the scene yet. Those bags were reused into things that held household goods or cut up by kids and made into artworks. And when you went to the grocery store, you would not find fifty varieties of baked beans: There were none. You had to buy pork and beans and make your own at home. Other beans came in cans but mostly they were in bags so that they could be cooked for long hours. In retrospect, there weren’t many choices when it came to buying canned food and there was only one mustard: It was the standard yellow type. There were no fast food restaurants because they hadn’t come on the scene yet. If you wanted to go out to eat, you went to a restaurant or got food at a drug store that had a soda fountain. When you were home, you ate what was served for dinner and if you didn’t like it, you didn’t have to eat it but I did know a lot of kids who were forced to eat yucky things: Glad I wasn’t one of them! No one had ever heard of pizza till I was in junior high school: You had to make it because it came in a box with the flour, sauce and cheese. Tacos? Alien as they weren’t around then either.

And neither were obese kids for we all played outside in all kinds of weather and we ran, jumped, played football or did the then-normal kid stuff. Staying inside was considered miserable. We made camps out of tree limbs, created our own playthings and saw the world from a different perspective.

I have witnessed so much in my life that has been invented and now, like others, I take it all for granted. We have become a throw- away society for we know that we can just go out and get more for after all, it’s cheap and easier than fixing the old. Or is it? Perhaps it is because today’s things are not made as well as they were when I was little. They were made to last at that time and that might be one big difference. When I go to the grocery store, I am more than baffled when I try to find a can of plain tomatoes: There is hardly such a thing but you will find fifty varieties of them. And yes, I have my cell phone with me and return home to watch a gazillion channels on my cable television. When I dial a regular phone number, it has at least ten numbers if not more. And let’s not forget computers for I am writing on one right now: How could we live without them in our lives? I did as a kid for I knew nothing of them.

Still, I find it hard to throw away things and if you did grow up in the time in which I did, you know exactly what I am talking about. It was the American spirit at that time to reuse, recycle and fix what you had. People were thrifty, conscious of their surroundings and what they used and wore. It’s a different world today and I don’t have to write that for you to know it is: We are in major overload of this and that and it gets tossed out and replaced. And therein is the sadness of it all for I knew a different time way back when. I can only hope that today’s push for “going green” takes hold for it just has to. So think about reusing, recycling and fixing what you have or the world will only be in a worse shape. You already have it: Use it!

Sherry Hill


  1. Good call, Sherry. Thanks for reminding us that just a few decades ago, we got along fine with fewer things. But, as you said, the things we had then were of better quality and we took care of them. But, also, at that time, one person - usually the man of the family - could earn enough to sustain the family. Now, two people both working can't seem to earn enough. Too often, no adult is the home for most of the day. As a result, the children get by the best they can with little supervision for many hours a week and the house is a wreck. And, most things that are needed can't be found - even if they're still working. So, back to the store to buy some more "cheap" things that will have to do ... for now.

  2. Thanks! And yes things were made better and most moms stayed at home: Mine didn't as she always worked. But I did have babysitters. In today's world it takes two parents to work in order to make it if one parent, then that parent is overloaded! And you're right: It's out to buy more cheap which is pitiful considering that companies know how to make things last---but they don't want to. It's called greed.