Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Baby boomer memories: Things I used to do but don't do any more

Bookmark and Share

Cheap Classified Ads

Baby boomer memories: Things I used to do but don't do any more

I still call the refrigerator the "ice box." My wife and kid laugh at me all the time.

"Is the ice box the freezer dad?" my son asks.

"Everyone's a comedian," I reply.

We used to have a big box with a white insulated plastic or steel lining. Probably steel painted white, or maybe porcelain. Every few days, a truck would carry in a block of ice using a large metal clapper shaped like rounded tongs. He would drop it in the box and we'd have meats and other fresh foods in there.

That was back in the days when peddlers used to roam the neighborhood streets in Chicago. The guy who pushed the cart with the large wheel that turned as he rolled the wood and metal contraption down the center of the street walking slowly and calling out "Knives. Knives. Knives." He used to sign a song too, but I don't remember how it went or what he was singing about.

Imagine a guy walking down the middle of the street with a collection of butcher knives hanging from a wire like a clothes line over the cart?

"Fall to the ground face down, sir. Spread your legs and arms and keep your palms down. You will only get one warning before we start firing, sir."

Clothes lines. Clothes pins. Every home had two metal "t"'s in their yards, one pipe cemented into the yard at one end, and another at the other end of the yard. The top was crossed by another pipe. And there were little metal loops under each cross pipe. Lines made of nylon or string stretched from one cross to the other. Usually about four lines. A bag with clothes pins hung at one end, bulging with wooden clothing pins that were snapped together with a metal spring. Those were the good ones. The older ones were a single piece of wood carved into a clasp that slipped over the clothing item and the line.

Drying out the clothes after a wash in the scrubber was a family affair. Mom would have the kids help as we stretched out the bed sheets and folded them over a line, snapped a clothes pin at each end and one in the center. That allowed them to dry in the sun. When there was sun.

For some reason, it was always sunny when I was a kid. Safer neighborhoods. Less to fear. Less talk about gruesome violence and killings. And nothing about race relations. There was only one race as far as most people were concerned. Blacks were people you read about when studying the Civil War.

We didn't have dish washers. Instead, we had a plastic "box" that we placed in the sink and filled with warm water and some soap. Each day after dinner, we'd scrape the dinner scraps into the garbage -- no liners, just a plastic container that had to be hosed out each week. And then we would put the plates, glasses and dishes into the plastic box and wash them by hand. 

We had a wire frame where we would line each plate standing up held in place by a row of hard plastic covered steel wire bands. They'd dry and then we'd put them in the cabinet until the next meal.

Someone invented a "plate" with a down pointing lip so that the plates would drip dry on the plastic plate and the lip would hang over into the sink and the water would roll down into the sink. Before, we'd put a folded towel underneath to catch the dripping water from the plates and glasses.

Not everything could be easily wiped dry.

We had the black and white box TV set with the round TV tube. We'd turn it on and wait for the tubes inside the TV to warm up and a light would form a dot in the center of the gray screen and then expand into a gray then black and white picture. When we closed it, it would snap to a small star burst that disappeared into a tiny dot in the center of the screen.

Every time you changed the channel, you had to get up off the coach, walk to the TV set and switch channels turning the tuner.

Then you'd sit down and get back up to move the rabbit ear antennas on top of the TV until the picture came in clearer. It never was "clear." It was always "that's better!"

We had one telephone. Heavy black with a black chord wrapped in electrical cloth-like covering.. The long cord was about 10 inches in length and you had to stand by the phone. It didn't move. You dialed using a ring dialer putting your finger into the numbered holes and turning it in a circle to the silver clip, then lifted your finger out and the dial would turn back into place in a snap. You would dial 6 numbers. Everyone's phone number began with two letters, usually representing a neighborhood. Raveswood5 3487  ... or RW5 3487.

There were all kinds of neighborhood extensions you would use and that's how you remembered everyone's number.

Of course, it was easier to just yell out your kitchen window into the kitchen window of the neighbor. 

"Hey Esther. When you come over, bring the peanut butter and the Wonder Bread!" Mom would cheer.

Mom and Esther would place one of two pieces of white Wonder Break on a plate in front of the kids and spread butter on it. And then they would pour white sugar on it and we'd eat that for lunch. Peanut butter was a luxury. One of the great inventions we enjoyed in the 1950s.

In the background, if you had some money, you might have a large box that was a radio. And the voice would introduce orchestra songs during the day. Some news. And stories and plays read by the day's Hollywood and New York actors and actresses. We loved listening to stories on the voice box.

One day the gas company came but to seal the coal shoot on the side of the house. It was a black heavy wrought iron cover sidewalk level usually in the front of the house. A coal truck would stop and someone would shovel coal into a pale and then carry it to the shoot. Open the shoot and pour the coal in. I don't recall that lasting long when I was a kid. I remember when it was a big deal to have a large tank installed that was filled with some kind of heating oil. Then later, it was replaced by gas pipes.

Only the luxury homes in the 1960s were built with Central Air Conditioning. It was like owning a Mark I Lincoln Continental. But many families managed to buy an air conditioner box that was placed inside a window in a room. The air conditioner would chill that one room. And run all day. Water would drip from the outside grill into the garden on top of the garden snakes that were common, too.

It was actually called a "Garter Snake." I think it was called that because the cris cross yellow pattern on the snake's back looked like a garter snap.

They didn't bite but they sure were abused.

We had a push mower. A gasoline mower was one of those luxuries only the rich later enjoyed. And in the Fall, we raked the leaves into a pile over the curb into the street and then at night lit them on fire until they burned down to black charred ashes. The smoke from the small piles of leave fires that dotted the streets as far as the eye could see were memorable. Not nauseating at all.

One day, the City of Chicago sent an "Alderman" to explain that the community was going to regulate when we could burn the leaves. All during the same few weeks. Eventually, burning leaves was outlawed.

Our family would also get together at 6 pm and sit together around the dinner table and enjoy a dinner meal together where we would talk. That would last about an hour.

Today, the dinner table is just a convenient place to put the laptop and the ethernet box that plugged into the wall socket to bring in the Internet. There are wires everyplace, now. Corners of counters are filled with them. We have a dish washer that has to be replaced about every six years. A refrigerator with a built in freezer. When the ice box was replaced by the rounded white refrigerator, they added a top freezer area. Later, we could by a storage freezer box where we could store bulk purchases of meat and also store the plastic bags of grape leaves that we picked that my mom used to make grape leaves stuffed with rice and lamb.

The air conditioner goes on and off by itself. I don't even notice it, except when it is too hot outside. The TV's are always on with someone chatting on the flat screens constantly. Little green and red lighted dots stay on at night glowing the night with an eerie LED mist.

It's a different world. That's for sure.

-- Ray Hanania