Remember These?

This is way off topic, although I’m amused that Tom did something similar last week (I’d already written the first draft of my post – great minds thinking alike, obviously.)

It was prompted by a random thought one recent evening: it’s been forever since I had to change a burnt-out lightbulb. Remember those? The 60W incandescent bulbs that always seemed to blow at the least opportune time (not that there’s a great time for a bulb to blow) and sent you scrambling, maybe stealing one from another lamp? Or waiting until you’re down to that last working bulb on the ceiling light before you dug out the ladder to deal with it? We also had chandeliers, and a single bulb being burnt out used to drive me nuts … is any of this resonating? Mine are all LEDs now (remember the between-times with those heinous spiral CFL bulbs with their icy light?) I feel like the blown-bulb routine is as foreign to my kids as the lamp-lighters from the Victorian era.

The modest house I grew up in had a coal cellar door on the outside – leading, of course, to an actual coal cellar which we kids used to dare each other to go into in the basement, all dark and spidery and filled with lumps of coal, next to a decrepit coal furnace they’d never bothered to haul out. The random toilet just sitting there all alone and weird in the basement. The wringer washer I remember my mom using until I was maybe 10 and they upgraded to a fancy top-loader with an agitator. The attic fan (we had no A/C as kids, almost nobody did) that shook the entire house at night when it was on, a deep, constant rattle-and-hum that was as much a feeling as a sound, lulling me to sleep. The last old house we lived in had one, and I used to turn it on sometimes just to feel that again. Some of the kids’ friends had houses with sleeping porches (screened porches on the upper floors) that were mostly used for the kids playing “camp out” during sleepovers, whereas in my childhood they were a thing families used to escape the stifling indoors.

I fell down a rabbit hole of these memories – the men who used to drive around in old flatbed trucks selling fruit (singing out “strawwww… berrrrriesssss! Getcher strawwwberries!”) or the knife-sharpener in his huge, dark panel truck, I remember standing in line for his services with my mother’s good scissors and kitchen knives, the sound of the grinding stone. Again, if they’d been horse-drawn carts it wouldn’t seem any more old-timey to my kids.

Gas ovens you had to light with a match (that terrifying WHOMP!) Grubby kids sitting on windowsills that were no doubt chock-full of peeling lead paint. Endless hot summer evenings filled with endless games of hide and seek. Fireflies by the thousands. Metal roller-skates on chalk-drawn asphalt. The milk man, dropping bottles of milk in the box on the front porch. Flexible Flyer sleds in winter.

My sister and I fighting over who got to ride on the deep back ledge of our 66 Dodge Coronet, underneath the rear windshield, while my dad drove. Kids piled in the beds of pickup trucks (country) or by the dozen in the back of those giant-ass station wagons (suburbs.) Nobody wore seatbelts. It’s a miracle we survived.

Playgrounds – on blacktop with tall metal slides that scorched your legs in summer, metal monkey bars to knock some baby teeth out, those carousels we’d fling each other off of … I’m assuming modern playgrounds are made of soft rubber and nothing’s more than three feet tall.

I could go on, but I won’t. Instead I ponder what things from my kids’ childhoods will seem quaint or mystifying to the young ‘uns when they’re my age. “Remember when you used to carry those clunky mobile communication devices around in your hand, before they were imbedded in your skull at birth?” (Yikes.) Will our current automobiles seem ridiculous? Most likely. Maybe they’ll all be hovercraft or something.

Do you have vivid memories from childhood (or later) that seem museum-worthy now?

  • Koyel says:

    Sitting on the floor by my parents’ bed in the main bedroom to talk on the landline to my high school friends. Giant CRT TVs that could heat a small room as they played. The Internet disconnecting every time someone called the house. And ugh those CFL bulbs….

    What a wonderful post, March 🙂 I loved reading this one.

  • Musette says:

    This is such a marvelous post! Our Knife and Scissors Man rode a specially fitted trike, with the whetstone on the back. You could hear him coming from a block away, the ‘squeee-squaw’ of the whetstone (which moved as he pedaled) signaling it was time to haul out your knives and scissors. I loved that sound.

    • Musette says:

      oh – and the cellar. So. A quick story – my grandmother had that identical cellar (and what the hell was it with the toilet?) – we were all terrified of that cellar.
      50 years later my cousin hosted an Open House in my grandmother’s house – it was lovely…until she wanted to show us (dun..dun…dun) THE CELLAR.
      We all shied like ponies – fully-grown adults, every last one of us, teetering at the door to that space…
      she’d had it redone as a rec room and the lone toilet was now modestly enclosed in a powder room.


      • Tom says:

        I forgot- we had one of those as well. Right at the base of the cellar stairs off the kitchen. I guess back in the day the coal dude would back the truck up and dump it down the chute. The man who had the house before my parents bought it modernized the place (for good and bad- good was a large two-car garage addition that would fit his Imperials, new wiring, plumbing and bathrooms in 50’s splendour; bad was taking out the fireplaces because he thought they were unsafe and unnecessary, with that new groovy oil heat.) He made the coal cellar into a cold cellar, which we used to store veggies and fruits and the various preserves my mom put up when she decided to out Martha before there was a Martha.

      • March says:

        Yeah what is UP with that toilet?!? The last house we lived in (with the kids) also had one! Which we never used. In a somewhat creepy basement I just learned to put up with.

    • March says:

      Oh, how fabulous is THAT, I would have loved that!

  • carole macleod says:

    I loved all these memories. Here’s some more:

    Fishing, and using a worm on a hook

    hunting for salamanders in the depth of a cool forest-that smell of ancient rotting trees and deep alluvial earth. Reminds me of Dans Tes Bras.

    Leaded gasoline

    Our playground was built in the middle of a pulp mill, heavy water site, and an oil refinery. The smell of sulphur reminds me of recess and fudge sicles. The Gulf oil refinery sent in two workers who dug a hole, and inserted a duck and a pig on a spring. They were like…swings, I guess-you’d sit on them and rock back and forth till you either fell off or another child claimed the spot and then there was every chance you’d land on super rough concrete.

    Great post!

    • March says:

      Oh, I remember those rocking animals on springs! I loved them, so did my kids! I wonder if they’re still a thing… that sulphur smell story is wild! That is a smell I realllllyyyy do not like. There’s a town near here with sulphur-y water and I can’t deal.

  • Dina C. says:

    What a wonderful load of vivid memories, March! I can picture them so well. We never lived in a house old enough to have those features, but one set of grandparents had a really old house. I do remember being in the “way back” of a station wagon that my family had. I had those metal clamp-on roller skates before getting my fancy disco ones in the 80s with Kryptonic wheels. I loved roller skating.

    • March says:

      I loved roller skating too! Sometimes we’d go to skating rinks which was fun, but mostly it was in the street — mine had white boots but always those teeth-jarring metal wheels.

  • Kathleen says:

    Everything you describe resonates! Your basement sounds very much like the basement in the house I grew up in. The ice cream man driving down the street on a warm summer evening, ice cream treats for 10 cents!

    • March says:

      I thought about the ice-cream truck, but our last neighborhood still had one, the kids LOVED it. But the price was $1 and the treats were a bit melty … they still loved them though.

    • Dina C. says:

      We have a couple different ice cream trucks that still come by our street almost every night. But, boy! The prices have gone up. Now it’s $3.50 or $5.00 for for some of those treats.

  • Tara C says:

    My grandmother had a gas-powered wringer washer, it was incredibly loud and I was always afraid my fingers would get crushed in it. It was down in the root cellar which had a dirt floor and was dark and musty. I loved the freedom of growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. No helicopter parenting for me thanks.

    • March says:

      Ahhhhh, that root cellar smell! Yes, we had so much more freedom. And I was TERRIFIED of the wringer washer.

  • alityke says:

    There’s the poem that gets resurrected on FB regularly wondering how growing up in the 60’s & 70’s we survived. All true.
    Yes it was a much more carefree time but would I really have been happy to find one of my boys riding the coal belt or using it as a walk way? No way!
    I was never keen on using the communal outside toilets when I stayed at my aunt & uncles house. Yep even in the 60’s they didn’t have a loo or bathroom. Needed a pee in the night? Hold it til morning or use the bucket in the corner. At least it had a lid!
    Not sure if kids still make rope swings from old trees that are on slopes anymore. Or make carts with trays, pram wheels & rope to steer that we raced down the street towards the main road.
    As far as indoors stuff how about pulling the chain on toilets where the flush water came down a pipe & the cistern was 6 feet above the loo & lead lined?
    Who remembers how to build an open coal fire & how to bank it up to stop it going out overnight?
    We all slept tight under cellular nylon blankets with a burning open fire below!

    • March says:

      Rope swings! I loathed outdoor toilets (at camp etc.) and am glad I didn’t have to use one often … I’ve used those old fashioned cistern toilets but never had one!

      • alityke says:

        Our first house, bought in 1986, still had one of those cisterns!
        My mum’s house was built with huge bathroom but still had an outside loo.

  • cinnamon says:

    Oh, that gas oven womp. Thinking back to it makes me twitchy. Sledding in the pine forest over bumps, falling off, getting bruised. Turning right around and going to the top for another go. Amazing. Coming off the metal monkey bars and falling on to the black not very soft matting. Lying there breathless for a few mins and then getting up and doing it right. Climbing trees and then trying to figure out how the hell to get down …

    • March says:

      My dad still had that old stove when he died, kitchen always smelling faintly of gas … we used to sled in a cemetery with a great hill but you had to dodge the random tombstone lol. I did climb trees, but only the easy ones and not tooooo high.

  • Portia says:

    So many resonations March.
    A few things I loved and miss.
    Mum had a doughnut making contraption. It was so fun and we loved it.
    Swinging on the Hills Hoist circular clothes drying apparatus.
    The back shed where Dad and his mates would congregate on Saturday afternoons for beers and occasional building of things. We made a bird aviary one year with everyone helping, arguing, laughing and it was amazing fun.
    Portia x

    • March says:

      Oh! I didn’t realize you could swing on those Hills Hoists! There were a TON in our neighborhood growing up! That back shed situation sounds absolutely glorious, I’d have loved that. And the donuts of course.

  • Maya says:

    Great post March! I did a lot of “oh yes”. Things I hadn’t thought about in a long time. I just rechecked your post. It’s actually a yes to everything you mentioned. Tom’s post too. I loved picking and eating wild black raspberries! Who cared about getting legs and feet all scratched up getting to them. 🙂

    • March says:

      Oh goodness, eating the wild raspberries, I’d forgotten all about those! Yes, leg scratches were just … a daily thing. The price to be paid.

  • Tom says:

    Milk deliveries. In winter you had to make sure to grab it before it closed.

    A rooftop aerial for the TV that had to be pointed towards Hartford or Springfield to get the local channels, and Boston and (sometimes if was super clear) NY to get others. Ours had a power control which was for the time, pretty snazzy. No remote, so no channel surfing.

    Playing in the neighborhood in the woods behind peoples houses until the dinner bell (a literal bell, shaped like the Liberty one and not too far off in size) told us time to get home. Like now. Gorging on the wild black and raspberries that grew back there.

    And in case you’re feeling too nostalgic, growing up by two rivers that were so polluted not only could you not fish them, you couldn’t even swim in them. Every year some Frosh from Smith or Amherst would get it into their head that Paradise Pond was too darned paradisiacal not to swim in and end up at Cooley Dickinson having every office rinsed out..

    • March says:

      That rooftop aerial with power control is SNAZZY! (Hey, remember those giant console TVs?!?! We never had one, I was jealous.) And yeah, I get the river thing … the Potomac was Hazmat territory, and even now, seeing people windsurf or even take a dip I go, you’ll die!! But it is all so much cleaner.