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?