by Rima Magee
On a rainy Sunday afternoon, it feels good to slow down and compare our lives today with what they were in the past.
We have things so much better now — automatic washers and dryers, air conditioning, wall-to-wall carpets, a car or two in every driveway, high-speed roads, faster transportation, television and personal computers. Much of the past for us is something to shudder about, as is much of the present, yet sometimes it’s more pleasant to paint a rosy picture and sigh with nostalgia over what is gone.
I miss the smells of laundry hanging on the line, flapping in the breeze, perfumed by the sunlight and blossom-scented air — oh so fresh and clean. We would bury our noses in the towels as we took them down and folded them into the basket. Fresh baked bread from our own ovens. Coffee we ground ourselves — not because it was the gourmet thing to do, but because it tasted better than canned. (And the can was a full pound, then.) Orange blossoms poured forth their fragrance from acres and acres of groves – now replaced by tiled-roofed houses, miles on end. Rain-washed meadows dotted with wildflowers. Freshly mown hay.
I miss the sounds of birds, all kinds of birds, their songs combined in a melodious symphony. The chittering of squirrels and chipmunks, the far-off call of the coyote. Lost, lost to concrete and real estate development. They do still exist in what’s left of the wide-open spaces, but are gone from the cities and the edges of towns. Music from the radio once was something to dance to or sing along with. Oh, we get it on CDs now if we look long enough. Mostly, we get non-melodic noise.
I miss the sights of children flocking to school with no fear of danger. Of horse-drawn wagons piled with produce. Colorful seashells scattered along wide, clean sandy beaches. Fresh clean water tumbling across rocks in a stream and how good that water tasted when we cupped our hands for a drink. Today, the no-seeums inhabit the brooks and we grow ill if we drink it.
I miss the tastes of milk warm from the cow and eggs warm from the hen. Now we fear Salmonella. Oysters on the half-shell are a forbidden delight. Soda crackers sizzling in your mouth after being toasted on a woodstove lid. Real hot dogs without preservatives. Hamburgers like White Castle used to make and sell for a nickel. (The supermarket now has them in the freezer case.)
We used to go to movies every Saturday afternoon for the Mickey Mouse Club, (I was one of the original members in San Francisco), very moral westerns — Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, Ken Maynard and the rest. And the musicals like Naughty Marietta. Today's movies “tell it like it is” and we are treated to exploding cars, dismembered bodies, dripping blood and explicit sex. As for TV, we can watch the war as it happens in full dying color instead of having to wait for the morning paper to give us scant details. And we are treated to the joy of knowing that Hollywood weddings occur after the baby is born! And how interesting it is that the mother is not necessarily marrying the father!
When we were children, the falling snow was a delight; rain meant sloshing in puddles in our galoshes, and the wind piled up the leaves to jump in. A walk on a soft summer night meant finding fireflies to put in a jar to make "lanterns." (Do children still do this or are they in the house playing computer games?)
On hot, stifling nights it was common practice to take a blanket and a pillow and sleep under the trees. In New York, we slept on the rooftops or on the grass in Central Park. (Do that today and be ripe for a mugging or worse.) Sometimes we could park at the beach or lakeshore or by the river and enjoy the breeze through the windows. Now the beaches and lakeshores and riversides are blocked off by wealthy people who have built their gated homes on the shorelines.
To travel meant to board a train anywhere and go anywhere else. How restful it was to lean back and watch the countryside roll by – to see a farmer on his tractor wave – to hear the whistle blow as the train approached a crossing… Remember the Jack Benny program on radio and the laugh line – “ Anaheim – A-zu-sa – and Cuca-mon-ga!” Trains don’t stop there anymore. Now if you want to go by train, the station is maybe 40 miles away from your destination and you have to take the bus or rent a car to get where you’re going. Since every town has an airport, why not fly? It’s faster, isn’t it?
Maybe they didn’t roar down the highway as they do today, but cars were simpler then. If something went wrong with your car, you could fix it yourself. Fold the hood back, stand there staring into the innards, and soon there would be several men surrounding the car and speculating on its problems. “Shade Tree Mechanics,” they were known as, and you didn’t have to max out a credit card to get the car running again. (There were no credit cards in those days.)
How silly of me to think such things compensated for feminine slavery, long hours of work for little pay that made men old before their time, muddy dirt roads and single bathrooms.
Today is better. Of course it is! Thanks to technology.
Except on a wet Sunday when the falling rain cleans the air of technology-created pollutants for a little while which it does — once in a great while — in Southern California.