Random Thoughts

Things we remember

... memories of things no longer known by the current generation

by Silver Stringers

When you get to "our" age (let's say 70ish) you can remember back when there were a lot of "things" that we were used to that are no longer here. Some we miss, some we don't.

The other day I heard a low horn sound from somewhere in my current town of Arlington. Up to the 50s that often was the signal for a fire. If you counted the hoots (like 1 then 4) you looked on the list hanging by the phone and said "There's a fire in Noroton Heights near the High School." I don't know when we stopped getting fire signals. Maybe smaller towns with volunteer firemen still sound them. Anyway, I kind of miss it.

When I was in high school I was overjoyed to buy a really nice sliderule from an older friend. It was a Pickett & Eckel deci-log-log magnesium base rule. That accompanied me through college and on through grad school in physics. Even working at Brookhaven National Labs on Long Island I was using it. Now, it is an antique! I gave mine to my son, hoping that some day the Antiques Roadshow will estimate it as valuable. Here is a picture of the same model:

I was 78 in November and have lived in Melrose for forty-five years. When I was a boy, living in Everett, at noon the fire station on Hancock Street would loudly sound its horn. This meant, time for lunch as we had no other means to tell time. I made my way home to Ma and lunch, climbed the back steps to the porch and went in to the warm kitchen.I stuffed my jacket into the closet, something I had been repeatedly told not to do. Ma, exasperated, dug my jacket out of the closet, marched to the back door and flung my jacket out into the yard. No words were spoken but my eyes fill at this very old memory.

I was one of the poor, unfortunate who grew up in the days when there was a limited amount of entertainment, except that which we originated ourselves. Yes, son, we could not sit and control the type of entertainment which we watched ...TV had not been invented, nor had tape recorders been imagined.

It was the era of the movie houses. Sometimes the movie was the same for seven days. In other theaters a different movie came in mid-week, but always, on Saturday afternoons they catered to the younger set.(I don't know why they called us a set, but they did, like we matched, but only in age and some sizes).

The ways by which they catered to us were definite 'hooks'. One was the poster depicting a popular hero of the Western movie along with a buxom beauty. Some posters were pasted into a frame where there was heavy pedestrian traffic. In addition, cardboard posters were placed in the windows of some stores. The store owners were given a few free passes to the theater to compensate them.

When Saturday came, you and your friends were convinced you had to see the latest edition of Tom Mix, Buck Jones or Hopalong Cassidy. To the feature movie, they added the Pathe News, and a bit of comedy by Laurel and Hardy, or a similar comedy team. It was not until years later that movie houses decided to capitalize on the captive audience by selling candy and popcorn, which was often recycled.

After leaving the theater, one or more of the group would recall the part where the hero would hitch up his pants, draw his gun and declare, "Okay, Buster, the gig is up. We've gotcha!" His guns (one on each hip) would be surrendered. At this point, the gripping drama would be over and recognized by the cheering audience. It did not take much to recognize our hero had bested the evil one. We were easily pleased, and the bad guys never ever won anyway.  

Modern technology has dramatically changed the way we communicate with each other. Today it's e-mail, text-messaging and cell phones. Touch tone phones did not exist thus we made calls using a phone with a rotary dial. With cell phones making and receiving calls is possible anywhere and anytime.

I remember making phone calls from a telephone booth. These booths had a door you closed for privacy and a seat. Where would the mild mannered reporter Clark Kent go these days to change his clothes? He would be unable to find a phone booth to enter as Clark Kent and exit as Superman.

With this article in mind, I leafed through the catalog from The Vermont Country Store - Purveyors of the Practical & Hard-To-Find.

Herbal Horehound Drops caught my eye - my father liked them but his daughters preferred Smith Brothers Cough Drops, even though they left your tongue black.

Then there was the penny candy - how much time we would spend trying to decide how to spend our nickel; mary janes, root beer barrels, necco wafers, wax bottles, Chiclets, walnettos - so many choices.

How about a stainless steel stove-top percolator, a manual Olivetti typewriter or an electric Smith Corona typewriter, wind-up watches, batiste hankies (does anyone use cloth hankies anymore?), a manual food grinder that clamped on to a shelf, Cuticura, Lifebuoy and Camay soaps and Fuller hairbrushes and mops, cod liver oil and Dr. Sloan's Liniment, and what mother did not receive "Evening in Paris" perfume from her children at Christmas?

I wonder what I will find in the next catalog?

February 6, 2009

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