On Monday at The Elder Storytelling Place, Ann Berger wrote about the horse, Lady, who took her to school each day when she was a child. With the possible exception of a few families living in the rural wilds of Montana and Wyoming or the Amish people, it is unlikely that today's children have any first-hand knowledge about riding a horse for everyday transportation.
Until the latter part of the 19th century, when the industrial revolution kicked in, life had been pretty much the same for centuries. How parents lived, their children lived, as did their grandchildren and so on.
If a person of the 14th century were magically dropped into the 19th, most of tools and ways of life would be, if not exactly the same, at least recognizable. Now, so much has changed in just 100 years that we elders are the last generation to connect with that ancient past.
In the greater scheme of things, it is not so long ago that candles were used to light the dark. Many rural areas of the United States were not wired for electricity until the 1930s.
Even into the 1950s it was not entirely unusual, where I lived in Portland, Oregon, for some people to cook on wood-burning stoves. I got a taste of that in a country house I owned in the 1970s without an electric or gas stove. It may seem charming, but it wasn't the best fun I ever had, on a cold, winter morning, to get a fire going full blast before I could boil water for coffee. But that's how people had lived for eons.
There was a time up until 20 years ago that I was amazed, reading novels of the Victorian era, to know that people could expect to mail a letter in the morning and have it delivered across town the same afternoon. Of course, now we've improved on that with email, Twitter and Facebook and no young person would read those books with the the same amazement as I.
Before refrigerators, in our lifetime, there were iceboxes. (The Iceman Cometh and the kids get to suck on the small pieces he dropped.) At my house, we couldn't go away overnight unless the ice was almost gone because the drip pan would overflow.
Frozen foods are a mid-20th century invention. Before then, food rotted if it didn't get eaten within a week or so. When I was a child in the 1940s, every woman I knew canned food for the winter and all had basement shelves lined with beans, carrots, pickles, tomatoes, other vegetables, jams and jellies. I've read that old-fashioned canning is back in fashion now due to our Great Recession.
Unlike New York City, here in Portland, Maine, I am able to buy milk in glass bottles. But the plastic top is sometimes stuck and I use an old church key to pry it up. That's the only thing I use this tool for - what was once the only way to open a beer or soda can. I wonder if they're even made anymore.
Until the early part of the last century, if you wanted to hear some music, you had to make it yourself or wait for the band to show up on the 4th of July. For a long time after recordings came along, many middle class families still had pianos, just about every kid I knew took lessons and it was common for guests to gather around the piano after dinner on special occasions for a singalong. I miss that.
Do you remember when taking photos was an event? Even when I was a kid in the 1940s, it was reserved for special occasions – birthdays, graduations, a family outing to the beach. The number of photos on a roll of film never seemed to come out even with the flash bulbs which often fizzled without firing. And remember how we waited impatiently for the prints from the drug store a week later.
Children and young adults too today probably don't have any idea what a dial phone was, let alone party lines. And telephone booths are disappearing now too. I hope someone is saving a couple of them for a museum, especially the beautiful ones in New York City's Chinatown.
I never rode to school on a horse like Ann Berger who wrote the Monday story at The Elder Storytelling Place - we traveled by bus, trolley and later, car. But when the vegetable man and the tinker who sharpened knives and repaired cooking pots came down the alley each week, their carts were pulled by horses.
So many little bits of how we once lived and no longer do that will be lost to the mists of time when our generation's day is done. I'm sure you can recall some I've overlooked.
The Life (Part 2) series continues on PBS and they recently featured brain exercises. Here's a clip:
You can watch the full episode here.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ronni Prior: The Doll