Memories of an age of civility

By Vivian Lawson Hogue

None of us knows how our years of life will contain memories that will pop up unexpectedly. Whether they are humorous, embarrassing, spiritual, comforting, horrifying or educating, most can be told for the truth, and some are “enhanced” or downright fictional! Truthful versions can become quite valuable as more years pass and generations are added, particularly regarding events, inventions, discoveries or developments.

It has been my pleasure lately for others to remind me of things we used to own, use or experience, particularly those that are not owned, used, or experienced anymore! I have written before of my late mother’s “artifacts,” including her bygone wringer washer that was plugged into a naked, hanging light with a plug-in. I can still hear her yelling from another room, “Keep your hands away from the wringer!” My mother could be heard three blocks away when calling us to supper, so I knew by the decibels that she meant business.

My “shirttail cousin” in San Antonio provided many examples that she recalled. She prefaced her suggestions using a word with which you are perhaps not familiar: “Luddite” — which means someone who is opposed or resistant to new technologies or technological change. However, it is not necessarily only technologies.

She began to recall telephone landlines (Does anyone say “telephone” anymore?). She said they are related to the lost art of conversation – speaking to another human being, hearing a voice and replying in “real time.” Hearing your child’s voice is still a want and need. People working in the same office will text rather than moving bone and muscle to walk a bit. Young people get together, and what do they do? They text each other while sitting feet apart. She and I agree that we are losing the human touch.

We agree on other things and actions once part of our lives, like hand washing and drying dishes. When the process was shared by another, they discussed family, family history, and shared recipes. She considered this a bonding experience for women. She mentioned Polaroid cameras – amazing! And sweeping floors? Now there are robotic vacuums that wander alone through the house picking up lost buttons, needed receipts and wayward contact lenses.

Some of my own recollections are clear. My mother draining her fried chicken on a paper grocery bag. Having skeleton house keys and rarely needing them. Squeaky screen doors slamming after every kid’s entrance and exit and the flies and mosquitos that accompanied. TV antennas that I hear are coming back. Black-and-white TV carrying three channels.

Add to that, playing croquet and badminton in the backyard. Using hand-held funeral home fans. Using a non-steam iron and dampening clothes with a cork sprinkler head inserted into a water-filled brown whiskey bottle. Wire stretchers for jeans in the 1950s and ’60s. Walking to and from school. Keeping a bottle of water in the refrigerator and brother Noel swearing he didn’t drink from it, and I know he did ‘cause I saw him. Using our first phone, a candlestick version. Picking up the phone and hearing someone else on the multiple party line. Seeing women shopping with their hair in curlers, with or without a scarf.

Others contributed comments to this project as well. When did you last see or use a pay phone? How wonderfully cool was your house if it had an attic fan? Do you ever see original-style roller skates? Have you noticed the little workable “wing (or vent) windows” in cars are gone? These were a blessing with my dad’s lethal cigar smoke. How about if your grass grew too high and you had to use a scythe before you could mow with your rotary mower?

I miss seeing laundry hanging on lines, something that is forbidden in many subdivisions today. There is no better aroma than fresh air in your sheets and pillowcases! I believe if someone had told my mother she could not hang her clothes outside, she would have given them an earful and spoken with the mayor!

Today, those in their 40s and 50s seem to primarily remember the beginnings of technology we now use daily and often drive us to distraction. Already, small children have devices used as babysitters or diversions. While mom shops, the child sits in the grocery cart clicking a keyboard. Myself? I walked by my mother and listened as she taught my small self to shop. “The freshest cans are in the back of the shelf, but check the dates anyway.” “Two for $1.99 is the same as two for $1 each!” “Always wiggle all the eggs in a carton to check for those broken or stuck to the carton.” And my favorite, “You can tell what’s inside a can by the number of rings on top.”

In closing, I have two quotes, one from God and one from my God-given mother. God saying, “Honor your father and mother.” (Exodus 20:12) And Mother yelling from another room, “Someday you’ll wish you had listened to me!” (Vivian c. 1950) I still dare not argue with either.

Vivian Lawson Hogue
Latest posts by Vivian Lawson Hogue (see all)