Days Gone By
Many items that were once commonplace are no more. You may have forgotten (or never knew) about some of these Yet, they were once a part of everyday life. If you’re not old enough for this stroll down memory lane, have a talk with your parents or grandparent.
Five-Cent Coke: Once upon a time–for a mere nickel–you could buy a Coke at the local soda fountain served in a glass with the Coca-Cola logo. If the soda jerk added cherry-flavored syrup to the mixture, it was sometimes called a Roy Rogers cocktail and . . . oohh, oohh, how sweet that was.
45-rpm Records: These mini platters with one song recorded on each side were virtually unbreakable. If you wanted to play a 45 rpm on equipment designed for a 78 rpm, you had to insert a plastic spindle into the center of the small record for it to fit on the turntable. By the late fifties, the old 78-rpm records, the mainstay of the recording industry, were being packed off to the attic.
Sweet Stuff: At the Saturday movie matinee, the candy counter offered an array of nickel treats: Black Jack Gum, Baby Ruth, Candy Cigarette, Jujubes, Mary Janes, Milk Duds, Sugar Babies, Wax Bottles, Cracker Jacks, Dots, and Necco Wafers. It was an afternoon in sugar heaven. Mostly I miss Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rodgers, the Lone Ranger, and Looney Tunes at a 15-cent Saturday matinee.
Good Humor Man: The sound of the bell atop the Good Humor truck meant the ice cream man had just rounded the corner and headed down the street. Kids would run indoors to beg a few coins for either the ice cream bar (10 cents) or a Popsicle (5 cents).
The driver, who was nearly as popular as Santa Claus, wore a white shirt and pants accessorized with a black bow tie, visor cap, and a coin holder on his belt.
Milk on Your Doorstep: The white-clad milkman left his delivery on our door step every other day. The glass bottles had a crimped paper top with a bubble-shaped neck that marked where the cream formed on the top.
Consumers did their own homogenizing by shaking the bottle vigorously before pouring. Empty bottles were returned to the doorstep. Mama would stuff a note in the top if we wanted to order a carton of cottage cheese.
Penny Loafers: The penny loafer came with a slot in the top of the shoe for keeping a copper coin. Using a dime meant you always had the price of a pay phone call, should that be necessary.
Metal Gliders: Every well-furnished front porch in our neighborhood had a three-person glider. The cushions stuck to your legs during the sweltry summer heat. But the glide was heavenly, though often squeaky.
Book Bags: In the day before backpacks, grade school students carried a canvas bag that looked much like a plaid brief case. It contained the implements common to school kids: workbooks, a lined, Indian Chief tablet, and a pencil box that included erasers, pencil sharpener, and a ruler.
Typing Erasers: A wheel-shaped eraser attached to a soft brush was used to sweep away the erasure crumbs when making a correction on a manual typewriter. Today there’s a 19-foot, whimsical tribute to the piece entitled Typing Eraser, Scale X located on the lawn of the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in DC.
Box Cameras: After loading the small black box with a roll of film, you looked down into the tiny screen, carefully pointed it toward your subject, and clicked.
You had to remember to turn the side knob to the next photo (as I recall there were 12 photos to the roll). It took about a week for the local drug store to develop your black/white, and often fuzzy photos.
Public Pay Phones: They were sometimes hard to find, required the right change, and often a conversation with the operator. But, at least, they weren’t as complicated as today’s parking meters.
Encyclopedia: Ours were blue and outdated with one volume missing. It was our version of artificial intelligence.
House Calls by Doctors: The insurance man made periodic calls to collect a few coins from housewives, which he recorded in a massive book that he lugged from door-to-door. But the most impressive calls were those made by the family doctor with his black bag and tongue depressor.
I still recall those visits from Dr. McDonald, when I was 5-years old and nearly died from whooping cough. One day my parents asked when, if ever, I would recover. He pointed out the window and said profoundly: “When the leaves on the trees are the size of a squirrels ear, she’ll be well again.” You don’t get a poetic diagnosis like that today.