What Bonnie said -- 06/30/11

If you've not read Bonnie's entry from earlier this week, you really should dash over and check it out.

I'm just going to note some of the memories about daily life when I was growing up that her entry caused to pop into my mind...

Back then, they returned their milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. Yes, bottles were thick and strong, strong enough to survive multiple cycles of use. Also note that back in those days there were many local soft drink brands and local brewing companies. Remember the two cent deposit on smaller bottles and the five cent deposit on quart bottles? I think what happened is one of those circular things where one change fed another and then it all just swirled around like water going down a drain. There once were thousands of bottling plants. One of the things keeping them local was the cost of transporting the bottles back to the bottling plant. Also, those bottles were expensive, which is why they charged a deposit, to provide an incentive for return. (As someone who worked in supermarkets in the early sixties, I can assure you that the returned bottles were a real pain. They were often dirty, with soda residue still in them, and can you picture a storage shed piled high with them on a hot summer day with swarms of yellow jackets buzzing around.) Increased competition as the big guys tried to take over the industry meant increasingly sophisticated and expensive advertising campaigns, which were difficult for smaller companies to afford, which led to a loss of market share. Then came cans. Cans (at least at first) were more expensive, so beer was put in cans. The metal industry began to push their product and some supermarket brands began to try cans for soda. The supermarkets loved this -- more product per square foot of shelf space and no returns to have to handle. The glass industry fought back, introducing the "one-way bottle" -- that is, a cheaper, lighter-weight bottle that was cheap enough that you didn't need to use it multiple times. Non-return bottles (and cans) grew in share, people liked not having to pay deposit and not having to return them, grew out of the habit of returning the reusable bottles (which increased the cost of using reusable bottles for the bottling companies, giving them more incentive to switch to single-use bottles). Without the need to haul bottles both ways, it became cheaper to have large bottling plants serving large geographic areas. And the big companies with their big advertising budgets continued to put the smaller regional companies out of business -- both in the soft drink industry and in the beer brewing industry.

They dried clothes on a line. Oh, yes indeed, summer and winter... We had a wringer-type washing machine in the basement. That machine scared me; I was terrified of being caught in the wringer and how much it would hurt to have my hands and arms flattened out until they were all limp and floppy. This wasn't the result of watching some cartoon on television -- I grew up with radio -- so I guess this mental image was the product of my own imagination. All I know is that I really didn't like to be in the same room with it while Mom was using it. The washed (and wrung-out) clothing (and sheets and towels, etc.) was then hung on clotheslines in the backyard twelve months of the year. If it was too stormy to hang it outside (clothing tends not to dry while it is being rained on), then everything would be hung up to dry in the basement. I didn't like that because the sheets hung down so low that I couldn't ride my tricycle around the basement on those days.

Back then, they had one TV or radio, in the house - not a TV in every room. Yeah, we didn't get a TV until I was in 3rd grade. We had a radio (yes, singular, one radio in the house). It was a big floor model set, dark wooden case, about two feet wide and four feet tall, with a big illuminated glass semi-circle station dial with multiple arches of numbers for tuning. It was a multiple bandwidth set and could tune in short wave as well as the standard AM stations. Our living room and dining room were connected by a large opening and the radio was in the dining room right next to the entry to the living room, so it could be listened to from either room. (Oh, wow, I could go on for pages and pages about those old radio programs... but I'll put that off until some other day.) And then, when we did get a television -- one TV, black & white, could pick up three stations with decent signals (and, some days, if all went well and you had your fingers crossed, very fuzzy and snowy weak signals for one or two more).

Back then, they didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. They used a push mower that ran on human power. Well, to be exact, once I was seven years old or so, the push mower ran on my power. Mowing the lawn in our backyard became my household chore. It was really a postage stamp plot of grass, probably a third of the size of my current backyard (and that's not counting our front yard or the lawn on either side of our house), but it seemed to be at least an acre or two to me, having to push that mower back and forth for hours (okay, minutes) when I would much rather be playing. There were also two narrow strips of grass by our sidewalk out front that also had to be mowed, but fortunately that grass grew much more slowly than the grass in the backyard (probably partly due to never being watered) and (until I reached junior high age) required my father being home to carry the lawn mower down the front steps for me.

They refilled their writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen. Ah, memories of grade school. We usually used pencils in school (yellow painted number 2 pencils, of course) but once we reached third grade we were supposed to learn cursive writing (rather than printing) and to work in ink (rather than pencil) when we wrote essays and letters. (Remember that? writing a business letter and writing a friendly letter.) We were not allowed to use ballpoint pens. (I was about to write that ballpoints weren't permitted until we had reached junior high school but I have a vague memory of ballpoint pens being passed out in my sixth grade classroom -- special, ugly, fat, blotchy, school-approved ballpoint pens.) Our desks had a circular hole that was designed to hold an inkwell. When it was time for penmanship lessons (or if we had to write the "final copy" of an essay) the glass inkwells would be passed out and inserted into those openings, and then the students designated as "ink monitors" would come around with jugs of ink (which I picture as gallon-sized jugs, but which were probably actually smaller than that) and fill the inkwells. Then we would be given pens -- wooden handled with metal pen-tips. Dip the pen in the ink, careful not to spill drops of ink as you lift the pen out of the ink and careful to drip ink onto your paper and careful not to smudge ink on the paper as you attempted to write. Palmer Method Penmanship. We had a penmanship teacher (a penmanship specialist!) who would come to our school one day per week to teach penmanship classes. Arrrgggghh! Endless practicing of loops and loops and up and down... and it never worked for me. I was so happy to discover that junior high and high school teachers did not care if I printed my essays and book reports or used cursive. (Although my cursive writing has never been legible, I used to be able to print quite neatly and clearly, but many years of using computer keyboards has destroyed my ability to produce by hand anything remotely legible.)

Thanks, Bonnie!

(By the way, one of the first things I did when we bought our first house was to put up clotheslines in the backyard. And we also hang clothes out on a clothesline to dry now. In fact, even as I type this, Nancy has our clotheslines filled with drying laundry. She had to wait until Jill finished mowing the back yard -- with a push mower.)

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