Are you part of Pat’s era? Well, that depends…

#446 in a series of true experiences in real estate
December 2003, Hills Newspapers

One year I took to family Thanksgiving a set of questions I wanted to ask everyone. The questions were about life in the “olden days” as my sister and I used to refer to our parents’ and grandparents’ time: Have you ever shucked corn? Harnessed a horse to a buggy? Pumped water from a well?

I waited until dinner was over when most of my great aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins were diving into homemade apple and mince pies, then popped my first question. “Have you ever churned butter?” I asked, and several of the elders answered, “Oh, yes.” Even one of my cousins, a couple of years younger than I said that he’d drawn water from a well and turned a cream separator.

We all got into it. Everyone wanted to find out how many of the things on the list he’d done. Stories were told, experiences shared.

“Where was that, Elizabeth?,” Aunt Eva asked, and my grandmother replied, “When I was a girl, for a short time when we lived on land near Knights Ferry, the neighbor loaned us his horse and plow. We planted but nothing much came from it.” She paused for a moment, then added, “Poor dirt.”

Even the little kids at the table that day answered “yes” that they’d carried firewood, shucked corn, baked bread and certainly, eaten green apples. And because everyone at dinner lived in the country (I’m the city cousin), all had watched a hen lay an egg and had gathered eggs from a nest. Most had sharpened an axe on a grindstone, pitched hay, pressed apples for cider and split stove wood.

But only a few of my relatives had used a scythe, talked over a crank telephone, made a willow whistle, or depended on kerosene lamps for light. All of those in their eighties recalled filling the water reservoir on a stove, but only the uncles said they’d skinned a rabbit or a squirrel.

That Thanksgiving must have been over 30 years ago, I think, because the older generation was there but none of the younger ones who are there nowadays, our children and grandchildren.

My parents and grandparents who drove horse drawn buggies and later, used a crank to start their cars, are now gone. But life goes on and, I realized recently, the older generation now includes – me!

Once I commented to my children when they were young that when I was their age there weren’t wide freeways. When we traveled to Napa to visit, we used San Pablo Avenue for a long, long distance. It took a long time.

“Did you have cars then?” one of my kids asked.

Oh, my. Perhaps it is time for an updated questionnaire, one reflecting my era, which I must try out on my family next Thanksgiving.

Have you ever mailed away a Peter Pan Peanut Butter or Ovaltine jar seal, along with 10 cents, then waited excitedly for a tiny parachute man in the mail?

Have you built, then used, a crystal set radio?

Defrosted a refrigerator freezer with hot water and lots of careful chipping by hand?

Bought for 5 cents, coke in a bottle, a bag of popcorn at the movies, pack of gum or a candy bar? Remember when 3 Musketeer bars were 3 separate chocolate covered pieces?

How about those days when you were sick and mom kept you home from school? Did you stay in bed all day? And did the doctor make a house call to check you out? Did your mother make you a mustard plaster to relieve your chest cold? Did she give you a dose of castor oil every morning?

How old were you when you first saw TV? To protect your eyes, did you watch with the lights on and were you careful not to sit too close? When the programs were over for the day (what time was that?), the National Anthem was playing and there was a test pattern. Do you remember? Were there only 3 channels? Did you get up to change the channel, turn the knob hard?

Ever actually dial a telephone? Have a party line? When you wanted to call long distance, did you ever dial O and talk to a live operator who placed your call person-to-person or station-to-station?

Did you have a telephone that came with the phone number printed on the dial? And did the number begin with a word: Kellogg, Andover, Baldwin, etc.?

Ever go to a sock hop? Or on a progressive dinner? Remember scavenger hunts? Fill up your dance card?

Have you burned a pile of crisp fall leaves in the street gutter? Smelled that incomparable aroma? (Once I burned a bucket of fall leaves in my fireplace so my kids could get a part of this experience. I wonder if they remember it?)

Was mail ever delivered to your house twice a day? Did a man come around to collect old pots and pans, fat and bones for the war effort?

Have you ever made “butter” by kneading a spot of coloring into a sealed bag of white fat? Used sugar or gasoline war ration coupons? Asked the butcher to throw in a soup bone with your order?

Bought a war bond? Deposited a nickel into your own account at school on Bank Day?

Gone to buy shoes, then stood with your feet poked into a fluoroscope so your mom, the salesman and you could see the bones of your feet inside the shoes?

Did you practice penmanship in school? Dip a detachable pen nib into an inkwell fitted into your desk top?

Remember waiting an hour after eating to go swimming?

Ever collect and insert dimes in a March of Dimes card? Been given polio vaccine on a sugar cube? Have to stay out of swimming pools for a whole summer because everyone was scared of getting polio?

Did you have a key for your roller skates on a ribbon around your neck? Were you a bike-riding paper boy who delivered rolled up papers you’d packed into front-and-back canvas bags slung over your head?

My own kids, now 18 and 20, just bought Converse shoes. Just had to have them. When I saw them, I couldn’t believe it. While they now come in white and red, they look surprisingly like the all black basketball shoes every boy I knew wore throughout childhood.

Some things do come back in style. But typewritten letters with multiple carbon paper copies? I doubt it.

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