Brown Paper Bags and Old Soda Bottles

            Brown Paper Bags and Old Soda Bottles

A while back, my daughter installed a new application on my phone and explained how all I had to do was type in the address of where I wanted to go and it would give me step-by-step directions. She explained how I didn’t need to get on the computer and try to get Map Quest started again, which was always a pain and somehow I never seemed to do correctly.  My experience with navigation ended with the Thomas Guide which was good enough to get me all over the United States for my job, to places, some of which, I’d never heard of before and hoped to never see again.

The first time I used this new app I was impressed with it, especially the slow and patient way it repeated directions, way ahead of necessity, for people like me who daydream and miss exits on the freeway. 

But I started thinking about the Thomas Guide again, and how it was now obsolete, a mere memory, replaced by a series of technological things, each one more efficient and impersonal.  I thought about how my own knowledge was now, in part obsolete too, since everything had changed around me, and some of the old skills we cultivated from back in “the long ago,” were just laughable now.

I put together a short list of the different things we used and the skills we developed to use them.

  • Brown Paper Bags

Aside from using your grocery bag to collect trash, they made fabulous book covers, and we designed them ourselves with colored pencils and crayons.  We highlighted them with gossip about different couples, song titles, and historic dates that we were supposed to remember for a test.  (You could leave the book out and sneak a peek). This artistically designed book cover kept your book clean and dry all year so it could be handed over to another student, and it provided a surface to write on when you were bored in class.

The same brown paper bag could also be used to pack your lunch, because we packed baloney sandwiches in those days, and maybe some Twinkies, and an apple, if you were going big.  When the bag was empty, you could blow it up and pop it or use it to carry home whatever was left of your lunch, and then use it the next day.  Nobody ever thought of plastic bags.

  • Glass Bottles

They held everything from sodas, and beer to milk.  You could even pack in some Kool Aid to take with you on a hot day. When the bottle was empty, you took it to the nearest liquor store and sold it back to them.  They would send it to be cleaned and recycled and used again.  The store gave you a nice handful of change so you could buy yourself some candy or an ice cream, or something more if you were an adult.  With enough change, and if you lived in the right neighborhood, like I did, girls could get a True Romance Magazine, or a boy might buy a lurid True Detective Magazine, with the girl on the front wearing a negligee. (Remember this was a long time ago, when adults didn’t pay that much attention, and nobody was looking at what was politically correct).  With these magazines you could get an early education, not available today unless you have access to adult porn.

  • Water Fountains

Nobody bought bottled water.  There wasn’t any.  You drank out of a fountain, and it was so good on a cold day when you were running on a playground or in the street, and you stepped into a public building for a break.  There weren’t energy drinks or that many soft drinks around, so you always went for water.  Besides who carried around soda money all the time. Soda was still considered a treat.

  • Packaged and Frozen Food

There was very little of this available if you didn’t count rice and beans that came in cellophane packages.  There were no “television chefs,” and nobody was expected to cook like Martha Stewart and make exotic gourmet meals. You cooked what you ate from scratch, without preservatives, chemicals and extra sugar.  It was harder than heating something pre-prepared and you had less variety, but you also ate less fat and sugar and who knows what other kind of additive.  The end result was that you ate less without the pre-prepared food and the packaged snacks.  Snacks were an apple or a banana, so you probably ended up weighing less than if you stuffed your face with packages of crispy treats or assorted bags of hard candies.

  • Walking

The average home only had one car, and cars were really used to transport people to work in those days or to drive someplace to a destination not in the neighborhood.  You walked everywhere else or took the bus and walked from the bus stop.  Walking to school was the norm because you met your friends to socialize, and nobody would think of driving you. You walked up and down the stairs because there usually wasn’t an elevator or an escalator.  You didn’t text your friends, you walked over to their house to meet them in person.  As a result, there were fewer drivers on the road and less congestion, (even though there was still a lot of pollution).  The exercise alone was worth it.

  • One Television and One Radio

There were no computers, computer games, cell phones, or other electronic devices.  Most homes had a radio; one radio, and if they had more money, one television.  There was no such thing as a television in every room.  Generally, the adults picked what was seen on television or listened to on the radio.  There were no cell phones to text your friends.  You needed to meet them in person to talk.  If you wanted to use the phone, there were party lines that you shared with other callers and you had to wait your turn to call. Without all these electronic devices, you were forced to actually interact and talk with people continually.  Your “friends,” were people who actually existed in the flesh.  When you were a child you could leave home in the morning and stay out all day as long as you returned when it got dark.  There was no cell phone to track you and you wanted to be outside with your friends because there was no entertainment at home except chores.

  • Washing Dishes By Hand, Manually Operated Vacuums, and Lawn Mowers

Performing household chores required some physical exertion and got your heart pumping.  Most people didn’t have a dishwasher.  Usually, the children in the family were the dishwashers, washing, and drying, while actually standing in the kitchen.  You vacuumed by dragging a heavy vacuum around the house from room to room yourself. (It wasn’t remote), and when you filled the bag, you carried it outside and emptied it.  If you had a lawn, you pushed a mower powered by your own strength and sweat, up and down the grass until it was all trimmed.  That could take all afternoon, and it burned a lot of calories too.  That’s another thing, people didn’t have thousands of dollars on gym memberships.  Gyms were for athletes.  You got your exercise just living day-to-day. 

So, I thought again how everything I remembered in a good way was now obsolete.  I took out my old Thomas Guide and decided I would map out my next course of travel just like I used to do, the old-fashioned way. The only problem was I couldn’t see the print on the page the way I used to.  In fact, I couldn’t see it at all to mark my directions, just like I couldn’t push the heavy vacuum or use the manual mower anymore.

Time has changed me too. Luckily, I have this new app, my daughter installed, so I can get around, a robot vacuum that vacuums by itself and an electric mower. So maybe it’s not a case of being obsolete, maybe it’s a case of adaption on everybody’s part.  I better ask Suri.  Luckily I don’t have to walk to far to the entertainment center since I don’t walk as well anymore.