Over the past few days, I’ve found myself reminiscing about my youth. Specifically about events, cultural trappings, and social trends which I experienced while growing up in the 50s and 60s. Without giving it much thought, I began to make a mental checklist of commonplace happenings from those days which, like the dinosaurs of old, have now long since become extinct.
Here’s a tribute to just a few of my memories of things which, to my way of thinking, have unfortunately evolved from the ordinary to the obsolete.
- The Milk Man: Three times per week, in the early hours of the morning, the milk man delivered fresh bottles of milk to our front porch. We would place the empty bottles there for him to pick up and if we needed eggs or butter, we’d leave a note stuck in the top of one of the empty bottles and he’d leave those items as well.
- Doctors/House Calls: Imagine being sick, calling your doctor’s office, and being told that the doctor would be out to see you at your house later that day. Remarkable, but true. Now, I deem myself honored if my doctor even momentarily sticks his head through the examining room door as one of his Physician’s Assistants or Nurse Practitioners pokes and probes me.
- Two Television Channels: I grew up in a town of 250,000 people in which there were only two television channels available for viewing. There was Channel 2 (CBS) from my hometown and Channel 12 (NBC) from a neighboring city. About the time I entered Junior High School, Channel 8 (ABC) began to broadcast from another nearby town. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the selection and the quality of shows to watch on those three channels far exceeded what is available on the 200+ channels that I have access to today.
- No TV after midnight: In the pre-cable television era, local stations ended their daily programming schedule a little after midnight with a 15-30 minute newscast quickly followed by the playing of the National Anthem and then static as the transmitter was shutdown. Transmissions would resume the next day at either 5 or 6 a.m. with the broadcasting of a test pattern for a few minutes before regular programming began. I have no idea what insomniacs and workers on the 3rd shift did with themselves during the intervening hours. Nor why many test patterns included the portrait of an Indian chief.
- Men in Hats: When I was a youngster, most men wore hats when they were out and about. Need proof? Check out any crime or detective movie made in the 40s and 50s. You’ll see men in hats everywhere. My father, apparently an unwitting creature of fashion, wore a hat to work everyday for years. This fashion trend came to a screeching halt in the early 60s when John F. Kennedy became President of the United States. Kennedy simply didn’t wear hats. Within a few years, much to the disdain of hat makers everywhere, neither did most other men.
- $0.10 per Gallon Gasoline: Through most of my childhood and right through my teen years, the price of gasoline never rose above $0.50 per gallon. When I began to drive and pay for gas out of my own pocket, it was typically $0.35 to $0.40 per gallon. But I remember one warm summer afternoon when I was at my grandfather’s house. We hastily beat a trail across town in his Chevy because he’d heard a rumor of a service station that was selling gas for $0.10 per gallon. It was simply too good of a bargain to pass up!
- Full Service Gas Stations: I recognize that there are still a few gas stations around with signs over one row of pumps which says, “Full Service“. Generally this means that some scruffy, totally uninterested guy will meander out to your car and begrudgingly pump gas for you. The full service stations I remember featured attendants decked out in clean uniforms who would rush out to your car with smiles on their faces, check your engine oil level, check the air pressure in your tires, and wash your windshield, all in the time that it took them to fill up your gas tank. Imagine that!
- Tube Checkers: Before the advent of transistors and integrated circuits, all televisions and radios utilized electron tubes. If you’ve never seen one, imagine a glass test tube filled with glowing wires. These tubes didn’t last forever and periodically one’s TV would cease to work properly. The solution was to take the cover off of the back of the television set, pull out all of the tubes, and trek down to the local drug store. There in the back of the store could be found the ubiquitous Tube Checker. One at a time, you would plug your tubes into the appropriate socket and press the “Check” button. Bad tubes would be identified by a meter located on the device’s panel. Replacement tubes were stored in a cabinet underneath the tube checker. You’d then rush home and plug the tubes, including any replacements, back into their respective sockets in time to watch the next episode of The Lone Ranger or The Ed Sullivan Show.
- Soda Fountains: While you were checking your TV tubes at the local drug store, you could have also strolled over to the soda fountain. Most drug stores had one. It could be found behind a low counter fronted with 10 or 15 revolving stools where you could sit and enjoy a soft drink, a milkshake made with real ice cream, a grilled cheese sandwich, a hamburger, or even the “Blue Plate Special” (whatever that might happen to be on that particular day.)
- Paper Boys: Way back when, newspapers were not delivered by shadowy chain smoking figures speeding through neighborhoods in battered minivans. The papers, both morning and afternoon editions, were routinely delivered by young boys who rode their bicycles while tossing the papers from large baskets mounted to their bike’s handle bars. Good paper boys could land a rolled up newspaper squarely on your front porch Welcome mat. These were the guys who ended up being the quarterback of the high school team a few years later. The others were more likely to deposit the paper behind a bush or in the gutter over the front door. Years later, they could be found chain smoking while driving battered minivans.
- Top 40 AM Radio Stations: Today, AM radio seems to be universally populated with News talk or Sports talk stations. Back in the 60s however, music programming was still ruling the airwaves. There were of course stations playing all types of music, but I migrated to those stations with playlists featuring the ever changing pop and rock “Top 40 Hits”. Now that I think about it, the demise of these stations and the migration to FM music broadcasts wasn’t such a bad thing. The quality of FM stereo broadcasting far exceeds the static-filled monaural tones broadcast by the typical AM station. Plus, today’s music stations aren’t quite as likely to play the current #1 hit at the top of each hour, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
Believe it or not, there are many more memories captured on my list, but I think I’ll save them. Maybe someday I’ll write a “Gone, But Not Forgotten – Part Deux“.