Does the progression of modern civilization fascinate you as much as it does me? I sometimes wonder if people realize how rapidly we’ve progressed in the last thirty years. We’ve entered a new era. People talk about our grandparents and great-grandparents, but I’m thirty-four and can’t believe how many things that were a common-place way of life for me are now severely outdated. I know I’m not alone in the lifestyle I grew up in and spent a good portion of adulthood living (although it was a bit more backwoods than the majority of the population), but as time marches on it feels that way. Here’s a look at some of the things I once accepted as reality, but now make me a fossil.
1. Outhouses – they give “the same relief to rich or poor”
Yes, I did use one of these. Growing up, my household consisted of my parents, my three sisters and I, and my bedridden grandmother. We had one toilet, which was installed in our home in 1973, prior to that there was no indoor plumbing (yet that was before my time.) My grandmother had a commode, which it was my job to empty each day (modern day children, I don’t want to hear you complain about having to do the dishes or not get to play your Xbox or whatever the heck is popular these days). Try standing in line for the bathroom in a house of seven when one of the occupants needs extra time because they are paralyzed.
On a lighter note, an outhouse provides ample scenery and room for imagination in its 4 small walls. My father had several road signs, which I assume he acquired illegally in his wild youth, fastened to the walls. They were there perhaps less for decoration and more to block holes in the rickety old “bathroom”. The brick lined pit that sat below the “throne”, I don’t now how deep it was, but all I could see was blackness and often wondered if some critter might have fallen in and would come up to bite me in the butt. A staple of any outhouse is also a fly-swatter for the frequent hornets that would come in to make their nests. Imagine walking into a public restroom today with hornets flying around and you can appreciate the effort just to relieve yourself when I was a kid.
I sometimes wonder now if having to use an outhouse is one reason why I have such an active imagination. You will understand what I mean if you’ve ever heard Billy Edd’s whimsical tune to outhouses, called “Ode To The Little Brown Shack Out Back”, each line speaks the truth in such a witty manner its worth a listen. My favorite line is, “I could orbit round the sun, march with General Washington, or be a kind upon a golden throne.”
2. Dinner – a family affair
I thought it was normal that people either grew or killed their own food when I was growing up. When I was living away from home in my twenties and first had to buy produce in a grocery store, I couldn’t believe I had to pay so much for such shriveled, pale, unripened, tasteless produce! Didn’t people know what real vegetables tasted like? We grew all of our own vegetables to feed ourselves and canned anything that we couldn’t eat fresh. We butchered and froze chickens and rabbits. And my mother’s side of the family, the Swedes, were avid fisherman. Any trip to that grandma’s house often involved this little old woman dragging me off to some lake or pond, climbing over fences, through thick grass, to her favorite fishing holes to catch buckets of fish that she would deep fry in hand made beer batter or freeze for the winter. So, I know how to clean and skin all these animals…doesn’t everyone? No, half of that is illegal now. We’d rather throw out food that’s still edible at grocery stores because it passed an expiration date on a label.
cleaning fish with my cousin on the same tree we always nailed them to at Grandma’s house
3. Technology – contrary to popular belief, we once lived without it…just fine
We had a dial phone up until at least 1997. I think that’s around the time we got our first cell phone – a family cell phone…one for the entire group of us, which…was only to be used in the case of emergencies and it was a “brick phone” and was expensive back in “those days”. My mother’s car broke down on the interstate in the early 90s and I remember walking down the busy interstate with her and two of my sisters, my younger sister in a stroller. There was no way to call for help and we didn’t even fathom that there was…that was just life. You’d walk to a gas station and use a pay phone or perhaps someone would stop and give you a ride. You could trust people to do that in “those days” because everyone had “been there before”. Been there before…does that mean we have it so easy now that the only reason someone is walking is because they’re like the Bud Light guy with the chainsaw so we don’t stop? I know you understand having a landline means that there were no text messages, but stop and think of what that implies. You had to answer every call in case it was important. We didn’t have an answering machine until about the same time as the “brick phone”, so this meant someone was always sprinting to get to the ringing phone. Could you live like that now?
On a side note, as a 911 dispatcher, in case you weren’t aware, landlines are the only way emergency personnel can pinpoint your exact location. If you have children, I strongly urge you to keep a landline in your home instead of discarding them as everyone does. Kids today all have cell phones, but can they give their address or directions to their house under pressure? Think about it. It’s worth it. Huh, imagine that…something we did in the past works better than the present.
4. Direction – where are you?
From the time I could remember, my father always made sure we knew how to read a map. How often do you GPS where you are, where you’re going, where you were? Can you find it without GPS? Which way is North, East, South, West from where you are standing on any given day? You should always, always, be able to orient yourself…all by yourself. Yeap, just you and your wits. Think about giving someone directions, it’s a useful concept we’ve forgotten about. Again, as a 911 caller I can’t tell you how many times people call from their cell phone in a panic after they’ve driven by a car accident and tell me, I’m on such-and-such highway. Which side of the road were they on? They’re reply…the right…the left. Great, I think. Your right or my right??? It doesn’t matter who’s “right”. I need to know which cardinal direction you were traveling to find those people, understand now why it’s important?
Call me a paranoid or conspiracy theorist, but I guarantee that at some point in my lifetime there will be a substantial outage of internet services, GPS, etc. How will you find out where you are going? How will you tell someone where you are going? Where you are? Where to meet them? Why did we lose this simple yet critical knowledge? Here’s another prophetic line from an old song…”Teach your children well. Their father’s health did slowly go by.” So I say, revel in what you have that your parents didn’t, but still take the old with you along with the new.