The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Looking Back

By Mel Tharp © 1990

Issue: April, 1990

I recently paid a visit to my old home town and the building where I went to school. The old building is now a mere hull. It has been over 25 years now since the final class was dismissed.

There were signs from former times. Scrawled initials and graffiti were still visible on the decaying walls. A crudely-scribbled sign above the lunchroom door proclaimed "Sammy loves Mary." Sammy and Mary have long-since gone on to greater things and probably have grandchildren carving their own brand of graffiti on other walls.

The town was also depressing. There were some buildings remaining from former times. But they were relics. They seemed anachronistic, like an old horse trapped and hopelessly confused in the snarl of modern-day traffic jams.

I concur with the old bromide that you can't go back. But memories are a valuable treasure. I have a store of these gems from the past. Here are just a few. Remember?

When passenger trains ran. When you didn't dial a phone number but gave it to "Central." When only the very wealthy paid income tax and then only a token. When doctors made house calls. When flatirons were flat and made of iron. When the fair was the best and biggest form of entertainment in the county.

When marbles was a popular game and was played by young and old. When an automobile had to be cranked. When roadsters had rumble seats. When cars had spare tires and repair kits and riding on the running board was considered dashing. When a long drive was 75 miles.

When the coal shuttle and water bucket was standard equipment in every home. When the refrigerator was an ice box. When the ice man delivered the amount of ice you ordered by looking at the card in your window. When central heating was only for the very wealthy. When you carried out the ashes and spread them over the driveway - then later picked up the partially burned pieces of coal to be reused. When rugs had to be beaten with a carpet beater.

When if your neighbor smoked "tailor mades," he was "showing off." When a record player was called a Victrola. When iced milk was called frozen custard. When the church furnished cardboard fans to members of the congregation.

When zoot suits were in vogue. When boys pleaded with their mothers to be allowed to get a haircut. When a bottle of milk had a two-inch layer of cream on top. When children were born at home. When a heated, wrapped brick was put in bed to keep the feet warm. When every home had a lantern rather than a flashlight.

When shinny was a popular boy's game. When the class outing was a hay ride. When folks danced the Charleston, Black Bottom and the Big Apple. When dance bands played Sweetheart of Sigma Chi. When the waltz was popular. When you went to the Saturday matinee to see Buck Jones or Tom Mix. When the newsreel was a popular part of the movie card.

When families gathered after supper to listen to such radio programs as Fiber McGee and Molly, Gang Busters and Inner Sanctum. When you wrote with a fountain pen. When the Palmer Method was penmanship.

When banks and public buildings had cuspidors. When the grocery store sold loose crackers and sliced cheese to order from a hoop.

When the butcher gave the children a slice of bologna while waiting on mom. When a 3-oz. bar of candy was 5¢. When wonder drugs were quinine, calomel and caster oil. When service stations gave dishes with a five-gallon purchase of gasoline. When hot dogs and hamburgers cost a dime. When the outhouse was the "plumbing." When there were penny postcards. When Graham MacNamee and Gabriel Heater reviewed the news.

When women actually used peroxide to become "peroxide" blondes. When ghost stories were standard bedtime fare for children. When you had to wait at a movie for the reels to be changed. When every school desk had an inkwell. When factory chimneys were considered a sign of progress, not pollution.

When you went to a doctor to fatten up, not thin down. When free china was a movie giveaway instead of another name for Taiwan. When "shaking-the-shimmy" was daring. When 10 cent was an excellent tip.

When if you felt poorly you got a mustard bath and a glass of hot lemonade instead of penicillin. When if you had an argument with your teacher the smart thing was not to mention it at home because after the teacher finished with you, good old dad would give you a worse hiding based on the theory that you simply had to be in the wrong.

When your banker would have thought you were out of your mind if you had asked to borrow money to go on a vacation. When you could get a full course dinner for what you now leave for a tip. When you were directed in advance not to ask for money at the store because your parents were broke.

Why do we long for the "Good Old Days?" Certainly we are not oblivious to the rigors and inconveniences of times past. Perhaps it is because of seeing depressing things and hearing news of disasters. We wonder if things are what they should be, and doubt possibly if it is all worthwhile. We live in an age when passion is suspect. The old values have little clinical names. Loyalty is fixation, duty is guilt, love is a complex. We read everywhere of deep concern over the state of the world. Where will it all end?

Then, I start thinking of all the good and beautiful things of the present and so many good things of the past that are still with us.

Therein lies the hope - that all these beautiful things and worthwhile values shall be preserved, and maybe, some from the past may even be returned someday for all the people of the earth to enjoy.

Editor's Note: A few years ago, The Mountain Laurel occasionally printed a list of remembrances such as those found in this story and called them "Do you remember?" I'm sure you have found many of the things mentioned in your memories also, I know I did.

Isn't it nice to have things like these brought fresh to your mind? Sometimes a thing you have not thought about for years can bring a moment of pleasure in a busy, otherwise hectic day.

We hope this story has sparked memories, not only of the items mentioned, but of others as well, that are personally special to you.