Things that used to be
November 13, 2009
Things have changed greatly over the years. There are so many once-common items that are just not used anymore. One clear memory I retain of Grandma Cain’s kitchen table is that instead of setting teaspoons at each place she had a special spoon glass at the center of the table along with the salt and pepper shakers and sugar bowl. I always thought Grandma was the only one who did that, but only recently I noticed pieces in antique shops that were labeled “spoon glasses,” so they must have been common at one time. Toothpick holders were on almost every table too, but eventually picking teeth at meals fell out of favor and most of those disappeared. I own two old toothpick holders, one from each side of the family. One is aluminum and the other is pressed glass. I use neither on our own table.
Then there are desk spindles. My first experience with them was on the teacher’s desk in country school. She would stick absentee excuses and other notes on them. Then I was in high school they were on every classroom desk as well. Most business offices and stores had them for stowing memos, invoices and other small paperwork. Do you remember when businesses first began using computers for their accounting? Those now-primitive machines had punch cards that carried the warning, “Do not fold, spindle or mutilate.” As a consequence, out went the spindles.
Pop and beer was produced only in bottles early last century. When they started to use cans, those had to be opened with a pointed opener which, in an effort at humor, some called “church keys.” Now, of course, all the cans have snap and flip tops.
Nearly everyone in the United States wears jeans now. But the first denim garments were worn only by farmers. These overalls had a bib, shoulder straps and side vents that were meant to be buttoned, but were often left undone by men with large bellies. My dad always wore the classic dark blue ones, but many farmers and laborers preferred striped or herringbone garments. When they were new the legs were often too long, and if the farmer’s wife was not into sewing the men would turn up the cuffs, sometimes as much as six inches. After many washings the legs had often shrunk to a more fitting length, and always they became very faded. My dad always said that’s when they became comfortable. Overalls still exist, of course, alongside the more commonly worn jeans.
One of our neighbor farmers began wearing the first jeans I ever saw, though I’m sure the cowboys out west started wearing them much earlier. My dad called them “bibless overalls” and thought those who wore them were putting on airs. But they caught on real fast. When I was in high school most of the farm boys wore them to school, and soon the town boys were wearing them too. Girls were not allowed to wear jeans or any other kind of pants. We had to stick to skirts and dresses. Some wore slacks underneath their dresses in cold weather and took them off when they got to school.
We could go on and on thinking of things that have changed or disappeared altogether. For me, that’s part of the fun of museums. You can look at the displays and say, “Oh, yes, I forgot all about those.” If Grandma Cain were living now she would be completely overwhelmed by all the modern things, especially the electronics, and sometimes I’m close to feeling that way myself.