Sometime after the arrival of your fifth decade, there will come a morning when you wake up and realize that you can now remember the good old days. Well, let me qualify that. Often you will be able to recall the good old days, while at other times you will have to look at your driver’s license if someone asks you for your name. I can still recall the fateful moment when I first waxed nostalgic for times gone by, and it was a bittersweet experience. On one hand, seemingly against all odds, I had made it beyond my fiftieth year. On the other hand, I was over fifty. But at least being on the far side of the half-century mark did provide some perspective, and it seemed to enhance my memories as well as my yearnings for selected moments from the past.
I remember paying fifty dollars for my first vehicle. Actually, I only had to put up twenty-five, because my partner in the enterprise fronted the other half. We hauled hay for a local farmer for an entire week to earn the money. The car was a 1963 MGB with no top, no mufflers, no paperwork, and no insurance. It had a wooden milk crate for a driver’s seat, and a sheet of corrugated tin was duct-taped over the gaping hole that was left when the trunk lid rusted through. We brush-painted the little roadster a nice robin’s-egg blue, and the designated driver got to wear the motoring cap, scarf, and goggles that came with the car.
Rusty trunk and basic interior notwithstanding, I can’t even imagine what a running 1963 MGB might be worth these days, but a genuine wooden milk crate would most likely fetch the fifty bucks we paid for the car.
Ironically, my last fill up cost more than my first car.
I remember a time before cell phones. As a matter of fact, I recall the first mobile phone I ever saw, and to be honest with you, I didn’t think they were going to catch on, because only a small percentage of the population was strong enough to lift one. It was as big as a concrete block and weighed about as much. It had an aerial coming out of it that reminded me of the antenna on the patrol car on the old Andy Griffith Show. It would drop a call for almost any reason, such as if a plane flew overhead, if it was Tuesday, or if someone in the next county used their oven. The whole idea of mobile telecommunication seemed like a long shot. I mean, we already had CB radios, and with technology like that at our fingertips, what else did we need?
I remember when drinking water came out of a tap. Sometimes in the summer, it came out of a hose, as well. The only bottled water available was distilled water, which my mother used to pour into the steam iron, ostensibly to keep it from rusting on the inside. There must have been some bad distilled water making the rounds in the steam iron industry back then, because the iron always rusted up, regardless. Nowadays, a whole aisle at the grocery store is devoted to bottled water that is made for drinking. The implication seems to be that most of this water comes from serene alpine settings bursting with purity, but unless 60 Minutes is just making stuff up, which they can’t do because they’re on television, most of it comes out of a tap.
I remember when there were only four television channels, and you couldn’t see one of those if it was raining. But for some reason you could always find something to watch. Maybe it was the novelty of the medium, or perhaps it was because it took three people somewhere around an hour-and-a-half to change the station. It required two children to turn the knob for the channel selector—which for some reason was exceedingly stiff and turned with a resounding thunk—and one additional child to go outside and rotate the antenna. By the time you went through all of that, you were worn out, and it was bedtime. So the tendency was to just keep watching whatever was on rather than trying to find something else.
I remember when you did not have to make thirty-seven decisions during the process of buying a cup of coffee. Now, I like a good mug of Joe as much as the next person, but it is almost not worth the trouble any more. I was at a coffee establishment the other day, and I swear to you that I had less trouble with my first year of college than I had ordering my hot drink. First, I had to pick the size, keeping in mind that the name of the selection had very little to do with the actual amount of coffee that was going to arrive. Then I had to declare on the flavor. There were dozens of these, all of which tasted sort of like…coffee. Other decisions included whether I wanted my coffee hot, cold, whipped, topped, low-fat, decaf, frothed, latte’d, shot, or espresso’ed. I went in there for a simple cup of coffee, but I came out with a caffeine masterpiece and a strong desire for three aspirins and a Mountain Dew.
I remember when pre-owned automobiles were simply used cars. I remember when wetlands were swamps. I remember when Betty Crocker did not look like someone you would like to ask out on a date. I remember when dried plums were prunes. I remember wearing a hat to look cool, not because my hair is so thin that my head gets sunburned. I remember when all of the Oldies were first released on 45 rpm records that cost fifty cents. I remember when the town closed up on Wednesday afternoons. I remember getting out of school the day before Memorial Day and going back the day after Labor Day.
And, of course, I remember stating with absolute certainty that I would never be one of those guys who sat around remembering the good old days.