When I was growing up in the 1930’s, we didn’t have much technology to speak of. We lived in Slater, Missouri, and my uncle made his living by slopping hogs. Some folks had running water that came from out of a pitcher pump mounted onto the kitchen cabinetry. That was considered to be high tech. For us, the ‘bleeding edge’ was a radio or a phonograph. Motion pictures were also a huge craze! To stay informed, we relied on short wave radio, newspapers, and newsreels. During WWII, we would learn how the troops were doing on the front lines before viewing the feature film. Time moved along at a crawl back in those days. We had no internet or mp3 players. There was no Facebook or Twitter, and cell phones were still unimaginable.
In rural America, horse drawn wagons were a common sight. Of course, there were automobiles as well, but they were incredibly expensive. In my case, I had to piece together my own jalopy from spare parts that were acquired from wrecking yards. Speaking of technology, I was always fascinated with steam engines, because diesel locomotives were not online yet. Instead, the trains were coal fed. The old locomotives were fire breathing beasts, and they competed to be the fastest on the line! I miss the sound of the whistle that the old locomotives made. As a group, the local children chased the accelerating steam trains as they departed from the depot. As the train gained speed, they would sprint to keep up until they couldn’t run any more. I miss the conductors who rode in the caboose, while signaling the engineer with color coded lanterns. Speaking of lighting, lots of folks in rural America still relied upon candles and gas lanterns. It did not bother us too much however, because we were all tired from the day’s labor, so we went to sleep early. In the 1930’s times were hard.
As an old timer, I must say that I enjoy living in the 21st century. I really like all of the tech goodies and gadgets. Being from the 20th century myself, I can honestly say that present day existence is akin to living in the fabled city of Atlantis. For one thing, the machinery is absolutely phenomenal. Take automobiles for example. In my day we didn’t have electronic fuel injection. The cars all had carburetors, and they would be very temperamental on cold winter mornings. We didn’t have synthetic engine oil that maintains a thin viscosity in the severe cold. When the oil temperature fell to below freezing it would become as thick as stubborn molasses. The Model-T Fords had to be hand started with a crank, because electric starter motors were not affordable. Electric starters were invented by then, but they were new technology, and commanded a hefty price. Car batteries were crappy in those days as well. They didn’t have the same cold cranking ability as modern 12-volt systems, and they paled in comparison to what we have today. Half the time we would have to break out the jumper cables because the primitive systems just couldn’t cut it. On a cold morning we would have to choke the engine manually. It had to be ‘just right,’ or else you would get it flooded. Oftentimes, we would have to open up the hood and remove the air breather in an effort to pour liquid ether directly into the carburetor. If this helped it fire up then great; if not, then we would be stuck! If we could get our frigid equipment to run on cold days, we were lucky.
Life was different in my time. Technology was primitive, and unemployment was rampant. Shiftless hobos were commonly run out of town by local police. Homelessness was frowned upon by law enforcement. If you had a scruffy two-day beard, and raggedy clothes, you would be pigeonholed as a vagrant. Wayward men would polish their shoes and maintain a clean shave. They didn’t do this for fashion, they did it so they wouldn’t be mistaken for a vagabond. In my day, cops would bust you for vagrancy and slap your carcass in jail (especially if you were a stranger in town). Despite the depression, homelessness was intolerable.
In those days jail meant slave labor. We had what they called “chain-gangs.” Simply stated, a chain- gang is a group of convicts who are condemned to hard labor. They would be chained together at the ankles and armed with picks and hammers. These destitute convicts spread fear into the hearts of honest citizens as they toiled alongside the public roads. Fear of ending up on a chain-gang kept crime at bay because harsh justice was metered out and displayed for all good people to witness. This was a fear tactic. It made it so everyone toed the line and didn’t rock the boat. Simply put; we were scared of going to jail. Incarceration was a highly labor-intensive experience, and the shame was unbearable.
Christianity was a big deal when I was growing up, but there were only a few flavors to choose from. There were no atheists to speak of in our town. People were a lot more homogeneous then. Homosexuality was highly taboo as well, and no one would dare identify as LGBTQ. As a population, we were very intolerant of variation. The men dressed as men, and the women dressed as ladies. Women were slaves then, and there were no modern appliances. The ladies had to kneel down on their hands and knees while scrubbing soiled laundry with a washboard. There wasn’t a microwave oven; a wood burning cook stove is what we used. In the summertime ladies endured excessive heat while preparing meals, because the fire box would contribute to the cruelty. There were no refrigerators, only an ice box. 20th century life was grueling to say the least. We had little time for introspection or recreation, because we were busy working all the time.
Would I accept an opportunity to go back in time you ask? Absolutely not! We didn’t know how rough it was, because we had nothing to compare it to. In my opinion, modern life is far superior to what I had gotten used to in my youth. Often times old timers will reminisce about the simple old ways because we tend to have selective memories. Old timers sometimes get nostalgic for the ‘good ole days, but not me. I’m enjoying the present moment as best I can while setting a good example and being a proper role model.
Fifty-Two-year-old, stay at home dad, philosopher, and recovering narcissist.