Friday, March 18, 2016

It is amazing how the passage of time can change the meaning of ordinary occurrences. It used to be that a stream of water running across the kitchen floor was a signal that the pan to catch the drips underneath the icebox was full and running over. Now, it means that the dishwasher has sprung a leak.

Monday used to be the day that Mom did the week's wash, which required lengthy preparation. Tubs of rainwater had to be saved as it ran off the roof. No rain meant pumping buckets of well water, pouring it into the tubs and adding borax or lye to "break" the hard water. Then the brown foam that formed on top was skimmed off and the clear water was poured into a wash boiler and was heated on the kitchen range. This was all done before the washing was even started.

At my grandmother's house, clothes were washed by rubbing them on a washboard in a tub of suds. Our family was fortunate enough to have one of the electric washers with a wringer on the side. "Don't get your fingers near the wringer," Mom would say. But Monday washday was barely started. After coming out of the machine, clothes went through two rinse tubs, the second containing a tint of bluing to make white things look whiter. Then the shirts, dresses, and blouses went into a pan of starch water to make them iron out smoother and stay clean longer. From there they went to the clothesline, flapping in the sunshine until dry. In freezing weather, they froze into stiff boards and had to finish drying on lines strung throughout the house. Except for the towels, socks, and underwear, whatever was washed had to be ironed, but that was done another day. No wonder Mom said, "When you take that dress off, hang it up. It will do to wear again." The age of automatic washers, dryers, and anti-wrinkle clothing was still to come.

At the end of World War II, television, which had been in the developing stage for a few years, was ready for the public. I recall the crowds that gathered in front of the appliance store window to see the grainy, jumping, black and white pictures on the small screen. The quality of the images improved rapidly, however, and in 1947, my in-laws purchased a TV set, one of the first in our small town. They had company almost every night, friends and neighbors who came to watch the few programs available. They didn't wish to be inhospitable, so they endured the inconvenience of constant guests until a few more sets came to town. The next step was color TV, multiple stations, remote controls, satellite, cable, and streaming reception, and larger and larger screens. What is coming next, I can't imagine.

The computer age also dawned following World War II, changing the way the world took care of business. Its development was just the opposite of television. Unlike the ever-growing TVs, the monstrous, room-sized machines reduced in size over the next 60 years until one version can now be held in the palm of your hand.

When I was the tender age of ten, my life's ambition was to live until I saw the beginning of the 21st century. Now that I have passed that milestone and with all the countless miracles that have taken place in my lifetime, I am thankful that I lived in this marvelous age. But I am also thankful that I can still remember how things used to be.

Peggy Wickizer is a long time member of the Marshall Writers Guild, who honed her writing skill as a feature writer for several northern Missouri newspapers. This writing first appeared in the Guild 2004 book, "The Wonder of it All."