For many years I thought I was the only male child who helped his mother with the family laundry, including ironing. In a conversation about our childhoods last week I discovered that my neighbor used to help his mother with the family ironing, too.
My neighbor is just a few years older than I am and our memories go back more than 60 years. Many of the items and practices we remember, including “sprinkling” the ironing, have disappeared. They include:
• Sprinkler bottles. In the days before steam irons, a sprinkler bottle was a necessity. You had to moisten the line-dried clothing to make it easier to iron the next day. Our second grade class made clothes sprinklers as Christmas gifts for our mothers. The few pop cans available at the time had a cone-shaped top with an opening much like the mouth of a pop bottle. After enthusiastically consuming the contents, each student painted a pop can, decorated it with a colorful decal and stuck a sprinkler head in the opening. Mom loved it… I think.
• Clothespin bags. Sure, you still see some clotheslines in backyards. However, you seldom see the bags which used to hang from nearly every set of clotheslines providing quick access to the necessary wooden clothespins.
Laundry practices aren’t all that have changed. I also remember:
• Flash bulbs. The electronic flash has been a great benefit to professional and amateur photographers alike. Today they are built into nearly every camera. I remember having to pop in a flash bulb for each indoor shot and recall as well the unusual aroma flash bulbs released as they fried and bubbled.
• Corn cobs. Now that harvesting equipment removes kernels from the cob as the corn is harvested, you don’t see many corn cobs outside of corn fields. Back when corn was picked and stored on the cob, cobs were often found piled high on a farm yard after a shelling project. Among other things, the cobs provided fuel for heating and cooking and a great nesting place for rodents. I hated the rodents.
• Steering wheel knobs. Also known as spinners, these knobs were attached to a steering wheel to make steering easier. In the days of bench seats, a young male driver had to keep his right arm around his honey and a spinner made it easier to drive with just the left arm. That’s what the big boys told me.
• TV lamps. In the early days of television, homemakers often placed an attractive (or not) lamp on top of the TV set. The lamp provided soft room lighting which did not reflect in the TV screen or otherwise interfere with viewing an often lousy picture. Oma Gelder’s TV lamp featured a color photographic transparency of Holstein cows in a pasture, backlit by an electric bulb. It was beautiful!
• Console radios. These days radios can fit in your pocket. There was a day, however, when radios were built into large wooden cabinets. Those furniture-quality cabinets with their vacuum-tube chassis and massive speaker produced excellent sound in spite of the audio limitations and inherent static of the AM band.
• Salves. When I was a kid our medicine cabinet contained two miracle drugs which helped heal most minor rashes, burns, cuts, scrapes and other ouches active kids might suffer. Watkins brand cow teat salve came in a big red, gold and black tin. It was a thick, brown ointment with a medicine-like odor. The other, Cloverine brand salve, came in a smaller black and white tin. It was a lighter, clear ointment with a sweet scent. I’m no doctor but, doggone it, the stuff worked.
• Adding machines. There’s a calculator on nearly every desk and in every cell phone today, but you don’t often see an honest-to-goodness adding machine. These bulky, mechanical contraptions could add and subtract ̶ that was it. Even more rarely seen is a hand-powered adding machine which required a pull of a handle to make each entry.
Those of us who’ve been around for a while have witnessed many changes. When do you think the microwave oven will become obsolete?