25th 2010
Back in my day. . .

Posted under: American history, childhood, fluff, women's history

In the spirit of all of the complaints about young people today, I present you with a guest post by Mrs. Norbert Thrummox (nee Delphine Brumley), my entirely fictional great grandmother.

We didn’t have anything, get anything, or expect anything.  Christmas was pretty much like every other day of the year, only colder.  Our parents didn’t even know our birthdays, let alone celebrate them with cake and presents!  We never heard of such luxuries.

Breakfast was weevily cornmeal sprinkled on a half-sheet of newspaper, lunch was what we could forage on the playground at school, and supper was what we could beg from the bar we’d have to drag our daddy from at closing time.  (Mostly pickled eggs, or sliced radishes in summer.)  This was difficult, as we’d have to get up at 5 a.m. to make it to school by 8, but we were usually good and hungry for our suppers by 1 a.m. or so.  But we didn’t mind!  We were free.  Most things were free, because we didn’t have any money.  Theft was non-existent in our community.  I’d like to say that we never locked our doors, but that would imply that we had doors.  Most of us didn’t.

School was just one room 7 miles away, and the teacher wasn’t from one of your fancy normal colleges–just an Eighth Grade graduate, and that only if we were lucky.  But our teachers were really demanding and strict, and they got excellent results.  I was translating Catullus in the third grade, at least the poems without the dirty parts, and my brother was doing trigonometry in fourth grade.  That was probably because we knew teachers could administer fatal beatings to us if they wanted to.  Yes, teachers got results back then–they didn’t need a fancy normal college degree, and they knew that parents would back them up if they administered a fatal beating.  Unlike today.

Because we couldn’t afford flour or flour sacks, we kids used to amuse ourselves making newspaper dresses for each other.  Instead of stickball, we just played “stick” because we couldn’t afford a ball.  In the summers, we’d pretend we’d swing from a rope and plunge into the river for a swim, because our swimming costumes were made of newspaper, too.  (Besides, we didn’t have a rope.)  But, we had such fun!  Fun such as you’ll never, ever know, because it was a simpler time.  A time when a lot of what we had was made out of newspaper by our own two hands, before all of the pool parlors, the filthy comic books, the lemonade stands, and crystal radio sets ruined American childhood.  Where is the imagination in opening a comic book and reading a story?  Where is the creativity in just turning a dial to hear music?  Who couldn’t make a tasty drink sweetened with sugar?  We used to make our own fun.  Now they just buy it like it’s for sale, like something cheap made in Occupied Japan. 

Lord, I don’t know.

Leave your reminiscences of the “good old days” (real or fictional) in the comments below.


23 Responses to “Back in my day. . .”

  1. Notorious Ph.D. on 25 Aug 2010 at 8:47 am #

    Looking forward to reading the contributions. I have nothing about the “good ol’ days,” but you may be amused to know that my ride to work is, quite literally, uphill both ways.

  2. rootlesscosmo on 25 Aug 2010 at 8:47 am #

    But try and tell young people about those days and they just won’t believe you!

    (Cf. Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch.)

  3. Shadow Boxer on 25 Aug 2010 at 9:08 am #

    Back when I was a youngster, we had to take notes in school BY HAND. On PAPER, with a pen or pencil. If we wanted to talk to our friends during class, we had to pass notes instead of texting. We had to call each other on a home phone (and only super fancy people had phones without cords) if we wanted to get together on the weekend. And we had to look up phone numbers in a paper phone book. These young ‘uns have it so EASY.

    Oh – and we used Encyclopedia Britannica instead of Wikipedia, a physical card catalog, and a paper dictionary instead of Google. The 1990s were a much simpler time…

  4. Vellum on 25 Aug 2010 at 9:12 am #

    @rootlesscosmo – you beat me to it! here’s the link:

  5. Tom on 25 Aug 2010 at 9:15 am #

    From Tom’s Memory Museum of Obsolete Technologies I Have Used: manual typewriter with carbon paper, ditto masters, computer programming via card-reader, TRS-80, broadcast tv, library card catalogue, a clock powered by gravity and a spring.

  6. Indyanna on 25 Aug 2010 at 9:16 am #

    I remember when the kid down the block’s family got doors. (Or “doors,” as we called them). Everybody was over there every night just for the feeling of actually being “behind” one. That household squabbled every day over whose turn it was to “lock up,” who forgot to “lock up,” who “locked up last time,” &c. That block was also the origin, in fact, of the famous old childhood land chanty that goes: “did not,” “did too,” “did not,” “did too,” “did not,” “did too,” “I can’t HEEEARRRRR you…”

    At least, that’s what my older Sis said… Lord-dee! (Or “Land sakes,” as grandma preferred, so as not to take the Lord’s name in vain and all that…)

  7. Indyanna on 25 Aug 2010 at 9:18 am #

    p.s. @ Shadow Boxer. You had WEEKENDS?!?!?

  8. Nikki on 25 Aug 2010 at 9:57 am #

    Ah, the smell of dittos fresh off the roller…

  9. Susan on 25 Aug 2010 at 10:36 am #

    The smell of fresh dittos has rotted my brain.
    But really, Historiann, I don’t know why it took great grandma three hours to go 7 miles. Two hours max.

    We had to set the type for our books before we could read them…

  10. Janice on 25 Aug 2010 at 10:45 am #

    Susan, you had type? Spoiled modernist!

    We had to write our own books using nothing but charcoal leftover from the feeble fires with which we warmed the wattle huts we shared with the animals we’d butcher to provide the parchment on which we wrote.


  11. Mrs. Norbert Thrummox on 25 Aug 2010 at 10:51 am #

    Susan–my sister had a club foot, so we sometimes had to carry her when she was tired, or sore, or just slow. That’s why it took so long to get to school. Good thing the rest of us had strong backs.

  12. HistoryMaven on 25 Aug 2010 at 11:28 am #

    I was born in a log cabin I helped my father build.

  13. Matt L on 25 Aug 2010 at 11:33 am #

    My great great grandmother emigrated from Galicia (Austro-Hungarian Monarchy), and opened a bar in Pennsylvania. She left her family behind and only sent for the two children when they were old enough to work (8 yrs old)!

    I study the nineteenth century, but no way in he// would I want to live there!

  14. dutchie on 25 Aug 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    We walked to school three miles—up hill both ways—through a foot of snow in the 90 degree heat. We knew we were lucky to live so close in!

  15. Bing on 25 Aug 2010 at 4:52 pm #


    I ‘ad to give birth to m’self in a Yorkshire cabin that my father ‘ad not yet built, ‘ad to read rocks that were ‘ardly legible and that I ‘ad to carry back and forth to school in the interior of Iceland through freezing volcanoes–if I was lucky!


  16. Little Midwestern College on 25 Aug 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    It was so cold in the cabin we lived in that the flames froze in the lanterns. Because we were so poor that we had nothing to eat, we made firecicles out of them, and they melted in our stomachs and that’s how we stayed warm. Oh and all we had to eat were turnips and corn. We even had to make our coffee out of corn. And we liked it.

  17. FrauTech on 25 Aug 2010 at 6:30 pm #

    In my day we had to write our own computer programs, b/c “apps” hadn’t been invented yet! We didn’t steal ripped DVDs off your blasted world wit web or mp2s or whatever they’re called, we TAPED our songs off the radio onto casette tapes and recorded TV programs and movies off the TV like normal people should. Remember those things they used in the Matrix? they’re called payphones and when you were out of the house that’s what you used dammit and you were grateful for it. Times were simpler. If your “uncle” wanted to spend time with you and your younger siblings, alone, nobody thought anything of it, mom was glad to have you out of her hair. You kids just have no idea…

  18. Bing on 25 Aug 2010 at 6:45 pm #

    Here’s the original 4 Yorkmen sketch, from Cleese’s “At Last, The 1948 Show”

  19. Bing on 25 Aug 2010 at 6:45 pm #

    Yorkshiremen, damn it all to hell. :)


  20. janey on 25 Aug 2010 at 7:09 pm #

    pre monty python

  21. Bardiac on 25 Aug 2010 at 8:12 pm #

    ‘Night JohnBoy…

  22. Zuska on 25 Aug 2010 at 8:12 pm #

    The last time I visited with my mom, she tried to explain to me a game she played in her youth. As best I can understand, this game could only be played after a rainstorm, as it required having a nice patch of mud. It involved throwing a stick into the mud such that it would stand upright. And then there was some kind of running and chasing involved. A stick. And mud. And they had a GREAT time. So she says. So don’t go on about your fancy crystal radios and recording tv shows. All you need is a stick, and some mud. My elders have spoken!

    Now off to the mill, where I shall earn tuppence for 29 hours of work per day.

  23. Liz2 on 25 Aug 2010 at 9:15 pm #

    And the way they throw things away nowadays. We never threw anything away! That’s what the rooms in your house were for, not sleeping. If you were so lucky to get new cabinets in the kitchen, you just put the old ones somewhere else in the house. And bottled water? are you kidding me? You all PAY FOR WATER? Turn on a tap for pete’s sake…(in memory of my grandmother who died with an entire 10×10 room full of glass jars).

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