In 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007, I wrote columns that focused on the violence in our neighborhoods; troubling violence that impacts negatively on the lives of individuals and families. Each time I wrote one of these columns, my hope was that it would be the last one. It was hard to imagine that any decent individual with a concern for the sanctity of life would not be disgusted with this violence that surrounds us.
The reaction of our leaders has been predictable. They call for putting more police on the streets. Then there are leaders who mention the need for more prisons. Still others debate placing additional restrictions on the purchase of guns. Of course, we cannot forget the rallies and marches, but in spite of the good intentions of all involved, nothing has changed and I am not optimistic that positive change is in our future. The rhetoric of politicians and the rallies and marches will have little or no impact on the violence in our city until we deal with the root causes. I strongly believe we must begin to address this problem with a rebuilding of the family structure. Thus, on this Father’s Day, I cannot resist reaching back to those days when our fathers played a significant and critical role in creating a strong family environment. The lives of many of us today were shaped by the fatherly love and discipline that came from our fathers back in the day.
Thinking back to family life when many of us were growing up provides a clear indication of why things are so dysfunctional today. The family, usually a father and mother, was influential in shaping our behavior, thoughts and personalities. In most situations, mothers were the loving and affectionate ones. Fathers too could be loving, but many of us remember our fathers for administering the discipline that we received. Try to remember individuals being gunned down on the streets when we were growing up. It was rare for a child to have a gun. If what occurs today took place in the past, there would have been complete outrage from our families and from members of our communities. It would not have been possible for a teenager or young adult to have a gun in the house without being discovered by a parent, in particular, one’s father. Parents had no rules about the privacy of their children. As long as you lived with your parents, you followed their rules; everyone and everything in the home was under their scrutiny.
All around us we see the propensity for violence. Observe how some of our very young people speak and behave. In elementary school, their behavior makes them prime candidates for a future of violence. I ask myself if there are things parents can do to prevent these behaviors. We see 10-year-olds running around with their pants hanging down below their posteriors. They wear earrings in both ears. Hear the speech patterns! Even at age 10 the profanity is profuse. I would not want to bet about this youngster’s future but I do recall what the old folks would say: “Lie down with a dog, get up with fleas.”
Ending this vicious cycle of violence in our communities must start with how parents, particularly, fathers, deal with their children at a very young age. First and foremost, fathers must regain control of their households. We must return to those simple practices of our fathers back in the day to reinforce the family structure, such as requiring that the family eat together, go to church together, and get a good education. We must also require that children dress appropriately and instill in them those old-fashioned values that made us responsible adults. In spite of modern beliefs, children need more, not less discipline. While putting one’s foot up a child’s posterior as discipline may not be recognized as appropriate today, it did not hurt most of us back in the day. I have no doubt that most parents want to take measures to ensure that their youngsters will be responsible and respectful. Unfortunately, too many parents see being strong disciplinarians as being out of step with today’s standards. My love for my father is apparent in my past columns. I never had any doubt about his love for me. Still, with all the love he showered on me as a child, he would not hesitate to instill discipline and respect through a good old-fashioned beating, the kind that was not only expected, but accepted back in the day.
Apparently the measures taken today to keep children in line are not working. But those seemingly barbaric measures many of our fathers used had a positive impact. Criticize me if you care to, but I submit that a return to the disciplinary tactics of old-school fathers may be a significant start. Most of you from back in the day recall those big thick belts our fathers wore that doubled as instrument of discipline. Had there been an agency for child abuse back in the day, a lot of people would have ended up in prison.
Not all discipline involved physical force. Most of us heard these words from our fathers like, “As long as you live under my roof you will do as I say.” Or, “Don’t give me that look,” or, “Shut up or I’ll give you something to cry about?” Were you given a cup of soapy water to wash out your mouth because you used profanity? Then there were the words that brought fear into our hearts, “I brought you into this world and I’ll take you out.” No, it was not just a beating by a father that let children know who was in charge. Recall arranging to go out with a friend, only to find out he could not go because the friend was “on punishment” or “grounded.” Sometimes he or she could not accept telephone calls because of being on punishment, which could have also meant no television.
One comment that signaled potential trouble down the road if your behavior did not change was, “You are getting too big for your britches.” Perhaps these things worked in the past and seemingly nothing works today is very simply that fathers had enough guts to make demands like these on their children and held their children accountable. We do have to consider the role that other factors, such as technology, might contribute to the problems we see today; factors that did not exist back in the day.
These days are gone! Families are not the type we knew in the past, as too often fathers are not present. It was understood in the past that not all men who had children were fathers. Fathers, as we knew them in the past, were so fundamental to the family structure,but too many are virtually nonexistent today. So what we have, unfortunately, is what we see today: crime, violence and killings. This situation exists because too many fathers have abandoned their children,resulting in failure to make young people understand what family life means. We then have young people with a lack of respect for themselves or for those who are supposed to be in charge. While we could never return to the ways in which fathers disciplined in the past, we can return to the principle of discipline and embrace family values that were so integral to the Black family. So, on this Father’s Day, I suspect you know men and women who benefited immensely from the guidance and discipline of their fathers. I know one such person extremely well; that person is yours truly. So, on this Father’s Day, even though my father departed this life 21 years ago, his impact remains with me. Therefore, I give my thanks to my father for the way he shaped my life through his love and strong discipline, back in the day.
Every so often, I dig into my files and review columns I wrote early on. Since some are over ten years old, many readers may not have had the opportunity to enjoy them. This is one such column, initially published in this paper on March 23, 2003. Some things said in the past are obviously relevant today, as their roots remain from back in the day.
If you have children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, at some point you have been asked a question such as, “Do you think you can help me get a new pair of sneakers?” From the child’s perspective, such a request is Innocent, but if you are like a lot of people who are struggling to make ends meet, an appeal for assistance to purchase a $150 pair of sneakers is not taken lightly. Look at this request from another perspective. It is that time of year when many students are completing elementary school, middle school or high school, and with that come end-of -the-school-year activities. Consequently, you have most likely provided help in a monetary form already; it may have been for a class trip to Washington, D.C., Disneyland or some other faraway place of interest or fun; it may have been for something as small as a class picture or yearbook; or, it may have been a plea to help with the expense of a prom that not only included a special gown or designer tuxedo, but also a stretch limousine.
Have you been hit with this question yet? “Daddy, I just turned 16 and after I get my driver’s license, I really need a car.” Money, money, money! Parents often exclaim that too many children behave as if money grows on trees. Thus, the growth and development of the Black community has a clear impact on our children. But it has not all been in a positive way. There is a downside; the proliferation of a mindset of greed adopted by children, all because their parents are “people of means.” Today, we are doctors, lawyers, teachers, business owners, financial analysts, accountants and nurses; professional people with incomes that range from reasonable to a lot. As a result, anything Johnny wants, Johnny gets. But there was a time when anything Johnny wanted, Johnny had to work to buy, or at least work to help buy. So let us take our usual weekly trip back in the day, to a time when our young people engaged in a wide variety of money-making activities so they would have money of their own, to use as they wanted.
If you are thinking about the things kids did back in the day to earn a little money, you must be asking, “Whatever happened to the paperboy?” Can you recall how he would walk or ride a bike around the neighborhood, throwing a newspaper onto your porch or against your front door? You cannot forget his reliability; same time, every day. Then on Saturday, he would come around to collect money for the papers delivered that week. These were little boys who were focused and on a mission because they wanted some money of their own to provide them with the means to do for themselves.
Perhaps you delivered circulars. Back in the day, newspapers were not filled with advertisement inserts, also known as circulars. Little kids picked up a dollar or two by going door to door in a specified area where they distributed advertising circulars. These were little boys again on a mission; earning money of their own to buy some of the things Mommy and Daddy could not or would not buy for them.
Back in the day, the grocery store was a popular place for young people to earn money. Were you one who went to the store with a shopping list for a neighbor and her purchases were added to “the book”? Twenty-five cents for such a chore may not seem like much today, but money from several trips could buy quite a bit back then. For a similar amount, did you hang around the checkout counter to bag groceries? Perhaps you lingered outside the market to help place the shopping bags into the shopper’s vehicle. Or did you show more of an enterprising spirit by parking your Radio Flyer wagon outside the supermarket and asking elderly women if they needed help getting their groceries home? The delivery of groceries to someone’s home was a big payday. I can easily go back in time and see little boys pulling a wagon full of groceries while walking alongside an older woman. Given the state of our young people today, such a nostalgic image is one I would give anything to have in poster form to hang on a wall in my home or office. This is the kind of image that epitomizes the true meaning of back in the day
Can anyone go back far enough to remember the junkyard? If so, you must recall the same wagons that traveled to and from the markets also traveling to the junkyard. Wagons loaded with old newspapers were a common sight. Little boys would knock on doors or ring doorbells asking if there were any newspapers slated for the trash. Those trips to the junkyard always bring visions of the scales on which we piled our newspapers to be weighed; in return, we received nickels, dimes, quarters and yes, something called a 50-cent piece, back in the day.
Mom and Dad may not have liked you hanging around the junkyard. Well, in such cases, you went around the neighborhood collecting soda bottles. Now, you have to be a charter member of the back-in- the-day crowd to recall this experience. Do you remember leaving a deposit on a soda bottle? Empty soda bottles could be returned to stores in exchange for the two-cent deposit made at the time of purchase. It was the thing to do on Saturday mornings, as the two cents per bottle could generate the necessary 25 cents required for admission to the Saturday movie matinee. This was a popular money-making activity for young kids. It was not only little boys making money in this endeavor, but little girls were making money too.Girls would also make trips to the local store with their empty soda bottles, thereby reducing their reliance on Mom and Dad for their weekend fun.
During winter months, I know that a number of you shoveled snow. This was a good way to earn money, except that this was dependent on the weather. Did you wash windows as a kid? Well I did, and the pay was based on the number of windows washed. Besides washing windows, I also washed porches and steps as one of my own ways of obtaining my own money. Speaking of washing, many teenagers kept money in their pockets by helping to wash cars, especially the big whitewall tires some cars had back in the day. I strongly believe that because many of us engaged in various chores in return for a quarter or two, we were more conscious of how we spent our money. Furthermore, there was a greater appreciation for those items we purchased with our own money, compared to those that were purchased for us.
There were many other things young people did as a means of earning money in the past. Helping to clean backyards and basements were popular tasks. You may recall little boys walking around with their shoeshine boxes, an activity that has truly been left in the past. Some activities were shared by both boys and girls. But little girls did have activities that were just for them. Babysitting was a job for many little girls. Recall how easy it was, back in the day, to get a babysitter? Back then, once you obtained one, she was willing to spend the entire night. Listening to my friends’ struggles with babysitters, it appears that families have as much trouble finding a reliable sitter as they do in locating a reliable automobile mechanic or plumber. Back in the day, families did not have to worry about how their youngsters would be treated by the babysitter. They just knew everything would be fine. Little girls also knew that they could count on income by helping to clean someone’s house. Upon reaching their teens, girls could count on more than a quarter or 50 cents by “doing hair.” This was one of the first jobs that gained the payment of a dollar, significantly improving a girl’s earning capacity.
Tomorrow, next week, or next month, when your youngsters ask you for some financial assistance, give them a copy of this article. Let them see how young people hustled in the past to get what they needed or wanted. Make them understand that it was not always Mommy or Daddy who carried the full weight of making children happy. Let your youngsters know that while you took care of their needs, participating in some of the jobs mentioned in this column, such as packing groceries, delivering newspapers, shining shoes and babysitting, enabled you as a young person to have money in your pockets and purses, back in the day.
Those of you that follow my column recognize my love for holidays. Columns I have written over the past ten-plus years contain my fond memories of New Year’s, Easter, King’s birthday, President’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and of course, Memorial Day; the holiday we observed this past Monday.
Obviously, some of the holidays are more meaningful than others, but Memorial Day, or Decoration Day, as it was originally known, is a very special day. Some research I conducted for a previous Memorial Day column revealed that the location and the observance of the first Memorial Day is in dispute.Earlier , I shared with you that there are those who claim that it began in Boalsburg, Pa. Others claim it began with Southern women placing flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers after the Civil War. Places like Sharpsburg, Md. and Charleston, S.C. celebrated an early Memorial Day. Black Americans may be interested in the position of Professor David Blight of the Yale University History Department. He claims that the first Memorial Day was celebrated by former Black slaves at the Washington Racecourse in Charleston. Whatever the origin of Memorial Day, I have always valued those men and women who gave their lives to protect our country. In spite of the commercialism that has found its way into celebrating this holiday, I shall never lose sight of the significance of Memorial Day. Yet I must admit that last Monday, my mind wandered away from the true meaning of Memorial Day to the parades that occurred regularly on Memorial Days of the past. I suspect there are others who also truly miss the Memorial Day parades of back in the day.
While there are many parades today, from where I sit, none are comparable to the Memorial Day parades of the past; this includes the major Thanksgiving Day parades, past and present. Just go back in time to those Sundays before Memorial Day. I always hoped that church services would end early so I could rush home to watch the parade. I did not have to go much farther than my home. You may recall that many parades back then were right in our neighborhoods. There was no need to travel downtown to watch a parade, which is typically the case today. Growing up in West Philadelphia meant a quick trek from church to home to change my clothes. Then, there was a short walk to the area of 44th Street and Fairmount Avenue to watch the parade pass by. Forty-Fourth Street was an ideal place for me to watch the parade, as my aunt lived in the 700 block. Thus, I was able to go up on her porch and sit with other family members and friends and enjoy the bands as they marched by. If you were a parade watcher in the past or if you go downtown to watch parades today, I am certain you can appreciate having a neighborhood location to watch a parade with some of its additional advantages. Not only did it afford me the opportunity to have food from my aunt’s kitchen, it also provided restroom facilities.
The excitement leading up to the parade was unforgettable. When I was not on my aunt’s porch, I watched the Memorial Day parade from the corner of 44th Street and Fairmount Avenue. Because it was difficult to see over the adults who stood in front of me, I always managed to push my way to the front, and stood on a fire hydrant while my sisters held me upright, to watch the parade. Some people who managed to arrive early lined the sidewalks, sitting in lawn chairs, crates, or anything they could find and carry. Watching the parade from this location brought excitement much faster than watching from my aunt’s porch. You see, the parade originated at the George T. Cornish American Legion Post 292 at 4812 Fairmount Ave. I could vaguely see the parade participants in the distance coming straight down Fairmount Avenue. There was nothing like the excitement associated with seeing the marchers as they got closer; excitement that built as the sounds of the bands, in particular the bugles and the drums, grew closer and closer.
A most memorable childhood experience was that of trying to catch every movement of the bands, paying special attention to the drum majors and majorettes. How could I forget the drum majors of the past and their fancy uniforms? I thought that they were sharp and cool! While their attire was something to behold, in general the uniforms of the band members were clearly more elaborate than those we see today. You may recall the helmets, gloves, sashes and capes of the past. Band members also generated considerable excitement by their special moves. Do you recall the side-to-side movements? Some bands engaged in backward marching. The roar of the crowds watching was deafening when the bands engaged in the high-step movements. If you were like me, you hoped one of the band units would stop directly in front of where you were to carry out a routine. I can still see bands marching in place or marking time. In many instances, the drummers would take charge and bring a chill up and down one’s spine with the various drumbeats they performed; you could not keep still. I even recall bands that were completely composed of drummers. This was particularly exciting when the drummers were all young kids. I became nervous when the baton twirlers threw their batons in the air, fearing that they would misjudge their flight and watch them fall to the ground. It was amazing that I never observed such an incident. I still have fond memories of how the various units dressed alike. I cannot adequately share with you my desire, back then, to march in a parade; I would have given anything to march in a parade. Sometimes I would march on the sidewalk along with the band, dreaming that I was in the street marching alongside the band members. I even visualized playing an instrument while marching in the parade. The trumpet would have been my instrument of choice.
I liked long parades, as I could have watched from afternoon to early evening. I became sad when it was evident that the parade was coming to an end. You could tell the end was near because the military units, without instruments, and other auxiliary groups would make their appearance. Back in the day, you would also find Boy Scout units near the end of the parade. You knew the parade was over when the long lines of automobiles started to appear. As a child, I could not imagine anyone wanting to stand and watch automobiles pass by. Fortunately, there were no lines of firetrucks in parades in the past.
Memorial Day parades and all parades were such enjoyable experiences for me as a child. In spite of my age today, I admit that I still cannot avoid stopping whenever I see a parade. A parade quickly returns me to those wonderful times I shared with family and friends, back in the day.
A number of you have seen a widely circulated email, source unknown, under the caption, “To All the Kids Who Survived the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s ’60s and ’70s!” If the contents, that generated this caption, do not jump out at you, let me jog your memory today. This email highlighted some questionable activities and actions, some unsafe and others unsanitary that we engaged in, in the past, yet we survived.
As this email pointed out, in the past, we survived being born to mothers that smoked or drank, or engaged in both while pregnant. Being reminded of baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-based paints may have left you shaking your head. You probably gave no thought to the lack of childproof lids on medicine bottles; we wore no protective helmets when we rode our bicycles. None of us gave much thought to infants and children riding in automobiles with no car seat, seat belts or air bags. Some of you still drink water from a garden hose and not from a bottle today, just as you did when you were running around in the streets and yards of your neighborhood in the past. As I reflected on these things and the fact that we did survive, I began to think about how many other unsafe and unsanitary things many of us practiced, back in the day.
A number of things that I did as a child were not safe. Many of these activities involved playing in the streets. One of my favorite playful activities was riding a bike; most children rode bikes during their developmental and teenage years. I imagine that many of you caught a bicycle ride by sitting up on the handlebars of another child’s bike. One of my close childhood friends could only get on his bicycle, due to age and size, by holding the handlebars, running along side of his bicycle, jumping onto the crossbar, placing his left leg on the left pedal and then flipping his right leg over the crossbar so that his right foot was then on the right pedal. Since he could not stop his bike in the normal way, he stopped it by crashing into a bush, curb, tree, can or some other object. Now, how safe was it for him or someone else with his limitations to ride a bicycle? How safe was it to ride one of those go carts, made from a crate and baby coach or roller skate wheels, down a step hill? If the go cart had no brakes, it was really unsafe. Riding a bicycle or a go cart was even more dangerous when you consider that there were no bike helmets back then and also many children could be found riding them after dark, with no lights or reflectors.
Some of the games we participated in had their challenges. One of my favorite games was “hot bread and butter.” While it was my favorite, it was also a game that ends with one of the participants being in tears; clearly this was not a safe game but still we played it with gusto. You may have called it by another name but the principles were basically the same. One boy or girl would hide a belt in the backyard of a neighbor. The call “hot bread and butter, come and get your supper” was the cry for everyone, usually five to ten participants to go into the backyard to find the belt. Once the belt was found, the finder would hit the other children until they returned to the designated safe area. In spite of being hurt, in some cases bruised, we played this game throughout my childhood. Also dangerous was riding a sled down a long driveway or hill, during a snowy day, right into the street. This was particularly dangerous when there was no one at the end of the driveway or hill to alert the occupant of the sled that an automobile was coming down the street. I do not know how I was able to get off of my sled, one afternoon, as my sled went directly under an oncoming automobile. Yet, I sled down this same driveway over and over again, knowing that it was unsafe. But, we did silly, dangerous and adventurous things like this, back in the day.
Many dangerous or unsafe practices were thought of as fun when we were young. Walking on the railroad tracks here in Philadelphia or perhaps in the South was one of those practices. Sometimes, unfortunate lessons came from this silly but dangerous behavior. If someone, while walking the tracks or in some other circumstance fell and cut himself, what was done to stop the bleeding when no first-aid kit was available? Someone reading this column had dirt rubbed into their cut to control the bleeding. I vividly recall the process for removing a splinter. A needle was sterilized by holding it over the burner of a stove or over a match. This was not only unsafe but also unsanitary. Then there was the habit of cleaning the wax from one’s ears with a hair pen. Now, this is not one of those unsafe and unsanitary habits left back in the day; a number of people still use this method today. I know for a fact that this is still being done today because “yours truly” is quick to pick up a paper clip to remove wax from his ears.
Ear piercing was one of those unsafe practices popular back in the day. Usually it was not done in a doctor’s office but at home. I can still see young ladies walking through the streets with tooth picks or straws, sometimes thread, sticking through their ear lobes. If things went well, eventually those young ladies would be wearing pierced earrings. However, the unsanitary practices used in piercing sometimes resulted in infections or other serious problems. Other unsanitary practices young ladies engaged in while in junior high or high school, included borrowing a friend’s lip stick or other makeup and sharing a friends comb or brush These were just things that we did back then. There was little thought as to whether these were unsafe and unsanitary behaviors.
When I think of how much emphasis is placed on hand washing, I think about the children who sucked their thumbs back in the day. How many of you sucked your thumb? For those of you that may have done this, do you recall frequently washing your hands before putting your thumb in your mouth? We know there are issues around this practice related to orthodontic services, after years of thumb sucking. However from a perspective of sanitary practices, thumb suckers would need to have done a lot of hand washing when you consider the many places those little hands had been.
What could be more unsafe and unsanitary than handling money and handling food at the same time? Most people have ignored in the past and continue to ignore the practice today of driving through a fast food restaurant to pick up their foods, remove the dirty money from their wallet, pay for it, receive their food and drive off while eating their food. Few people give thought to the number of times that money is handled after it had been printed? I know of no one that washes money. At the same time, think about that dirty steering wheel that you are handling. It is as dirty today as it was back in the day. While many food servers wear gloves today, you must recall that no one, particularly at drive through windows wore gloves, when we were growing up. Back then, we also were not carrying hand sanitizer or sanitary wipes with us so that we could be certain children washed their hands before eating their food. We cannot fail to mention the purchase of food from vendors, back in the day. Think about those dirty, but tasty, hot dogs that you purchased from carts on the street or at a ball park. Back in the day, they wore no gloves but even if they did, the water in which the hot dogs were cooked had been used from sunup to sun down. Not much has changed about this today.
Consider some of these other unsafe or unsanitary practices from back in the day. If you grew up in a neighborhood with a corner grocery store, then I have no doubt that the pickle barrow comes to mind. Many of us loved to go into the store and pick out a large dill pickle. What most of us did not considered, however, was how infrequent, if ever, these pickle barrows were emptied for cleaning. Were you someone that used a small sharp knife to put food directly into your mouth? Did you engage in passing a soda bottle as a youngster so that you all drank from the same bottle? As you became older, did you share the same bottle in drinking alcohol or share a cigarette with another person? Did you sneak into a dance through an open window by climbing up the side of a building? Do you still lick your fingers to turn pages of newspapers, magazines or books? So you dropped something you were eating on the ground or on the floor. Rather than throwing it away in the past, you picked it up, kissed it and held it up to the sky. Obviously, not safe ,and unsanitary. These are all things we warn our children and grandchildren not to do today, but we engaged in these things quite often, back in the day.
Of all of the things that I experienced while growing up that was unsafe and unsanitary, involved an injury I sustained while playing football at 11 years old. I broke the ligament on my right, ring finger. The top section of my finger was bent over on a forty-five degree angle. My cousin took me to his home to provide aid. He stopped while we walked to his home and picked up two freshly used Popsicle sticks that were lying on the ground. At his home, he placed my finger in a splint created with the Popsicle sticks. I did not tell my parents what had happened but they eventually found out when a week later my cousin removed the wrap and my finger bent over just like it was following my injury and surgery was the only answer.
Obviously, we survived and for many of us have lived to a ripe old age even though we did a number of unsafe, unsanitary and I should add, dumb things, during our developments years. However, I suspect that few of us would exchange the adventure, creativity, lessons learned and the camaraderie we experienced in these activities, back in the day.
My pastor, the Rev. Marshall Paul Hughes Mitchell, is clearly the master of words.
At the rate I am going, I may have to provide him with a small stipend as quite often, his interesting, informative, instructional and well-delivered sermons plant thoughts in my mind that have become the basis for a number of my columns.
This is true today as the genesis for this column comes from something my pastor said, on a Sunday morning several weeks ago.
At some point during the worship service, at Salem Baptist Church of Jenkintown, my pastor used the term “gumption.” My wife looked at me and whispered that she had not heard this term in some years.
So, I decided that I would invite our readers to join me in taking one of those memorable trips to back in the day, recalling those unique words and sayings that people used in communicating with one another — words and terms that were quite descriptive — words that often times were not in the dictionary — terms that we associate with family and neighborhood folk — words that were imbedded neatly into our memories as a result of people being creative or cool — words that came, perhaps, from growing up in the south or just being misinformed, back in the day.
Just look around your home and you will reflect on words that are seldom used even though those same things from the past are still around, yet called by a different name. You may recall when your living room was a parlor. What about a sun room, vestibule or shed kitchen? What ever happened to the family’s cuckoo clock? Is there still a mantel in your home? While you may still have a table in front of the couch rather than the sofa, do you refer to it as a coffee table? What about other things that were in your home such as armchairs, bunk beds, oven, ice box, pot belly stove, linoleum, china cabinet, Venetian blinds, banister, claw foot bath tub, and wash tub. I know that you recall people using this word, Frigidaire, a brand name, to refer to all refrigerators back in the day.
When is the last time you used any of the following words or terms in relationship to your automobile — running board, continental kit, manual gear shift, choke, clutch, dimmer switch, antenna, eight track tapes, white walls, inner tube, bumpers and bench seat? Whatever happened to another word associated with automobiles, hitchhike? In the world of fashions, do you still hear the word trousers, britches or knickers in anyone’s vocabulary? Do you still tell a person that they are wearing some nice threads or that they are dressed in a snazzy manner? Are stockings with seams still asked for when buying nylon stockings? Are articles of clothing still described as being store bought or homemade? Do women today carry a purse or a pocketbook?
If you work in an office, think about those things that are no longer there. Something as popular as a typewriter has disappeared! I know that there is no mimeograph machine still being used. With few exceptions, time clocks are things of the past. Do any of you still receive overtime payments or compensatory time? Is there a drinking fountain in your place of employment or a water fountain?
Many of us have been in tough situations in the past with a knucklehead; quite often we end up in situations that we described as being “in a pickle” — being in a pickle as a result of just fiddlin’ around. In reaction to being in such situations you could have heard my father’s favorite word, confounded! If it was one of those heated discussions, with more than a share of cussing, you may have accused your colleague with engaging in “fool’s talk”; the person was a heathen that was trying to bamboozle you. The reaction to a confrontation in the past may have resulted in the expression, “oh phooey” or “darn it” perhaps ending with such words as, “I’m not studyin’ you!” These words are occasionally heard today but they were widely used, back in the day.
If boy/girl relationships have crossed your mind, then you are obviously thinking about those many words associated with all aspects of dating. When is the last time you heard someone ask a potential partner, “can I stand a chance with you?” Or, “will you go with me?” Conversely, how many years has it been since you were told or you told someone, “I quit you”? These are clearly, back-in-the-day expressions. How many words from your past can you recall that were used to describe a female that was well-endowed? Did you describe such a female as being built, sporty, stacked or a brick house? Under such circumstances, did you describe the female as bad when her physical condition was not simply good but awesome? So, did you try to hit on such a lady that was choice or fine, with the object to hook up with her? I recognize that I write for a family oriented newspaper. Thus, I must be careful with words from the past to describe a physical encounter. Clearly, there are a wide variety of such terms but let me simply leave you with I would love to hit that or get some. Now, tell me, does the term knocked up come to mind in mentioning these words? So, what were your words for a female that had a light complexion? Were they fair, light-bright, redbone or yellow? I am sure there were young ladies in your school or who lived in your neighborhood referred to as being five hundred or sadidy. Believe me, it was tough dealing with one of these young ladies that were viewed as high falutin’, back in the day.
At the other end of the spectrum, there were those less desirable females that were saddled with terms that were not complimentary at all. Most of you are familiar with the terms tack head and pepper head. What does the term skeezer mean to you? What about boga bear or someone with a bad mug? Now, I know that you recognize what it means when a young lady is described as fast! As far as young men are concerned, I know that someone in your neighborhood or school was a Romeo. Being classified as a dog or a player was common in the past when one had many girlfriends and these terms are still used on a regular basis today. These were guys that girls should have ditched sometime ago. If you were an older man and engaged in such behavior, you were classified as an old buzzard. Then again, perhaps the guys you know did not fit these terms. Maybe they were nerds, mama’s boys or boys that were always engaging in some type of lollygag or who just talked a great deal of smack or do-do.
So, what was a whatchamacallit? Did you ever ask, “wassuuuup?” Was there really a thingamajig? Have you ever inquired about that doohickey? Has irregardless found its way into the dictionary replacing the term regardless of? Do you know anyone that is clearly a smart alec? You have been out on the town and you return to your pad totally wiped out; blasted; bombed out; or a tad bit, high from drinking that idiot juice and ending up going home as a running drunk. The term heard most frequently in the past was, tore up.
Whenever I think about words that are no longer around or words that were not used or pronounced correctly in the past, I think of my mother saying remember me when she should have correctly said, remind me. Also, the Acme Supermarket was always pronounced “A-ca-me” by my mother. One of my close friends regularly spoke of her grandmother’s worryation. In response to my doing something in haste, a close friend said to me on numerous occasions when the outcome was not as expected, “I could have told you that in the first beginning.”
It would be difficult to leave you with the numerous words that are not around today but let me leave you with a few more. I was ushered out of the store. I know you recall oh shucks; fly; hip; freakin cool or bad; greenbacks; she’s the bomb; school master; cockeyed; bow legs; graveyard; timepiece; supper; lame; shot down; soda pop; movie house, lady like; make haste; yester night; yes sin; chill; kick back; fair to middling; y’all; composed; copesthetic; digits; grub; fire plug; filling station; red car; shush; crumb snatchers; money tree and elbow grease. So, when you went outside, did your mother say that you were outdoors or outside?
There is no doubt that I have barely scratched the surface with these words and expressions; you could add significantly to these words that I recall from the past. As you recognize, some of these words are still in use while others have totally disappeared. Obviously, one must be careful with regard to the context, as well as the environment, in which some of these words are used. One thing, however, is certain; if you connect with them when you are out and about and hear someone using one of the words or expressions appearing in this column, there is little doubt that their vocabulary was developed and refined, as was yours, back in the day.