The Olden Times

ELINOR GOCLDING SMITH lives in Scarsdale, New York. She has been a frequent contributor to these pages.


MY CHILDREN, like all children, love to hear about the bygone days when Mommy and Daddy were little, They sometimes express doubts about our veracity though, because it is so hard for them to imagine the rigors of life in the olden times before they were born.

For instance, I’ve told them of the clocks and watches that actually had to be wound up by hand each day, and I’ve told them about the sewing machines that only sewed forwards. I have tried to describe the labor and toil of Venetian blinds whose tilting cords got uneven because there was no mechanical device to keep them even; and they simply refuse to believe that we actually had to press a button to make the pilot light on the range reach the burner when we turned on the gas. “Just imagine!” they say in wonderment.

I’ve told them about old-fashioned razors and razor blades, and I’ve told them how Daddy used to have to unwrap the new blade from its paper, open the razor, take out the old blade, put the new one in, and then twist the handle to close the razor again. “Goodness,” say the children, “what hard lives people had then!”

I’ve told them of our toil with shoe polish that needed rubbing and silver polish that needed scrubbing. And I’ve told them how, in the old days, we did our laundry with soap. “How in the world did you ever manage?” they ask.

I told them about my first vacuum cleaner, before they were born, that had a dust bag which had to be removed and emptied; about the clothes drier with no chimes to tell you when it was all finished, and the ice cube trays that actually had to be removed and emptied and then be refilled by hand.

I told them about baking a cake by sifting flour and baking powder and stilt, and creaming butter tend sugar, and adding eggs and vanilla, but they couldn’t grasp the idea. I told them how we brewed coffee and lea in pots, and bought vegetables fresh from the ground with the leaves still on and the dirt still clinging to them, but they thought I was joking.

Once I told them about milk that wasn’t homogenized, and explained how we used to have to shake the bottle before pouring out the milk. They both came and put their arms around my neck. “Poor Mommy,”they said with tears in their little eyes, “how hard you had to work in the olden times!”

The other day I was telling them about cigarette packages whose cellophane wrappings had no little red strip to pull. “Well,”they said, “now you’ve gone too far. Now we know you’re making it all up.”