Category Archives: Family

Fear And Loathing In The Elevator


I’m not really in favor of this getting old stuff. I’ve no reason to doubt that it beats the alternative by a mile — at least for now — but apart from a certain bemused perspective on things that formerly seemed much more important, I’d gladly trade the mature philosophy for the steel trap memory of my callow youth.

We used to live in an apartment building that sported an elevator lined with mirrors. It was the only elevator in the building, so it was also the one everyone used for moving things in and out of the three upper floors. The previous Formica lining, far and away more durable than mirrors, was pretty well beaten up after a couple of years. One need not speculate for long to discern the eventual outcome for the mirrors.

Shel bikini JP Park ca. 1978-79

Herself, back in the day…

While we reflected on the pending optical disaster we had the privilege of observing our increasingly decrepit corporal selves in halogen-lit starkness twice a day or so. You must understand that there was a time when I — and most assuredly my ex-model wife — had no fear of mirrors, and were in fact known to frequently seek them out. In my case, at least, that’s no longer true. I don’t exactly shy from them as if threatened with a sharpened stake but, on the other hand, that business of having no reflection in mirrors must comfort an aging vamp along about the third millennium or so.

In my case, I still half expect to see the 18-year-old who used to swim two or three miles every now and then just because he could — the same sonofabitch who could walk into Sears, buy anything off the rack, and walk out looking like an ad in Esquire. The reality isn’t actually all that bad, it’s just not who’s supposed to be there.

My wife (clearly a much healthier person than I emotionally) just adjusted her blouse and checked her makeup. I tried to ignore the old guy standing next to her, handsome and distinguished though he may have been.

Callow youth beats distinguished in a fair fight every time.

P.S. At least she is still beautiful.

 

String


ball_string

I imagine just about every household back in the 1950’s and before had their collection of old bits of string, saved in a ball for future use. I know we always did. Things weren’t wasted around our house, hardly ever. The folks made it through the Great Depression, but we pretty much stayed poor.

It’s hard for anyone who has lived in this period of relative plenty to even begin to appreciate what things were like, back before the second half of the 20th century. I know absolutely that the past half century was the best period in human history, at least for those of us fortunate enough to have been born in countries with the power to amass riches and hang on to it. Today, even the poorest of Americans has a standard of living greater than many of their forebears back in pre- and early post-war days. World War II brought us out of the depression, but most farmers and other country folks took a good deal longer to find a place on the prosperity train.

We were farm folks. Although there were power lines that ran through our property, we didn’t get electricity on the farm until I was about to enter the first grade or maybe even the second, around 1950. My mother made most of her own clothes, many of them out of material salvaged from flour sacks. Manufacturers made their products attractive in different ways back then.  For one thing, they were designed to be useful, not throwaway. People who made their living hand to mouth and weren’t exposed to the propaganda of television advertising looked for maximum value in their purchases, and the ladies chose flour brands quite as much for the patterns and color of the material in the sacks as for the contents.

Mom always had a ball of string, in either a kitchen drawer, a drawer of her old pedal-operated sewing machine, or both. The twine mostly came from the closures of the various sacks, which were sewn in such a way that they could be opened by pulling on the end of the string and unraveling it in one long piece. Other things that came in bags, such as fertilizer, were closed in the same way, so there was usually a pretty steady supply of twine to add to the ball, mostly white, but sometimes other colors that kept the ball of string interesting.

First Nations woman with cat's cradle

Cat’s Cradle

String was far more important in those days. It’s probably possible for a kid to grow to adulthood today without learning to tie anything but her sneakers, but before the days of ubiquitous plastic tape and other modern implements of security, we tied things. Twine held packages closed, pulled loose teeth, held together and provided guidance for kites, strung our toy bows, and held feathers on the arrows. It fastened the rubber strips from old tire inner tubes onto our slingshots (catapults, to my British readers) and provided amusement for a series of kittens. Kids strung it around their fingers in intricate games of cat’s cradle, Jacob’s ladder, and a variety of others — mostly limited by imagination — that probably date back to the first hunter-gatherer who twisted together some strips of bark fiber.  It was part and parcel — as well as part of the parcels — of our lives.

My mom kept a ball of twine for many years after she had an adequate supply of life’s necessities. Like other old habits she hung on to, I think it gave her a feeling of security. I never kept one myself (although I’m sure my older sister does). but I still find it hard to toss a piece of string.  Just doesn’t seem right, somehow.


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