Some Echoes & Vapors Of A Baby Boomer's Childhood
Remembering Extinct Sights and Sounds of The 50's & Early 60's
How often have you uttered the phrase, “You don’t see that anymore.” Frequently, I’ll bet. But have you ever thought of the sounds and smells that were a part of your youth but are no longer here?
I was pondering that subject in the quiet solitude of my pre-dawn 3 1/4 mile walk this morning. The days are getting shorter and the birds aren't up yet, so there were no distractions. What a trip down memory lane!
I grew up in a suburb of Boston, a town of about 17,000 people, where town employees, “the town guys,” did everything…repaved streets, collected trash, trimmed trees, all stuff that’s largely privatized today. When the town guys were working in our neighborhood on hot summer days, we kids kept them supplied with ice water all day long.
Every few years the town guys would repave our street (one of the main roads) with crushed stone. One truck would lay down a layer of molten tar (a true summertime smell), another would follow, laying down the crushed stone, and then a steam roller would flatten it all down.
Well, most of it. For the next few days all we’d hear was the sound of crushed stone pinging against the undercarriage of the cars that drove over the new surface. You don’t hear that anymore.
Balance that with this wintertime sound: the rhythmic "thwump-thwump-thwumping" of tire chains on hard packed snow. You'd hear that in the early hours of the snowstorm, before the plows got out. And, of course, snowfall would continue after the plow passed, so there was always the thwumping.
How about the clanging of the garbage can? To me, more than 60 years later, I can hear it as clearly as if I had just taken out the garbage. There was a clear distinction between garbage and trash back then. Trash was household waste that we mostly burned in 50 gallon drums in our yards.
Garbage was food waste that we dropped into a sunken barrel on our property. The cover to the sunken barrel was like a toilet seat, except that it had a step-on "pedal" that lifted the cover when you stepped on it.
In the summertime, houseflies would lay their eggs in the garbage and when you lifted the cover, the food waste was teeming with maggots, which were the fly larvae, but we didn't realize that at the time. We just thought maggots were an insect in their own right, but always wondered why there were so many darn flies around.
Once a week the garbage men would come and empty it. The smell of the garbage truck is long gone but the memory of it is vivid, unmatched even by the smell of today’s trash trucks.
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My pre-teen years saw the last of “the vegetable man;” a horse-drawn produce wagon that would come through the neighborhood amid shouts of, “Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppuuuuuhhhs!” Those sounds disappeared when they converted the business to trucks.
We also had “the pony boy,” the precursor to the ice cream man. It, too, was a horse drawn wagon, announcing its progress with the jingle of a bell; similar to the kind we had on our bikes. The pungent smell of the horses lingered for minutes after they departed. That jingle was replaced with loud clangs when the horse and wagon was replaced by a truck.
The sound of the pony boy, and later the ice cream man, was a welcome sound we took for granted; unlike the annoying repetitive music of today's ice cream truck. In my area there are neighborhoods that have silenced the annoying music by threat of a boycott.
Another summertime shout came from us kids as we pulled our Radio Flyers through neighborhoods shouting, “Newspapers, rags, magazines!” Like many communities, we had a local junkyard that would buy from us, and recycle, those commodities that we collected. We got 3 cents a pound. Boy, did we appreciate those heavy magazines.
We had certain houses we stopped at because the people saved that stuff for us, but otherwise we had to solicit it, and going door to door just wasn’t practical. Stay at home Moms, the norm back then, would shout for us to wait, they had some stuff for us.
When the carnival came to town, a whole day of collecting would net enough for me and a friend or two to ride our favorite rides, play our favorite games, and get some cotton candy and caramel apples. No, there were no Dough Boys or Bloomin' Onions back in my youth...the dark ages.
You don’t hear those shouts anymore. Nor do you hear the sounds of kids calling their friends out to play. We never rang the doorbell; we just stood on his back steps shouting his name. Today, you hear the ring tone of an incoming text: “im outsd wting.”
You also no longer hear the sounds of parents or older siblings calling kids in for meals or for the night. They’d stand on the front porch, cup their hands around their mouths, and holler to the kid by name. These days you don’t need to do that because the kid is in his room on the computer or on some hand-held electronic device; if not, you just call his cell phone or text him.
Remember the sounds of a pickup baseball game at just about any ball field in town? You could usually only muster enough kids for 3 or 4-man teams, so you made up rules like: pitchers-hand out, no hitting to right, invisible man on base. More than the sound of bat-on-ball, you’d hear the arguing over infractions of those rules. You don’t hear that anymore.
And what about the after-supper shouts of “Red rover, red rover, send Johnny right over”… “Tag, you’re it”…“Oley oley in free” and “Go all the way back, you didn’t say may I” among the squeals and giggles of those childhood games.
Ah, the smell of burning leaves! Of course, modern day open burning laws prohibit the practice, but back then, every autumn the air was filled with that glorious aroma. First we raked the leaves into huge piles. We'd jump in them until Mom came out and made us get back to work, then we'd rake them over to the curb for burning.
Today’s candle makers have fall fragrances such as Hot Cider or Spiced Pumpkin. I wish one would come out with Burning Leaves. I’d buy them every year.
The mind’s eye is a wondrous enrichment, but so are the mind’s ear and the mind’s nose. Sometime when you have nothing pressing on your agenda, sit back, close your eyes, and focus on the sounds, aromas and odors of your childhood. I bet you'll find it a rewarding and enjoyable trip down memory lane.