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Some Echoes & Vapors Of A Baby Boomer's Childhood

Updated on January 1, 2017
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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.

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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.

The sunken garbage pail from days of yore.
The sunken garbage pail from days of yore. | Source

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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    • KathyH profile image

      KathyH 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      So TRUE! Especially the hand held devices used these days by kids. Kids that carry cell phones are getting younger and younger! We used to just holler for each other from the doorstep! :) Sounds and smells can trigger memories for sure! Great nostalgic hub! :)

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Kathy,

      Some of those things I hadn't thought about in decades, and when I put my mind to it, I thought of more. It's a fun trip. Thanks for stopping by.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Hi Bob, I appreciate the memories. My environment was different, but some of our experiences were similar. My cousin and I were talking just last week about kids playing together after school and late into the evening. Those were indeed the "good ole days." We still have the vegetable guy, thank God.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hello MsDora, nice to meet you. Thanks for stopping by all the way from the Caribbean and commenting. It's sad that kids nowadays hardly spend anytime outdoors enjoying recreational or learning experiences. So many kids can't even hold a conversation.

      Unfortunately it's not entirely their fault. In urban and even suburban areas, parents are often unable to let their kids out unsupervised because of the dangers that exist in today's world.

      When I was a preteen we'd come home from school, change our clothes, and be out playing until supper time (after supper was for homework). That's almost unheard of nowadays.

      I envy your having the vegetable guy. The closest we come to that is the farmer's markets during the season that runs from late June through early October. It's just not the same! Thanks, again, for stopping by. Regards, Bob.

    • J - R - Fr13m9n profile image

      Jane Ramona Rynkiewicz Frieman 3 years ago from Morris County, New Jersey

      I can remember the rag man coming around with his horse drawn wagon. We used to play outside for hours until the street lights came on. Then it was time to go in.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Your use of the term "rag man" sounds familiar, J - R - Fr13m9n, but I can't seem to remember one coming to our neighborhood. He would have been a competitor, at least during the summer months, so we kids wouldn't have been too happy with him. Thanks for stopping by.

    • craiglyn profile image

      Lynda 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      So true; I remember well the 50's and what a wonderful time that was. I recall when milk was left at the door and the bread man came along with a horse drawn carriage and then there was the guy who walked the neighbourhood to sharpen people's knives. I've said it before and will say it again, "It was a neat time to grow up". Thanks for reminding us all again. :)

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Just loved this. I spent my 16th summer in Mass,, Amherst it was; and I was in Boston Harbor (have a picture of me and my girlfriend there) and saw a wedding in the street, just wonderful memories of such a beautiful place. The North Church, Kennedy's birth place. The covered bridges...well I could just go on and on, how wonderful it must be to live there.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
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      Bob Bamberg 3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      I forgot about the knife sharpening guy, craiglyn, thanks for mentioning him. I worked for the bread man after school and before I was old enough to get working papers from the school. We'd pull into a neighborhood and I would take product to the regulars who just took the same thing every other day. Joe would carry the basket to houses where he was likely to make additional sales. I got $1.25 for about 4 hours work. Those were the days. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      What a great hub in thinking of the good ole days for sure! I remember growing up and we played outside all day long, and did not stay inside like they do now on the computer or whatever. What a lovely suggestion to close our eyes and take in a deep breath and remember! We moved to a small town about five years ago from the city, and they allow us to burn leaves : ) Awesome. I will take in that smell for you!

      Thank you for sharing your wonderful childhood stories.

      Up and more and sharing

      Hugs, Faith Reaper

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      We'd spend all day outside, too, Faith Reaper, and if we were in another neighborhood, someone's Mom would feed us lunch...just as long as we were home in time for dinner (which we called supper, back on the block).

      Oh, how I wish I could smell those burning leaves again! It's been 50 years since I have. The closest I come now is the aroma in the air from wood burning stoves...still nice, but not the same character as burning leaves. Thanks for stopping by and re-igniting cherished memories. Hugs back, Bob

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Jackie, I actually replied to your comment at the time it was made...don't know what happened to it. It's floating aimlessly out in cyberspace, I guess. I've had that happen to other comments, too.

      If you came to Boston as a teen, I'll bet you took a ride on the swanboats that cruise a pond in the Public Garden. It's still a popular tourist venue, and a springtime newspaper and television tradition is coverage of when the swam boats are brought out of winter storage for the new season.

      It is wonderful place to live, but like so many locals, we're sort of oblivious to the tourist attractions. I grew up 5 or 6 exits on Rte. 128 (renamed I-95 in the 90's) away from Lexington and Concord, but never visited them until I was in my 40's and entertaining some visiting executives from the company I worked for. There are a plenty of interesting places to visit around here. Thanks for stopping by, and sorry again for the delay in answering.

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