Things that used to be
Whatever happened to rumble seats? Whatever happened to muskrat coats once worn on about every campus by College Joes? Whatever happened to “telephones” improvised by kids from string and tin cans?
I don’t like saying good-by to these used-to-be items — even if they’re replaced by something better. I’m thinking that we’re saying good-bye to too many past memory makers. May Day baskets are an example.
I once rated May Day as more fun than Valentine’s Day.
A few days before May 1, my sister and I started making our baskets from such things as cut-down oatmeal containers, cottage cheese cartons, sturdy construction paper. We decorated them with ribbons, and color-crayoned curlicues of paper, decorative cut-outs. We viewed them as quite fancy. The evening before May Day, we raided Mother’s flower beds — and she was willing to give up even her choice blooms. About dark we made the rounds of the neighborhood, sneaking up on the porches of our friends, and leaving our filled May Day baskets.
Next morning, located on our porch, were equally creative homemade baskets filled with flowers — left by our friends.
In 2014, I didn’t get any May baskets.
And whatever happened to stick horses that once galloped off into the sunset with little kids astride? Every child once had a stable of stick horses. And every ride for every kid was memorable.
I wasn’t much of a seamstress, but for Christmas one year I made a fine stick horse for our son. It had stuffed head of tan plush material, mane of brown yarn, button eyes, a smiley mouth, and dandy reins cut from a tanned deer hide. That stick horse required neither saddle nor pasture.
My memory books also are filled with memories of clothes that I wore even as a little girl. About every dress in my closet once had puffed sleeves. Surely, mothers must have disliked ironing them. I liked their perky look.
Likewise, most of my dresses had sashes that tied in back. I couldn’t manage the tying, but Mother took care of that. For Sunday best, out came my black patent Mary Jane shoes that Mother shined nicely with a dab of Vaseline.
In those days before little girls wore jeans, pants or slacks, my garb for playtime, was “outer-garment” bloomers made of a dark khaki material, with elastic at legs and waist. I tucked my blouse inside the elasticized waist and was ready to play.
I had totally forgotten about this playtime attire until I recently ran across a childhood photo of me. Indeed, I was sorry that there existed photographic proof of such. But then I remembered how much fun I had playing — and those memories should forever be recalled.
College attire I remembered well. In the era when I went to college, no girl came to register without a plaid pleated skirt. Those students who had doting parents came also with numerous cashmere sweaters and twin sweater sets.
And in those days we knew not about tights or leggings. We were not permitted to wear jeans, or pants or slacks to class.
Saddle shoes were a given for footwear and I opted always for brown and white. Black-and-whites were in the minority, and on the wilder side, occasionally a few red and whites were seen.
Moccasins were a close second to saddles, but only if they had a penny stuck in the slot in front.
And remember ghillies? Once during college I had a black pair with fringe and decorative lacing. One doesn’t see many ghillies these days.
White anklets were our choice for class and long hose for dress. Nylon was not yet on the market and our options were cotton, rayon or silk. Cotton was a no-no, and silk was more given to runs, but all had seams up the back that were never straight.
Until plastic bonnets came along, to ward off the rain we tied a “babushka” around our head: a triangular piece of material that fastened under our chin, and made one look like Mother Hubbard.
Living on an Eastern Oregon ranch created memories galore. Many of those, too, now are used-to-be items — such as empty lard buckets put to use after we’d used the lard for frying — day after day, a considerable portion of our food. The lard came in three-pound or five-pound buckets, as I recall, and immediately upon being emptied were put to work. We used them for milking. We used one when we separated the milk to put under the skimmed milk spigot. Mother used them for chicken feed when feeding her flock and to bring back to the house the eggs laid by her hens. Lard pails went on every trip to the garden for pickings of tomatoes, string beans, raspberries — and they went on all our huckleberry picking trips, hopefully to be brought back filled.
And flour sacks. When we’d used up that 50 pounds of flour for pies, cakes, bread, pancakes, and sourdough biscuits, those sacks were used for dish towels. If it was a lean year when crops were poor and cattle prices low, the sacks were used, too, for pillow cases and undergarments for kids. When I rode horseback to town for the mail or groceries, behind the saddle, with saddle strings, I tied on flour sacks containing the groceries, letters and such I was bringing home.
And no longer do I see oilcloth tablecloths that once covered our kitchen table. They wore like iron, and spilled gravy or coffee, with just a swish of a damp cloth, were wiped clean.
Another used-to-be pertains to ferries on the Columbia. When we drove from Monument to Portland to visit my grandparents, we often ferried to the Washington side of that river to avoid the hairpin curves on the Oregon side. Bridges across the Columbia have just about eliminated that used-to-be.
At the recent primary election, more depleted memories came to mind: memories of used-to-be community elections. This year, as I dropped off my ballot at the county clerk’s office, I thought of how I had often voted at the Armory in the past. And when I’d walk in that building, half of McMinnville seemed to be there — talking, laughing, visiting with friends not seen for months. We knew all those serving on the election board, would not have had to identify ourselves to get our ballot had it not been required. I’d go home feeling good. Not because I’d done my civic duty, but because of the camaraderie, of again seeing old friends.
I feel sad that I’m giving up memories: memories about May baskets and wooden matches and unbuckled galoshes and stick horses. Their disappearance is eroding our memory banks. And — as with friends —- one cannot have too many memories.
Elaine Rohse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.