The good ol’ days

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange has been reflecting lately on the so-called good old days, and thinks he likes much better the ones we’re in right now.

(Lange) Oh, the changes Mother and I have seen! I don’t know how well you remember the Fifties. Dwight Eisenhower was in his second term. American automobiles were sprouting fins, like the last of the dinosaurs. Seat belts, defrosters, directional lights, and electric wipers were available as options on some cars. We were the last generation to get hollered at for sticking our fingers into the rubber blades of the dashboard fan. I think often lately of those last days of our nation’s innocence, and the first of the Cold War and our infant marriage.

This afternoon at dusk, with gray clouds hanging over brown-and-white hills, the dog and I trudged a line between bare woods and frozen fields. A couple of crows sat in a distant dead elm and watched us out of sight. It was almost dark when the lighted windows of Mother’s office came into sight. What a contrast in only one generation!

It’s not just the house, with its peaked roof looming through the trees at the head of the driveway. So different from that first upstairs apartment with its flat roof as full of holes as a shotgunned stop sign, and its bare, hanging light bulbs. It’s not the two vehicles in the garage – vehicles that start! Those days, we had a spectacular and weirdly inappropriate Jaguar roadster, and no garage. On cold mornings, a Coleman stove shoved under the engine would sometimes get it warm enough to turn over so I could leave for work.

The contrast is less material, though, than… I don’t know the word for it. Social, maybe. Mother and I were raised on Dick and Jane and Pleasant Street; on Walter Farley, Mark Twain, and Superman; on Mitch Miller, Red Skelton, Patti Page. Girls in those days learned to cook, to put their hair up after lights out, and to be principled, but submissive. Boys learned to work, save their money, and be responsible for supporting and leading a family. Right or wrong, that’s what we brought to the union.

I doled out the meager grocery money each week, paid most of the bills, and kept the kerosene stove full. She had supper ready almost every evening by the time she heard me downshift at the edge of the village. There’d be enough hot water for a bath, too, and she’d have on a clean apron. She never did get the hang of lighting the space heater without almost burning down the house, which reinforced another gender bias I’d brought with me.

Approaching the house this evening, I could see her through the window. She had a portable phone to her ear, and she was scanning a fax coming out of the machine. Her bookkeeper was just finishing up for the day and handing her the checks to sign. Fresh pile of UPS parcels on the porch. The dog sniffed at them. I started carrying them in.

“Oh, thanks!” she said, covering the phone with her hand. “Have a nice walk?”
“Mm-hmm. Very nice. How, ah… how do you feel about maybe making supper tonight?”
“Oh, I think I can handle that. Why don’t you empty the dishwasher first?”

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire.

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