EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an occasional column contributed by Ogdensburg native Marguerite (Peg) Cordwell Brown about her memories of growing up in St. Lawrence County. Peg, daughter of Vivian and Benjamin Cordwell, worked as a reporter for The Journal while she was a college student in the 1960s, and currently lives in Rhode Island where she is the director of development for Button Hole Golf Course and Learning Center, Providence. She hopes her column will serve as a reminder of a kinder, gentler time in the north country.
“People seem to get nostalgic about a lot of things they weren’t so crazy about the first time around.”—Author Unknown
We already know this is not my 40th birthday or even my 40th reunion—and certainly not my 40th anniversary (unless you add two marriages together)…
Nope! This is the 40th column.
As I read the above quotation, I thought perhaps this unknown author might have been reading my columns. Over the past year, I have written about 50,000 words waxing nostalgic over a way of life lost when I left Ogdensburg at age 17 and never returned for more than two months, two weeks or a few days at a time. I must also add that the subjects of those columns might indicate that I am a bit of a Luddite—“Those that are opposed to, or slow to adopt or incorporate new technologies, computerization or automation” into their lifestyles. That’s probably best confirmed by the fact that I still hold on to my flip phone—and was one of the last to get a cell phone at all.
So I’m taking a break from nostalgia and making a list of things I DON’T miss about those good ol’ days.
•Getting up and walking to the television every time Dad wanted to change the channel;
•Washing and drying dishes—by hand. (In spite of the fact that my Mother never had a dishwasher until she moved into independent living, it would be the first thing I would install—even before a washing machine.)
•Sleeping on brush rollers under a bouffant hair dryer;
•Getting dressed under the flannel sheets in the morning because there was no direct heat on the second floor;
•Turning on the oven every time I wanted to warm something up;
•Fearing the whistling pressure cooker would explode as we were making a boiled dinner;
•Taking clothes off the line after they had frozen;
•Hanging clothes on the line—any time;
•Making coffee in a machine that used actual grounds instead of pods;
•Crank windows (in cars);
•Stick shifts—(actually that’s a lie; I’ve had a stick shift most of my life until the muscles in my leg started to rebel every time I used the clutch);
•Telephone operators and party lines;
•No copy machines—(I can’t even remember how we made copies of documents we needed to save);
•Racing home from school to get the milk before it froze and the cream popped the cardboard top;
•Push button cash registers—(my very first job was as a grocery clerk—you actually had to type in every price for every item);
•Girdles—(I think I mentioned this before—but I am grateful for Spanx!);
•Refrigerators where you had to open the door to get to the 12” X 12” freezer compartment;
•While I’m there—ice cube trays;
•Non-air conditioned cars—actually, anything not air conditioned;
•Linoleum floors that needed to be waxed and scraped periodically;
•One family car;
•AM only radio stations;
•Just three television stations;
•Orange juice that you had to defrost and mix with water;
•Department Store Catalogs—(okay, I’m a convert here—online shopping is just too easy—I do have to add that the highlight of our fall as children was the arrival of the Sears Christmas Catalog);
•Fleas on my dog;
•Non-high speed dentist drills;
•Payment books for major purchases;
•Encyclopedias—(what did we ever do without Google?);
•Push lawn mowers;
•Bath rooms with no showers;
•Coal furnaces (the real fear at Christmas was that I’d find just a lump of coal in my stocking—because, of course, Santa knew EVERYTHING);
•Camps without running water and bathrooms;
•No Coke Zero—or any other diet drink;
•Waxed paper and rubber bands for leftovers in the ‘frig—(I am an environmentally challenged champion user of zip lock bags!);
•Stacking records if you wanted to hear more than one song or one album;
•Smoke filled restaurants;
•Flat irons without steam and spray;
•No calorie counts on food labels;
•Stockings and garter belts;
•Bellbottoms (which I think I wore in the ‘70s with a macramé belt);
•Not being able to fast forward through commercials;
•Finding a roll of film and wondering what could be on it—then taking it to the drug store to be developed;
•Making fudge without a candy thermometer (I never got the “soft ball” stage and we always had to eat the fudge with a spoon);
•Home fries—(this needs an explanation: Mom worked as a secretary for a construction company during the building of the Seaway. Dad was charged with starting dinner at night before she got home. For over two years, we had home fries every day. To this day I can’t even order them for breakfast at the Donut King when we’re visiting.)
•Bacon grease kept in an empty soup can on the sink to be used for frying (see home fries);
•Washing your hair in the sink while kneeling on a chair;
•Walking five miles up hill both ways to school in a blizzard—just kidding!
I’m sure you can add to this incomplete list. But, as this column is much shorter than most of my previous columns, maybe there are more things I miss than those I don’t. Shocking!
“Waxing nostalgic,” generally means having a longing for the past. I never connected the term “wax” with something that grows larger—but the term “waxing and waning of the moon” does suggest certainly imply grow larger. Likewise, the Greek word for return is nostos and the Greek word for suffering is algos—so—nostalgia— literally suffering in the desire to return.
Luddites were English textile workers in the early 1800s who protested against new automated machinery that eventually replaced them in the workforce. Legend suggests that there was a Ned Ludd who destroyed machinery in 1779 in an effort to protect the jobs of artisans from being replaced with less-skilled, low wage workers.
My favorite quotation: “Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.”—Franklin Pierce Adams. As I really think about it, Mr. Adams is probably exactly right.
On a personal note—I’m not a complete lost cause when it comes to modern technology. I do have an IPod for the gym. It did take me six months and intense tutoring from a college student to download my first album.