Friday, August 5, 2011

Getting Real About the Past

A relative of mine (a fellow senior) forwarded the following e-mail to me:

"We didn't have the green thing back then
Here is an old-timer's response to the incessant inundation we get on the "Green Thing" and "Sustainability."
In the line at the store, the cashier told an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.
The woman apologized to her and explained, "We didn't have the green thing back in my day."
The clerk responded, "That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment."

He was right -- our generation didn't have the green thing in its day.
Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

We walked up stairs, because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.
Back then, we washed the baby's diapers because we didn't have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts -- wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house -- not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana .
In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us.

When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.
Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.
We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.
We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?
Please forward this on to another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from a smart ass young person."
Well, I gave this message some thought, and here's my response.

  • Back then America built cars with big cars with single-digit gas mileage "because we could" and believed that we were entitled to consume as much fuel as we wanted, unlike Europeans who were economizing with small, fuel efficient vehicles and mass transit.
    • We separated garbage from paper trash and burnt the latter in backyard open air containers.  We raked fallen leaves and collected the cut grass from the above vaunted hand mowers and burnt them at curb side. The smoke of course created constant air pollution. In places like Los Angeles, the air quality was much worse than it is today.
    • Supermarkets couldn't wait to get out of the bottle recycling business. In California in the 1970's they lobbied against and defeated a ballot proposition requiring that they resume that function.
    • Ballpoint pens were already popular in the 1950's. Does anyone really want to go back to fountain pens that leaked in the pocked of your white shirt? But fountain pens are still available. I wonder who's buying them.
    • It's hard to drink from water fountains when so many places have eliminated them. And remember when the water pressure from the fountain spout was low and the person in front of you would put his mouth on it and slurp like a dog? Yuck.
      These are just a few examples that come to mind to remind us that we were not as conservation-minded back then as we would like to think. And the only reason that we made do was not out of nobility of character but because we had no choice and didn't know any better.  If our modern conveniences could be transported back in time, people back then would jump at the chance to use them.

      Oh yes, one last thing. Why do we old folks generate e-mails patting ourselves on the back about how we got by on the bare essentials in the good old days?  Why don't we write to each other via snail-mail instead—in longhand with a fountain pen?     


      Andy said...

      "We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty..."

      Of course, it goes without saying that the blacks had the benefit of having their own drinking fountain.

      Secular Guy said...


      Thanks for writing. Good point.