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More from “The Museum of What Used to Be”

June 26, 2011

There’s much to be said for youth, but even more for age. (Note that I don’t say OLD age, just age.) I don’t necessarily agree with Shaw’s quippy quote that youth is a wonderful thing, what a shame to waste it on the young. I like where I am and where I’m going. And, no, death does not intimidate me. All this is simply preamble to listing more of the things I remember from my youth, things that are now on display only in The Museum of What Used to Be.

Pay phones with three round openings, one each for nickels, dimes and quarters, each coin producing its own musical chime when it was deposited. This allowed the operator to determine if the correct amount of money had been deposited when making a call. Phone booths, too, were different. They were of wood with a glass-paneled accordion door. When you closed it, an interior light came on. There was a shelf for phone books and even a little seat to sit on.

One pound blocks of white margarine, accompanied by a packet of yellow food coloring. Margarine gained a foothold in the American market during World War Two, when it was used as a substitute for butter. The dairy industry, afraid of inroads into its market, successfully lobbied Congress to pass a law forbidding the sale of yellow margarine in quarter pound sticks. I remember my mom (sometimes dad) dumping the white margarine in a bowl and mashing in the yellow food coloring with a fork. The process was neither easy nor particularly pleasant. Margarine, however, was cheaper than butter

 • Dime stores. Also called “five and ten cent stores” or “five and dime,” they were a twentieth century incarnation of the old General Store of generations past. In them you could find just about any common household object you might need. Woolworths was probably the epitome of the dime store and there was one in virtually every town of more than a couple of thousand people. Dime stores have been replaced today by dollar stores and, sometimes, 99¢ stores. (Competition is cutthroat!)

Trading stamps, particularly S&H Green Stamps. Mom used to recruit me to lick the stamps and stick them in the booklets. We got lots of things for them but I don’t remember what.

Vacuum tubes. You could probably keep a living room comfortably warm in winter from all the heat generated by the vacuum tubes in the radio and the TV. When one burned out it required a trip to the grocery store or the drug store to a tube testing machine where you could test it and pick out a replacement.

Comic book characters: Andy Panda; Oswald Rabbit and his two nephews, Floyd  and Lloyd; Wally Walrus; Mighty Mouse; Little Lulu and Tubby; Li’l Iodine; Mary Jane and Sniffles. (Mary Jane was a little girl and Sniffles was her little mouse friend. She could make herself as small as Sniffles and then have all sorts of adventures. “Mary Jane”, of course, is an old name for marijuana and cokeheads often get the “sniffles”.)

• Backyard incinerators. All the new tract homes built after the war (at least, all the ones in our tract) had an incinerator where we burned much of our trash. This was back in the days when smog didn’t matter. Or fire safety either, apparently. Flames and sparks shot out the top, perilously close to our garage and the neighbors’ fence.

Metal taps you could buy at the dime store and nail to your shoes. We thought this was pretty cool. Parents complained that it ruined shoes. We were both right.

• Stoplights with no yellow, just green and red. In addition, they had two alternating arms that swung up each time the light changed. One arm was imprinted with a large green “GO” for the green light, the other with a large red “STOP” for the red light. And, as a kind of back-up measure, the signal chimed with each light change.


Cartoon #71: The scene is a lab with a chalkboard covered with esoteric equations and calculations, including a sketch of a rocket. One man, in a white lab coat, sits at a desk covered with papers; wads of discarded papers surround him. He looks frustrated and unhappy. A colleague, also in a white lab coat, stands nearby, looking exasperated. He’s saying to the other,  “Of course it’s hard! It’s rocket science!”

Cartoon #96: An anthropomorphized hyena, nicely dressed, is in line to board a plane. He’s carrying a dead animal. The ticket agent says, “I’m sorry, sir, but your carrion is too large.”

...and I'm not going to tell you where they are!














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