"What was it like in the olden days?" my daughter asked me one day. I laughed, and then I realized that in her mind, I would be an authority on everything that had taken place before she was born. At first, I was offended. I pictured in my mind the old, gray-haired fellow in town who everyone relied upon to tell them what happened to the old livery stable or when electricity or phone service finally arrived. I certainly could not relate to him.
Years later, when my daughter suggested I write about some of my experiences, I still did not put myself in the category of that old, unofficial historian in my hometown of Miller, South Dakota. The dictionary describes history as the branch of knowledge that records past events, and a historian as a writer of history. I knew that History was not one of my favorite subjects in school, until we started reading about the Civil War and the Old West. I don't consider myself a historian, but rather a teller of stories with some history in them.
The fact that a soda fountain is now a novelty, and a blacksmith is an artist and not a trade, leads me to believe some of my past is worth recording. Yet, one of my biggest concerns was whether young people would be interested in the memories I had to relate, and if I could tell it well enough to keep their attention.
My generation seems to enjoy going back with me to an earlier time. When I tell about our first telephone number being two longs and a short, they know what I mean. Eavesdropping on the party line gave us the news faster than radio. One hundred miles was a long trip, and three spare tires was considered a necessity. The milkman actually delivered the milk to our doorstep, and the iceman brought ice for our icebox. Gardening was not a hobby; it was food on the table.
When I was a young boy, a Whizzer bicycle was a dream that was out of reach. How I longed for a bike that had a motor and would allow me to race by the older, stronger boys and girls. I remember the neighbor boys sold the old Grit newspaper to earn enough money to buy a bike, but it wasn't enough money to buy the motorized version. Remembering that Whizzer made it easy for me ignore rational thoughts of safety and thrift. I bought my daughter a moped when she was fifteen years old. I lived my old dream through her, and I can still picture her with her hair flying in the breeze and not having to pedal.
I have seen a lot of progress, but when I became a grandparent reality set in when a friend jokingly asked, "How's it feel to be sleeping with a grandmother?" I laughed, but deep down I was shocked as I realize I had just uncovered the word old that I had long ago buried in the back of my mind.
When I think about my daughter's question about the "olden days", my reply would have to be, "Good, Michelle, it was good." I am comforted by my dad's words whenever the subject of age came up. He would say, "Old is ten years older than what you are."
© 2002 Maurice Karst