Generally speaking, I’m not the sort of person who romanticizes the past. The “good old days” hold little allure.
During my childhood in the golden age of television, often considered a prime example of those “good old days” when the trains ran on time and the world was kinder, gentler and generally great, a pleasant evening of enjoying the idyllic town of Mayberry and its amusing residents on the new-fangled tee-vee could be ruined by a simple call of nature. To start with, there was no DVR to pause the show so anything that happened during a bathroom run was lost forever. Or at least until summer re-runs.
And if that pleasant evening was at my grandparent’s home, it was even worse because the bathroom was just that, a room where one took a bath, in a washtub filled with tepid water schlepped in from the kitchen. Business of a more urgent nature was conducted in the outhouse behind the garden shed. The better part of an episode could be lost due to an unscheduled number two.
So it was a time when some ladies still wore hats to town and it was considered safe to let children run wild and unsupervised, but how can anyone in their right mind consider that an adequate trade-off for not having a toilet in the house?
So, I don’t often wax nostalgic for a time before indoor plumbing was universal. But when I do, it usually comes around Easter and it does involve hats.
Because we may have had to take the occasional outdoor poop when visiting our ancestors, but we knew how to dress back then. And when Easter morning came and it was time to welcome Jesus back to the living after the unfortunate events of Friday afternoon, we celebrated the empty tomb with style.
My brother and I put on our suits, white shirts and clip-on ties further secured with tiny, little tie-clips — mine was two silver-plated bulldogs and I still have it — and last but not least, freshly shined Sunday shoes, and trust me when I say that we looked spiffy.
My sisters were even spiffier with brand-new, poofy crinolined dresses, tights or frilly socks to go with their spit-shined patent leather Mary Janes, and, in a mysterious throwback to previous generations, a hat and little gloves. Their ensemble was completed by a tiny handbag that served no purpose whatsoever.
We were styling.
Granted, my suit was usually a hand-me-down from an older cousin, and it might find its way to my brother in a few years, and if we could still squeeze our constantly growing feet into the school shoes purchased eight months before, we did. But even so, I am still amazed that Mom was able to outfit us all for the day, down to the last accessory dictated by polite society of the day.
Her own dress, bag and shoes were appropriately springy but not usually new, and she had cut ties with her own “good old days” by refusing to wear a hat even at Easter, which makes it all the more mysterious that she never failed to provide brand-new ones for her daughters.
In case it’s unclear from this tale of bountiful spring finery, we were not well off. Dad didn’t make that much money, and clothes were much more expensive then, relative to income.
But Mom could squeeze a dollar til it squealed, and usually the line between “needs” and “wants” was very firmly drawn. And yet, for some reason that defies explanation, funds were found for hats and gloves and useless handbags that would only be used once.
It’s true that attempts were made from time to time to re-use a few bags from previous years but never with any success. After a year of getting knocked around in a toy chest or occasionally being pressed into service as a makeshift lunchbox, the poor, bedraggled things never met the required standard of Easter freshness for a second year.
The most amazing part of all this is that we were not unusual. Sunday school would be packed on Easter Sunday with kids in fancy Easter duds. In our neighborhood church, most of them were not much better off than we were. Some were undoubtedly worse off. And yet the mothers got it together to meet the standards of that mandatory springtime ritual.
In all the decades that I have treasured these memories, only recently have I wondered why so many valuable resources were put into things with such esoteric value. My mom did not give a rat’s patootie about hats and yet she continued to buy them at Easter. Because, I now see, the alternative was to be shamed and shunned. And worse, to submit her children to shaming.
In retrospect, there were probably some families who just couldn’t manage. But they stayed home and out of sight. I imagine it was preferable to face the inevitable barrage of condemnation resulting from being Easter no-shows than to publicly humiliate themselves with improper attire.
Those folks cut themselves off from the herd rather than endure the shame of non-compliance. It wasn’t until I finally realized the penalty for not meeting the standard of acceptable behavior that I fully understood Mom’s Herculean efforts to get us spit-shined and properly dressed for the big day.
When I think of the price that was paid for all those useless little suits and poofy dresses, and the even greater price that would have been paid if they had not been purchased, the “good old days” have even less allure than usual.
And if nowadays, we all have to deal with other folks who don’t meet our own personal standards of propriety and appearance, it’s no big loss. Certainly no reason to pine for good old days that weren’t all that good. And were certainly not great.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.