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Volume 13, Issue 20 ~ May19 - 25, 2005
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Our Treadmill Times

It’s easier to pop a cookie into a dog’s mouth than spend time responding to what he or she is really asking.
—Cathy in the comic strip Cathy

by Cathy Guisewite

It’s easier to do this; easier to do that, so in these days that’s what we do. We do it the easy way. We do it the quick way.

But bottom line: In the long run, is it the quick and easy way?

I got to thinking about that the other day when the editor of this sheet was curious about why we moderns, with all the so-called modern appliances and gadgetry, feel we’re getting busier by the minute. Seeing, by far I’m the most ancient of those who write here regularly, I should know.

And, boy, do I know.

By today’s standards, I’m from a primitive age: the age of the Great Depression.

It was the age of the pencil, the hand-wound gramophone, the rug beater, the brass clothes boiler, the ice box, the wood stove, the cast-iron flat iron, the crystal radio set, the hand-wound clock, the open-flame toaster, the clothesline, starch, home-made bread, darning needles, the butter churner, the hand-cranked ice-cream maker and auto, cats and dogs that got by on table scraps (or perhaps milk from the cow in the barn), dishwater hands, manual egg beaters, much-used sewing baskets and sewing machines, and can openers that operated by raising and lowering a handle with a corkscrew folded up within.

See, I am ancient.

It was before television — and I remember hearing on the radio, a big cumbersome battery-operated console with lots of tubes — about a new gadget that was about to hit the market. Would you believe it was the electric can opener?

What the Electric Can Opener Opened
It strikes me that the announcer was Arthur Godfrey, and though quite young at the time, I was intrigued by his comments. I don’t recall the prices of the first electric can openers, though I surmise it was in the neighborhood of four or five bucks. The announcer suggested the man of the house would have to work several or more hours just to pay for the new kitchen aid.

That said, he speculated that it would take years of can opening to equal the cost of the tool. Probably in the meantime, it would break, and a replacement would be needed. More hours on the job to pay for something that wasn’t needed by anyone who had a minute to jack the handle up and down of the old traditional can opener.

Like Cathy of the comic strips, humankind has since gone to great lengths to save time and effort. But where has it gotten us?

Back then, most women were stay-at-home housewives or mothers (though that would soon change with World War II), and men went to work away from home.

Times didn’t much change back to what they were before the war. Year after year brought even more emphasis on gadgetry to save time and effort, seeing that many housewives seemed not to mind going to work outside the house. Or did they really have a choice?

Work, Work, Work
Back when I heard about an inventor tinkering with an electric can opener, a more-than-reasonable wage was $25 to $30 a week. Pennies — even pocket change — weren’t tossed into a jar. They were spent — had to be to make ends meet. As the household gained the new gadgetry and appliances, bills mounted — or at least budgets were stretched (charge cards weren’t around then). So can it be that women had to remain in the workplace to pay for things that were designed to make life easier for them?

After all, they had to keep up with the Joneses. In the meantime, the Joneses were needing extra income to set the example needed so others couldn’t keep up with them. There’s a hint of authenticity in such thoughts.

Today, we’ve created a society where we work our fannies off and extort more energy than ever to buy more things to save time and energy. We’re like the hamster on a treadmill; round and round it goes — and basically we’re still in the same place. Incidentally, before long we won’t even need that electric can opener any more, seeing that more and more producers of canned goods are switching to snap-top cans, which, of course, adds a penny or two to the price of the tin.

So we’re back to where we started.

Monday is Wash Day
In those old days, on Mondays the big copper boiler came out, was filled with water and soap, and clothes were boiled. They went through a wringer clamped on the boiler’s rim and into baskets, then onto the clothesline to dry. Dry, the laundry was taken down to be folded.

Early Tuesday, the lady of the house started ironing. Grandma heated the irons on the wood stove; she used two; one was heating while the other was ironing. there were no wrinkle-free clothes back then; all but underwear and socks had to be pressed. Socks with holes in them were set aside to be darned; clothing missing buttons was also set aside. That made something to do while listening to Amos ’n Andy. If there was a radio in the house.

Who of that age cannot recall spring cleaning when the dust, also the soot and smoke from wood stoves, was beaten from rugs hung from the clothesline. That was a Saturday chore because it was a man’s hard job, and he sometimes had Saturday afternoons off from his paying job.

Dishes were washed in the sink and hand-dried; no garbage disposals, other than household pets. Also no garbage collectors, so those living in the country put leftovers and tins (no compactors either) into a dump far back of the house. Periodically one dump was covered up and another one dug.

Wood, coal, kerosene or gasoline had to be carted indoors to fill the stoves. Ice had to be lugged to the wooden ice box from within the insulating sawdust pile. Old poultry feed bags were bleached white and converted into sheets, pillow cases and clothing.

Even in such primitive, hard times there was a laugh or two.

Like when neighbor Mrs. Hopkins hastily bleached some sacks to make herself a shirt to drive Grandma into town.

The bleach hadn’t worked fully, and staid old Grandma was mortified in the village store when she noted the printing on Mrs. Hopkins shirt was still a bit visible, words from a popular chick–feed slogan of the time: Lay Or Bust.

Not So Different
Those were the days, really not much different from today: work to save more time — at the expense of more work. We’ve still not caught up with the Joneses, who’ll keep doing likewise to stay ahead of us. The good old days will always be with us, same old story — though now there’s no holey socks to darn. The dryer loses them. Enough said.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.