WARNING: This column has been written by a card-carrying member of the Geezer Generation. In next few paragraphs I intend to sing the refrain of my grandparents that America has lost some of itself through the years.
I can still remember my grandparents and others of their age bemoaning the death spiral of decent music when a fellow named Elvis Presley gyrated onto stages and TV screens everywhere. I won't address music here, but I do miss a lot of other traditional American institutions.
I miss drive-in theaters even though those damned clip-on speakers often didn't work. And the windows tended to fog up during the more stimulating scenes (scenes on the big screen that is). Despite the drawbacks, it was cozy watching a real movie co-cocooned in the back seat of a 1965 Chevy convertible.
Some of those movies were set on passenger trains. We don't hear the clickety-clack of rails in movies anymore. And today, I'm not sure how Jon Voigt's character, Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy, would travel from Texas to New York City since there are very few Greyhound buses on the road now.
Since the early 1900's, white picket fences epitomized the dream of home-owning Americans. I don't see those fences much anymore, although there are some to be found in Prescott and in other "throwback neighborhoods" in the country. Sidewalks bordered city blocks of homes when I was a kid. I haven't heard the sound of metal roller skate wheels on concrete since the 1950's. But I don't miss the pogo stick. I was never very good at pogo-ing!
Most mom and pop shops have gone by the wayside. Neighborhood bakeries, butchers, book stores and produce markets are largely no more. "Corner" drug stores and gas stations have been eclipsed by the big chains. And Doc Johnson no longer makes house calls. I don't know if movie theaters show Saturday-morning cartoons and westerns these days. I doubt it.
On the other hand, when I lived as an adult just outside Newtown, Pennsylvania, I frequented the Newtown Hardware House. This fascinating business was established in 1869 and still maintains a wood floor and 19th century fixtures. You can find everything you need somewhere in its 5,000 square-feet and someone to help you with questions. It is a fine ambassador of Newtown which, itself, was founded by William Penn in 1684.
Ok, back to my whining. Neighbors used to kibitz from porch to porch in the "old days." Do you know anyone who even has a front porch and actually sits on it today? I'm afraid the "porch society" as my wife refers to it has eased into history.
Do people have ping pong tables in the basement anymore? Here in Arizona, not many people have basements! When I was a teenager in Columbus, Ohio, we had such a table. I got to know my prospective brother-in-law at competitive ends of that ping pong table in the 60's. I developed an early love of the game on that table.
It's sad that as America looks at itself in the mirror now, it no longer sees these wonderful vestiges in the folds of its past.
Most days I sound like my grandparents as I lament the passing of an America that used to be. Samuel Clemens once noted, the older he became, the smarter his (parents) became. I'm right there with you, Sam, and with my grandparents, Albert and Minnie Dusz.
If you'd like to comment on this column or your memories of an earlier America, email Wil Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.