Cleaning Out an Attic of Memories

Some time ago Nardi Reader Campion, Wellesley ’38, wrote an essay for the Boston Globe listing many of the conveniences of contemporary life that did not exist in 1938.

She included dozens of items that we take for granted today, such as penicillin, pantyhose and the Pill. Since then her list has been much copied, usually without attribution. I borrowed from it here myself, though I gave her credit.

Now Joanne Reiland of Bakersfield has sent me some excerpts from a new book, “What Ever Happened To?” by Marcia Seligson, Mort Gerberg and Avery Croman, a collection of things we had in 1938, or thereabouts, but which no longer exist.

Whatever happened, she asks, to galoshes, oil cloth on the kitchen table, candy made out of wax bottles with syrupy goo inside, the single-wing formation, penny loafers, bookcovers made out of brown paper bags, not knowing anyone who was in analysis, worrying about your glasses when you were going to kiss.


The single-wing formation, for those who do not know football, is an offensive formation that was widely replaced by the T-formation, but I believe it is still used by some antediluvian teams in the Midwest.

I remember those syrup-filled wax bottles, but I wasn’t sure what penny loafers were. My wife says they were women’s flat shoes that had a band across the instep with a slot in which a penny could be inserted. How quaint. Now how could that have escaped me all my life?

I suppose Ms. Reiland means that, because of contact lenses, we no longer have to worry about our glasses when we kiss. Certainly contact lenses would eliminate that problem, but I do not wear contact lenses, and since social kissing seems to be in vogue, I am always clashing glass frames with some woman I am trying to kiss discreetly on the cheek.

Ms. Reiland also lists the two-ended Studebaker (you weren’t sure which was the front); making things yourself like rubber-band guns that shot cardboard bullets; pipe-cleaner people, dancing slow and close, running boards, fox fur pieces that women wore around their necks that had fox faces and fox paws, corduroy knickers that squeaked when you walked; being able to just get in a car on a Sunday and go for a ride.


My wife says she recently saw a fox with eyes and teeth around the neck of a woman pictured in The Times, but I thought the wearing of wild animal furs had become disdained as environmentally immoral. A faux pas, so to speak.

It’s true--the Sunday ride, just for fun and relaxation, is a thing of the past. To venture forth on a Sunday afternoon today is to experience stress, frustration, hair-raising near-misses, gridlock and exhaustion.

Corduroy knickers, I suspect, have been vanquished by blue jeans, which have been kept in vogue by multimillion-dollar ad campaigns. When I was in school, every boy wore cords, and they had to be dirty. The only people who wore Levi’s were farm laborers.

I can think of a few things myself. We no longer have polio, worms in apples, smallpox, newsboys hawking extras down the streets of residential districts, iceboxes, marcel waves, the third degree, the poll tax, white-only hotels, Angels Flight, the Pig ‘n’ Whistle restaurants, the Los Angeles Angels, the Hollywood Stars, twice-a-day mail delivery, the three-cent stamp, rumble seats, the free lunch, an all-male judiciary, an all-male military, breach of promise suits, child labor, nickel candy bars, nickel phone calls (“Go ahead, it’s your nickel”); modest bathing suits, drugstores with soda fountains, the 15-cent hamburger, the amateur tennis bum, the double bill, the Saturday afternoon serial, cigarette ads on television and the $10,000 two-bedroom house.

Some things may not be gone but they are endangered species: the milkman, the bread man, the dial telephone, the love letter, the men’s club, the manual typewriter, the whale, the ibex, the grocery deliveryman, the Ambassador Hotel, the windup watch, the mimeograph machine.

Oddly, though it would seem to have been obsoleted by modern visual technology, the blackboard may still be found in schoolrooms--even at Caltech, where I have seen them covered with arcane equations.

But keep your eye on the book. It may be the next to go.