Tuesday, March 30, 2004

New Hampshire In The 1950s

I received a “remember when?” e-mail from one of my friends the other day, and as I read it, it made me feel as if I’d just boarded a time machine for a trip back to the 1950s and early ‘60s.

It also made me feel older than dirt.

For example, one question asked if I remembered televisions that took five minutes to warm up. I remember them well, especially the night the Beatles first performed on the Ed Sullivan Show. I stood there screeching, “Hurry up!” at the TV while pounding on the top of it to make it warm up faster.

I also remember the TV at my friend Janet’s house. It had an indoor antenna sitting on top of it (something called “rabbit ears”), which her father had wrapped in tin foil because he said it made the reception better. If you ask me, all it did was make the TV look like some kind of square-headed space alien.

Another question on the list asked if I remembered when I would reach into a muddy gutter just to pick up a penny. Sure, but that was when a penny would buy a big chunk of bubble gum, a fat licorice stick or a jawbreaker. The other day, as I was coming out of a local pharmacy, I spotted two pennies lying next to each other in the parking lot. I walked right past them. At my age, the smallest thing that would entice me to bend down that far would be a dollar bill.

“Do you remember when your mother wore nylon stockings that came in two separate pieces?” the next question asked.

Never mind my mother, I remember wearing them myself! In fact, I spent most of my high-school years squirming from the discomfort of the metal hooks that held up the nylons digging into the backs of my legs as I sat through what seemed like endless hours of classes. To this day, I think I still have the outlines of those hooks embedded in my thighs.

My first pair of pantyhose was no thrill either. When I put them on, they were nice and snug and clung in all the right places. But by the end of the day, the crotch was hanging down to my knees and the stockings had so many wrinkles in them, I looked as if my legs were made of elephant skin. I never could figure out if I was supposed to wear my underwear over the pantyhose or underneath…or not wear any at all.

The next question on the list asked if I remembered when nobody owned a purebred dog. Well, I think some of the dogs in my neighborhood might have been purebreds, but none of us really knew what one looked like anyway, so they all were just mutts to us. And the only “papers” associated with dogs back then were the ones we spread all over the floor for housebreaking purposes.

“Do you remember when you could buy a double Popsicle for five cents?” the questions continued.

I immediately thought of Stuart’s Market, a tiny corner store in the back alley behind our old house in West Manchester. In the summer, my friends and I would head over there every day for a Popsicle.

Our favorite flavors were root beer and blue raspberry. The owner of the store actually had a metal strip nailed along the edge of the counter for the sole purpose of neatly breaking Popsicles in half. After we’d hand our nickels to him, he’d always ask, “Want your Popsicle cut in half?” We’d nod and he would take the Popsicle, line up the middle of it with the edge of the metal strip, then slam his hand down on the Popsicle and voila!…two perfect halves. I don’t remember him ever ruining one of our precious Popsicles. The man truly was a magician.

The next question asked if I remembered when gas-station attendants not only pumped gas but also washed windshields and handed out free trading stamps or gifts.

Remember it? One of those free gas-station gifts led to an extremely embarrassing incident back when I was 15. I was riding around town with my friend Dee one night when she happened to notice that a certain chain of gas stations was giving away decorative glasses with each fill-up. A big sign at one station advertised, “Collect all four different scenes!”

Well, Dee was determined to collect all four glasses…all in one night. Seeing that the sign didn’t specify a minimum amount of gas that constituted a “fill-up,” Dee drove from station to station and said, “Fill ‘er up!” just to get her free glass.

Her total at each station, with the exception of the first one, averaged about 10 cents. The nasty looks the attendants gave us made me want to dive into the back seat and hide on the floor. But hey, Dee succeeded in getting a complete set of the glasses, and they’re probably worth over a hundred dollars on eBay today.

At the end of the “remember when” list, it said, “Now didn’t it feel good to go back in time, even if just for a little while?”

Sure, it felt great. I became 40 years younger, then aged 40 years all within five minutes.

And now I have a sudden urge to stock up on Ben Gay and Metamucil.