Before the Internet, before colour television, before cellphones and hair dryers, these senior citizens want to tell you how life was back in the "good old days."
Girdles and lace.
My grandmother was born in the 1890s, before recorded music, TV, and even radio. In her town, electricity was very new in her childhood. She watched TV and listened to radio, during my childhood, so she was modern in that sense, but very old fashioned in other ways. Very conservative about social morals. You had to be careful not to cuss in her presence. She even thought the word "stink" was vulgar. She dressed like a Victorian woman - wore girdles even though she wasn't heavy, and would wear a laced veil over her eyes when she dressed up.
Black coffee: the secret to longevity?
My great grandmother was poised to out live us all (she died just shy of her 96th birthday), she was a firecracker! Jogged every day, only ate toast and drank black coffee. She would always tell my mom that she had to stay thin if she ever wanted to keep a man. She also flipped out over superstitious stuff, god help you if you opened an umbrella in the house or put shoes on the table. She was born in 1902.
Strong arms, strong heart.
My Grandfather beat me arm wrestling when he was 76 and I was 20, just out of Army Basic Training. A life of real work did that.
A different language.
My great grandmother was born in 1915 in rural Ky and she spoke in a thick dialect. I used to ask my mom what things meant. Example: "arsh taters" were Irish potatoes.
Gin and tonic, and a cigarette.
Remember ash trays? They were perpetually full, heaped with butts. People chain-smoked. There were some of my elderly relatives who could not do anything until they had a cigarette in their mouths.
And they drank like nobody's business. Hard liquor, cocktails, gin and more gin.
Pants were for men.
My great grandmother and grandmother never ever wore pants.
War and peace.
When I was a child, the elderly men had nearly all fought in WWI - "the war to end all wars", they had lived through the depression and WWII. After WWII there was a major shift to the left in the UK - the formation of the NHS and the welfare state. As a generalisation, they had seen terrible injustices, and wanted a fairer society. "Cradle to grave" care for all.
Each night at home
According to my mom (80), "they were in pain all the time and had no social life because they never went out. My grandmothers never learned how to drive. They stayed home and cooked and sewed."
The great outdoors.
I am 71. I never saw any of my parents generation doing any of the outdoor, physical type things that we can do now. Most of them were smokers. They did enjoy dancing their generations' dances when they were younger. My generation, (baby boomers), have so many more choices and many go to the gym, sports, hiking, outdoor activities, etc. I bicycle, have hiked on all 7 continents, and done many other activities. For you old cyclers, if you don't have one, get a Brooks saddle. My granddad took up woodworking in his late 70's, but lost his vision to cataracts, something that was not treatable in his day. He was pretty much blind the last 4 years of his life. He would play his old 78 records since there was no TV either.
Thank goodness for health care.
Health care is so much better now. My grandparents all died young. For the most part they died of things that now are treatable. So to be 60 was really getting up there. My parents are long lived. One grandparent died very young of complications from asthma which I have but am able to control with drugs. Dentures for old people were the norm. Now old people can keep their teeth. I am 71 and though yes I am physically diminished I see years of healthy living ahead.
Now this is mainly true for people who have access to good health care. Old people without such access can be old indeed at 60.
Sunday was sacred.
In the, 60s and 70s when my siblings and I grew up, every Sunday was dinner at grandma's. Everyone went. No one even thought to say no. Now, everyone works on Sundays. No meant no and you just accepted that.
Mind your own children.
When I was a kid in the 1950's, grandparents didn't have much to do with raising grandchildren, except for babysitting when necessary. I can't remember ever doing anything at all with my grandfather, no ball games, fishing, going to the park...nothing. I didn't think much of it because that was just the way it was.
Reading and drinking.
When I was a little kid, 5 or 6, my grandparents seemed ancient. And they were: My grandfather sat around reading Readers Digest and drinking his daily glass of red wine, or fiddling around with his tomato bushes ( a little like Don Corleone) and his rows of swiss chard. My grandmother, perpetually annoyed about something, made her own bread and bakery goods. I'm always reminded of them when I see that coloured photo of the great grandparents in the last scene of 'Moonstruck'. They looked a little like that. And their house was like that house, but without any liveliness in it.
Life to the fullest.
My grandparents both lived to be over 100, but they were for all intents and purposes, dead to learning, dead to growth and dead to life 40 years before that. They were simply incurious, and I think what I've described of them, was very similar to a lot of older people of their generation. they didn't try new foods, new ways of doing things, they didn't reach for all the life they could have had, they just sat, played cards and crocheted.
For me, 60 really was the new 40 and my world has always been a much larger place.
Kids, kids, and more kids!
People mentioned that old people looked old before their time. With my great grandparents and grandparents, no one smoked or drank, but they had so many kids! There's a photo of my great grandma with her 10th baby on her lap and she just looks near death. My grandma was pregnant with her 7th child when she was my age, and she had a big streak of white hair already. My other great grandma was as round as she was tall, but this was also after birthing 10 kids. I think this generation is also different because many of them had the opportunity to choose when and how many kids to have.
Under one roof.
In the South in my youth, families of limited income frequently lived as three generations in the family house. The elderly were taken care of at home by their children, while the third generation helped with the farming or whatever jobs they could find.
An apple a day.
Doctors were expensive and seldom used. Most women had experience in caring for the sick or wounded. Many a cut was sewn up by grandma.
Right to vote.
Both of my grandmothers were born in the 19th century. Each had several grand-uncles who fought in the Civil War. Both were 30 years old before they were allowed to vote. They had three career choices...nurse, school teacher, homemaker. They chose homemaker.
My mother and all twelve of my aunts were born in the first half of the 20th century. They all voted as soon as they turned 21, They had many more career choices. Two became nurses. Three became homemakers, and eight became school teacher-homemakers.
My sister and female cousins were all born in the second half of the 20th century. They had almost unlimited career choices. 7 career businesswomen, 3 truck drivers, 12 school teachers, 1 military, 1 clergy, 2 lawyers, 2 politicians, and 5 nurses. All raised families, none were stay at home moms.
I think the generational gap between my generation (I'm 59) and my parent's generation was much greater than any that have followed. That were and are still quite stuck in their ways and reject change.
For example, when I was a kid my father (in his 30s) absolutely hated the music I listened to (early rock and roll in the late 60s). He preferred 40s and 50s music and that was it. He's STILL like that.
Magazines, mocassins and the moon.
My dad, who’s 70 now, sold magazines door to door for awhile in the early 1970s.
He met a woman, while selling magazines, whose father had been in the cavalry on the frontier. When she was about five or so, she met Frederic Remington, and she had a pair of beaded moccasins some Native American women made for her. She ended up living to see men land on the moon.
My grandma, born in 1898, wore dresses only. She had six kids who survived. She acted and looked old, but she had a ton of energy. She drove a car, sewed her own and her family's clothing, and made the best fried chicken I ever ate. She read her Bible daily and listened to Tennessee Ernie Ford on her hi-fi record player. She was a doozie. She took high blood pressure pills for about 30 years, never drank or smoked, but ate lots of butter. Thin as a greyhound. She died in 1994. She was 96. People seem younger now because they aren't worn out from working so dang hard is my opinion.
Women were married off at young ages. My great-grandma was 16 when she got married. Her mom got married at 12. It wasn’t a big deal because one less mouth to feed, right?
Bathed once a week.
My grandpa was born in 1929. Every time he met someone who wanted to talk about the "good old days," he shut them down fast. Basically told them: remember how mean people used to be, beating their wives and kids and teachers their students, fighting all the time, how cheap life seemed? How kids were full of worms, were bathed once a week at best in dirty leftover dishwater, and doctors knew little?
Don't say how you feel.
They were stoic and kept their sadness inside. You never knew about their past even if you asked them.
My grandparents were born between 1890 and 1906. My mom's parents owned a farm, and we'd have to go out to the well to draw water whenever we wanted a drink or to cook, even in the sixties. The garden had all their vegetables and herbs so we had to tend those and didn't go to the store for much food except things like flour and sugar.
Keep it to yourself.
My mother is 78 and she’s told me a lot about what she remembers.
No one talked about private matters, ever. Illness (physical and mental) were verboten. She gets sad when she remembers the older people in her family who suffered in silence rather than risk being “indecent.”
Police wrode horses.
My grandma has told me a story about how she would have her bedroom window open at night because it was so hot, and at midnight every night she’d hear clip clap clip clap... asked what that was and she said it was the mounted police and their horse on night watch patrol going down the cobble stone streets. No one was out that late except the night watchmen. On horses. Kind of cool.
Less food, better food.
People did not eat nearly as much as today. Go back and watch some old movies from the 1930s...someone with what we’d call a “dad bod” was labelled as morbidly obese back then. But on the flip side, what they did eat was much more healthy.
My grandpa had so many stories. Something that really shocked me was finding out that he was around 10 when penicillin was discovered, and it was several years after that before it was readily available in his area. Before his teenage years people used to get cut or get a bad infection and half the time they died.
Entertainment...waaay back, vaudeville acts were the thing. These were traveling plays that were comedy routines, music, etc. Some of these were based on old books and other medium. When radio was invented, the best of these acts got on the air and produced shows. As time went on vaudeville died out and was replaced by radio. Decades later when TV came out, the best of the radio show hosts like Lucille Ball switched to TV and eventually radio of that nature died out. We have been rehashing old stories for a lot longer than people today realize.
My great grandmother always wore these really long dresses and she always tied a scarf over her head/hair when she went outside. I always thought it was cute. Styles were so very different and a lot more formal and modest back then.
Dentist visits were mostly unheard of. So were any kind of preventative medical treatments.
Dancing was a "thing."
My dad was born in 1914 and fought in WWII in Germany and France.. He loved to dance, but his parents thought dancing was a sin. He and my mom danced a lot.
No to tattoos.
Tattoos were uncommon unless you were in the military; women with tattoos were basically outcasts.
When you called long distance you had to have a live operator make the call (and phone numbers were different the "phone number" was an exchange name and number). Operators could also listen in on your calls.
Catch your own dinner.
Seeing kids in rural areas walking down the road with rifles or fishing poles was not unusual, this was how dinner was procured.
Asbestos and lead paint.
There was a lot of smoking, drinking alcohol, pollution, working with random chemicals that are banned now, eating asbestos and lead paint, and working in hazardous environments without protection.
My grandma had her paper, the local library, her subscriptions to Life and Reader's Digest, and 3 TV channels to choose from when she was my age. If you took away everything that keeps me engaged with the world and left me with those, my days would utterly change.
Ice boxes and house coats.
My grandmother was born in 1910. I can remember her always wearing a house coat. ALWAYS. She was also constantly crocheting something, usually blankets. We all had one of her blankets. Also, she used different words than I did. Ice box for the fridge. Cellar for a basement. Sweeper for the vacuum. She has been gone since 1995 and I still miss her. I wish I had thought to write her memories down. And asked her who the people are in the old pictures in her albums.
Want a cigarette?
Cigarettes. Cigarettes everywhere. It was rude not to provide ashtrays for smokers. The house would smell for days. Airplanes and busses allowed smoking.
Squirrel pie anyone?
My grandparents had middle school educations. That was normal. Kids dropped out to help with farming. My grandmother told me about her flour sack dresses and squirrel dinners growing up. They kept a garden for much of their food, had one car, and my grandmother never drove or worked outside the home. They had false teeth - both of them - as long as I can remember so as early as 60 if not earlier.
Take it outside.
My great-grandfather (born 1893) refused to have a bathroom inside his house. The earlier generations thought diferently about many things.
No hair colour or wrinkle creams.
My grandpa died at 57. My grandma at 62. They looked old. I’m 54 and no one guesses my age. They always think I’m younger. Beauty products, hair color and such has kept us looking younger. Plus the whole 50s is the new 40s thing. The age of claiming social security has changed.
My grandfather was a farmer and never really said "I love you" or anything affectionate to his family. Never really kissed his wife in front of his kids. Over all a hard worker and pretty reserved.
We talked to strangers.
Seniors used to be comfortable chatting with random kids on the street, or calling out bad behaviour. If some kid dropped litter, you could bet he'd be given a dressing down by whoever was nearby. Parents were generally supportive of random strangers disciplining their kids.
No yoga pants.
Older people looked like grandparents. The women wore sturdy black shoes, loose floral dresses or black if they were widows. They often didn't work. They wore girdles and nylons every day but if they weren't going anywhere they were rolled down to their ankles. I don't know what kind of bras they wore but their boobs were very droopy, usually ending at the belt of their dress. And I agree many had thick foreign accents. Lots of them had false teeth. They smelled of lavender dusting powder and said things like, "Heavens to Betsy" or "land sakes".
Nowadays grandmas still have jobs, work out, wear yoga pants and travel. A lot of them don't look or act like grandmas.
Ice was delivered.
My mother use to tell me she remembered the man who delivered the ice for the ice box. These were the days before the refrigerator. Milk was also delivered each night in glass bottles.
Before Uber rides.
My grandfather was an Irish farmer in upstate NY. My aunt told me that when he was a young man he drove a horse and buggy. He used to put a barrel of hard cider on the floor of the buggy and sip from it with a long straw as he went to town.
Best thing about a horse and buggy is if you passed out from too much cider, the horse knew the way home.