efore this ‘throw-away’ generation arrived, I remember when people did things much differently than do many today. Some of those differences have led to an improved quality of life, but many are not economical or good for the environment. People who are shouting out for ‘green’ living are violators of common sense and for sustainable living. Choices advertised as earth friendly are often misleading. Some products have hidden costs.
Back in the day, purely out of considerations of ‘out of pocket costs’ and lack of alternative choices, we simply focused on fixing things when they broke. We had shops, stores and industrial suppliers in place that supported the concept of obtaining a replacement part or rebuilding that which was simply worn out.
Most of us will recall the Andy Griffith Show that the character Emmett had his appliance repair shop next door to Floyd’s Barber Shop. Even as a youth when I watched those shows I wondered how Emmett could make a living repairing the appliances of the day. After all, he was known to barely charge for his services and know-how. There were times when he’d even waive his fees with a rather embarrassed attitude showing he feared his customer might think he was over charging. While his wife was home trying to make ends meet he busied himself on fixing Aunt Bea’s old, worn out toaster. The point is that no one gave a thought of replacing anything that could be fixed. Buying a new appliance was a family decision and not likely to happen.
I remember in my little town that there was a shoe shop my family visited regularly. Whether high heels or brogans, we’d have to have heels replaced on our shoes. I remember as a kid how weird it was when a heel broke off and I had to try to walk with the one missing. It was a lop-sided, slappy gait easy to spot as I hobbled along. I suspect it may have drawn a few smiles to knowing witnesses. I’m sure my face was flushed. When I got home, finally carrying my shoes, my mom had me change into my raggedy tennis shoes until these could be repaired. The day finally came when we could pick up my professionally repaired shoes. They had not only fixed my broken heel, but had repaired every scuff mark and shined them up until they looked like new.
My tennis shoes had a hole where my toe stuck out because I had dragged it on the road when coasting downhill on my bicycle. I remember a few times that other shoes I owned suffered a major problem when the sole broke loose from the top and the shoe flapped when I walked. If I wasn’t careful it would fold back and bend underneath. It didn’t take much of that to totally trip me since I was a clumsy kid, anyway. It was time to buy a new pair of shoes or go back and see the shoe repairman. He could sew or glue them back together like new. I had him double-stitch them once, but only after I had tried using rubber bands and glue. I knew my efforts would be temporary fixes at best. If we’d had duct tape in those days it might have been a better solution, but ugly. It only came in silver back then.
Readers will remember that those were also the days that bike tires had inner-tubes. When I got a flat on my bike I’d have to go over to Giles Simpson’s Gulf Station and have the tire fixed. I would stand in the shop and watch them put a ‘hot patch’ on the tube and then test it in a tank of water to see if there were still any leaks. As I got older I got my own tire-patch kits and fixed them myself. There were a few times I had to run down to the Western Auto Store and buy a new tube. The tires lasted forever, but the tube was sometimes frustratingly quick to deflate.
Many men, especially those that lived in rural areas, seemed born to fix things. One morning they’d have to weld a broken plow or cut a new leather strap to repair a harness. It was common to see leather or fabric used to replace a broken hinge on a gate or door. Both the men and women had to be ‘jack of all trades’ to keep things in running order. They didn’t have the money and really didn’t even consider it an option to replace things that could be fixed.
The old ‘hit and miss’ motors that operated pumps, or machinery, was sometimes temperamental and would need attention. Dad, or one of the older boys would have to fix the thing. I was surprised a few times when one of the daughters jumped on the task. It was so neat to see a pretty girl with grease on her hands, nose and cheek. Many of them were surprisingly handy with a wrench, like Rosie the Riveter, I suppose. At school I would hear stories about how the old tractor was hard to start or too ready to slip out of gear. A farmer was lost when the Power Take Off (PTO) on the tractor wouldn’t work.
After electricity was installed on the farm and air compressors were put to work it was beyond frustrating when the milking machines would lose vacuum before the twice-daily milking was done. Milking by hand was hard work when you had several head of cows to do. I used to help strip them by hand when the milking machine had done all it could, but doing a big herd from scratch would be tiresome for me and likely full of problems. Being swat with a tail on my cold ear wasn’t fun, especially if it had a bur. Neither was having your half-filled bucket of milk kicked over.
On the farms the fences had to be checked regularly lest livestock would get out and damage the neighbor’s fields. Just when dad thought he had things in hand, mom would call out from the house that the electricity was out. That meant another blown fuse that would need to be replaced. Sometimes animals would chew into a wire and short out a connection. Some farmers used lead slugs in the fuse box when they didn’t have a fuse. It would allow the voltage through, but this was a dangerous practice that resulted in overheated circuits. Fires started and houses and barns were lost that way. Doing that also gave a strong risk of serious electrical shock, too.
Like dad, mother had her repairs to do. It seemed that she was always mending someone’s socks or fixing a tear in a work-shirt. I remember that iron-on patches were common on my jeans because replacement clothing cost money we didn’t have. It’s wild to think that people these days pay good money for jeans that already have a hole.
There was always a place where scrap fabric was kept to make repairs. Finally, the left-overs became rags that we used to clean or use as packing in machinery to stop vibration or leaks. Diapers were wonderful rags after the youngest kid was finally potty-trained. Today, the very people who cry out to live ‘green’ are paying too much for large boxes of disposable diapers that were good for only one use. It should be obvious that cloth diapers cost less and can be used over and over. It is really simple these days to wash them. Isn’t that a little like fixing them? At least it saves a whopping amount of money, especially when you use them later on. For what it’s worth there are some diaper companies now selling the concept of reusable diapers. That kind of thinking is way ahead of their time. Just think about the volume of ‘stuff’ that has to go to a landfill.
I remember once when I was worried about getting our TV repaired. Gasp! There was a real danger we’d miss our favorite show. After all, shows in those days were live and very few of them were recorded. Those masterpieces were lost forever.
Those were the days when doctors made house calls. In fact, that was the more common way to receive treatment. We rarely went to the doctor’s office. Except for surgery, hospitals were more convalescent centers that would assure care and bedrest, so simple things like an inoculation was often done at home. Same for colds, flu, childhood diseases, or even childbirth. They were all done at home. It was common to quarantine homes when a patient had a communicable disease. Sometimes a doctor called, or a granny doctor, or midwife, depending upon the malady. There were no ‘Urgent Care’ facilities around and little need for them. There were also those who would bring their children over to expose them to the ‘childhood disease’ so they could catch it, build up an immunity, and schedule the illness to free up future plans.
When you think about it, this fix-it mindset was a big part of our lives. In our day the girls went to home economics classes and belonged to the Future Homemakers of America. They learned to cook, to sew, and do a number of other things that are downplayed today as sexist and therefore degrading to women. I’m not so sure that these things weren’t just as important as anything good old dad was doing when he was shoveling coal, planting a field or helping a neighbor. The first wagon trains that took the pioneering families west had mom’s treadle sewing machine that undoubtedly was used on the prairie to repair the very beeches of those hunter/gatherer men. Women knew how to weave fabric out of the cotton and wool, and even flax. Soap was a by-product of hog killings, as was lard. For that matter, all bread was ‘home-made,’ as were the cakes and pies.
Many males took various shop classes to learn how to make useful things out of wood and metal. It also gave us the ability to take apart broken things and to figure out ways to make them work, again. The Future Farmers of America (FFA) taught about animal husbandry and farming techniques. We learned about useful things including septic systems, building, and . . . repairing. Some schools had auto-shops which were all about servicing and keeping our cars on the road. I grant you that the vehicles of today with their computer systems and impossibly packed engines would be a challenge, but then again, we do have them repaired.
The buzz words of today are: Green, Sustainability, Ecofriendly, Recycled and Repurposed. That’s funny because in a way we came from an era of always reusing, repairing, and repurposing as a matter of course. Today, society is mostly throw-away. I remember a lesson I learned in a college course when we took an average grocery list, went to a store and purchased the items and then weighed the amount of packing vs the raw product. The cellophane, cardboard, foil, and tissues outweighed what we thought we were buying. Add to that the cost of printing labels and advertising, it was a major waste of money.
We have fast food at a high cost with no left-overs for the next meal. We have the diaper thing already discussed and are quick to just buy a ‘new one’ of whatever is broken. Hmmm. Frankly, our whole economy is about buying new things so we can store them in our garages and later put them in our annual garage sale.
I doubt hoarding was an issue on the prairies. People used what they had, built what they didn’t, and shared their excess. That mentality helped make America great. The concept of ‘over-buying’ and throwing away has led to storage rentals, throw away spouses, and children that know no better. The hippies of our day warned of commercialism, materialism and the false doctrines of an easy life. At the same time it was their generation that invented the stuff we throw away. Finding a balance is the trick. We should teach our grandchildren that it is okay to fix something, so they will see they really have a choice. Just as our past is foundational to who we are, we are a patchwork of experiences, recycled, repurposed, reused, and ready for more. I have become a believer in the new version of the old way. I get my parts on the internet and it’s there that I watch a video on how to make the repair. If it’s fixing a doorbell, putting a new fuse in the kitchen range hood, changing out the taillight bulbs, or researching projects, I find it is desirable and rewarding to ‘do it myself.’ firstname.lastname@example.org