A simple postage stamp recently sent me down “memory lane” again in search of “the good old days.” I’m never quite sure anymore exactly how much stamps cost. Forever Stamps, a convenience for those of us still patronizing the post office, are printed without prices. Good thing – annual postage rate increases now occur every six months. In fact, next week stamps costing 60 cents just last summer will become 63-cent stamps. The three-cent stamp of my youth went by the wayside a long time ago.
It’s not the price that has me waxing nostalgic about these tiny adhesive scraps; we’re merely keeping up with inflation, aren’t we? It’s just that from 1932 until I was 10 years old, people used three-cent stamps. For years the mailman delivered our cards and letters without road names, house numbers, or ZIP codes – addressed only to Rural Route 3 and bearing a three-cent stamp. Perhaps that’s why a three-cent stamp seemed important last week when multiple ballots on the floor of the House confused us and cluttered up things all over the place. It would be somehow reassuring to have a few more touchstones to rely on – as it seems we once had.
Objects are not alone in setting off waves of reminiscence: an activity from the past – licking beaters – recently got me going. What a delicious way of making sure the bowl, the spatula and both beaters from Mother’s Sunbeam MixMaster were completely devoid of residual batter, whether it be of the chocolate or gingerbread variety.
Unfortunately, our frivolity in the kitchen was often dimmed by my mother’s vigorous use of rubber scrapers. She wielded those things with such a firm hand as to leave practically nothing for our flapping tongues to savor. And although there were four items to be shared among four girls, we engaged in the customary ritual of squabbling about whose turn it was to lick what and who had more to lick. Of course, no self-respecting 21st century mother would allow even a molecule of raw egg to enter her child’s body. Despite the cloud of disease hanging over modern life, I somehow long for times that seemed brighter and more carefree, when we wrapped our tongues around a twist of metal in search of a tasty, albeit salmonella-tinged drop of unbaked cake goo.
I also remember an impromptu but serviceable piece of furniture that folded down into practically nothing: our card table, with shiny brown legs and a tan-colored tabletop. During the week we colored in coloring books at our little wooden play table with its four matching chairs. It was on Sunday, however, when the card table was pressed into service for board games: Flinch (whose rules I don’t remember), Pit (based on farm commodities) and Monopoly.
But the card table was not specifically intended for the pleasure of us kids. My dad used it for his jigsaw puzzle sessions. We sat around it to organize sales tax stamps into bundles for donation – before labels and box tops took over. And one of my proudest moments happened at the card table: Mother assigned me the task of addressing Christmas card envelopes when I was in junior high!
The only negative experiences around the card table occurred when our landlady, who lived in a fancy house on Scioto Street, visited periodically to settle accounts with my father; they had an “on-the-halves” financial arrangement. She knew less about farming and cared more about her checkbook, indignantly questioning my dad’s every decision. In preparation, Mother made sure we girls stayed clean and quiet, and my father fetched the gray metal box of important papers. Those card table “discussions” almost always left him frowning and fuming.
Years later, disagreement over the shape of the table threatened to derail the Paris Peace Accords. Maybe a simple four-sided table like ours would have helped by representing equality for all negotiators. Hey, maybe I’ll write my congressman with that very suggestion. Of course, legislators would need to show up at the table instead of the microphone as a first step toward the respect and civility I seem to recall way back when.
Realistically, however, I must remind my nostalgic self that life has never been as sharply defined as I often allow my mind to believe. As much as I loved my early school days at Concord, there were no places in its classrooms for kids with special needs. I reveled in my long-awaited 4-H membership while the discrimination of racism reared its ugly head across the country. During my bobby sox and class ring phase, JFK was assassinated mere months after he stood up to the Russians headed for Cuba. Even as I studied to become a teacher, guys my age returning from wretched war experiences in distant jungles experienced hostility and hatred for their service to the nation. And then 9/11 happened.
Knowing myself as I do, I will always view my girlhood through innocent eyes covered by rose-colored glasses. At my advanced age, however, I need to work harder on tempering my impatience and dissatisfaction, with the understanding that life has always been and will continue to be a motley collection of stutter-steps to the future. Oh, I’m still wishing for and thinking about those good old days – but I will also keep hoping and praying for better times ahead for all of us.