My brother likes to post on Facebook pictures of vintage items. If the object belongs to an antique tractor or resembles a motor, I keep scrolling. Recently, however, I impressed myself by recognizing a couple of hay hooks, having seen my dad use them on hot summer days in the hayfields on River Road.
As it happens, I have an entire inventory of outdated objects filed away in my brain. Without photographs, let me share descriptions of items – now vintage – that were part of my kidhood.
Probably few people would recognize my mother’s laundry stick. I was in my late teens when Mother graduated to an automatic washer; I was thus well-acquainted with her wringer washing machine and two rinse tubs. For years it cleaned scads of cloth diapers for five babies as well my dad’s work clothes. Although the washer was electric with a fully-functioning agitator, Mother still used her trusty wooden stick to stir around in the rinse water or lift out clothing items. Two feet long and an inch square with a leather cord threaded through a hole in one end, it hung on a handy nail in the laundry room. Naturally, Mother’s laundry stick was very clean, the business end splintered from years of use.
Other laundry-day items included clothespins. Eventually made with springs, the simple wooden pegs with no moving parts were the ones Mother kept in a canvas bag hanging on the clothesline behind the old milk house. Weather permitting, diapers, underwear, and sheets flapped in the breeze, gathering that fresh, outdoor fragrance she so loved. Those clothespins – in round and flat form – are still for sale: perhaps for laundry purposes but definitely for crafting projects.
I recall another wooden item from yesteryear, the flat ice cream spoon. Occasionally in grade school for classroom parties, we had chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla ice cream in little cups with peel-off lids. The accompanying small wooden spoons sealed in paper were strong enough to stand up to the often-solid dairy treat. Guess what? Those utensils are still available for ice cream consumption as well as food sampling and crafting.
I also remember coffee, shortening, and one of my dad’s favorites – SPAM – packaged in metal cans that had to be opened with an attached key. There were disadvantages associated with these key-winds: missing ones, malfunctioning ones, ones that ran “off the track.” Fortunately, they have since been replaced by tabs and flip tops of various designs, but I still remember the burst of coffee aroma when the key finally released the vacuum. Amazingly, old coffee and shortening cans are available on eBay for big bucks. Who knew?
Another item, according to online sources, is perhaps not as vintage as I thought. Years ago, a Sunday night quiz show, What’s My Line? hosted by John Daly, had panelists guessing the occupations of guests. The program’s most famous question, “Is it bigger than a bread box?” became something of a fifties-era oral meme, similarly popular to “where’s the beef” and “phone a friend” decades later.
Anyway, I remember our slightly-dented, red-and-white metal bread box that held the Wonder Bread Mother bought at Eavey’s or the IGA – or the six loaves of white and one loaf of diet bread the Schaefer breadman delivered to our house each week. I have never owned a bread box, assuming the item had reached vintage status. Well, the bread box is alive and well and available at a store near you – probably next to the cookie jars!
I am also picturing two kinds of stamps our parents once accumulated. During the mid-fifties, trading stamps hit their peak of popularity as grocery stores and gas stations issued them to encourage customer loyalty. Folks pasted S & H Green Stamps or Top Value Stamps in books they eventually redeemed for things like our camera with a flashbulb attachment, all in a handy carrying case.
And until the early 60s, merchants were required to give tax stamps to indicate the amount of tax they had charged. Instead of box tops and labels, schools and clubs collected these tiny slips, about the size of the smallest Post-It note, for educational supplies. A while back I found one for two cents in the bottom of an old paper bag from some long-forgotten store.
This item is not so much an item as a … thing. I am referring to a time-honored hair care tradition known as the pin curl. We have since curled our hair with plastic rollers or hollowed-out orange juice cans before moving on to electricity: hot rollers, hair dryers, flat irons, curling irons, and the like.
But the humble pin curl was once the name of the hair game. Twisting a chunk of hair around the fingers and fastening it next to the scalp with a clip or bobby pin was the non-beauty parlor ticket to waves, bobs, and flips. It was not uncommon to see ladies out-and-about, a scarf partially covering a headful of pin curls in preparation for a curly, wavy night on the town.
Nowadays there are many vintage items I remember as modern: ditto machines and blackboards and typewriter erasers and … Well, at least if my brother posts a picture of a coffee can key, an ice cream spoon, or a pin curl attached to a bobby pin, we can all share: “I know what that is!”
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.