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By Marge Knoth, Author, Activity Professional
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Marge Knoth attended Purdue
University and took her activity
director training at Indiana
University and her social
service at Ball State. She is
the author of ten books for
activity professionals. Her
books have been used as
teaching guides in colleges,
trade schools, and in activity
director courses throughout the
U.S. and Canada. They have
won both national and state
awards from the National
Federation of Press Women
and Women’s Press Club of
Marge has written a monthly
column, "A Letter from Marge"
for Current Activities in Long
Term Care. She has been
published in Family Circle,
Lady’s Circle, Women’s Circle,
Indianapolis Woman, Christian
Science Monitor, Event,
various Christian and craft
publications, and other
magazines and newspapers.
She wrote a weekly newspaper
column called “Do You
Remember?”, and wrote and
recorded a long-running series
of nostalgic radio
commercials. Also, she is a
motivational speaker having
traveled the United States and
Canada speaking at many state
and province activity
Things That Used To Be
Part II of II
by Marge Knoth
It is amazing how quickly a month passes. We left off last month talking about the
things that used to be, things that are mostly gone forever. And in the process, we
discovered that these short reviews provided great material for holding quick, but lively
reminiscence groups. So let’s continue on this month, checking out a few more “things
that used to be”.
Catalog houses: There was a time when you could order a house through the Sears
catalog. It came with each piece numbered and with directions on how to assemble it.
Some of these houses are still around today.
52/50 Club: After the Second World War, this club was made up of discharged
servicemen who received $20 a week for 52 weeks.
Dance marathons: In the 1920s couples entered dance contests hoping to win big prize
money, sometimes as much as $500. They danced for hours, even into the next day.
They stopped only when they could no longer remain on their feet. Rules said that only
one partner had to remain awake. That one often held their partner up and actually
dragged him or her around the floor.
Shivaree: Back in the 1930s and 1940s, folks would marry and sometimes go on a
honeymoon, but more times than not, because money was scarce, they would just go
to their new home. Some days after the wedding, late at night after the couple should
be in bed, friends and family would gather outside their home and begin making loud
racket. They banged pot lids together, rang bells, clapped hands, and yelled. It was the
newlyweds’ responsibility to get up and welcome the uninvited guests inside and give
them a snack.
Ice pick: A standard utensil in every home, the ice pick was a round-handled sharp-
pointed object similar to a long pointed nail. It could quickly break up a large chunk of
ice quickly. The iceman who delivered ice was a skilled master at chopping off just the
right amount ordered.
Hat pins: These six-inch long pins that resembled giant straight pins often featured an
attached decorative oval-shaped handle. One might be painted with colorful flowers.
The pin would be slipped through the back of the hat into the hair to hold the hat in
place. They could also be a mighty weapon, should an intruder attack.
Rain barrel: Usually made of wood, this big barrel would collect rain water for
household tasks and for hair washing. They even made a song about it. Ask your
residents to sing it.
Hoboes: During the Great Depression and afterwards men who found themselves out
of work would hop a freight train and head to another city to seek a job. They would
knock on doors of homes, looking for something to eat. Or they would unite and set up
a “hobo camp” and cook soup, made from whatever they could find, over an open fire.
Carbide: This was used to light the headlights of early automobiles and also miners’
Summer kitchen: Used in summer, this porch-like outside kitchen helped keep the heat
from meal preparation and canning out of the main house.
Two-cylinder Rambler: This very early automobile featured right-hand drive.
Model T: Called the Tin Lizzy, this car came out in1908 and featured hard rubber tires,
removable isinglass windows, a brass radiator, and an “u-u-u-u-u-ga, u-u-u-u-u-ga”
horn. The gas tank was under the seat. There were no windshield wipers. There were
three pedals: “C” for clutch “R” for reverse, and “B” for brake. It could go as fast as 35 to
40 miles per hour. It was wise to jack up the back wheel before starting it, though, so
the vehicle would not take off on you. Many arms were broken while cranking the Model
T to start it. It first sold for $850, dropped to $260, and ended up about $350. Between
1908 and 1927, 15 million were made and sold.
Old-time home permanents: Long rods were used for those early permanents. If you
rolled flat, you got more waves. If you twisted the hair, you got more curl. You put a little
solution on the hair, tucked in a piece of wool, and tied the end with a string. The curl
was then covered with a metal tube. This was a social time for women. I remember, as
a kid, being in a group of women doing a home permanent. For lunch, they breaded
and fried up cow brains and thought it was a real feast.
War of the Worlds: When Orson Welles’ drama War of the Worlds was broadcast on the
radio in 1930, the nation was in an uproar. Folks who tuned in after the program had
started were certain the world was being invaded by creatures from outer space.
Radio programs: Some programs were Don McNeill and the NBC Breakfast Club, The
Brown Church with Dr. John Holland; Duffy’s Tavern “where the elite meet to eat”, the
Theater; Little Orphan Annie; and Dr. Christian about a small town doctor working with
his nurse Judy, played by Rosemary DeCamp. Then there was Jim Pool who presented
the Farm Market. Also there was Our Gal Sandy who was an orphan girl from a mining
town in Colorado who married Lord Henry Brinthorpe, a rich and famous Englishman.
WPA and similar government programs: The Works Progress Administration (later
changed to Works Projects Administration) was established by Franklin Roosevelt in
1935 to put unemployed people to work. It employed 3.3 million at its peak in 1938
though 8.5 million were employed at some time by the WPA. Jobs were created by the
government on federal, state, and county levels. Folks built outdoor toilets and
sidewalks, worked in offices, played musical instruments, painted murals on post office
walls, and cleaned up around the courthouses and county and state buildings.
Bluing: This liquid would be added to the last rinse of the laundry to make whites whiter.
Wringers: When clothes were washed, they were put through a wringer that featured
two wooden rollers similar to rolling pins. The rollers squeezed the excess water out of
“Put it on the bill”: You would go to the store, select your groceries, and say “Put it on the
bill.” When you paid your bill at the end of the month, your kids would get a free sack of
Doctors making house calls: When sent for, doctors would come by horse and buggy or
Model T to a home to treat the sick. They were often paid with merchandise rather than
cash, perhaps a chicken, a hog, or eggs.
Corked bottle tops: Tiny glass medicine bottles of long ago featured a miniature cork
instead of a lid.
Pill boxes: When purchased at the drug store pills could be counted out, wrapped in a
tiny square of paper and then placed in a miniature box.
Parasols: Suntans were not the rage long ago. On the contrary, ladies carefully guarded
their “peaches-and-cream” complexions from the sun.
Snow ice cream: If you wanted ice cream in a hurry, you went outside and scooped up a
bucket of clean snow. You brought it inside added some cream, some sugar, and
some vanilla. It was a beloved treat long ago.
Fruit-preserving: Fruit would sometimes be laid out on trays and placed on the roof to
dry. “Sunshine jam” began in this way.
Butchering day: It was a social time as families gathered to butcher their hogs or cattle
for the winter. While the men cut the animal into shoulders, hams, chops and ribs, the
ladies waited for the liver to cook it for lunch. Children would skip school and wait for the
bladder that was cleaned and then blown up and played with like a balloon. Some meat
was smoked, some made into sausage, and some fried down and packed in crocks
between layers of lard.
Quilting bee: Women would gather together at a home and assemble the blocks they
had already cut out. Backing and batting were put together with the quilted blocks, and
then the ladies would quilt through the three thicknesses. It was a social time for the
ladies who caught everyone up on the latest happenings. If she did not sew a fine
seam (11 stitches to the inch) a woman would be the subject of much gossip.
Rolled snow removal: There was a time when snow was rolled rather than shoveled.
Croquet: Though it is still around (barely), croquet was the Sunday afternoon
entertainment of most country homes. Wire brackets would be set up in the yard and
players with wooden mallets would work the wooden ball around the prescribed course
and through the brackets.
Cowboy stars: Our residents enjoyed cowboys like Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, Buck Jones,
and Tim McCoy. Later folks enjoyed Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, the Lone Ranger, and
Freebies in soap: Laundry soap like Duz would pack drinking glasses, dish towels, and
other treasures inside as an incentive to buy their product. Earlier, it was Depression
glass that today is highly collectible.
Razor strops: These two-inch wide leather strips were used to sharpen the old straight
razors. Unfortunately, they had another use. Parents thought they worked great for
painful spankings. Just the sight of one hanging on the kitchen wall could provide the
incentive for a child to be good.
Rosie the Riveter: With the men off to war (WWII), ladies left heir homes and went into
the factories to build airplanes, ships, and war necessities. They were called “Rosie the
Moonshine: During prohibition folks sometimes made their own liquor called
moonshine. Some brands were White Lightening, Mountain Moonlight, and White Mule.
Home quarantine: When someone in the home had scarlet fever, smallpox, or
diphtheria, a sign would be hung on the front door that read “quarantine”. No one could
enter except the doctor.
Pest houses: These were similar to hospitals where people with infectious diseases
tuberculosis were sent to recover, if possible.
Cornmeal mush: Cornmeal would be cooked up like oatmeal at night. When it was cool
and set, it would be rolled into a log and refrigerated. The next morning it would be
sliced, fried and served with butter and syrup.
Coat halls: At school before lockers were common, coat halls were used to hold coats
and boots and lunch pails. They were a long closet-like room with hooks on the walls
Flypaper: This two-sided tacky paper would be hung from the ceiling to catch flies and
other flying insects.
Early football uniforms: These homemade uniforms featured canvas pants, pillow-
ticking shirts, tam hats, and old shoes with a leather strip sewn to the bottom for
traction. Couch pillows were sewn in for padding.
Poodle hairstyles: Popular in the early 1960s, the stylish woman sported this very short,
very curly permed hairstyle.
Conclusion: Well, activity directors, once again we are out of space so we will wind this
up for now. But if some day you find that your planned activity has been cancelled out,
why not pull this column out and see if it doesn’t get your residents actively
remembering and actively talking about “things that used to be”.
God bless you all,