Of Old Days and New Ways



It’s January and like Janus, the Roman god of gates and doors, time to look forward and back. I get why Janus is depicted as having two faces, but on 2nd century BC coins, he had four of them. Poor man. Imagine hearing: “Oh, you’re so four-faced!”

I got to thinking about what we used to be able to do before our nation with 4.5 percent of the world’s population ended up with half the lawyers. Admittedly, some of this stuff has nothing to do with lawyers, but they’re always good fodder.

Let’s see. We didn’t have to undress at airports. You didn’t sue people if you fell out of their apple tree. Nobody wanted to take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance or the cross from on top of the Cos Cob firehouse. And it was okay to drink water out of a public fountain instead of a bottle.

Growing up in Cleveland, my brothers and I used to break open thermometers and play with the Mercury, rolling the silvery blobs around in the palms of our hands. It was fascinating and nobody got poisoned. We bought little painted turtles at Woolworth’s, raced them across the kitchen floor and didn’t get salmonella. Mother wasn’t a great cook, but she made the best bread, butter and sugar sandwiches. Now people don’t want their kids to eat sugar, because it’ll make them fat and hyper. But guess what? We went outside to play and ran it off with our friends. We didn’t sit around inside playing computer games.

We rode our bikes for miles up and down Shaker Boulevard unencumbered by helmets, kneepads and elbow pads—stopping to pick wild strawberries along the way—and lived to tell the tale. Some houses had whole front lawns full of bright yellow dandelions, a beautiful sight. Who needed weed killers?

School—In fourth grade we devoted a period each week to learning penmanship from Mrs. Young. There was a deep paper border on the classroom walls featuring big A-s, little a-s, big B-s, little b-s… Except for a random thank-you or sympathy note, we now communicate via e-mail and text messages, and our grandchildren can’t read script, let alone write it. Grammar and punctuation? We had to memorize all the prepositions in the English language—“aboard, about, above, across, after, against, amid, amidst, among, amongst, around, at …”—and didn’t use machines to correct our spelling. Reflecting more soberly, we had fire drills, not lockdowns.

Birthdays—We brought presents to parties, watched eagerly while the birthday boy opened them, then helped him play with them. We weren’t jealous because we knew that it would soon be our turn to have a party. Now, most parents won’t let their kids open gifts until after their guests have left. That teaches them how to handle disappointment? Not.

Of course, there’ve always been goodie bags. But when Janie Rogers turned six, we went home with the ultimate favors. Her mother had called all of our mothers weeks in advance asking what we were going to wear. And right there at my place at the table, along with a paper hat and blower, sat a doll in a green smocked dress just like mine!

Cars—Dad used to pile all three of us Clegglets into the rumble seat of his 1929 Packard Runabout convertible for a spin around town. No seatbelts, nothing. Just hang on tight. Later doing Country Day carpool, I’d have a bunch of boys—DeNunzios, Welds, a Moffly and a Smith—squeezed into the backseat and deck of the station wagon with little Audrey in her nightgown riding shotgun. For sudden stops my right arm thrown across her chest became the seatbelt. Now we’re all buckled up, and babies have to sit in car seats facing backwards, which starts them off with a crazy perspective on life. Since only so many car seats can fit in a car, the fact that they’re required until your child hits a certain weight and height is a form of birth control. You don’t want kids too close in age or you won’t be able to go anywhere.

Dogs—They used to run free. Then somebody decided they were a nuisance and a leash law was enforced. End result, besides people walking around with plastic bags full of poop: The coyotes and foxes have been spared the wrath of their natural enemy and keep themselves well fed on our neighborhood puppies and kittens.

But Jonathan Moffly probably wouldn’t be alive today if our golden retriever Charlie hadn’t been on the loose. He never left the three-year-old’s side when he took off one day and “got lost in the ferns.” Charlie also didn’t like to see his family swimming and would jump in and push you to shore if he caught you in the water off Willowmere beach.

Like you, I could reminisce forever. Marshall at Riverside Pharmacy would hand-deliver medicine when everybody was sick, then stick around and get your child to swallow his pill. We taught our kids to ice-skate on Binney Pond, where it’s not allowed anymore. Our teething babies enjoyed gumming a piece of Zwieback, while some mothers today wrap their cookies in mesh. You can never be too careful!

Actually, you can be too careful—and miss half the fun! Have a healthy and fun-filled new year.

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