When I was your age…

When I was your age…

What chores or family jobs or even punishments that you had as a kid will your children or grandchildren not have to do?

This topic came up during the latest Jumping Monkeys podcast. One of the hosts, Leo LaPorte, says that he used to be tasked with rolling coins into wrappers, but now he just takes jars of coins down to the Coinstar machine at the supermarket.

I remember doing that as a family. There would be big piles of coins on the dining room table, which we’d separate out into pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. We’d stack them up into piles of ten, twenty, or fifty (for the pennies) until there were neat stacks spread across the table. (Dangerously so, if you ask me. One good bump and those neat stacks would have gone flying.) Then we’d drop them into the tubes, crimp the ends and write our bank account on the sides. Off they would go to the bank.

Is the loss of this ritual a loss? I don’t think so. There’ll be something else to replace it, I’m sure. After all, a generation before me might have bonded over canning fruits and vegetables.

Another task Leo mentioned was shining all the family’s shoes (which he received as a punishment.) While I’m sure most people still have leather dress shoes, I think they’re less likely to have as many pairs or require as much polishing, since polishes and shoe leather have advanced in technology. Plus as a less formal people, we wear dress shoes less, substituting sneakers or sandals or boots or the like.

I asked the question on my Facebook page and received a few answers so far. One guy, about my age, says his children was have to walk to school or have a paper route. I know I’ll be surprised if there are such things as paper boys or girls in my grandchildren’s time. Another respondent says her kids won’t be weeding the family vegetable garden like she did, since they have such a small yard. Another, a deacon old enough to have grandkids and be retired, says he used to empty the water bucket under the ice box and gather wood kindling and coal along the railroad tracks for the kitchen stove.

So how would you answer the question?

  • Re-sewing buttons onto my mother’s many pairs of white gloves late in each Lent (in time for Easter). At least through the 1960s. Sewing buttons was work for the able children with the smallest fingers, of course; a job that descended through the ranks (though by the time the sixth sib was old enough, white gloves were no longer being worn…)

    Putting A&P;plaid stamps in their books.

    The most dreaded project: exchanging the heavy wood-framed storm windows (removing in the spring, replacing in the autumn) with the screened windows. It was nerve-wracking to do that in an upper story window – you had to hold that window out with your raw strength (we had to be in our early teens to start doing this) and they had to be engaged/disengaged from hooks along the top of the window frame. Always came close to dropping the window and smashing it.

    Rinsing the milk bottles thoroughly in the warm weather, so that the milk box on the back stoop did not stink.

    Hanging out the clothing to dry in the winter (if it was damp, it was hung in the basement – otherwise, it went in the sun). Btw, what many people don’t realize is that hanging laundry to dry in the sun kills more dust mites than dryers (which don’t reach a temperature that kills enough mites). That’s one reason dust allergies as more common than they once were. On the other hand, we don’t have to contend with coal soot like we used to before WW2.

    Replacing the aluminum foil rabbit ears on the TV antenna.

    * * *

    But there is one chore that I miss dearly, especially this time of year: burning leaves, which we sometimes did in the open but usually did in those special galvinized cylinders that looked like trash cans with holes in the sides.

    Speaking of which: hauling the trash in those heavy galvinized (and often very dented and raspy-bottomed) trash cans. No wheels, no light plastic.

    * * *

    Of course none of this compares to doing laundry on Mondays without a washing machine (let alone a dryer). That is something of which my mother remembers a bit from the 1920s. Turning collars (neck and wrist). Et cet.

    I’ve still maintained one family ritual: the day before Palm Sunday is spring cleaning day. I don’t know how common this is among Catholic families, but it was common enough when I was young. I find it interesting that Jewish families often did likewise around the same time in most years – because chametz has to be cleaned from the house a few days before Passover.

    But I don’t see nowadays the frenzy of seasonal activity that once obtained in the change of seasons: the changing and cleaning and storing of draperies, bedding and sets of clothing.  I think cleaning screens in the spring and windows in the fall are about the only remnant of that.

    Cleaning silver remains unchanged. A great task for a child.

  • My father (born 1938) had to shovel coal into the basement heater from the time he was 6 (after his father died) until they got an oil-fired heater when he was 11. At least the coal bin itself was in the basement, too – the coal truck would come around in early September and fill it up for the winter. My husband (born 1953) grew up in coal-heated houses in Edinburgh and all except the last had coal bins out in back of the house; you had to use a bucket to carry it in every day.

    Husband also remembers rinsing out the milk bottles each day as a courtesy for the milkman. He’s mentioned a special “extra” that you got with bottled, pastureized but non-homogenized milk – whoever opened the bottle, if they didn’t shake it up, got cream in their coffee or on their cereal (he and his siblings drank watered-down coffee from an early age). So there was always a scramble for the several bottles of milk to be opened at breakfast each morning (he’s the oldest of 15). (He also thinks there would be a niche market for milkmen today among foodies and “whole food” people – we buy non-homogenized milk from a local dairy at a local whole-foods store, and it’s almost twice as much as the regular milk, but . . . it tastes like milk. After you drink it, regular milk will always have an “off” taste. And we don’t just gulp it down – we mostly drink water if we’re thirsty. Now if someone brought us fresh milk every day? Depending on the price, that might be worth paying for!)

    I just barely remember “helping” my mother defrost the freezer – we got a frost-free model by the time I was 5 (1976).

    Yes, and adjusting the rabbit ears, knowing that doing it *this* way will get Channel 5, while doing it *that* way will get Channel 9, and you have to adjust it *juuuust so* for Channel 7. And setting up a *VCR* to record using only the front of the machine – because the early ones didn’t come with remotes!

    Well, for that matter, who remembers your parents telling you to get up and change the channel? That really helped to reinforce the household hierarchy. It also suggests (gasp!) that the family was watching together. Or, if it was just the kids watching, fighting with your siblings over who was going to change it. My sister and I would play Rock, Paper, Scissors (usually best 2 out of 3) to decide. Kids who “channel surf” will never know that. I think it was better, in a way – you had to make a commitment, “I’m going to sit down and watch *this* television show.” There weren’t as many choices, but then you didn’t mindlessly spend an hour (or more) “surfing” trying to find something to catch your interest (and I know, I’ve done it).

  • Had the paper route (afternoon delivery during the weekdays, mornings for Saturday and Sunday) thing growing up. Where I live in California there are no paper carriers like we had “back in the day”. Now it is a job of adults who get up early, probably one of two or three jobs the person has, and drive around the neighborhood tossing the paper from the car window. I never see them because they get about so early in the morning.

    One chore I had growing up and I do not miss is shoveling snow from the walk and drive way. Our driveway was covered in stone, not paved, so that really stunk as a chore.

    Not that it was a chore, but growing up I was an altar boy from the earliest age they allowed all the way until I left for college.  Our parish had a 7AM and 8AM weekday Mass, and during my time there only three of us would be willing to get up early to serve the 7AM Mass: myself, one of my cousins, and a neighbor.

    So every three weeks I was assigned to this Mass (Monday thru Saturday) and in those teenage years it was a tough “chore” getting up that early.

  • Meg: In my family, I *was* the remote. My brother would order me to go stand by the TV and turn the dial while he decided what he wanted to watch. Thankfully, there only about a half-dozen channels back then.

  • I recall my fathers daily accumulation of coins would require a periodic “piggy bank” emptying. The coins and bills, etc., counted and divided evenly between the three oldest children in our family.  We all participated in the counting and tallying.  The money however was not meant for spending.  The next day dad deposited the money into each of our individual savings accounts.  All money acquired from birthdays and other celebratory occasions went into the savings account.

    Regarding laundry:  it is still goes outside onto the clothesline in all weather, winter included, rain excepted.

  • There are lots, but burning trash is the best segue into a story…

    I was 6 when I got my first experience helping my grnadmother burn the trash in the burn barrel behind the house.  Once it was going good, she took my hand and held it over the fire, asking, “You feel that, boy?”

    “The flames of Perdition are a thousand times hotter than that.  You remember that the next time you decide to lie and tell me you didn’t eat all the leftover banana pudding!”

    It was my first experience with the pain of an educative gesture.