I have a couple of old scars on my hands from when I was a kid cleaning fish. Those were the days, as they say. I had no idea how extraordinary those days were, not at the time.
One or two generations before me those days I had as a kid would not have been so extraordinary. They would have continued all through my normal life span. But I was born on the cusp of a huge change. I'm a boomer you see. What was normal, and had been normal for untold generations of my ancestors, would become abnormal, a memory. A long lost memory.
I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in those days. Back before I started elementary school and many summer breaks after I started school.
Here are some of the changes that were indicative. I was there when they got their first telephone. It had the removable ear piece and a crank on the side. It was a party line with at least a dozen families on it, probably more like two dozen families. Each house had a different ring. One long and two shorts was ours. No secrets were ever discussed on those phones - they were, in an odd sort of way, the fore runner of facebook. Everything said on it was public and could be heard by anyone else that lifted the receiver at their house. And brother didn't they all.
I was there when they first got indoor plumbing. A toilet and a tub and a kitchen sink. Up to that point it was all hand drawn well water brought in one or two buckets at a time. Water heated on the stove, baths taken in wash tubs, water shared so the cleanest person went first.
The well was in the back yard, just a few steps from the kitchen door. I pulled I don't know how many buckets of water up that well, even as a five year old I had chores to do and "fetching water" was one of them. They told me not to fall in once, I think. Or maybe not. Hard to say now.
I was there when they first got gas heat and no longer needed the wood burning stove in the living room. It was a propane tank and they used space heaters - the kind with those fancy scroll work ceramic tile insert things. Dearborne as a matter of fact. And a kitchen stove too!
I was there when one of my uncles first filleted a fish on the old fish cleaning table under the big peach tree. It was a shocking waste of meat in my grandparents opinions. Why, the best meat was on the bone and filleting just left that behind!
I got those scars from cleaning fish with a razor sharp kitchen knife, one my grandfather kept hand honed to a no kidding razor shaving sharp edge. He had a knack for sharpening knives that I've never been able to emulate. Starting at about age five or so you were expected to learn most things the hard way. I was warned once not to cut myself, after that I was not reminded again - but then who would need to be?. We would scale the fish with a spoon, then cut the head off and slit the belly open and remove the "innards". The fish were then rolled in mustard and yellow cornmeal and fried in smoking hot grease on the new gas fired stove. "Now we're cooking with gas!" wasn't just a catch phrase back then - it meant a huge improvement over wood stove cooking.
I was there as that era succumbed to the wide spread changes that were afflicting the America of the late 50's and 60's. Color television and sitcoms. Air conditioned cars. No knucklebusters on the steering wheel anymore. Vile news poring into living rooms from those devil boxes. Indoor plumbing, people too lazy to catch and clean their own food, supermarkets that made gardens unnecessary but the food wasn't near as good. Fish markets that couldn't have anything remotely as fresh as what you caught yourself and took home still alive and kicking on a stringer.
I was there, young, but there, when America changed. I'm much older now and can see backwards to those changes and what followed. I was better then than I am now. We all were. America was.
I miss that kid. His simplicity. His grandparent's simplicity. Life in slow motion almost. Life that had a kind of sweetness to it. Remember sucking honeysuckle nectar? Like that I think. That kid had it made, but of course there was no way for him to know it then. And yet sometimes I think he felt it coming, like a dark storm just over the horizon. Probably not, probably just hindsight, hard to tell now.
If I could I would go back and get some more of these scars, many more of them - I prize them more than I do any of my best and most expensive possessions. They are old school scars. I earned them, back before the world changed forever.