Column, Looking Back

From horses to cars!

By Mary Ellen Shaw

Those of us who are in the “senior” category are often amazed at all the changes that have occurred during our lifetime.

My friend Mary Jane said that she and a college friend were discussing whether the changes that their parents had experienced were on the same level as what our generation has experienced over the years. As the changes evolved, the various generations probably wondered how they ever got along without the improvements that became part of their daily lives.

Mary Jane referred to how excited people must have been in the generation that saw transportation change from horses to cars. In the beginning cars were started by hand-cranking them. Then the automotive industry moved to another level in the 1940s and invented a way to start a car by using ignition keys. That worked well for 50 years and then fobs emerged in the 1990s.

My current car is a 2006 Toyota. My plan has always been to keep a car until it’s no longer “fixable.” Hopefully, this one still has a long life ahead of it. I remember experiencing a downside to the car when it was new. I was working outside when a sudden storm arose. I ran over to roll up the windows and realized that there were no handles for that. I had to head inside, get my keys, turn on the car and then roll up the windows! The next time I was at the dealership I asked if you can still buy a car with windows that roll up. The answer was, “Yes, but they are considered ‘custom’ and it is quite expensive.” I still miss not being able to roll up a window and it’s now 15 years later!

Those in my generation will recall road maps that were usually provided to travelers by gas stations. I remember my parents taking quite a few trips with a paper road map in my mother’s lap as she gave directions to my father. They could only have dreamed about GPS to get a driver easily from Point A to Point B.

Of course, when you think you know a better way to get to your destination than GPS does it causes frequent use of the word, “recalculating.” A friend told me that she heard that word way too often as she and her husband drove to Florida from Rutland.

As much as my mother hated change as she aged, she loved cars with automatic transmission. The car we had back in the ‘60s had standard shift and there was a lot of “bucking” going on as she tried to teach me to drive. My father was smart enough to let my mother handle that “task!” When my father passed away in 1965 she traded our large Chevy Bel-Air for a small Chevy Nova with automatic transmission. I was delighted as I had just gotten my license. This meant that I no longer had to worry about stopping on hills because I was afraid of rolling back.

My parents would have found radios to be a distraction. We never had one in our cars until I bought my first car after college. I can just imagine what my parents would have thought about looking at a GPS screen or having a car that “talks” to you or beeps at you. Since my current car has nothing like that I guess I will be just as surprised when I find them in my next car as my parents would have been.

One thing my parents would have approved of is wearing a seat belt. My father, in particular, was very safety conscious. I remember a friend’s father coming home from work and piling his five kids, plus me, into his car and taking us to Clarendon Gorge to swim on a hot summer day. I guess God was on our side as we all lived to tell about it!

What seems like science fiction today is tomorrow’s reality. Wonder what surprises are on the horizon as our lives move forward? Stay tuned!

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