Column, Looking Back

Memories from my inbox

By Mary Ellen Shaw

It’s always fun to open up my email inbox and find pictures and stories that take me back in time.

A friend recently sent me an email with pictures that definitely said, “Remember when?”

One was a picture of a book … not one you read, but rather a “book” of Life Savers candy.  This was something that you might have received as a gift back in the ‘50s. When you opened the book you would find two “pages” of Life Savers candy. There were six stacked rolls of different flavors on each “page.” No doubt the name comes from the fact that the candy is ring-shaped with a hole in the middle, thus, resembling a life saver that you would toss out to a distressed swimmer. 

The flavors within the pages of the book were different in each roll. Thus, you got to try options that weren’t available in local stores. The only Life Savers I remember from “back in the day” were the hard variety. But as I researched the product I learned that there were also “gummies” that could be chewed. Apparently, Amazon sells Life Saver books today but receiving one just wouldn’t be the same as when you were a kid in the “good ol’ days”!

Another memory from my youth was a picture of an old fashioned cash register. I remember them taking up quite a bit of room on store counters. They were often a gold colored metal. Transactions were rung up on keys that sometimes spanned six rows. For many models the dollar keys occupied three rows on the left side and were red in color. Beside them were two rows of keys for “two digit” cents. For example, in that section you would press the “2” key and the “0” key for 20 cents. In the row on the right there were keys for single digit cents. For instance you would press “5” in that row for 5 cents. When everything was entered you pushed the total button and the cash drawer would open and a bell would ring. Everyone knew when a sale was completed. That process sounds like a whole lot of work compared to scanning bar codes today!

My teenage generation from the ‘50s and ‘60s will remember record holder racks. They held the various size records from that era. Some of them had numbered slots. You could make up a chart to match the slot numbers for your records. That made it easy to pull out the one you wanted to play. The 45 rpm records were 7” in size. The 78 rpm were either 10” or 12.” They came in a paper cover with a circular cutout so you could see the label.

Another picture from yesteryear showed an A&W Root Beer stand. Rutland had one just a short distance up the road from Seward’s Family Restaurant on North Main Street. You drove into either the north or south facing row and pressed a button when you were ready to order. Someone brought your food to the car and attached a tray to the driver-side window. Root beer was their specialty and it came in a frosty mug. 

Glass bottles of milk were also pictured in the email I received. It brought back memories of our milkman. His name was Mr. Adams and he brought glass bottles of milk to our house on a regular basis. Most mothers were stay at home moms back then so the milk could always go right into the refrigerator. Mr. Adams was a friendly gentleman who always took time to talk to both my mother and me. People seemed to not be in as much of a hurry back then as they are today. Conversations were part of transactions.

There was also a picture of a passenger holding a road map as the driver listened to directions. I remember my father getting maps at gas stations to help us get to where we were going. My mother would hold them in her lap and tell him what town was coming up next. She was the GPS system in our car! After all, you can’t look at the road and the map at the same time. I guess doing that back in the ‘50s was equal to texting and driving today.

A juke box also made it into the nostalgia email. Besides the large floor model boxes there were also smaller ones that sat on restaurant tables. I remember digging into my wallet for coins to put into the box and then selecting a song by pushing the appropriate number and letter. I think each song was a dime but you could get three for a quarter.

A picture of a portable radio brought back memories for sure. They were a big deal “back in the day” because it allowed you to listen to music wherever you were. Taking one to the beach was a popular thing to do. Lying on a blanket, covered with baby oil, and listening to popular music was a fun way to spend a summer afternoon. In order to get a tan on your face, you took a record album cover, opened it up and covered it with aluminum foil to attract the sun to your face. No wonder the dermatologists are treating our generation for cancer spots. It was a bad idea!

Looking back is always fun when you reach “senior status.” You tend to think that your time of life was best. But if you are one of today’s youth you are probably grateful that progress happened and technology prevails.

Mary Ellen Shaw is a graduate of Trinity College.  She is the author of the book “Kittenhood 101” and is a freelance writer for several publications.

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