Tin Roof Days

[From Connect Column Archives]

My morning ritual several years ago was to get out of bed, half stumble down the stairs, put on the coffee, and head for my home office to check email. There was a window close by that gave me clear view of the outside world. I checked out the weather, watched the birds, squirrels, and a black and white cat that visited most every morning. I saw, too, the old, tin roof of a neighbor’s garage that once was home for a carriage and horse. That tin roof caused me to think about how life must have been in this neighborhood when that building was built about 100 years ago. That tin roof took me back in memory to my own growing up days in this town.

I think about how things have changed over the years. I think about the absolutely wondrous scientific and technological innovations that have become a normal and expected part of our lives in the last seven and one half decades.

My earliest memories though are of Victory Gardens and Block Wardens and of a father gone off to war. They are of milk being delivered to our home by the Med-O-Bloom Dairy horse-drawn milk wagon and of the fresh homemade butter, eggs, and vegetables coming directly to our door. And of the doctor making a house call from time to time when we were sick. They are of times of racing home after school to gather by the radio to hear programs that stimulated the imagination like ‘The Lone Ranger’, ‘The Green Hornet’, ‘Inner Sanctum’, ‘The Shadow Knows’ and ‘Tennessee Jed’. They are of times when children just old and tall enough to put money into the bus coin box could travel downtown to Kresge’s or Woolworth’s or Penny’s or to see the movie serials each week and be safe.

Everyone walked to school. No problem. It seemed the adults in our town looked after each other and any children around. Even the dogs and cats were friendly and free. Most folks did not lock their homes when going off to shop or work. I ask myself whether we have really made any progress in our quality of life here in these past 75 years? Certainly, there is bigger and more of everything, but is it better?

Things were not all roses over those years, though. Racism and religious prejudice were pretty ingrained in our society in those days. We have not gotten through those even yet.

We did some pretty stupid things, too: things that we were told were wonderful and harmless at the time. I remember going to the dentist again and again to get a cavity filled. As a reward, the dentist would give me a gel-capsule filled with mercury. I loved holding that marvelous, liquid metal in my hands and using it to polish coins by rubbing the mercury and coins between my fingers. Today we would say, “Mercury in you hands! Are you crazy?”

I remember going to Eby’s Shoe Store to get new shoes. To check the fit, the store had a wonderful machine into which one would insert a foot with a new shoe on it, push a button, and see how the shoe fit. Gosh, you could see all the bones in your foot, too. The machine was an X-ray machine. I often have wondered what happened to Mr. Eby and the other employees of the shoe store.

I remember the hot summer days in our neighborhood. Sometimes the bugs, particularly mosquitoes, were kind of bothersome, but there was a fix for that, too. The city would send around the truck to take care of the bugs. We looked forward to it. It was great fun to ride our bicycles in the cloud coming from the truck. The DDT smelled pretty good. We were told this miracle chemical had saved the world from malaria and from being over run by insects. We believed it, because the chemical companies said so.

We are now in a time when science and technology are moving much faster than then. It is important we learn from our past, take the best from the past and move on. This means carefully examining change and innovation to be sure they lead in directions good for people and the planet. One huge lesson is not to be so quick to believe all that is new and claimed to be so wonderful, particularly if the message is coming from those who stand to make money or gain politically from whatever the message conveys. We have been fooled before. There are those who would fool us again and again and again.

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About Kent Blacklidge Ph.D.

As part of a newspaper family who owned a 34,000 daily newspaper in the heart of the Midwest, I have a passion for a strong “Fourth Estate”, the press. Without a diligent and assertive free press, the power would be taken from the people. People have the absolute right to know. After earning a degree in Industrial Management from the Krannert School of Management at Purdue, I spent over 20 years in newspaper management with several as publisher. I am also holder of three graduate science degrees including a Ph.D.. I have a passionate interest in science and the environment. I have little tolerance for ignorance and stupidity.
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