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Kentucky by Heart: Today’s modern conveniences put ‘privileges’ enjoyed during youth in perspective

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune Columnist

Growing up, I didn’t consider our family inconvenienced in terms of having the things we needed to get along in daily life.

Though all in the Flairty household worked hard on our small farm while Dad had a full-time job and Mom cleaned houses part-time, we lived at least a lower-middle-class existence, never wanting for a meal, clothing, or shelter.

the popular “Princess” rotary phone from Steve’s youth (Photo provided)

We had enough, also, to enjoy a few extras, including taking short trips around the state and an annual trip to Lincoln, Nebraska, to spend a fun week with extended family members. Probably the biggest extra was the money earned from our yearly family tobacco crop over the years bought my brother and me a college education.

However, the conveniences and advantages enjoyed today comparatively make the ones of my youth seem, laughably, at a disadvantaged level.

Our clothing was washed downstairs in the basement in a wringer washer. It required the washed clothes to be pulled through a couple rollers to squeeze out the water before the final drying process. I recall Mom patiently guiding each wash article through the rollers, and if I stood nearby, she reminded me to keep my fingers away from the rollers. She dropped the rolled laundry into a basket, then carried the load outside to hang on clotheslines to dry naturally.

Fortunately (I guess), our family progressed to acquiring a modern washer and dryer, with Dad changing the plumbing structure to set them up in our kitchen upstairs. For a while, Mom kept the old washer downstairs to clean filthy work clothes. But for the most part, the new washer/drier combination was more efficient and cut down on the long trips to the basement.

The washer/drier combination Suzanne and I have today, though, is much more efficient and has an amazing number of settings designed to provide optimal results for many types of clothing—and they are located, thank goodness, in a utility room close by rather than the kitchen.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

Communicating to far places in THE DAY consisted mostly of using the family land-locked phone, or if one was patient, writing letters. (I never knew anyone who used telegrams.) Does anyone recall “party lines,” where you had to wait your turn if another was talking? We all know that you could sometimes hear breathing from someone other than the recipient of your call

Today brings a new world. Besides our cell phones, which can put us in touch within seconds, we have emails, texts, and we host Zoom meetings. Just hope that our instant communication today helps build, rather than diminish, our relationships.

Watching TV in those days consisted of choosing from three stations, with a possible fuzzy one available, which was WHIO, in Dayton, Ohio. There are hundreds available today on cable, though it’s probably ironic that I still stick mainly with three or four, as I like routines.

Wintertime reminds me of the built-in space we had as a heater in our kitchen — the open oven while waiting for breakfast on an early morning before the school bus came. It worked well for me, especially when I could withstand Mom’s chiding to not get too close and risk catching my underwear on fire. In our home today, we have four of five space heaters to use as needed.

Doing yardwork as a teenager was a chore. Our half-acre yard was hilly, though much of the three-acre plus property was covered by outbuildings and our tobacco field and a garden where mowing was not needed. We had only a gas engine push mower, and one of the steepest hills was at about a 45-degree angle. The rest of the yard would have been relatively easy to do except that we didn’t have, because of the cost, a riding mower. It took a good hour to do, and it was back-breaking tiring.

My yard mowing today consists of an acre. It takes an hour, too, but I can cover twice the space. I use a riding mower, and the fact that is a zero-turn type makes it easier and faster. I enjoy the mowing and am not particularly weary after finishing.

Steve’s wife, Suzanne, holding a record she made as a small child at Lexington’s Joyland Park in 1953 (Photo provided)

When I want to play the music of my choice today, I google a song on the Internet, or I pop a CD into my car’s player (I’ve heard from young people about other choices available but haven’t explored them.)

As a child, one of my best friends was my smallish tan and brown-colored record player. It played both 33 rpm album records and 45s. Some of you might recall that you often had to use an adapter in the donut hole of the 45 to make it secure on the turntable. I played my records until the sound “skipped” from overuse, but I felt cool about it. Admittedly, I lip-synced the songs in private but was no Tom Cruise.

And oh, can’t leave this out. A big treat for our family in “the day” was going to the Newport Shopping Center. It was especially nice to go to “The Dime Store” (Kresge’s), where they had miniature pet turtles and other enticing things for kids.

It wasn’t until the mid-1960s, or later, that I became familiar with a “shopping mall.” That was in Lincoln, Nebraska. Incidentally, little Stevie got lost there until rescued by an employee who made an announcement on the loudspeaker, saving the day. Now it seems we’ve all been to shopping malls with two floors and a giant duplication of merchandise—and we buy things we don’t need.

Mixed up me, so deprived as a youth… and so spoiled as an adult.

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