Things that are slipping away

While you and I have been busy with our everyday lives, a number of folks have slipped out of the American scene.

For instance, in those long-ago days before refrigeration, we all had ice boxes. That’s when we depended on the ice man to make frequent visits. These days, I can’t remember the last time the ice man stopped by our place.

And one of our most dependable delivery folks was the milk man. This family friendly fellow knew each of his clients so well that he always left exactly what they needed. It only took a note on the milk box to insure an extra gallon of milk if company was coming or Christmas baking was on the schedule.

I still remember our soft-hearted milkman responding to the pleas of the dusty band of kids who followed his truck. The little slivers of ice he sometimes gave us made him a local hero.

Another delivery man who has gone on to bigger things is the old egg man. I suspect our original egg deliverer has now retired to Arizona and has turned the business over to his grandson. The modern egg man no longer handles eggs by the dozen. Instead, he delivers 60 dozen or more to the local grocery.

A much more elegant position was that of the impressive white-gloved elevator operator at the big department store. I remember stepping into his gold and maroon car and watching him work the big door with practiced efficiency.

His deep voice was the store’s vocal GPS, announcing his car’s destinations. “Second floor: ladies’ ready-to-wear. Third floor: home furnishings.”

That long-ago elevator operator offered a far more inviting entrance into the retail world than the repetitious “Welcome to Wal-Mart” as you grab a shopping cart.

The rapid transitions in telephone technology have also taken a toll on some key service jobs. There was the small-town operator like the never-seen Sarah in Sheriff Andy’s fictional Mayberry. These ladies not only knew everyone in town but knew where everyone was at any given time. They provided the first call-forwarding service free of charge. You can almost hear Sarah say, “No, Andy, Barney’s not home. He went down to Floyd’s barber shop. Just a minute and I’ll ring him there. And, by the way, how’s Aunt Bea’s gout?”

That kind of personal contact is gone forever from our less fun-but-more-efficient telephone systems.

Actually, with today’s phone service, it’s almost impossible to find a real live operator within a hundred miles of your telephone.

Other jobs that have been phased out by our modern advances are the pin boys at the local bowling alley, the telegraph operators, the manager of a woman’s hat store and the typesetter at the local newspaper.

I’m not so lost in nostalgia that I regret the phasing out of many of these time and labor-intensive jobs. We’ve certainly made progress and that progress is to be celebrated.

Still, I can’t help wonder what happened to all these folks who once played such important parts in our lives. Did they go on to retrain for the computer industry? Did they take their skills to less advanced countries? Is the milkman still passing out slivers of ice to dusty children in some remote village somewhere?

Will others soon follow? How about the fellow who once taught a college slide-rule course? And what will happen to the guy who has spent his life repairing typewriters?

We can only hope that these and weekly newspaper columnists will continue to find meaningful work somewhere in our rapidly advancing society.

Joyce Schenk , Westfield Republican

By Patricia Older

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