The Iceman Goeth

September 26, 2008
An Elmo Birthday Cake

An Elmo Birthday Cake

All my grandchildren love Elmo… just as much as I loved Rodney and Knish, Howdy Doody, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, and King Friday XIII. It makes me wonder if Elmo, Ernie, Bert, Big Bird, Barney, and the other childhood favorites will be distant memories fifty years from now. Let’s face it, even the Bible tells us there’s a time for us to put away our childish things and start acting like adults.

Realistically, it’s more than our childish things that get put away. As the world around us changes, we humans must adapt or die… just like the dinosaurs and other beasts. Face it, yesterday’s gone!

As a young boy, I was aware of a number of workers who frequented our neighborhood. Most of them are long gone.

The first to go was the ice man; refrigerators eliminated the need for someone to go from house to house delivering ice. For a while, the ice houses stayed in business selling blocks of ice to picnickers who needed to keep their food and beverages chilled while they frolicked in the parks. Today, it’s rare to find an ice house that sells directly to consumers. Bags of ice cubes can be purchased at the grocery store and blocks of ice can be bought at machines… if you can find one!

The ice man was soon followed by the men who delivered coal to homes. In many cases, those were the same workers – delivering ice in the summer and coal in the winter. Home owners rapidly changed over to cleaner, more efficient gas and electric furnaces. The reduced consumption of coal not only affected the people who sold and delivered to home owners, it also reduced the number of coal miners needed to supply the shrinking market. Many more coal miners lost their jobs because of mechanical mining devices.

Before we begin to feel sorry for the men discussed so far, bare in mind that their trucks eliminated the need for horses; that put many blacksmiths out of work.

Years ago, neighborhoods were also frequented by men delivering baked goods, milk and other dairy products, and produce. Many dry cleaners also had trucks to pick up and deliver laundry. The paper boy was usually on time – on foot, pulling a wagon, or riding the bicycle he bought with his earnings. In a typical week, one might also spot a delivery boy from the drug store, a knife sharpener, a rag man, and a Western Union messenger.

Slowly those workers were eliminated along with the dishware in the boxes of laundry detergent, the trading stamps at the gas station, and the cartoons and newsreels that preceded the movies at the theaters.

I’ve also seen many mill workers lose their jobs as the steel mills closed. The closing of the mills also meant many people in industries that supported the mills lost their livelihoods. Many people predicted that cities such as Pittsburgh would die, but they were proven wrong. Like many workers before them, people who lost their jobs went out and learned new skills and earned their places on other payrolls.

While I’m sure that people will continue to adapt with the changing times and technologies, I sure miss a lot of things that were commonplace in the old days. Supermarkets have not only eliminated the small independent grocers, but have also led to the demise of butcher shops and bakeries. While the products available at those gigantic stores are cheaper, the quality of the meat and baked goods can’t compare to the smaller scale operations. We’re fortunate to have a few meat markets in our area, but there’s only one decent bakery within thirty miles of my home… if it’s still there!

As the song says, all good things must end some day. It makes me wonder what my grandchildren will be missing when they reach my age.

By the way, that Elmo birthday cake was created by my bride… and the grandchildren loved it!