Shortly before he died, Ray Bradbury published an article called “Take Me Home.” It flashed back to his childhood in Waukegan, where he memorized all the science fiction at the local library. He also “time-traveled” by listening to grownups reminisce on warm nights on the front porch.
So it struck me that we can all time-travel by hearing stories about the old days. I used to visit Prohibition, the Great Depression and World War II with my father. He described his dad’s beer truck with hard rubber tires that switched to delivering root beer. He had warm memories of unemployed relatives playing cards to pass the time. He cautioned us that if you fired a machine gun at a lock, like they do in the movies, the bullets fly back at you.
Now – if anyone wants to hear it – I can serve as an escort to the past. Looking back, they seem like perilous times. There were no seatbelts, cigarette smoke was everywhere and hockey players weren’t wearing helmets. Entertainment was downright primitive. You had to go to a theater to see a movie. There was no color on the five-channel TV and records had skips and scratches.
Communication was difficult. People used pay phones. They wrote letters and mailed them, then waited for them to be delivered. If they wanted to see their friends, they could stop by unexpectedly and still be welcome. When they went to Wisconsin, they sent back postcards.
There was no fast food. When you ate at a restaurant, you didn’t have to clear your table. Gas stations were full service, with the attendant carrying a squirt bottle in his pocket to clean the windshield. They checked the oil and tires as well.
You couldn’t see downtown Chicago from Forest Park. The tallest building was the Prudential. Everyone shopped at department stores, or “five-and-dime” shops. There were no supermarkets or mega-stores. The milkman trudged up the back steps every morning.
People read real books. If you weren’t lucky enough to own a set of encyclopedias, you went to the library to look things up. Dictionaries got a workout. So did phone books. Newspapers were delivered twice a day.
Segregation was entrenched. “What’s your nationality?” was a normal question from one American to another. Air conditioners were scarce – another reason to go to the movies. People were not lawsuit-happy. The idea of surveillance cameras sounded like something out of the Soviet Union.
Like my dad, I’m not nostalgic. To think that an earlier era was better than the present, is downright depressing. It’s probably not accurate either. I miss time-traveling with my dad, especially as Father’s Day approaches. But someday, I’ll be able to take young people back to the Iraq War, 9/11 and the Great Recession.
Do you think anyone will want to go?
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.