We Used To Could Do That

imageI’m not from the South but I lived there for a year. I wish I could get away with using the expression in the title and its companion expression “might could” but that might make the grammar police who follow me shudder.

As it happens, a couple of comments on my previous post have inspired me to explore a tangent off that story arc. I’m pretty sure that I’m using the word “tangent” correctly – I’d hate to offend the math nerds who follow me as well as the word nerds. For the record, at least three of my followers lie in both camps…or is that lay? Anyway, it occurred to me that one result of all this “improvement” is that there are things that people no longer have to / know how to do.image

Note: I’m about to play the “old” card.

This started when I was replying to Blog Woman after she agreed with an earlier reader (Ellie Rayne) that coffee makers have been improved beyond what was necessary. I realized that we might soon have a generation of people that will have never actually seen coffee and won’t be able to make coffee without a K-cup. This should be a concern.

A few years ago we had a devastating snow imagestorm at the end of October. Heavy wet snow fell on still-leaf-covered trees and brought branches and in some cases, entire trees down on wires, causing widespread power outages. We lost our power for 10 days! We didn’t have power. Dunkin Donuts didn’t have power and Starbucks…

Actually, one of the things I like about our little town is that the single Starbucks that opened here failed after about 8 months.

Power failure or not, we had coffee. My wife was able to make coffee on the wood stove that we were using for heat.

I had been thinking about this subject before the comments about coffee makers. I was thinking about the way we used to count to 10 when we played hide-and-seek. As I recall, there were two methods: There were the people who counted “one one thousand, two one thousand” and so on and there were those of us who counted “one Mississippi, two Mississippi” and like that. I’m not sure if that choice correlated to Pepsi vs. Coke and Adams Family vs. Munster’s, but it’s my blog so Mississippi, Pepsi and Adams Family rule, however you should check out those links for Wendy’s well-researched view of those two shows.

Of course today our smart phones measure time with the accuracy required for guiding missiles and I’m sure that there’s an augmented version of hide-and-seek that utilizes Bluetooth proximity detection and phone-bumping gestures for assigning the person to be “it”.

Still, there’s something to be said about the Mississippi method. Here we were, children who, if we owned a watch probably weren’t allowed to wear it while playing outside and yet we could accurately measure time. In other words, we could measure time with a greater degree of accuracy than any mechanical device we had access to. I put in those words so that I could call attention to and put myself in the company of Galileo. I have read that when Galileo needed to measure time with great precision, he played the violin. Music notes are not only precise divisions of time, but small differences, due to the music being played incorrectly, say if I were trying to measure time with a violin, can be easily detected.

There are many other things that most children today will never learn to do. Some are good things. For example, I knew the ritual involved with starting a car before electronic fuel injection. You might pump the gas pedal one time or perhaps two times, but that’s an exclusive or, only one technique applied. Our family owned one car that my father swore required you to “pump it once and then hold the gas pedal down” and we owned another where it was “pump it twice and then take your foot off the pedal” otherwise, “flooding” ensued and you had to hold the butterfly open on the carburetor. We also knew how to jump start a car and, if it had a standard transmission, how to push start a car.

Two weeks after buying my Jeep, I was sitimageting in the cell phone parking lot at Logan Airport when a man asked me if I could give him a jump. He had cables. I had cables but we had trouble finding our respective batteries.

These bits of tacit knowledge were passed down from generation to generation but many have been rendered unnecessary by technology. If they are not passed down, they are lost. I submit as evidence of that last statement, the humble grocery bag. Even though paper bags never completely disappeared and, in some locations, might be making a comeback, lots of people no longer know how to properly arrange groceries in a bag. There is / was no arranging possible in those awful plastic bags so the knowledge was lost. If you are lucky enough to get a paper bag today, you might find the bread on the bottom.

64 thoughts on “We Used To Could Do That

Add yours

  1. Love the title! (I grew up in South Arkansas, where I never thought twice about expressions like “used to could” and “fixing to”; I still say “y’all.” It’s handy.) Fun post and sadly true, although I think some young ‘uns would favor a return to simpler times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I grew up in western Pennsylvania and we said ‘yinz’ instead of y’all but both are frowned upon in New England. You can get funny looks using ‘reckon’. Then again, I think a plate of biscuits and gravy could go a long way to gaining acceptance for those sayings.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There is absolutely nothing else to add to this perfect post. Having lived in the south forever after living in NJ for the first half of forever, I believe ‘culture shock’ is the word I still use to describe the transition. And dang, if the word ‘dang’ hasn’t finally slipped into my vocabulary. Up north I cursed; down here I cuss. It never ends….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Lois. I might be able to slip ‘dang’ into everyday use around here. Maybe that’s a good place to start. I can work my way up to ‘reckon’ and then think about ‘used to could’ – it’s going to be a slow change.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I might could add that this here grammarly person shuddered at the idea of people who shutter, because I’m a person and not a window ;)
    As usual I love this post, because I am always saying, “God only knows what our grandmothers knew that no one knows now!” My husband’s got a set of grandparents left, and while they think some things I cannot relate to, they are clearly the wisest people I know. For instance, my babies were born with jaundice. Granny said, “Put’em in the window sill.” You know what doctors prescribe for babies with jaundice? Blankets built with the technology of the sun. You know what I did? I put the cradle next to the window with southern light.
    I tell you what, Dan, when I was ten years old, I learned to make biscuits with nothin but flour and lard. Usta could get lard at the grocery ya know.


    1. Ha, you got me. I just fixed ‘shudder’. I’m pretty sure the real reason we fought the Civil War was over the fear of losing biscuits. My grandmother couldn’t read or write but nobody ever made bread or half a dozen other things as well as she did, so I’m not surprised yours could fix your babies. My wife used to make cookies with lard but she says the lard they sell today isn’t the same. Thanks, as always for the support.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Love that ‘way back’ sign 😃

    I actually do worry occasionally that we are losing our grasp on how to think and do things for ourselves. I think technology has become as big a usurper of my freedom and self-sufficiency as the government (now I sound like a dang libertarian!).

    Meaningless but frustrating things just piss me off – like I can’t even roll down my car window to exactly where I want it on the first try because it’s no longer manual, and the electronics are too touch-sensitive.

    But the bigger things – like functioning during long power outage or growing our own food or using tried and true remedies – it becomes more and more difficult to remain self-sustaining in emergencies as urban areas become more dense and we cede control to electronics and shortcuts. I’m as guilty as the next person for succumbing to modern conveniences, but I’m also old enough to remember that we functioned just fine when we used our own brains and hands rather than pushing buttons.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Sammy. I made the ‘Way back’ sign in Illustrator, you’re free to use it if you like. The power window thing is a PMO for sure. At least mine aren’t preset both ways. My best friend has a car where they are all or nothing up or down on all windows and I fight with it every time I ride with him.

      My wife and I have tried to teach some of these things to our daughter. Whether in the kitchen or the workshop, it makes more sense if you know what the machine is doing for you.

      We burned through a cord of wood during those 10 days, but the house stayed warm enough and we had coffee. I might add that our cats simply loved the whole idea as they camped out in the room with the wood stove.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. PMO??

        I could add Illustrator to my list of things I want to learn and probably never will, so just keep ’em coming on your site and I’ll be happy (and impressed).

        I love the smell and crackle of wood fires. Another self-sufficiency gone from most houses (at least in urban areas) – if we lost heat, we have no backup plan. I’m glad you and your family (cats included) had a comfy way to weather the storms.

        Liked by 1 person

            1. I haven’t written those yet. Next Thanksgiving I’ll share the fire story. I think it has been long enough. I’ll mention thst i should be given greater lattitude for the sake of my readers :)

              Liked by 1 person

  5. Well here in California many places are banning those plastic bags because they are bad for the environment. We are now trying to bring reusable bags to the store for our groceries. I keep forgetting and leaving the reusable ones in the car or at home. I did like when we got computer the mouse with point and click instead of having to learn a computer language to get the computer to do things for me. I have never been good with learning languages. I resisted email for a while then realized if I wanted to hear from people, including my kids, I would have to use it. Just think of when we wrote letters.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Writing letters and making phone calls and talking to people, yes, I remember those things :) I was comfortable with the DOS Prompt ‘C:\ ‘ but I was happy with the mouse. I’m not so sure about ‘touch’ – it has its pros and cons. I am usually a fan of change, but sometimes, enough is enough. I want to scream “I learned how to do it and it wasn’t that hard!”

      I hope the California ban on plastic bag rolls across the country. Those things are awful.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Except they’re banning even the paper bags now too! Stupid!!! Paper is bio friendly! I always forget the fricken cloth bags. I’m not a fan of the grocery bag nannies, or the soda nannies or the let’s regulate every fricken thing NANNIES! Sometimes living in California isn’t all it’s said to be. In my opinion they’re more regressive than progressive.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s crazy. I prefer paper bags. I don’t like the cloth deals because of the whole who knows where that bag has been (in my house) and who knows what was in the carriage question. I know that you can wash them, but where’s the energy savings going if I do that. People need to think of these things as the complete systems that they are, not the point-view “ooh this is a good idea” cuz often it’s way more complicated than it appears.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. We always had to count “four alligators” (one-alligator, two-alligator, three..) before the defensive linemen could rush playing touch football, two hands anywhere. That had the added benefit of being able to scream “FOUR ALLIGATORS” at the quarterback as you rolled in on him, of course having released just a bit early. Is that southern enough for you?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s perfect! I think if I heard you yelling “FOUR ALLIGATORS” would throw the ball immediately. I’m guessing that two hand touch had a way of looking like tackle on occasion. Thanks for visiting and for leaving the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. And not for nuthin’ (a New England expression I never understood), ask a high-schooler sometime why the act of moving stuff around on a computer screen is called “cut and paste.” Or anyone under 40 what it really means to “dial the phone”!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thought provoking . I remember , for one thing , the choke knob on cars , to adjust gas mixture (?) when starting . Also , the notion of time without a watch is interesting . Southern expression: rat cheer , eg. “Put that hammer rat cheer .”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had a manual choke on one car and I remember adjusting the timing (but not while driving). Pittsburgh has a lot of expressions but they exist in a very narrow region. You California types are probably good at telling time by the sun, since you actually see it from time to time. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. My father-in-law who taught high school French for his his entire adult life used to tell me that the introduction and conclusion of an essay or a paper mattered the most. I will extend his wisdom to a blog. Your post captured my attention with your beginning and ending. Not saying that the middle is bad! I love language and accents, and I’m proud to be able to distinguish the north from the south (took me a while), so I love what you write about that. Although I won’t ever be able to switch from one to another, I love the different ways American people speak.
    Then, your conclusion with the grocery bagging took me back to my first grocery trip in the US. What a treat to get my groceries bagged for free! And so well organized too! Now I shop with my own bags and sometimes even bag my own stuff so I can sort my items. And it’s okay. But my surprise when the Safeway employee asked me: “Plastic or paper?” is still very vivid. And I would confess that I kind of miss it.
    Great post, as always Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Evelyne. I appreciate your comment more than you might realize. I had written two more paragraphs in the original draft. In addition to asking you, y’all, yinz to read more words, the conclusion was weak and unrelated to anything.

      So now I have to ask, how fl you get groceries in France? Are they not banged for you?


  10. Dan – enjoyed so many things – and esp, this:
    phones measure time with the accuracy required for guiding missiles
    I have helped my brother push start his old Mustang – and saw someone flood a car back in the day… and I have had to hold the choke open to get a car going – lol
    anyhow, I was on the K-cup kick for a while and we still like them – but classic brewed is the best – or in a stove top Italian maker. and my favorite coffee ever might have been from grandma’s percolator :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I wasn’t sure how many people would remember the choke plate but I didn’t want to write a description of how a carburetor works. Push starting a car actually felt good, as if we were bringing something to life.

      We have K-cups in our office but my boss and a coworker usually walk to Dunkin Donuts for brewed coffee. The percolator was the best.


  11. I certainly agree that many things that I did or that my parents taught me is something that I don’t see around. To some extent it is also because of how technology has influenced our lifestyle. I only pity the new generation that will lose on receiving some valuable information.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh, Dan, I understood everything you said, so yes, I am dating myself. I remember those days with temperamental cars where you had to pump the gas, yet if too much flooded the darn thing. We said “one one thousand, two one thousand, etc” when we play IT. Same thing with us … we knew what time it was just by how long the shadows were, or if it were a cloudy day, how light it was outside. Those were the days when kids were outside more then inside. Imagine that! Now watches either, no techy toys, Lincoln Logs to build, match cars, puzzles, BOOKS … remember those? …. LOL … Anyway I really enjoyed your post. Brought memories back ….. (smile) Love, Amy

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thanks for linking to my posts, Dan!

    This was a fun one. You’re right about how most people have no clue how to bag groceries. I mean, how much brain power is required when you have a carton of eggs, 2 kgs of sugar, and a loaf of bread to say, “Maybe I’ll use more than one bag.”? Or at the very least, put the heavy sugar on the bottom and the bread on top, not vice versa! But I have to say, you absolutely can arrange groceries in a plastic bag! Either that or I just discovered my super power. Darn, I was hoping it would turn out to be something cool like turning invisible or flicking my fingers to make fire, like Jeff Myrtlebank could do.


  14. You always make me laugh, and you open my memory banks! That’s a good thing!
    My Honda Accord 5 Speed Transmission (Baby) was a 3 pump, let off the gas car, and Pearl my current car ( Subaru Forester) is a one pump start the engine car. I still have Va-Va a 5 Speed Toyota Corolla who is one pump start her engine car. It’s really sad how few people know how to drive a standard transmission today. Only 1 in 100 cars are Standard Transmissions in the USA today. I made both my children learn on a Standard Transmission since we had one it was necessary that they learn to drive it in case it was the only car available in an emergency. They both loved driving it, and both drive Standard Transmissions today.

    I carry jumper cables to help others, but for myself, I would call Triple A and not get out of my car.

    I feel you pain about being without power for 10 days. I’m in the Suburbs of Silicon Valley, but can’t get U-Verse-I’m at the end of the line per AT&T which isn’t viable for U-Verse, and I’m nearly in the middle of a street that has 40 houses on it: of that 40 houses 8 are on a separate power line-I’m one of that 8. One of Eight! Two winters ago the transformer to our 8 houses blew out in a storm with a lot wind. It took PG&E (Pacific Gas & Electric) 2 weeks to replace the transformer. It was awful! My oldest was a Senior in High School and had reports due, and needed to study for SAT’s and ACT’s and my youngest in 8th grade had her school final reports and homework to do. We spent every night at the Library until it closed, and eating out.
    I can’t tell you how awful it was watching night approach and our neighbor’s lights coming on one by one around us while we 8 houses were an island, dark, black, cold, and alone. In the 20th century!
    Since then I’ve got rid of my electric stove/oven range and put in gas. Now if the power goes out I only need a match to cook, and have hot food, and tea, and I pray that Transformer holds. :)

    BTW: I’m a One Mississippi, Coke gal, and like both the Adams Family, and the Munsters. Is there really one camp over the other for those two classic shows? Say it ain’t so!


    1. I taught my daughter and my wife how to drive our Triumph Spitfire while we still had it. You never knew why it was going to leave you at the side of the road. You had to know how to start it, And when the “damper” in the carburetor got stuck, you had to know how to fix that.

      At least when we were without power, it was the whole town. The main feed comes over the CT River, and one of the three lines fell in the river. I was going to Town Hall each day to charge up and use their wifi. My wife cooked on that wood stove while we still had food, but we had to dump the contents of the fridge, so it’s was off to a restaurant that had a generator.

      I follow Wend, who posted the Adams Family / Munstersb posts and there does seem to be a division. Thanks as always for commenting, I love that you also remember those starting sequences. What is it about our brains?

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Oh Dan, how my husband I would love a “sit down” with you and yours. So much in common! And all those “young-lings” with precision accuracy cell phones still do not set alarms to arrive on time for appointments or to remember birthdays an/or anniversaries. Those two of the things i adore about my devices! Yes we have a Keurig (but only use the cups that you put your own desired brand of coffee in) but we also have a Costa Rica, hand sewn filter, wooden stand “old style as you can get” little drip maker that we treasure. All you need is ground coffee, water and a way to boil it. Yep. Authentic living is becoming alarmingly obsolete. And I don’t like it one bit. And that’s from one “dinosaur” to another. lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, I just realized that I never replied to this comment. I’ve heard that the new Kuerig machines look for some code on the cup and won’t work with the reusable cups. I hope you find a way around that. I do like my phone as a reminder and I hate being late. Thanks for the comment Cheryl.


  16. I’m a one-one-thousand counter myself, but I know people who use the mississippi method. If you want your kids to able to learn estimating how far away lightning is, you have to be able to count it out between the flash and the boom. Have you ever had yonder cake? I’ve only ever had it in WV. My cousin there, years and years ago said: “Hey ya’ll, come yonder for some yonder cake.” We all laughed, but yonder cake was delicious! Pert-near perfect. :-)

    Liked by 2 people

  17. This is another good post, Dan. I usually tell a good writing by how the idea flows. A beautiful stream of thoughts (or consciousness). I like the beginning about the tangent. That anecdote about hating to offend the math nerds! I must say both the word and the concept are ‘coolly’ used. I like also the part about the Blackberry and the Hide-and-Seek game. I had to laugh at the idea of Bluetooth proximity detection. So when you go hiding your playmate doesn’t bother to look for you. He/she just ‘locates’ you with the device. How boring! I think a good game has been ruined. In 1995, two of my classmates, a boy and a girl, took advantage of the game to have sex in the tall grass along the school fence. They hid together. The one who was counting found them and reported to the teacher on duty, who scolded them at the evening assembly and sent them home for their parents. That’s how we got to know the story.
    What you say about the watch is (was) true over here as well. Our parents never let us have watches. My dad used to confiscate mine, telling me that his dad (my grandfather) did not have a watch but could tell with an amazing precision. I wonder, and I agree with you that a lot of knowledge has been lost. There was a big tree outside our classroom that most students used to tell time. But mostly lunch time, so they could run home. A certain boy even determined that at precisely 12.45pm, a bird, whose English name I do not know, would make specific notes in the tree. The whole class came to rely on that bird.
    These days, take away my phone, my computer, my wall clock, and I am lost. I can’t estimate time.
    I think that in attempting to solve human problems we have done away with some very good skills. Skills that relied on the environment and our interactions with other people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Peter. I reslly apreciate comments like this. You ‘re adding to my story and msking it better. I guess the series of human problems evolves over time. I’m not sure what today’s youth will be remembering when they sre 60.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. How odd is this!? I just commented on the previous post about how I wished they still made cars with carbs! Hah!
    The under-hood shot in this post looks like my Prius engine. Which reminds me of the times we “discharged ONE of the 2 batteries” or had the dash panic lites go on and a dangerous warning flashing on the screen but no clue as to what the heck happened or what to do to correct the situation…telling time…now that is tricky, indeed, nowadays for kids. Everything, or nearly everything has been changed from analog to digital and kids ( we heard of a friend’s 16 yr old) do not know how to tell time on an old 2- or 3- hand watch!! More things they should have left alone are washers, dryers, stereo record players, and ovens/stoves…just to name a couple…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The last time we tried to have a washer repaired, it cost us $75 to have a guy come out and pronounce it dead. “The pump is shot but the pump and transmission are now a single unit, and the cost of replacing it is more than the cost of a new machine.” I don’t mind not having to constantly check the points gap, but I liked it when I could figure out a small problem and fix my car on a Saturday morning. Upgrading my iPhone’s operating system isn’t nearly as satisfying as getting greasy up to the elbows. Hmmm, I think I’ve sown the seeds of a new post in that last sentence :)

      I still wear an analog watch. I like the fact that it’s less precise. I prefer “almost quarter to 8” over “7:43” I still remember running into the kitchen and coming back to tell my dad where the hands were and having him help me figure out the time.

      I wonder what today’s kids will remember when they are 60?

      Thanks Morguie. Make sure CJ gives you a cracker :)

      Liked by 1 person

Add your thoughts. Start or join the discussion. Sadly, multiple links require moderation.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: