Gone by the Wayside

March 12, 2023 at 1:39 p.m.

...by David Gardner


I find that the older I get, the more I enjoy life. And, of course, the older I get, the more things there are to reminisce about. Unfortunately, there’s also less memory to reminisce with! The irony isn’t lost on me.

This is a list of things I grew up with that have either disappeared entirely or are very little seen or used today.

  • Coin dispensers worn on the belt. I remember them from untold encounters with the Good Humor man over the years. Corner newsstand vendors (also long gone) used them as did bus drivers. The shiny metal dispenser had four tubes, each with a coin slot at the top, a vertical slit that allowed the vendor to see how many coins remained and a lever for dispensing the coins. One push, one coin.

  • One-pound blocks of white margarine, accompanied by a packet of yellow food coloring. Margarine gained a foothold in the American market during World War Two, when it was used as a substitute for rationed butter. The dairy industry, afraid of inroads into its market, successfully lobbied Congress to pass a law forbidding the sale of yellow margarine in quarter pound sticks. I remember my mom (sometimes dad) dumping the one-pound block of white margarine in a bowl and mashing in the yellow food coloring with a fork. The process was neither easy nor quick. Margarine, however, was cheaper than butter.

  • Cars with the headlight dimmer switch on the floor and the gearshift on the steering column. Now, of course, the dimmer control is on the steering column and the gearshift, in some cars, is on the floor.

  • Cars with mechanical turn indicators. The driver reached up to the support column between the windshield and the window, hooked a finger on a little lever and pulled it down. Pulling it down halfway caused a six- or seven-inch arrow indicator to stick straight out for a left turn and pulling it all the way down caused it  to point up at a 45º angle for a right turn.

  • Curb feelers on cars. Curb feelers were thin, flexible wire rods, about nine inches long, with a little ball at the end, two on the passenger side of the car, one fore and one aft. Each was attached at a downward angle to either the bumper or the lowest part of the fender (I don’t recall which). They scraped against the curb and let the driver know by the scraping sound that the car was close to the curb.

  • Skywriting. As kids, we used to lie on our backs and watch for the half hour or so it took a skywriter to complete the commercial message. Sometimes the wind would kick up before it was finished and the first letters, already starting to dissipate, would be gone, leaving a sometimes-incomprehensible message for those who happened to start watching late.

  • Metal taps you could buy at the dime store and nail to your shoes. We thought this was pretty cool. Parents complained that it ruined shoes. We were both right.

  • A slot in the medicine cabinet for used razor blades. We moved into our house in Sherman Oaks, California in January 1948. Dad died in October 1955. I estimate there are at least a couple thousand of his old razor blades in the bathroom wall.

  • Tooth powder. We used Dr. Lyons’ Tooth Powder. It came in a five-inch, oval-shaped can. Remove the top, sprinkle some tooth powder in the palm of your hand, wet your toothbrush, dip into the tooth powder and brush.

What items do you remember that have gone by the wayside?

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