This photo gleaned some interest in my Twitter feed and it got me thinking about history. People were genuinely interested in the photo and the people represented, especially young people. Older people chimed in answering questions. The original poster (who looked to be in her 20s) wrote:
- My older female relatives never went anywhere without wearing a dress, hose and makeup. Gloves and hats were added for church and shopping downtown at the fancy stores.
- It was a different time, it was 1970 before girls could wear pants to school, you wore your best clothes to travel, we could use a happy middle from the past and now.
- I remember the first day I wore pants to school. It was so cool. Prior to that we were allowed to wear them under our skirts/dresses if it was below freezing.
- Back when having a little respect for what other people had to look at wasn’t a concept to be laughed at. Yes, there was a time when it wasn’t always me me me me me me me. Shocking!
It was interesting to read the comments. Many made blanket statements about the era and who had “rights” ‘and who didn’t. Others made social comments on the superiority of the “goodle days.” Many young people mocked the family in the photo or laughed at the care they had put into their appearance JUST to go to the supermarket. Many young people were convinced that this family had gone shopping after church, not knowing that
churches stores were closed on Sunday back in the “goodle days.” Others were sure that black people were not allowed in the store based on the fact that the photo shows a white family. Others were sure that the man would not let the woman shop by herself.
A few old people answered sincerely from their own experience in those days. I did. Someone wrote that it was unusual to see a man at the grocery story and I answered that my dad and I did the grocery shopping on Saturdays. This was answered by mild disbelief and comments that my dad must have been a very unusual man. Well, he was, but that wasn’t why he was shopping without my mom.He was shopping without my mom because pushing the cart up and down the aisles in the store was good exercise for him as his multiple sclerosis encroached more and more on his mobility. AND we got to hang out together, just us two, and do something useful for mom who didn’t drive. A lot of women didn’t drive in the “goodle days.” It was very cool to have a mom who did.
I didn’t spend the day reading all the comments this elicited, but I thought about it a lot afterwards, obviously. In my world my brother and I had a freedom and independence I don’t see kids having today, and peer-age friends have said the same thing to me. “When we were kids, we were out the door ‘by mom!'” I got a wrist watch for my 7th birthday so I could come home when they told me to. There were comments about this, too. I don’t remember many times going out with my whole family like this.
One thing I didn’t see mentioned was that supermarkets were comparatively new at this time. Many (most?) people still shopped at corner stores and butchers and bakers and and and. The centralized location for EVERYTHING was a comparatively novel idea. When I was a very small child, my dad came home with whatever mom was going to cook for supper because the butcher was next to the university where he worked. That style of shopping is still alive and well in Europe.
Most interesting to me was that posters were putting together a very useful view of the times depicted in the photo from varied points of view.
One, the questions the future might ask of the past will be based on its view of normal. Two, answers the past might offer the future are based on the limited direct experience of individuals. If the future really cared about life back in the “goodle days” they would have a treasure trove of authentic voices. The challenge I saw was the inability of the future to suspend its opinions and drop the lens of its own moment and perceive that the past was — as is the present — composed of individual people each responding to the imperatives imposed by his/her own life.
But not just that; these grownups had come of age during the Great Depression. The poverty of the Great Depression was pervasive, grueling. The prosperity they were experiencing? My mom even said, “Comb your hair and put on a dress. You don’t want people to think you just walked off the farm.” My mother’s vision of the farm? Flour sack dresses and hand-me-down shoes. The past brings with it the leavings of ITS own past and the blue jeans I wear every day were, in the sixties and seventies, a radical political statement and residue of “the farm.”