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  • mariokiefer


I remember those long, hot Texas summers when I was young. The temperatures reached into the hundred’s, but it always cooled down into the eighties or nineties at night. We didn’t have air conditioning. Well, that’s not exactly true. The house was equipped with central air, but my mother refused to use it. “It’s too expensive,” she said. She had not grown up with a/c and she felt no need for us to do so. (What? Did we think we were the Rockefellers or something?)

To cool down, we opened the windows. The house was built such that when those windows were open, a nice cross breeze poured through from one end to the other, and, in the height of summer, Mama set up window box fans to help move that air along. Sure, the air was still hot, but, at least, it wasn’t oppressive in the breeze and, sometimes, on very rare occasions, when it was particularly stifling outside, Mama might even let us put a bowl of ice in front of one of those fans.

I can’t imagine living without my a/c now. My house is a newer home. The windows are blocked by walls and we don’t get much of a cross breeze blowing through when we open them. So, we don’t. We don’t want to let the cool air out, after all. The house remains mostly closed, practically sealed, but at least it is temperature controlled.

They say it’s better this way because its more energy efficient. They call it progress, but . . . I don’t know.

We didn’t have a pool. When we wanted to cool down, Mama might turn on the sprinkler — you know the one (or maybe you don’t); the oscillating one that was connected to the hose and moved back-and-forth, back-and-forth spewing water out as it moved. We stripped to our skivvies then ran through the water and jumped over that sprinkler. Sometimes, just for fun, Mama might disconnect the sprinkler from the hose and then spray us with it while pressing her thumb against its end.

And if we were thirsty, well, we drank straight from that hose. We didn’t buy bottled water — there was a no such thing back then. In fact, if someone had told me that, all these years later, bottled water would be a multi-billion dollar industry, I would have laughed in their face.

They say that it’s healthier to drink from the plastic bottle than from the hose. They call it progress, but . . . I don’t know.

If we wanted to swim, we walked or rode our bikes down to the river to take a dip. It wasn’t that far — maybe a mile or two through the woods and along the back trail. There was a particular spot where someone had once hung a tire from a tree. We used that tire and rope to swing out over the river then drop down into the cool water. We didn’t have helmets or knee pads. If we fell, well, we just got scraped up a bit. We rubbed a little dirt on it to stop the bleeding and kept on going. As long as bone wasn’t showing, we were ok. If it bled a bit too much, when we got home, Mama dabbed it with some merthiolate tincture. Sure, it burned like the devil, but it did the trick. Of course, today, we don’t let children run down to the river on their own. We don’t let them ride their bikes unless they are all packaged up like bubblewrap to protect them from any dents and dings.

Its safer, they say. They call it progress, but . . . I don’t know.

Sometimes, Papa would throw us in the back of his pick-up truck and drive us on down to the lake for the afternoon. My brothers and I hung out in the back of that truck making faces at the other cars that passed by. It was especially fun when Papa turned a sharp corner or curve and we went sliding across that bed. Oh, how we laughed! Those were good times.

Of course, today, children can’t ride in the back of a pick-up. Hell, they can’t even ride in the back seat without a belt or safety seat.

It’s for their protection. They need a safety net, they say. They call it progress, but . . . I don’t know.

Everything was closed on Sundays — that was a day for rest and to be with family. Malls weren’t open. In fact, most businesses were closed, except for the odd grocery or convenience store and, maybe a movie theater or a few restaurants here and there. Because everything was closed, after the church rush, the streets were empty and we went out and threw a football or just played right there in the middle of the road. Nobody was going to be driving through, after all.

Today, everything is open. People are rushing off to work or to shop. The streets are filled with passing cars and the hustle and bustle of people going about their business. I have to admit that it’s nice to be able to go out and get whatever we need on Sunday without worrying whether the store will be open. It’s so much more convenient and easier, and we don’t have to rush around on Saturday to do all of those things that we could not get done during the workweek.

They say that this makes things more accessible more often. They call it progress, but . . . I don’t know.

Everybody on the street had dinner at the same time. No matter what we were doing, who we were with, or where we were, we knew to be home before the clock chimed six times.

Of course, Mama made everything herself; all home-made, from scratch. We sat around the table and said grace. Then, the food was passed from right to left as we helped ourselves to heaving servings of . . . well, whatever it was she cooked. If we didn’t like it or didn't want what she made, we just didn’t eat dinner that night. Problem solved.

We were told to sit up straight, feet on the floor, napkin in our lap, and as Mama said, “Your elbows had best not be on my table!” We learned proper manners. After all, Mama said, “Manners and how we treat each other are the hallmark of a civilized society.”

This was family time. No distractions were allowed. The television was turned off and the phone did not ring. Everybody knew not to call during the dinner hour unless it was an emergency, and, by God, if it did ring, there would be hell to pay.

We talked about what once was, what is, and what may come. We spoke of our day, our hopes, our dreams, and our desires for the future. And, we talked about . . . nothing, really. But that nothing spoke more volumes than any other conversations I have ever had.

After dinner, we cleaned the kitchen then retired to the living room to watch a little television before bed. There was not much selection with only three or four channels from which to choose, but we usually found something upon which we could agree.

Today, it seems that most do not have dinner together. I am not sure where (or if) our children learn manners anymore. Instead, we choose what we want from a takeout menu and wait for it to be delivered, then set it out on our TV trays as we watch whatever show it was that we recorded the night before or whatever the latest fare might be from one of our 300+ channels or streaming services. We know when something is funny because the laugh track tells us so. And we know when something is sad, because of the music that plays. We don’t talk to each other except to comment on whatever it was that just flitted across the screen.

They say that all of these choices are better. They call it progress, but . . . I don’t know.

Everything was slower when I was young. It took us longer to go places or to get things. We didn’t have Internet, cell phones, or other mobile devices. When we needed to speak to someone we talked to them — actually talked to them! There was no email, no texting, no voice messages. Just face-to-face conversation.

Communication is so much easier today. They call it progress, but . . . I don’t know.

They say that things are better today. That they are more convenient. We can get what we want, from where we want, when we want it, and how we want it, all delivered to our front door courtesy of online shopping, streaming services, and social media. We have more choices in everything we do. That's a good thing. It’s all so much more convenient.

They say it’s better this way. They call it progress, but . . . I don’t know.

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