Life in the Land of Reasonable and Proper

U.S. Highway 34 in South Central Iowa – Curbs, But Little Enthusiasm

When our Kansas City kin traveled north for a visit, at least half of their trip involved Iowa roads. Inevitably, the experience tempted my sanguine uncle toward grumpiness. We knew what to expect within an hour of his arrival, and the question rarely varied. “So,” he’d say. “You think there’s a chance they might decide to give you something besides those concrete cow paths you call roads?”

Driving south from Minnesota, crossing the border into Iowa to do some clothes shopping or purchase the margarine that was illegal in their state, a friend’s father always asked a similar question. “Whatsa matter with these Iowa farmers? Can’t they build a road?”

Essayist Ted Landphair, reminiscing about his own journey along the Iowa highway that bisected my home town, was equally nonplussed.

[I remember] winter driving on old U.S. Route 6, then a cross-country main highway rimmed by cement curbs. A highway with curbs? Not just in town, but even out in the county?
Having seen enough wrecks of cars that slid off the road in Iowa’s fierce snowstorms, some engineer must have thought raised edges would safely direct drifting autos back into line. In my case, they served only to dislodge my Beetle’s right hubcaps and ravage the tire alignment.

In truth, we all cussed them out. A standard feature of Iowa highways throughout my childhood and youth, the curbs made criss-crossing our home territory — Knoxville, Albia, Hiteman, Monroe — a true adventure in travel.  It was an encounter with a curb on the original US 34, paved between 1928 and 1930, that taught me about tire alignment, and resulted in my father’s only known brush with the law.

We were heading west out of Albia when something — a moment of inattention, a new car with a wider wheelbase, simple bad luck — bounced us into and away from the curb. A common enough occurence, it wouldn’t have been noteworthy were it not for the strangely sibilant sound beckoning for our attention: clickety shhhhh clickety shhhhhh clicketyclickty clunk.

Stopping for a look, and finding nothing, Dad said, “Well, we’ll drive on over to Chariton and stop at a gas station to see what the problem is.” Off we went at a nice, comfortable 40 miles an hour: a pace slow enough to prevent damage to us if something decided to fall off the car.

Within minutes, the Law had pulled us over. Whether it was a sheriff, the highway patrol or local police, I can’t remember. Seemingly unconcerned, Dad rolled down the window as the officer ambled up to the car, then said, “Going a little slow there, aren’t you?” 

“I sure am,” my dad said, “but I hit the curb back there, and now the car’s sounding like I did some damage. I’m trying to get to a garage in Chariton so they can check it out.” Putting his pen back in his notebook, the officer grinned, and said, “Makes sense to me. Hope it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg.” Then, he was gone, and we were back on the road.

Whenever I remember that experience — my dad’s explanation, and the officer’s easy acceptance — I think of the road signs that seem now to sum up a remarkable feature of earlier Iowa life.

The fact that the State assigned to motorists both the right and the responsiblity to decide the speed at which they should travel seems more than improbable in this day of governmental intrusion into every aspect of life. The journey from Reasonable-and-Proper to You’ll-Take-Our-Regulations-and-Like-Them is a long one, and the curbs being put in place are increasingly high.

In truth, reasonable-and-proper as a model for virtuous behavior extended far beyond our highways. We assumed, for example, that it was reasonable to trust people, and proper to help them out as we could.

If I needed a dress for a special occasion, I never thought twice about stopping by The Fashionette and asking the owner, Dave Aldridge, if he had something new I might like. He’d show me a few things, then put the ones I liked into a bag for me to carry home “on approval.” That evening, I’d try them on, get my parents’ opinions, and decide what I wanted to keep. The next day, I carried what I didn’t want back to the shop and paid for what I’d kept.

Taking things out on approval wasn’t a special consideration for my family. It was the way business was done. Mutual trust, mutual respect and superb customer service benefitted everyone. After selling Fashionette, Aldridge went on to careers in real estate and banking, three terms as Mayor, and appointment as Grand Marshal for our town’s 2007 Sesquicentennial Parade: he never lost the town’s trust or respect.

Still, my mother’s favorite Dave Aldridge story came from fifty years earlier. When Newton celebrated its Centennial, it was a young Dave Aldridge who gave my mother the frame she used to make my old-fashioned parasol. Where he got it, we never knew, but the parasol’s still in the closet.

69 thoughts on “Life in the Land of Reasonable and Proper

  1. O my dear, the long-lost world of ‘reasonable and proper!
    Sometimes I think we are making it up but when I delve into old photos I see it again, if only as a faded memory.

    In Europe reasonable and proper disappeared with the 30s and 40s, of course, and what came next was too much of a struggle to begin with to resurrect gentler times. But I too remember taking goods home on approval, in fact, you may not believe me, but I did so only three weeks ago! I bought two sets of draught excluder stripping and as I can’t do home improvement myself I took them for the handyman to look at. I only took the surplus one back about three weeks later and was given cash in hand for it.

    Roads are a different matter. There’s little spare cash in rural areas’ administrations and we quite happily chuggchugg along on narrow strips of tarmac with grass growing in the middle. But perhaps not on trunk roads, even the average phlegmatic Englishman would rebel.

    Actually, the average phlegmatic Englishman has long disappeared too; he’s become a member of the not so phlegmatic noisy society “complainer about practically everything”.

    We’ve recently lost the only teashop which still served real muffins and cream teas; the waitresses in black dresses and white French maid pinafores are sorely missed.

    Where will it all end, I ask myself. (I’m getting old too and am allowed such remarks)

    Happy exploration of the highways and byways of yesteryear!

    1. No, we’re not making it up, Friko. However, I must say that I was glad to finally surface a photo of one of those “reasonable and proper” speed limit signs. I’ve had some friends look askance at me after hearing the tale, as though they couldn’t believe such a thing possible.

      I have a friend up in the Panhandle of Texas who’s at work (or finished work) on her own sets of draught excluders.There’s no more denying it. In the words of the irascible Ezra Pound, “Winter is Icumen In.” I looked for a performance on YouTube, but the score was roughly “Summer is Icumen In,” 20,382 videos — “Winter is Icumen In,” one interpretive reading by Frank Zappa. That’s all right. Pound still makes me laugh.

      Maybe if we had more tearooms, there would be fewer complainers. In any event, it’s a fact that, to a degree many people don’t suspect, we can construct a livable world around ourselves. As my guru, Varnish John, used to say, “Do what you can — not what you can’t.” That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?


  2. My little corner of Iowa still has snippets of “reasonable and proper” to be found. Couple of weeks ago, I was pouring a driveway in town. Called the guy in charge of street repair because I had a couple of questions…skipping, skipping, skipping.

    When we were done visiting, he asked if I would repair a few additional feet besides the portion I had needed to tear out to do my job.Told me to send him the bill for both his request of an additional 6 ft of gutter and the 22 ft that was originally going to be the home owner’s responsibility. Didn’t even ask me for an estimate..trusted me to treat him fair. I love living in small town Iowa. thanks for this trip back into yesteryear DM

    1. We’ve talked about handshake deals before, DM. This is a great example, even if there wasn’t a literal handshake.

      Quite apart from personal qualities, there are factors in small town life that promote this kind of easy deal-making. For one thing, people are known, and it’s easy to find them again if something needs to be fixed up. As one of our home repair radio show guys says, “Don’t trust the job to a Chuck in a truck.” We all know what that means, and if you don’t know, you need only be here after a hurricane to see all the “roof repair specialists” flooding into town.

      One of the things that tickles me is how closely aligned many of our experiences are. Part of the reason is that I do most of my work in one yacht club, and it’s as small town as you can get, in ways both good and bad. But for good contractors? There’s nothing better.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Of course you were one who came to mind while I was writing it.


  3. This is such a lovely post! Do you know, I don’t remember those curbs, though I had to have driven on many a road that had them! Your story of Younkers brings back memories of Marshall Field’s in Chicago. To go to its Walnut Room was an extraordinary treat for us as kids. Chicken pot pie and frango mints were at the outer limit of our desire.

    1. Susan, I have a friend who grows misty, talking about the Chicago Marshall Field’s. Younker’s specialties were their chicken salad and a Welsh Rarebit burger that truly was delicious. It’s odd that I don’t remember any candies or desserts. I just read the history of the Frango mints, and how it came to be that Macy’s sells them now, fresh from the Chicago store. I like the thought that children once again can watch them being made.

      It’s good that you don’t remember the curbs. It’s certain proof that you never had an encounter with one: at least, one that did any damage. What surprises me now is that I don’t remember tractors or combines being a problem. Maybe there just wasn’t enough traffic in those days for it to get stacked up.

  4. We have lost a lot in the last half century, haven’t we?

    During the winter of 1959/60 I attended college in LeMars, Iowa. Yes, I remember those “sunken” roads all too well.

    Referring to your point about mutual trust…
    For most of the school year I worked at a bakery in downtown LeMars, only a mile or so from the school campus and rather enjoyed it with the possible exception of the early starting time of 4:30AM. One day I had an appointment some distance away and when I mentioned that to the head baker, he casually told me I could use his car. It was parked out back and the keys were in it. His open willingness to let me use it made a big impression, but even more so was something he said after I made a comment about leaving the keys in his car. It was about 15 years old and he said the keys had never been taken out of the ignition. I have wonderful memories of Iowa during that time.

    1. It’s interesting, how even portions of our own home states aren’t familiar to us, montucky. That northwest corner of Iowa never got many visits from us: perhaps, not any. I suppose it’s because all of our family was east, in Illinois, or southwest, in Kansas and Missouri, and vacations took us due west or north. I’ve never been to LeMars, or even Sioux City, and I certainly didn’t know LeMars was the self-proclaimed ice cream capital of the world. This is important information.

      A lot of keys hung in ignitions when I was growing up, just as a lot of doors remained unlocked, and a lot of children roamed freely.
      The stories about borrowing a cup of flour or milk from the neighbors are true, and sometimes the borrowing took place even when no one was home. I can remember coming home with my mother and finding notes on the kitchen table that said things like,
      “Borrowed 2c flour – back soon. Mrs. R”

      I always was happy when someone borrowed from us. Sometimes, it meant that they’d not only replace what they’d borrowed, but bring along a sample of whatever they had baked.

      It was a wonderful time.

  5. We have our own small scale version of Younkers. It is called Ballantynes. I am glad it still flourishes.

    Reasonable and proper are seeing some support in the shared space philosophy I couldn’t find an update on the German town of Bohmte which successfully abolished all traffic/road signs some years ago. However Exhibition Road in London which was designed/implemented in accordance with shared space philosophy in 2012, seems to be a success. Let’s hope Christchurch adopts similar features in the new city plans. No concrete roads with curbs though, please.

    1. I suppose it’s not surprising that I hadn’t heard of the “shared space” philosophy. We hardly can get bicycles and cars to share the roads, let alone pedestrians. I can see the point of the disabled — that such changes may turn them from pedestrians into targets — and I can see how such an idea might make things more difficult for the timid or the elderly. It does make me wonder how someone new to a city could possibly find their way around, with no street signs.

      On the other hand, there are certain areas even here in the Houston area where pedestrian malls are working well. I’ve been to other cities where parking on the perimeter of a collection of shops, galleries and restaurants has led to entirely enjoyable experiences. I suppose that traffic volume is one element of making shared space work.

      I did laugh at this quotation I found in the Wiki you linked, from an article in Deutsche Welle: “When you don’t exactly know who has right of way, you tend to seek eye contact with other road users.” Sometimes, yes, but sometimes, no.

      Around here, there are an uncomfortable number of drivers who seem to live by the rule: “When you don’t exactly know who has right of way, hit the gas and cut that other dude off at the pass.” However good the ideas of the urban planners, it’s going to be a long path back to civilized behavior. Never mind the streets — getting us to curb our impulses is going to be the hard part.

      1. Judging by the amount of road rage in our city, I would agree. Somehow we have to curb our impulses. Maybe we still need those Iowa-style curbs/kerbs for a while yet.

  6. I enjoyed the pictures of Younkers.The store looks so elegant–and the tearoom is lovely. I can remember similar stores when I was a child. Shopping once was such a special experience.

    1. Sheryl, I’ve been trying to figure out why I loved shopping then, and why I hate shopping now. I’ve concluded that, in the “old days,” shopping was far more a social event. We’d see friends on the town square, we’d stop for a bite to eat, we’d chat with the store clerks — even ones we didn’t know.

      And, even though we weren’t poor by any standard, a purchase was special. Because we bought only with cash and lived on our budgets, finding just the right item required thought. I still remember my first days of Christmas shopping on my own, often in the gift shop of Nollen’s drug store. One of the Christmas gifts I bought there for my mother still is sitting on my coffee table: a découpaged box, filled with memories.

  7. Marysville, Kansas on Highway 36, the old Pony Express Highway, still has the small town feel and the trust that comes with it. When I returned to the area after forty years of living everywhere else, if I said I was Ralph Brucker’s daughter and from the Sunderlands in Summerfield, then I was okay and trusted. I don’t think that’s gone.

    For me, I never cared much for the word “proper.” It sounded like someone else’s decision for how to behave – something I was never very good at. I don’t even allow students to use the term “proper English.” It’s not proper, I say, it’s standard. Other ways of using language in other cultures is just as proper, even dialect. But Standard lets us all stay on the same page and understand what we’re reading.

    And last week while I was out driving and photographing, I’d stopped to take pictures of a silo and the farmer arrived. He turned off his tractor and I turned off my car and we told stories.

    It’s all in the way we face the world. If we expect it to be rude, well, it usually is. And if we expect all the changes to be exciting, well, they are. I’d never be talking to you from my computer in Kansas City to yours down in Texas if we were back in those former days when life was lived differently. Me, I rather like today. Those days back when had their fair share of challenges too. I remember being a teenager in the early 60 and all the news said that teenagers were going to hell because we listened to Elvis and Chuck Berry. Well we didn’t. Go to hell that is. At least not yet.

    I love the conversations you promote with your posts! Well done.

    1. I thought your little vignette about the farmer and the photos you took there were wonderful, Janet. And that’s exactly the kind of encounter I cherish, both past and present: open, friendly, and enjoyable.

      Of course, we all know the other side of the coin. Sometimes, in a small town, if you’re not part of the clan, it can be a little lonely. But even the most clannish can become accepting over time, especially if they’re accepted in turn.

      I understand your aversion to “proper.” For so many people, it fairly screams “The rule-makers are here!” But “standard” raises a few questions, too, not the least of which is, “Whose standard are we talking about?” I was one of the lucky ones. My first home-ec teacher explained that “proper” was shorthand for “appropriate,” and that we needed to learn how to behave appropriately at formal dinners or picnics in the backyard, where things were more casual.

      I like today, too. The organdy aprons, hours of ironing, and limited career choices of the 1950s aren’t something I’d like to return to — never mind segregation, the Cold War, and television with only one channel and a test pattern. Still, there are values that I incorporated then and still treasure: responsibility, independence, interdependence, frugality, work. The nice thing about such values is that we can live them out in wildly different eras.

      Oh – Elvis. My dad had some problems with him, too. I still remember Dad fussing over “It’s Now or Never.” I suppose it was a reasonable response, coming from a man whose only daughter was entering ninth grade. But he never said I couldn’t listen to it.

  8. I mentioned Ballantynes in my earlier comment. I knew that there had been a terrible fire at Ballantynes but couldn’t remember when exactly. Then I read this just now. Also pertaining to my earlier comment is the piece of information on Mark Twain’s visit to Christchurch in 1895; despite the lack of vehicles,a shared space philosophy was obviously needed even back then.

    1. I just read something about Twain’s visit there. I don’t remember where I found it, but I bumped into it while I was trying to find some information about your latest earthquake. It seems not have caused any significant damage — that’s good news.

      The story of the Ballantynes fire reminded me of various factory fires here in the U.S. Even where there was no ill intent, it seems unbelievable that certain conditions — no fire escapes, for example — were allowed to exist. On the other hand, “It can’t happen to us” and “It won’t happen here” are ways of thought as old as humanity.

      Sometimes, it takes such an event to bring about real change — as it surely did after the Ballantynes fire. In the Swedish town my grandparents departed from on their way to America, it took two fires burning down the town before they went to brick.

      1. We were all in that “it can’t happen to us” frame of mind pre earthquakes; except perhaps Ballantynes. Their store withstood the earthquakes. It needed repairs, which have now been done, with substantial strengthening as well, so it was one of the first to return to business.

  9. Highways with curbs. Well, I never!. . . I have to laugh, though, because I’m sure your friends and relations complained as much about Iowa’s highways as we did about New Mexico’s highways. Many’s the time I would be dozing in the back seat and wouldn’t have to ask when we’d crossed the state line back into Texas. (Texas roads had shoulders, for one thing, and properly prepared road beds — or at least properly graded ones.)

    I remember those days when women wore gloves and hats, and pocket books went over one’s left arm instead of over one’s shoulder. (Mailmen wore their bags on their shoulders, ladies didn’t.) We had tea rooms, too, and being taken to the one downtown with your mother was a rite of passage.

    Part of what goes with reasonable and proper is manners. A code of conduct that tells you what’s proper, that everyone was expected to adhere to. Mom and I were talking just yesterday about how nobody has any manners any more, or teaches their kids manners. Nobody dresses up any more either. Not even for church, which my mother finds scandalous. Wearing blue jeans in church! The very idea! I was amused to read an article the other day where corporate up and comers are now taking classes in etiquette — how to behave in formal situations such as how to eat in a ritzy restaurant, which fork is which, etc.

    Of course, there’s a downside to “reasonable and proper” just like there’s a downside to everything. Too bad when the ’60’s ditched the stuffiness and exclusivity of the ’50’s, they threw the baby out with the bathwater. It speaks to our current culture (or lack of same) when kids are taught how to say “please” and “thank you” by watching “Sesame Street.”

    1. Those state line crossings can be rough, in every sense of the word, WOL. Crossing into Oklahoma north of Paris can be a real jolt.

      When I moved to Texas, I discovered that those nice, broad highway shoulders had another purpose. The first time I saw someone pull to the right and just keep driving, I didn’t know what to think. Eventually, I figured it out, and now even I will drive the shoulder to let someone pass. I’ve learned the wave that goes along with it, too — different than the one-finger-off-the-steering-wheel wave that’s appropriate for approaching traffic, but still nice.

      And isn’t that the point of manners? A different wave for different situations, a different table setting at the Tea Room than for Sunday night supper at home, “please” and “thank you” always — these are the things that can make even a trip to the post office or grocery store a more human experience. A child who isn’t taught good manners isn’t being granted any favors. Like Friko, up above, I’m old. I can say these things.

      One more idle thought. “Reasonable and proper” may well be an analog to William Morris’s great aphorism about decorating: “Have nothing in your home which you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” They work better as a pair than separately. Taken alone, “proper” becomes just another set of rules, and “reasonable” leans toward “If I say it or do it, it’s right.” The middle way, that’s the way!


  10. How wonderful to see a speed limit set at “reasonable and proper”! It has always bothered me that most speed limits are set artificially low, and I’m cynical enough to think that revenue from speeding tickets has a lot—nay, everything—to do with it. The recent notion of crowdsourcing should prevail. For example, I’ve noticed on Interstate 35, at least when the traffic isn’t bogged down during increasingly long rush hours, that almost everyone is driving above the posted speed limit. How can a speed limit be just if it makes the large majority of citizens into lawbreakers?

    1. I didn’t realize until recently that other states have used “reasonable and proper” limits in the past, or are experimenting with them now. For a time, Montana had no speed limit at all. Utah went to an 80 mph speed limit for certain roads in 2009. Now, of course, Texas has instituted 80 mph limits on I-10 west of San Antonio, and probably elsewhere.

      I was surprised the first time I drove 80 mph roads that very few people seemed to be pushing that limit. It seemed as though most people were sticking to 70-75. That left me in the right lane, happily puttering along at 69 mph while everyone else exhausted themselves jockeying for position.

      Of course you’re right about traffic tickets as a revenue source. I’ve been told that many municipalities began lowering speed limits once lawsuits removed many of their favorite speed traps. And then there are the red light cameras. We had a bit of a saga here in League City, which resulted in those little revenue producers being taken down. Seventy-seven percent of voters were in favor of removal, and two City Council members who supported the cameras were removed as well. The cameras had generated $4,941,261 in revenue.

      1. There’s a stretch of the toll road TX 130 southeast of Austin that has the nation’s highest speed limit, 85 mph. When the road opened it was free for a couple of weeks, so I drove on it and earned the right to boast that I’ve driven at 85 mph legally. Like you, though, I’m more inclined to drive a little more slowly, typically in my case around 75 mph, even when the speed limit is higher.

        I’d heard about the removal of those red light cameras due to popular disapproval. Yay, people!

  11. We lived in the west suburbs of Chicago in the 80s. One of the main north south roads had curbs. It was even 4 lanes. As traffic increased and got faster, those curbs started to bounce cars back into the highway and over to the oncoming lanes. Several tragic accidents ensued. The curbs were removed on the long stretch of road to the relief of many.

    I’ve wondered why Iowa has so many concrete miles. The stuff will last forever. Once it begins to break, it is the roughest and noisiest of road surfaces. We live a mile from I-80 and often hear the whine of tires on the pavement if the atmospheric conditions are just so.

    I passed the link to your story along to my youngest brother. He worked at Younkers quite a while back. He will probably remember the Tea Room. A couple of years ago, Melanie and I were in Chicago for a short vacation. (Going again tomorrow) We stopped at Macy’s to see thee holiday decs. We were standing at a balcony on the 6th floor looking down into the atrium when a woman stopped to asked us how we were. She worked there and loved it. She told us about the Frango Mint factory on the floor above. The equipment is still there.

    1. My brother said…

      “I enjoyed that, thanks for passing it along. I remember a shoe store in Macomb (can’t think of the name) that used to let me take shoes home “on approval”, and Nelson’s Mens Store on the square used to let me do that as well. Can you imagine a store doing that nowadays! The author’s memories of the Younkers Tea Room brought back a flood of my own memories. Even when I worked there in the late ’80’s it was still a beautiful space. We used to stage all sorts of special events there. That old flagship store building was so special. I knew every nook and cranny. So sad that it’s gone now. That was a wonderful essay.”

      1. I’m so glad he enjoyed it. If he doesn’t read my comment here, please give him my thanks and my regards.

        I was especially tickled by his use of the expression “on the square.” The square was so important in Newton. For one thing, the grid pattern for the streets and avenues began there. We lived at 516 East 8th Street North — that is, eight blocks east of the square, and 5 blocks north of First Avenue.Then, we moved to 912 South 13th Avenue West — 9 blocks west, and 13 blocks south. If you had an address, you could find it without a map.

    2. I don’t think any of our Texas freeways ever have been curbed, Jim, but they’ve had their share of crossover accidents. Because of that, they added concrete barriers down the middle, and because of those concrete barriers, I’m here today. Suffice it to say, being rear-ended when I was going 65 myself was quite an experiece. The car was totaled, but I wasn’t. I did find my teeth when I went back to the car in the impound lot, but I decided against a necklace.

      I was surprised when I was in Kansas last fall to find so many gravel roads. Then, I remembered that plenty of roads were gravel when I was growing up, too. One of the summertime rituals was oiling those roads. Then, they’d bring in the big rollers to moosh everything together. I see the practice still is common, although I’m sure the oil being used has changed.

      I’m old enough to remember the building of I-80. Even when it was new, it hummed. I used to sit on our front steps on the southern outskirts of Newton and listen to the trucks rolling in the night. I swore I was going to travel, too — and i did.

      Have fun on your trip. I’ve been to Chicago only once, but so many of my friends who moved there or grew up there truly loved it. And yes — Marshall Field’s, Macy’s and Carson, Pirie, Scott all were beloved for their shopping and seasonal decorations.

      1. I think the concrete middle barriers are a good thing. They aren’t pretty. But they save lives. Good for you.

        Iowa, as you know, has a lot of gravel roads. The dust really flies. Those days following the oiling and chipping of the roads caused such a mess. Gravel chips stuck to the car. Oil spatters needed some kerosene to remove it.

        We weren’t near any interstates to see them built. We lived in Forgottonia of western IL not far from that white dot.

        I find it hard to believe you’ve only been to Chicago once. Next time, go in the spring or fall when the weather is nice. It is one of our favorite big cities.

  12. I’m from a family of lawyers and cops and having been a humane investigator for 8 years, I met people every single day who said they had the “right” to not feed or water or provide medical care for their animals- usually said with great hostility aimed my way. Then they would go on to say the law was ridiculous and if they wanted to starve their dog tied in the front yard, that was their right to do so.

    I like laws. People don’t often think of the impact of their “rights” on others. And often when they do know of the impact, they simply don’t care, especially if it involves someone or something defenseless. Or money.

    We are a nation of laws. I’d rather have that than a nation where people make up their own rules any given day. And I have to say I was always delighted to walk onto someone’s property LEGALLY and remove an animal that was near death because the owner had the “right” to do what they wanted with their “property”. Farmers included.

    1. There are plenty of silly or stupid laws in this world, Martha, as well as many which are reasonable. If someone decides they aren’t going to abide by a given law, that’s a choice they make, and any consequences will be theirs to bear.

      On the other hand, no amount of legislation is going to guarantee decent behavior. We have laws against killing, but murder still takes place. There are laws dictating everything from the drinking age to tax rates, and they’re broken all the time.

      I suppose, in the end, part of the difficulty is figuring out which laws are necessary for the functioning of society and the protection of rights, and which are nothing more than an opportunity for lawmakers and bureaucrats to lord it over other people.

      Part of our difficulty today is that, even though we were established as a nation of laws, many of the people charged with faithfully executing the laws are twisting them for their own ends. In a sense, they’re making up their own rules, too, and that never ends well.


  13. I’d forgotten about taking stuff out on approval, Linda, and it was a delight recalling those long-ago times. I remember my mom doing just that with one of the fancy ladies’ dress shops in town. I also remember her calling a local mom-and-pop grocery, placing an order, and having them deliver it to the house. Can you imagine Wal-Mart doing that today?

    I can’t fathom “right and proper” speed laws working today. Too many, I’m afraid, would construe that as permission to see just how fast their set of wheels could spin! Perhaps it only would have worked in the Midwest and only way before the 1960s, when the powers-that-be determined laws were a necessary aspect of living in a more complicated, worrisome world.

    Thanks for the heads-up about Iowa curbs. I didn’t know that, but forewarned is forearmed, as they say!

    1. I can’t imagine Wal-Mart delivering, Debbie, but there are stores in my area that do. Of course, they charge a good bit for it, but it’s still a great service. Even better were the milkman, the bread man, and the ice man when I was growing up. We had milk delivered to the house, but my grandmother had milk, bread, and ice. No newspaper delivery, though — you bought that when you walked into town to pick up the mail.

      As for “reasonable and proper” today, I’m not sure things could be any worse. The speed limits on Houston freeways don’t do a thing to prevent high speeds, lane-cutting, tail-gating and other delights that belong in the world of bumper cars. One of our local officers says the real problem isn’t high speed, but low. So many people are busy with their video chats, texting, and emailing that they tend to slow down and weave out of their lane. Of course, I’ve seen people over the years reading newspapers, changing clothes and putting on makeup while driving, so only the nature of the distraction has changed.

      I was surprised to see that many states today have equivalent laws, and many are raising their speed limits. Contrary to what I expected, the fatality rates have gone down. I suppose someone’s got some theories about why that should be so, but I’m glad it’s happening.

      No need to worry about the curbs, though. I think they’re gone on most of the roads. Even old Iowa 34, in that top photo, has been replaced by another highway — with no curbs.


  14. Reasonable and Proper are words that aren’t in the vocabulary, nor understood, by today’s young people. My father worked in The City (London, that is). Everyday he left the house in his suit and bowler hat. There was a special way you walked with an umbrella. In Hotels, and in Church, men wore jackets and ties, women wore dresses. People took the time and the trouble to look good, and I daresay feel good too.

    I was in the banking area of London recently and most of the men – out for lunch from their dealing rooms – were in jeans and trainers – their working attire. There’s hardly any restaurant that has a ‘dress code’, even those with Michelin stars. We’ve lost something if we don’t understand the concept of looking our best on special occasions.

    1. Andy, that special way of walking with an umbrella, wearing the bowler hat, is so recognizably British I saw the profile in my mind as soon as I read your words about your father. When I did an image search, I found that I had it exactly right — as did René Magritte, whose images suddenly seem far more delightful than when I first was exposed to them.

      Looking good and feeling good are related, aren’t they? I suppose it’s rather chicken-and-eggish, but analyzing seems less important than doing. Looking good even on ordinary occasions has value, and for that matter, looking good when no one’s around doesn’t hurt. Even on the docks, there are workers who look more professional than many of today’s office workers. It’s really quite remarkable.

  15. Your fine nostalgic essay brought back many memories from childhood in Schenectady, NY and Springfield, MA when stores were more than just places to buy things.. We had relationships with the owners and employees. There was little concern for security and if one was ever disappointed with a purchase there was no question about a return or exchange. Buildings had marvelous architecture and construction where one would feel a visit was a special occasion. I am sorry that today’s consumers have no idea what they are missing.

    Curbing has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, it keeps our lawns from growing over the road. On the other, it keeps our lawns from growing over the roads. Despite the thought that they add to safety, I think they are more a hindrance. I am aware of several accidents, specifically with motorcycles, where operators were unable to escape an oncoming vehicle as a result of the curb. And, as in your story, damage to a vehicle is not uncommon. In the first month of my employment at the store where I continue to work 35 years later, I destroyed a truck tire on a close encounter of the granite kind. While most curbing today is asphalt, in those days the majority were granite and had sharp edges.

    Reasonable and proper….if only that could work today. Considering the vehicles’ speed and power with which advertising convinces folks to make a car purchase, many people do not even give a second thought to controlling speed until that flashing light appears. Fortunately, as a Mazda driver, I am able to resist the Zoom-zoom temptation….most of the time. I understand the frustration with government control of so much in our lives but, as a curmudgeonly pessimist, I have little faith that people will respond in a reasonable and proper manner in the absence of regulation.

    As a reminder of the old ways, one of the places I make my photography purchases will still allow familiar customers to take gear home on a trial basis. But even there, it is with the knowledge that our CC numbers are on file.

    1. Steve, even in my grandparents’ town, where there was nothing approaching the splendor of the Younkers store, shops were rich in architectural details that would have been a photographer’s delight. They weren’t large and they weren’t fancy, but they had tin ceilings and marvelous woodwork. Sometimes, it was only a wooden counter, but it was real wood, attended by a real person.

      Around Texas, the most dangerous curbs often are in towns — old towns, where they’re built up much higher than the modern version. I took off an entire strip of metal trim on my mom’s car one day when I discovered a two-level, twelve inch curb in a west Texas town. The good news was that no damage was done to the paint. As old as her car was, maybe the point of the metal strip wasn’t so much decoration as protection, like a rub rail on a boat.

      Human nature abhors a vacuum as much as nature, I suppose, so it might be that the void left by fewer laws would be filled with bad behavior. On the other hand, given the freedom to choose, people might well make better choices, and the resentment level go down a notch or two.

      In many areas of life, the people who aren’t being either reasonable or proper are the ones dictating behavior: school lunches come to mind. I’m still not recovered from the shock of a friend’s daughter having her lunch taken away. She had a ham and cheese sandwich, an apple, oatmeal cookies and carrot sticks. The powers that be said it didn’t meet the new regulations, so out it went. Those are the sort of situations that can get even the most apolitical yelling “aux barricades!”

  16. Oh how I miss these old tea rooms in the department stores. Frederick and Nelson in Seattle was a wonderful one. They were an offshoot of Marshall Field in Chicago. I was introduced to Frango mints there, and now you can get them at Macy’s in Seattle too. I actually have a post nearly ready about the old department stores, so this one of yours was especially interesting to me.

    I don’t know much about the highways with curbs, but I can see how dangerous they were especially when covered with snow.

    1. Don’t you sometimes wonder what today’s young people will remember in fifty years? I can’t think that standing in line for the newest video game, or grabbing a dollar special at the local fast-food emporium will have much staying power as cherished memories.

      Tea rooms and shopping were a natural fit for us. Because we had to travel to Des Moines to go to Younkers (about 35 or 40 miles, as I recall), a day of shopping was just that: a full day of activity. On especially long days, we sometimes would eat at the tea room at noon, and have a little something at the basement counter before heading home. It was such a nice, easy experience, and quite unlike a trip to the mall today.

      I’m looking forward to your post, Kayti. It will be fun to compare experiences.

  17. Thank heaven, I’m not the only one who grows nostalgic for the courtesy, one’s careful presentation, and the slower pace of earlier times. I grew up in Minnesota, Wisconsin and even ventured into the ‘Flat Lands’ of Iowa, as we affectionately called it. This was during the 40s and 50s (Yep, I’m 80 this year) and those memories still linger.

    Today everyone looks casual, courtesy is not always enjoyed, the pace is frantic, but we have our compensations. I could never exist again without the internet, as it has done so much to bring a global population together. We are all bolder, brasher, but more understanding about our beautiful planet and our richly different cultures, foods, and customs. I suppose we can’t have it all!

    1. No, you’re not the only one, Mary. Like you, there’s much about the 1950s I wouldn’t want again. For example, I remember the closed swimming pools and the fear before polio vaccine: the terror of iron lungs and the sorrow of classmates no longer able to play. Even some of the usual ways of entertaining, doing business and keeping an eye on the neighbors are well gone. But the courtesy? The friendliness? The freedom? I may not be able to change many of the things I don’t like about today’s world, but I still can try to embody the values of the old.

      We had family in Winona, Albert Lea and another little town whose name escapes me. We had some wonderful times in Minnesota, and some great vacations at Leech Lake, where I caught my first big fish. For a girl used to a cane pole and river sunfish, that Walleye might as well have been Moby Dick!

  18. “Mutual trust, mutual respect and superb customer service…”

    These words are music to my ears. These traditional values are almost non-existent nowadays in this country. Driving is dangerous, people dress like hippies and speak words I can not replicate here.

    I feel we are on a free fall in Panama. It bothers me when we go out to shopping malls, drug stores, supermarkets or banks. The service is always the same, as if they are doing us a favor and the customer is an annoyance and must be dispatched ASAP.

    I long for the days you described so eloquently in this post. I still remember the incident when you served lunch to manual workers after a hurricane using your mother’s best china. That was an act of class I will never forget.

    Thank you for keeping my hopes and memories of goneby days alive.

    Best Regards,


    1. Of course there’s always a tendency for the older generation (that would be us, Omar!) to wring our hands over the young ones. I think there are a lot of good kids and young adults around, but it’s also clear that, at least in the U.S., a certain coarseness has developed in society, along with a great deal of cynicism and a high level of combativeness. It sounds like you have a bit of that, too.

      There was a book many years ago called “Games People Play.” One of the “games” that was highlighted was called “Let’s You and Him Fight.” In the game, a third party sets two people against each other. Lots of family dinners have been ruined in just that way, but it’s also a perfect description of what many leaders like to do — I setting segments of society against one another. Usually, it’s for their own profit, financial or otherwise.

      One of the things I try to remember in shops and larger stores is that the clerks are under tremendous pressure from their work faster, push more credit cards, get the sales pitch just right, and so on. Sometimes, even the simplest of personal words, like a thank-you, seems to make a differece.


    1. Indeed. I just had a thought that amuses me a bit, Otto. Perhaps “reasonable” and “proper” are those two curbs that line the road of life, for all of us.

  19. Very interesting to read about Iowa roads. The last photo of this post looks a bit sad. The road is slowly disappearing and soon will be covered in grass and weeds. I can not imagine driving on a road with curbs. One has to wonder who the brilliant person was that came up with that idea that proved to be a bane rather than a boost.

    1. There are some other photos of old U.S. 34 that are even more sad, Yvonne. At one point, it wanders off into a cow pasture and nearly disappears beneath the muck. The good news is that a nice, new highway has replaced it: one with no curbs.

      Eventually, people figured out that those curbs weren’t such a good idea, and moved away from them. I was trying to think of other things that seemed good at the time, but now seem silly or flat wrong. DDT comes to mind. Laying out in the sun, lathered up with baby oil is another. Sleeping in brush rollers — did you ever try that? Never again.

      I will say I was impressed with Texas roads from the beginning. The freeways can be nerve-wracking, but they’re well constructed, and generally speaking the farm to market roads are gems.

  20. What a lovely reflection on the people of Iowa. I’ve never been there, but it sounds like a place with people who have time for visitors. I especially enjoyed your description of Yonkers, and the training for the young servers. The former dean of chapel at our school is fond of saying that every Pastor should spend some time in a restaurant, learning how to serve people. It always sounded like sound advice. it seems there are many such people in Iowa!

    1. It’s the land of cake and coffee, and sitting a spell on the porch, Allen. You’d like it. If you arrived when the beans were being snapped, you’d end up with a bowl and a towel, and be snapping right along with the rest.

      Wasn’t that a wonderful last line in Ms. Froyen’s piece? Once we’ve learned how to be gracious with even the most persnickety, we’re well on our way to learning how to deal with the obdurate, the irascible and the just plain crazy. I think your Dean was on to something. Serving people is a lovely concept, but being a server for eight hour shifts, day in and day out, is something else. It’s as hard on the feet as on the psyche.

  21. Linda,
    I remember my mother dressing up to go shopping in Newport News. It was what people did.

    That speed limit sign takes the cake. I can’t imagine that nowadays. I’d be happy if people would just stop texting and driving. I’d hate to think about what they would regard as a reasonable and a proper speed limit.

    I worked at VEPCO in Richmond when I first moved here. On our lunch hour, we would walk up the hill to the stores and enjoy the Christmas displays in the windows at Thalhimer’s and Miller & Rhodes. When my son was a little boy, we made the annual trip downtown to eat with Santa at the Miller & Rhodes Tea Room. Fun times.

    1. Bella, Santa always came to the Younkers Tea Room, too, and lunch with Santa was a yearly ritual. And even our small town had store windows that were wonderfully decorated. One had a miniature train that was the best ever — all those little houses and snow covered trees and trestles and tunnels. To her dying day, Mom always said one of her greatest regrets in life was that she didn’t let my dad get me a train set for Christmas. It was my Red Ryder bb gun. Sigh. At least now I know Dad wanted to get it for me.

      I do agree that the speed limit sign wouldn’t work today. But the point is — it worked then, because people were capable of limiting themselves. Of course there were individuals who pushed the limits — sometimes to frank criminality. Certainly there were people who were dishonest, violent, crazy. But they were notable because they were so much the exception.

      Even when my aunt ended up in the slammer…. but that’s another tale, for another day.

  22. The most popular student hangout in Charlottesville for many many years (it closed down just before I arrived) was a bar (a speakeasy back in the day, iirc) called The Tea Room. It was always crowded. The joke about the Tea Room was that for those who went there, there was no tea and no room.

    The problem (ultimately fatal) with the “reasonable and proper” speed limits is that they didn’t assign motorists with the right to determine reasonable and proper speeds. That power was reserved to the state, but without any fair notice to the public of what the authorities might consider “reasonable and proper.” However sensible rules like that might be in our personal or household affairs unfortunately don’t make good laws, because they too easily invite arbitrary and capricious enforcement. So we end up with one-size-fits-all laws that often don’t seem to make any sense. Somewhat ironically, they are the price sometimes paid to limit the power of the state.

    1. I’m so un-with-it, Bill. I have to ask: what is “iirc”? I did smile at the name of The Tea Room. It reminds me of boats around here that carry names like The Office. More than a few conversations have included phrases like, “Sorry I can’t be there. I have to stop by The Office.”

      Actually, the conversation between my dad and the officer was meant to show just the opposite: that my dad’s choice of a slow speed was considered reasonable and proper not only by him,but also by the officer, once it was explained.

      Of course, there were other differences back in those days, in our world. Whatever might have been going on elsewhere, I never heard the phrases “police brutality” or “frivolous lawsuit” until I was much older. The role of the state in our lives was very much more limited, and generally benign. Today, police roam the halls of high schools, issuing tickets. Back then, a gaggle of misbehaving high-schoolers wouldn’t be arrested. Instead, one of the town officers would end up in some living rooms, telling parents what had transpired and leaving the rest to them.

      In short, there was a time and a place where the state and its agencies weren’t considered the enemy. I wouldn’t mind a little more of that, either.

  23. I so much enjoyed this and returned to it several times mulling over “what is reasonable and proper” today and back in the day. The surprising road sign, your dad’s encounter with the law and then leading us to the tea room were seamless. Such varied examples underscored the mentality of the day, “what’s reasonable and proper,” characterized by a handshake, taking pride in how one presented themselves and a respect for the law, school teachers, or anyone in a position of authority, with historical exceptions, of course.

    I remember traveling to Dallas with some bff’s (best friends forever, aged 11 at the time). A friend of all of us had moved there and her mother invited us to spend several days with her daughter and family for the occasion of her birthday. We all dressed up in suits to board the bus for the 100 mile trip to the big city from our town. Our parents entrusted us to the bus driver and waved us good-bye. Our suitcases were carefully packed with outfits for each day and various outings each day. Goodness…today we would put on jeans, cute top and call it a day. One of our destinations was The Zodiac Room in a very upscale department store based in Dallas. I’ll never forget we had soup, finger sandwiches and a tasty dessert for lunch. The tables had fresh flowers and sugar bowls with refined sugar in pastel colors! I remember scooping a teaspoon of that sugar, placing it and folding it into a napkin to share with my mother. I’m not sure many parents today from a small town or big city would put their precious daughters on a bus to make such a trip. I will never forget that experience and I’m so glad our parents thought the invitation and what it required to make it was “reasonable and proper.”

    Again, thank you for such a lovely reflection that beckoned us to remember gracious times, gracious dispositions, gracious kindness, and gracious style…graciousness that should never go out of style. hmmm…I think I know what I’ll be posting on Sunday.

    1. I like your word “seamless”, Georgette. You were using it in regard to this post, but I think it also could apply to the time I’m describing here.

      In those days (at least as I remember them, and surely at least to some degree), “reasonable” and “proper” weren’t added here or there, like buttons on a coat. They were woven into the very fabric of society: seamlessly. So many expressions that were common then seem anachronistic today. Civil society is one of those phrases. It’s become almost oxymoronic, as battles for civil rights increasingly are fought with little civility. I could suggest a comparison between Barbara Jordan and Sheila Jackson Lee. Writ large, that kind of shift doesn’t bode well for society.

      Your story of the trip to Dallas is wonderful, and recognizable. Of all the losses I mourn, freedom for children is near the top of the list. From riding bicycles with no more constraints than, “Be home by dark,” to traveling for visits by bus, we larned how to navigate the world. Of course, we were surrounded by neighbors, bus drivers, teachers, and even strangers who felt free to caution or correct without any fear of being slapped with a lawsuit. That makes a difference.

      Pastel sugar? I would have taken some home, too. Apart from the fancy decorations on cakes and cookies, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that. The thought does bring to mind another great loss, though. Do you remember Russell Stover rosebud mints? They’re no longer made, but in their day, they covered the land!

  24. Now, that’s pretty well unimaginable that we could be allowed to choose what we feel is a proper speed on the highway. Tell that to the officer who gives you a ticket because you were a fraction over his radar reading!

    I like the look of that tearoom, by the way. Just the sort of place I’d love to photograph, and to eat in.

    I also like your positive message at the end of the post. Here’s to being trusting, gracious and civilised, whenever possible, then!

    1. Andrew, your mention of the radar gun brought back another memory. Back in the land of reasonable and proper, there were no radar guns. However, there were little white airplanes, or white “Xs” painted on the road, a certain distance apart. By timing a car’s passage between the marks, its speed could be determined. Going too fast? The people in the Cessna or whatever let the nice officer sitting farther down the road know about it, and voila! It was time for a conversation with the law.

      That tearoom would have given you a week’s worth of photo-taking, even in its more modern incarnations. While the decor changed through the years, the basic elegance didn’t, and from what my mother reported after her last visit there, the food was just as good.

      It’s interesting to me how much of your street photography seems to catch hints of a world still marked by trust and graciousness. Perhaps if we were as attentive to one another as a street photographer is to his world, we’d see it more often, too.

  25. I wonder what anyone under the age of twenty 25 reading your post would think? Things surely have changed. Some for the better, some for the worse.

    ‘Reasonable and Proper’ behaviour reminded me of something my granny would say to me when I left the farmhouse to visit friends or neighbours. “Remember your P’s and Q’s” (Remember your please and thank you’s). An old-fashioned way of reminding children to behave in a ‘proper’ manner whilst out of the home.

    ‘Highways with curbs’? I wonder how high your curbs were? We still have curbs on many roads, especially here in MK. I found a photo in Flickr I had taken. (Will it work if I post the link? Here goes!

    As to the demise of tearooms, they seem to be making a comeback here – not that they had disappeared. You could always get tea in the famous Betty’s in Harrogate, (do a search for it,) the Savoy or Ritz in London. It is a trip down memory lane to visit Betty’s, as you still find ‘ladies’ having afternoon tea wearing their hats!

    Another enjoyable read, and your dad sounds as though he was very much like mine, as the reply to the policeman would have been very similar!

    1. Honestly, Sandi? If someone under the age of 25 reads my blog, I’ll just rejoice and let it go at that. They can agree, disagree, or think me a foolish old woman. None of that would matter as much as the fact that they’re reading.

      I can’t believe I’d forgotten about minding one’s Ps and Qs. I often heard that, too, and it meant exactly the same thing: be polite. Say, “please,” and “thank you.” Don’t sass and, to whatever extent possible, don’t ask the kind of embarassing questions you’re prone to asking!

      The curbs along residential streets and in business districts today are the same as they were then — rounded, and maybe four inches high. The curbs along those Iowa highways were slanted away from the road, and six inches or so wide. Maybe a bit wider. The ones in your photo don’t look so dangerous. Because they’re vertical, you might run a tire along them, but it doesn’t seem they’re as likely to throw you out into traffic.

      On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind one bit being thrown into Betty’s. Oh, my goodness. I made the mistake of bringing up the menu and browsing. The High Tea looks wonderful. If I ever do get back over there, we’ll have to go — provided I can get in without a hat.

      Our dads really were much the same, I think. Quiet, practical, sometimes a little gruff, but totally devoted to their little girls. We were the lucky ones, for sure.

  26. I’ve really enjoyed reading through the nostalgia-fest that this post has triggered, Linda! But it is also good that people have been acknowledging the positive changes that modern life has brought, most notably of course the Internet…we would not have this heartwarming inter-connected web blog community without it, for example…

    And of the flood of memories the post evoked, let me offer this one which typified for me the humour and the casualness of small-town life on my small island decades ago. Big Kenny, an old fellow of very considerable height and girth, goes into the local well-known and used shoe repair shop. “I’ve worn out my old size thirteen boots” says the old chap sadly. “Can I have a new pair please?” The shoemaker, Donnie, well-known for his dry wit, surveys his shelves and shakes his head. “Sorry, Kenny, none left in that size”. Then there is a pause. ” But maybe two pairs of six and a halfs would do?”

    Of Kenny’s response, there is no record…probably just as well!

    1. Ah, but isn’t it true, Anne, that the worst of human behavior can be on display for all to see on that same internet? Now and then I wander into some other rooms in this massive web, and I must say that graciousness, self-control and respect for others aren’t exactly on full display! The tools will change, and that change can be celebrated. But just like anything else, they can be used for good or for ill.

      That kind of teasing between Donnie and Kenny is the sort of humor that we lack these days. We’ve substituted cynicism, snark, and shock. There’s not much amusing about that, especially when it’s wrapped in a scrap of self-righteousness. Ah, well. Life’s what we make it, wherever we live it, don’t you think?

  27. Linda, this post resonates in a way you could not believe, for your experience with Younkers (which, by the way, is my favorite of the department stores in our mall, although it’s in a mall, which is a strike against it) mirrors mine with Knapp’s, Lansing’s department store. Dressing up was required, if not by Knapp’s, by my mother. There was the elevator lady, and no tea room, but a wonderful lunch room. The malls killed our downtown but only very recently someone has begun a renovation of Knapp’s with retail downstairs and above offices, perhaps living space. Of course, no one dresses up downtown anymore, but it sure was good to see that old art deco building back in gear.

    We live in pothole hell here. No money to fix the roads, so they say. I say you can find what you want when you want to. I’ll have to share this one with Rick. He used to live in Iowa!

    1. Jeanie, my mother used to work at the Younkers in Newton at Christmastime, wrapping gifts. She loved the work — it was easy and creative, and some of her friends worked there, too. It always was a fun store for shopping, too. At least, it was in years past.

      Younkers was being renovated in the same way, with a combination of retail and rental, before the fire took it. At least the tea room portion survived, I have no doubt that they’ll be able to make a go of it, eventually.

      Oh, potholes. Houston is just as bad. Some people have a theory that the potholes are serving as speed bumps. The mayor and council aren’t much concerned with roads and public services. They have other fish to fry, as the saying goes — especially gender neutral bathrooms. Ah, me.

      I had no idea Rick lived in Iowa, once upon a time. Did he grow up there, or was it work related? I hope he liked it!

      Happy moving toward Christmas!


  28. Hi, Linda! I’ve really enjoyed reading this post and all the comments. I didn’t realize how much I missed blogging and interacting with reasonable and proper people until a couple of months ago, when I felt compelled to start writing again. I had to take a break for a while.

    Although I love all of the modern conveniences and technology, I often hanker for the “old days and old ways” as well. My hometown was just like yours, only on a much smaller scale. Going to town was an event, not a chore, one that was much anticipated and relished. Mother always wore her best clothes, and when I was a little girl, she wore her white gloves and a hat. One of those little nothing hats that kind of nestled in one’s hair, sometimes with a net that could be pulled over one’s eyes.

    We didn’t have fancy department stores. The closest we came was J. C. Penney, but it had two floors with a grand staircase and marble steps. If a child was very brave and precocious, he might be caught sliding down the banisters on occasion. Neither did we have a formal tea room, but we had the lunch counter at Kresge, which served “loose meat” sandwiches. Remember that from the show Roseanne? They were real. Kind of like a sloppy joe, but without the sauce, just hamburger cooked with onions and salt and pepper. If you wanted a real hamburger patty, you had to sit in the booths and give your order to a waitress. There was also a candy counter that sold fresh “roasted” redskin peanuts in a little paper bag with the top folded down.They were nice and greasy. That was always my favorite treat.

    We also had a dress store that let you take home dress choices on approval. I don’t think I ever knew the owner. The only time I could afford to shop there was for my prom dress. I made quite an impression with my dress from “Gabler’s.” :) There are only two stores that survive from that heyday. One is Unger’s Shoes, and the other is Dick’s Record and Music Store. Of course, Dick’s no longer sells records, mostly band instruments and sheet music, and I don’t think Dick is even living. I think someone told me that his son now runs the business. Quite a testament to longevity in the retail world.

    I believe there is a highway in Hamilton, Ohio (near Cincinnati) that still has curbs, even out in the country, now suburbs. I never understood the reason for that. I guess concrete was very cheap at that time.

    My family is known for its fast drivers. My brother loved to challenge the speed limits. ;) Once, on his way back to Ohio from visiting his Army son who was stationed in Fort Hood, he was pulled over by a state trooper. The trooper asked, “Sir, do you realize you were going 95 mph?” My brother matter-of-factly replied, “Oh, I must have slowed down, because I was going 115.” Needless to say, he received quite a hefty ticket. He said it was worth it. :)

    It’s nice to read you again. :)

    1. I was so delighted to find you at Jeanie’s, Susan. I always read through the comments, and there you were. I’ve checked in at Bear Swamp from time to time, just to see if there was an update, but I wasn’t surprised to see you withdrawing a bit.

      So, welcome! Obviously I found your new site, and will be visiting there just as soon as I get myself back into my routine.

      I’d forgotten those hats. I had a robin’s egg blue one at Easter one year. I never pulled the netting down, though. Mom told me I should, but it drove me crazy. I guess I just wasn’t meant to be fashionable!

      I not only remember loose meat, it was my favorite. We called them Maid-Rites, and the store was a kind of 1950s soda fountain type layout. The one in my home town still is in business and still owned by our next-door neighbor. In fact, when I took Mom’s ashes up to Iowa for burial, we had our lunch after the service at the Maid-Rite. I had a sandwich, some broasted potatoes, and a chocolate malt. It was heaven.

      That’s quite a story about your brother. I’m not a fast driver now, and never have been, but I did find an 85 mph stretch on my recent trip. That’s too much for me, but I ooched it up to 75. Since there wasn’t another car around for miles (well, apart from a few pickup trucks) I decided to “clean out a little carbon,” as my dad used to say.

      I surely would like a Maid-Rite for supper, now. I’ve never been able to duplicate the exact taste of those things. Maybe it was the environment that flavored the meat!


  29. Just fascinating! I love learning through your images and words… I had no idea about the concept of curbs on highways (having never been to Iowa!). And HOW I would have loved to have seen that old Yonkers store — completely heartbreaking that it was lost to fire.

    When we visited the States as children from overseas, we would dress up and visit downtown Arlington, VA for some wonderful window-shopping (and Santa, of course). The area is sadly long-gone, and is now just a complete megalopolis. A bit sad, really.

    1. It is sad to see so many “downtowns” fading away, FeyGirl. In some cases, it’s a function of population movement, or economic changes. Sometimes, the fear of crime is involved. And sometimes, it’s just the changing lifestyle that makes the whole concept about as foreign and gloves and hats for afternoon tea.

      But window shopping is a great memory, and so is decorating the store windows. I was in a small Texas town recently that had some windows painted by school children. There were snowflakes everywhere — and which of those children has seen snow? I loved it, both for the incongruity, and for their ability to imagine a world they’ve never experienced. We’ve had snow at Christmas — I hope they get it this year!

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