We used it up, wore it out; made it do, did without

An ice box from back in the day.--SUBMITTED PHOTO

In previous columns, I have commented on how I arrive at the topics many of you read each week.

These ideas come from a variety of sources, usually based on real-life experiences. Some come from things I have personally experienced; others are the result of discussions with family members, friends and associates. Often the news stimulates an idea. Church sermons and messages from my pastor often contain thoughts worth exploring.

My family life, school and memories of my old neighborhood are also sources of inspiration. Everyday events often trigger some thought that brings back fond memories.

Every time I think I have nothing new to write about, something new comes to my attention. When I think I have explored all I can about life in the past, some idea invariably comes out of nowhere and becomes food for thought for a new column.

Such was the case a few weeks ago when here at The Tribune, there was a discussion about purchasing a new refrigerator for the lunchroom. The person charged with making the purchase was discussing what type he would select when he suddenly indicated that perhaps he would consider getting the old, refrigerator repaired.

When it was learned that the refrigerator in question was more than 10 years old, the response from his listeners was unanimous: Why would anyone invest in a refrigerator this old? Why not simply purchase a new one? Thus, the impetus for this column was born. So, I ask you to join me and reflect on those things we do not get fixed or repaired today but that were readily repaired, back in the day.

So, let us go back to the refrigerator! I vividly recall my days as a child and the Admiral refrigerator with the round motor on the top that was in my home. I think of those days as a young adult and even as an adult when workmen visited homes to repair the family’s refrigerator. Back then, we called the item that kept our food from spoiling a Frigidaire, not a refrigerator. That is a brand name for refrigerators. No matter what it was called, these appliances regularly had problems. You knew there was a serious problem when the refrigerator sweated; this condensation built up inside or outside the appliance. Even if the problem was related to door seals or insulation, you called a professional repair person with a proven track record. There was no tinkering with this type of problem. Today, however, if a refrigerator has serious problems, and especially if it is old, it goes out into the trash. The difficulty in getting a reliable repair person, the costs involved in repairs, the absence of conveniences such as automatic defrosting and the energy saving of a new model dictate the purchase of a new refrigerator rather than having it repaired, as many families did back in the day.

If you are legitimately “old school,” I suspect that you can still recall the location of the shop that repaired televisions in your neighborhood. It seems there were such shops in every neighborhood. When you took your television to a repair shop, you were at the owner’s mercy, as you had no idea what was wrong with it. The owner of the shop could tell you anything and you would pay an “arm and a leg” for something that may have been quite minor. In the early days when console televisions were found in many homes, it meant a repair person making a house call; console televisions were too big to lug to a shop. If this was necessary, you knew you were in for a big expense, as home service calls meant a flat rate just for the visit and additional costs for the actual repairs. Back in the day, however, the first option was to get your set repaired. When the cost of repairs was too much, some people purchased a used one from the repair shop. Today, repair shops have virtually disappeared and no one wants a used television. So, out into the trash goes your inoperable television today, not to the repair shop, as was the case back in the day.

A radio was another item that was repaired in the past, often in the same shop that repaired televisions. Radios in the past were often like a piece of furniture. Some of you had floor model Philco radios; others may have had a Philco Cathedral type, table model that blended in with the living room décor. Therefore, every effort was made to get these radios repaired. If it did not work, you checked the tubes in the back to see if they were “lit”. If not, you went to a radio shop or a hardware store to test the tube by placing it in a socket. If they were bad, you simply purchased good tubes, took them home and replaced the burned-out ones and your radio worked like new. Today, there are no tubes, so you put your radio in the trash unless it has some sentimental value.

How many of you remember your mother struggling with her washing machine? Problems included the water not emptying out, or the agitator not turning, or the wringer not operating. So, a repair person was called. As with television repairs, there was usually a flat rate for the home visit plus the cost for repairs. You were generally at the mercy of the repair person. Usually, the washer was repaired. Today, however, when the washier goes, it goes out with the personnel who deliver the new one.

Sewing machines are not found in many homes today? Those who have one are unlikely to look for a repair shop if it goes bad. My mother and sister would have located a repair ship; today’s owners, however, are looking through catalogs and viewing web sites to locate a computerized sewing machine. Does anyone today have a non-functioning toaster repaired? Probably not, as the cost for a repair is likely to cost more than a new toaster. You can undoubtedly tick off a number of other items that your parents had repaired. You may recall the small appliance repair shops that dotted the landscape in most neighborhoods; shops many families depended on to make their appliances operable, back in the day.

So your kitchen knives are dull. If they are Smith and Wesson or some other high-end type, you find a place to have them sharpened. If they are the “run-of-the-mill” type, you simply wrap them up and dispose of them in the trash. In the fifties, men walked around neighborhoods, going door to door with the equipment to sharpen knives and scissors. But just like dull knives, dull scissors can end up in the trash.

While automobile tires are not on the endangered list of items that are no longer repaired today, the “run flat” tire will soon make tire repairs obsolete. A few personal items also warrant being added to the list of things no longer repaired today or not repaired to the degree they were in the past. What do you do when you need new soles or heels on your shoes? I find the way to my friendly shoe repair shop. The problem for many people, however, is locating a reputable shoe repair shop. This skill is slowly disappearing. Furthermore, most people do not go through the expense of having shoes repaired. Their reaction is usually to throw them out give them to a charity. Back in the day, even if the shoes were not repaired, they did not end up in the trash. Cardboard stuffed inside was one way to prolong the life of a shoe back then.

Suppose a moth has gotten into your suits or sweaters. Today, they go into the donation box or are discarded in some way. Why? Just search the Internet for an “invisible weaver”.In the Philadelphia area, the last time I checked there were but two. I recall many visits to an invisible weaver where the hole or tear was carefully repaired so the word “invisible” was truly accurate

I will not throw away anything unless I must. Before I do, I will do everything I can to salvage it, even if it means just being able to use a portion of the damaged item. For me, throwing away something only occurs when it has absolutely no use. So if you have items you feel have no value, consider that items made in the past were usually made with superior materials and better craftsmanship. Try your very best to recycle your projected throwaways; you could save money and permit yourself to go back to using items that contain some of your fondest memories; memories that you cherished, back in the day.

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146.

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