I suspect something is wrong with our food, as well as our habits of living.

Reading my father's journals from 1959 to 1970, I noticed in particular something about our eating habits: we ate dessert three times a day. We had lunch dessert, dinner dessert, and bedtime dessert. I remember trying hard to convince my parents that we should logically have breakfast dessert as well, but was overruled. Probably because breakfast in those days was all too often sweet enough to be dessert in itself. True, we didn't have pre-sweetened cereal, but we had sugar in a bowl on the table....

And yet we were not overweight, much less obese. Not thin, but a healthy weight. Moreover, not one of us ever worked out at a gym or had any kind of regular exercise program. Ordinary living kept us in decent shape. My father was an engineer with a desk job; my mother a homemaker.

What made the difference? I can only guess.

I'm convinced that our food was both healthier and tastier. After all, I am older than McDonald's. Milk from a local dairy was delivered in glass bottles to our front porch; it was pasteurized, but not homogenized. Meat came from local butchers; I liked it best from the Jewish butcher, because then I was allowed to nibble on the raw ground beef, as we knew it had not been in contact with any pork products. (Pork was an exception to "food was healthier back then"; trichinosis was still a big problem, caused by pigs being fed raw pork, or so I was told.)

We didn't have farmers' markets back then; what we had instead was nearby farms that sold some of their produce at stands along the road. Their fruits and vegetables were only available in season, but they sure were fresh, and clearly superior to what the grocery stores sold. Our food didn't have nearly the variety we have today, but it was enough, and it was good. There's a blessing in being able to have access to food flown in from halfway across the world, and ethnic restaurants on every corner, but overall, thanks to agricultural mass production, it doesn't have the flavor it once had.

Consciously or unconsciously, we undoubtedly eat more quantity in an effort to make up for lost quality.

The other big difference that I remember in our food is portion size. At home, we always had plenty to eat, but common sense, both nutritionally and financially, kept the portions quite a bit smaller than is common today, even at home. And restaurant portions are ridiculous now! When I was growing up, restaurant meals were very rare occasions, and fast food almost non-existent. Even in restaurants the portions were much smaller than today. I had my first McDonald's hamburger during college; it cost 23 cents and, if memory serves, was half the size of a quarter-pounder today.

One thing we didn't do much of was snacking. Except for a small bit of milk-and-cookies after school, which was primarily valuable for the debriefing/decompressing time spent in the kitchen while my mother prepared dinner, eating between meals was considered unnecessary and even unhealthy.

Did I mention that we mostly ate at home? The food itself was largely home-prepared.  Store-bought cookies, box cake mixes, pre-prepared salads, frozen meals—all either non-existent or considered far inferior to homemade. (Exception: Girl Scout cookies.)  [Update:  Thanks to Porter for catching my egregious misstatement, as I had orginally written "superior"! Not, I assure you, a Freudian slip.]

Then there was exercise. If there were fitness establishments, I never saw one. Gym class in school was for fun, not fitness: tumbling, marching, and playing games (including dodge ball) where winning was not of primary importance. There were no formal team sports that I remember before high school, though pick-up games of all sorts were common in our neighborhood, which abounded with playmates of all ages. Winter or summer, we were outside and active. Avid bookworm that I was, I still spent much of my spare time outside, either playing with my friends or wandering the fields and woods near our house. As I said, my father had a sedentary job, but walked for transport when he could (sometimes wearing snowshoes in the winter), played games in the yard with us and the neighborhood kids who congregated in our yard, and—though not as often as he would have liked—took us hiking in his beloved Adirondack mountains. There was also a good place to swim that was only an eight-minute drive from home, so you can bet that in those days without air conditioning swimming was a frequent summertime activity. Plus, he and my mother (occasionally helped by us kids), spent a lot of time gardening. Not farming, just ordinary suburban gardening, but everything was done by hand. Sawing wood, digging holes, planting bushes, roses, flowers, and even the occasionable vegetables, though the latter were much more efficiently obtained directly from the farms. Then there was mowing the lawn: keep in mind that this is what our lawn mower looked like:

I don't mean to imply that our situation was ideal. We were in a time of transition, and definitely headed in an unhealthy direction, but we were not all the way there yet when I was young. Both society at large, and the medical profession in particular, had already given up on breastfeeding and thought bottle-feeding with a concoction of sterilized water, evaporated milk, and corn syrup was the superior way to go. Someone with more financial sense than taste buds then introduced our generation to the instant orange-flavored drink known as Tang, and as a teenager I downed Carnation Instant Breakfast before going off to school. Unbelievably, these abominations still exist today.

But for a while, in my childhood, we ate nutritious foods full of natural natural flavors, and spent a lot of active time outdoors (without sunscreen). We even survived having regular bedtime dessert.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at 4:09 pm | Edit
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This story from my father's journals shows that air travel technology may have changed a lot in the past 50 years, but travel delays are much the same. What I find most interesting was the complete lack of airport security, not even checking the passengers' tickets for boarding, and thus not realizing that they were trying to board more passengers than there were seats on the plane. Also that there was another plane, with crew, available to accommodate the supererogatory passengers.

June 30, 1967, complete with foreshadowing. He was travelling from Philadelphia to Albany, New York.

This morning as I left for work it was raining hard, and at the time looked as though I could have trouble flying home tonight, if there were no change in the weather. The rain stopped sometime during the morning, however, and by the time I caught a taxi to the airport about 6:30 this evening, the weather posed no problem. I walked to the 30th Street station to get the cab because it was not obvious I would get one in front of the GE building. Traffic was quite heavy as we started out toward the airport, but was not really bad as we neared the airport. Apparently most of the traffic was made up of people heading for the beach.

The airport terminal was crowded, however, and I had a 5 or 10 minute wait before I could get a seat in the coffee shop and a much longer wait before I got my dinner. The coffee shop at the Philadelphia Airport is not the place to go for a quick meal. I had plenty of time, however, as my plane did not leave until 8:20.

My flight to Kennedy Airport was on National Airlines, and was uneventful, although the plane was full. But at Kennedy I saw the biggest crowd I have ever seen around an airport. I chose to walk to the Mohawk counter, which is in the building diametrically opposite the National terminal, and I found the roads, and many of the parking lots, filled to overflowing. The traffic was bumper to bumper and crawling on most of the roads, and the parking lots near the National terminal were not only jammed, but overflowing, with cars parked on sidewalks, and double-parked in ways that blocked other cars from getting out. Things were not quite so bad near the Mohawk-Eastern building, but were still quite crowded. A good percentage of the crowd were servicemen—showing without a doubt the influence of the Vietnam war.

At the Mohawk counter I was informed that because of a radar failure at Kennedy, my Mohawk flight would leave from LaGuardia and I should go to Gate 1 or 2 at 10:15 where a bus would take me to LaGuardia. So I called Lynn and told her the story and suggested that she call Mohawk before she went to the airport to meet me. It was obvious that we would be quite late.

The bus for LaGuardia was boarded, not at 10:15, but at 10:45, and after wending its way by devious routes, it arrived at LaGuardia and we were deposited at the Mohawk terminal with no indication of what to do next. Before long, however, an announcement said that our flight was boarding at Gate 25. What it meant was that it would eventually board at Gate 25.

After some delay, we boarded the plane with absolutely no checking of our tickets. As the plane became more and more crowded, the stewardess asked people to move forward and sit down, and she was greeted with the news that there were no more seats. Eventually, the plane was emptied, and all the passengers were loaded in a more orderly fashion on two planes. I gather that the problem was that an earlier flight from LaGuardia had been cancelled, and its passengers put on my flight on a standby basis, but somewhere along the line, the stand-by status got lost. Fortunately, there were two planes and crews available.

The upshot of all this activity (or, at times, inactivity) was that I arrived at the Albany Airport at 1:30 a.m.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 6, 2024 at 10:30 am | Edit
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I'm not particularly aware of what parents and teachers worry about these days, having long passed that stage of life, but I know that for a long time, parents have been concerned that kids are not doing the things that concerned my generation's parents and teachers because we were actually doing them. Case in point: Reading.

For decades, schools have found it necessary to push children to read books. And I can see why, given the number of adults who simply don't read books, once they are done with school. They weren't reading for pleasure back when they were captive students, but rather because books were assigned—so it's hardly surprising that they don't read now that they are free.

I hear responsible parents these days admonishing their children, "Put down your phone/iPad/Nintendo and go read a book!" Or so I'm told; maybe they've given up by now. But I'm sure the schools are still telling kids to read. Pretty sure, at least.

That's not what I heard growing up. My parents were both avid readers, but I was more likely to hear, "Put down that book and go outside!" That wasn't exactly onerous, at least not when we lived in Upstate New York with a large, undeveloped section of land just across the street from our house. I spent nearly as many happy hours exploring the woods and fields as I spent exploring the worlds of my books. "Put down that book and get your chores done" was not quite as welcome a call.

Side Note: Our parents may have had a point.  Here's something my dad wrote after I visited the eye doctor for a yet stronger glasses prescription.

Dr. O’Keefe never offers any advice for arresting Linda’s rapidly increasing near-sightedness except to make her get outdoors more and not let her bury her nose in a book.  I think that we really need some advice that is better thought out. [More than 20 years later, the doctors could do no better than this when our eldest daughter was experiencing the same problem.]

Teachers and parents these days (where by "these days" I'm referring to anything after about 1980) have been so desperate to get kids to read that they have lowered their standards and expectations almost as if this were a limbo contest. "I don't care what he reads, as long as he's reading."

Contrast this with my mother, who tried to enlist the help of our elementary school librarian to get me to read something more challenging than the horse stories and science fiction I was devouring. Or my sixth grade teacher, who solemnly advised my father that "Linda should improve the quality of her reading." I'm certain that he was correct; I'm equally certain that my father's attempts to encourage me in that direction, beginning with bringing home from the library a Jules Verne compendium, were not a resounding success.

Reading has always been my passion, and in my eighth decade I have not yet outgrown horse stories and science fiction. However, I think even my sixth grade teacher would be pleased with my much-expanded selections. It's possible that the most credit for my habit of reading should go to the fact that we did not have a television in the house until I was seven years old, nor a computer till after I was married.

One thing I know for sure: there will always be an X, a Y, and parents and teachers who will exhort their children, "Stop doing X and go do Y."

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 28, 2024 at 6:03 am | Edit
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If you are not among those of our family and friends who are travelling to view the solar eclipse, or who are lucky enough to live in the path of totality, you can still enjoy this facsimile. (Image found on Facebook.)

Here in Florida we are a lot further away from the path of totality than on March 7, 1970, when I lived in Philadelphia and the path was just off the coast. Here's how my father described it then:

On Saturday we watched the eclipse by focussing the light from the sun on a piece of paper through half of our binoculars. It worked well, and the progress of the moon was very clear. At the darkest, it looked like a heavily overcast day outside, so it was not really impressive for this time of the year, but what we didn't see here we did see on television.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 8, 2024 at 6:38 am | Edit
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I love my dad's sense of humor.

Here's another story from his journals, this time from a four-week cross-country car trip we took in the summer of 1968. When we weren't visiting relatives, we camped in a small tent-trailer, at inexpensive campgrounds. Some were wonderful, most were fine, and a few were less so. Of the North Woods Motor Court and Campground, which as far as I can tell no longer exists, Dad said,

It looks like the owner is fixing things up in his spare time, and he hasn't had much spare time.

There were only two picnic tables, and one bathroom. But with only four families staying, that worked out all right, and we were just thrilled to be camping on green grass for the first time in quite a while. It's only worth writing about because Dad's comment makes me laugh.

And also because this campground was the scene of our Great Skunk Adventure, but that is another story.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 26, 2024 at 8:51 am | Edit
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Here's another observation from reading my father's journals, this one from April 1963.

About 11 a.m. I went out to the car to go out to the Research Lab and the car ('57 Ford) wouldn't start. It was not firing at all. I spent the better part of the lunch hour convincing myself there was no spark. Blackie (the guard at the Building 37 gate) called the man from the GE garage who diagnosed it as a bad condenser.

Since he was not in a position to make repairs, I called the AAA for the first time in years. On the telephone I told the girl that it was not a dead battery and that the trouble had been diagnosed as a bad capacitor. I had hoped this would at least forewarn the man who came, even though he would no doubt want to make his own diagnosis. So in about half an hour he showed up with the question, "What's the matter? Dead battery?"

All he would do was to diagnose the trouble as a bad coil and tow me somewhere. I had him tow me to Dorazio's service station where I left the car to get yet another diagnosis.

Fifty years later and customer service experiences don't look much different. Especially if you try to give them information or ask them to go off-script. After much phone time and several questionable attempts at a fix, a well-known bank is still sending us multiple copies of each e-mail, and they are not interested in hearing what we already know about the problem.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 23, 2024 at 7:23 pm | Edit
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From Dad's journals, January 1967

This happened at a meeting for Girl Scout parents:

The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss finances for the European trip, but Mrs. B. did mention that as a part of their challenge work, they had had some discussions of dating. Questions had come up like "How far do you let a boy go on a first date?" and "What is heavy petting?" Apparently one of the girls answered the questions in hair-raising detail as she had been told from a senior girl. Mrs. B. felt that the girls needed answers to some of these questions, but were hesitant to ask their parents, so she was suggesting we have a talk with our daughters. Then she turned to me and said, "You don't have to worry about Linda—she said that if she had a million dollars she would buy a science lab and lock herself in."

That's not what I would do with a million dollars now, but I still think it was a reasonable answer.

I enjoy reading these journals both when Dad describes events that I remember in clear detail, and those—like this one—of which I remember nothing at all.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 9, 2024 at 9:45 am | Edit
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This excerpt from my dad's journals is personal, and has to do with my parents' attempts to encourage me to be a normal, American girl. I still don't know why they would have wanted that; neither one of them was normal, at least not in the sense of average. Don't get me wrong: they were great people.  But my mother was a mathematician and my father an engineer, which put them pretty clearly in the square-peg-in-round-hole category. What did they expect of me?

In this case, the round hole involved dancing.

As far back as I can remember, I have had no interest whatsoever in dancing. I don't know why. I'm not nor have I ever been a Baptist or one of those other denominations that discourages the practice; I simply don't care for it. At various times in my life, other people have attempted to fix this defect in my character, all with negative results. As far as I can recall, this was the first such effort. I was in eighth grade.

Tonight Linda started taking dancing lessons at the YWCA—somewhat reluctantly, I think, but I cannot be sure. Mrs. L. called Lynn to see if Linda was interested since she was signing up [her daughter] E., and Lynn agreed, primarily on the basis that if Linda wants to go to the Spring Dance, she should know how to dance. Linda argues that she does not need to know how to dance to go to the Spring Dance. But whether she is really as reluctant as she would like to let on, I don't know.

Yes, well yes, I was. Reluctant. And if I had ever expressed any interest in the Spring Dance, which I doubt, it was probably something I had accepted as one of the many stupid things school tried to impose on us, and I had not yet learned the lesson of "Do not affirm. Do not comply." Besides, my friends were doing it. (Surely one of the worst reasons ever for doing something stupid, but I digress.)

I don't blame my parents for pushing me to do things I didn't like, any more than I blame them for trying to get me to like beets. I finally won the beet battle when they realized that every bite of beets I swallowed was likely to come back up, quickly. But sometimes a little push can open up new and delightful experiences. And apparently I was notoriously hard to read: Dad's journals are filled with comments like, "Once again, I have no idea whether Linda enjoyed the experience or not."

I survived the dance lessons, I think without permanent trauma. I even tried one more time, in a ballroom dance class at the University of Rochester. That didn't take, either.

For the record, the U of R also offered folk dancing classes. (These, like the ballroom dancing, were informal, not regular college courses.) To this, I had the diametrically opposite response. I LOVED folk dancing. I can't say I was very good at it, but that didn't matter, because it was so much fun! Why? I'm not sure; it was a long time ago. But I know I enjoyed the music, and the lively movement, and I especially enjoyed the fact that everyone danced together, without being matched up, except briefly, with any particular partner.

Have I ever tried to find folk dancing again? I did once investigate a local club, but was put off by the fact that everyone was required to bring a partner to the meetings—so it was obvious that it was not the kind of dancing I was looking for. Besides, the last thing I need is yet another activity in my life. I'm really quite happy being dance-free!

(But I'm still not inclined to become a Baptist.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 1, 2024 at 7:39 pm | Edit
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The Elfun Society was an organization related to the General Electric Company. My father worked for GE from college graduation to retirement, and he and my mother would occasionally go to Elfun Society special events. On January 18, 1966, they attended a program featuring Peter Jennings as the speaker. Jennings was 27 years old at the time, and only one year into his job as ABC anchorman. Dad, in his journal, remembers him as a young Canadian, "witty when he wanted to be and also very serious when he wanted to be."

Here are a couple of things he found memorable.

He started his talk by referring to President Johnson's favorite phrase when some negotiating needs to be done: "Come, let us reason together." He said that a little research shows that this comes from the Bible, the first chapter if Isaiah, 18th verse: "Come, let us reason together, saith the Lord." That brought down the house, and then he read further. In effect, the Lord then says that those who do things his way will be rewarded, and those that do not will be "devoured by the sword."

Knowing more now about our 36th president, I'd say Jennings was pretty astute about American politics for a Canadian in his mid-20's!

The following is an old joke, but then again, this was almost 60 years ago, so who knows?

He also commented that as far as his own political views are concerned, he is not a member of any organized political party—he is a Republican.

It was clearly intended to be a joke. Jennings would not become an American citizen until nearly 40 years later, so was unlikely to have been directly involved in American politics. But it reminds me of something else he said that night. Dad did not write it in his journal, but quoted it enough times afterwards that I've never forgotten. What Jennings said was that journalists are always trying to portray themselves as neutral and unbiased in political matters, but that's impossible. One's own biases always come through in the reporting. What is important, Jennings said, is to be upfront about where you are coming from, so the audience can take your prejudices into account. I've always thought he was right about that, but I surely do miss the days when those who reported the news at least gave lip service to fairness, instead of the can't-distinguish-news-reporting-from-editorial-comments circus we have today.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, February 25, 2024 at 3:31 pm | Edit
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[I have been having so much fun posting excerpts from from my father's journals that I decided to give it its own category:  Glimpses of the Past.  This is the first one posted in that new category; eventually I'll try to go back and include previous posts.]

In 1964, my father and his co-workers flew from Albany, New York to Washington, DC for a meeting with The Customer. (It wasn't till decades later that I learned that the customer was actually the CIA, but that's another story.) Their return flight was somewhat eventful, as he recalled in his journal.  (Emphasis, and comments in brackets, mine.)

When we got to the National Airlines counter we found the plane would be 15 minutes late (we found out later that the plane had been delayed in Jacksonville, Florida by President Johnson's plane either coming or going) so we had plenty of time. Then there was an announcement of further delay—the plane had made in emergency landing in Richmond because a passenger had had a heart attack. We had an hour and 50 minutes between planes at Idlewild [former name of JFK airport], so there was no panic over these delays, but there was a growing concern. Our plane finally arrived and we left Washington about an hour and 15 minutes late. We stopped at Baltimore and then the pilot appeared to make very good time between Baltimore and New York, making the trip in about 30 minutes. We deplaned and waited a while for the bus which would take us to the Mohawk Airlines terminal, but we arrived at the Mohawk ticket counter about 9:40 for our 10 p.m. flight, so we really didn't have any trouble.

Being delayed by the president and then by a passenger's heart attack are unusual enough, but what really struck me is the part I highlighted in bold. Arriving at the ticket counter 20 minutes before departure and having that be of no concern at all? Now that's impressive. Progress over time is not always in the positive direction.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 18, 2023 at 5:05 pm | Edit
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I sang this song in sixth grade, in an elementary school chorus where we we were taught three-part harmony and music theory as well. It was pretty remarkable. I had actually forgotten about America, Our Heritage until I found the program for our May 1964 concert in my dad's journal for that year. But as soon as I saw the title, words and music came flooding back. It must have made an impression on me, because I sure can't say that's true of all the songs we sang.

I find this song particularly appropriate for Thanksgiving. It moves me to gratitude that this was truly the America I grew up in, and that, dark as the days may sometimes seem, this American Dream is worth working for, praying for, fighting for, and above all hoping for. 

America, Our Heritage
Words and music by Helen Steele

High towering mountains, fields gold with grain,
Rich, fertile farmlands, flocks on the plain,
Homes blessed with peace, with love, without fears;
This is the heritage we've kept through the years.

Wide rolling prairies, lakes deep and broad,
Canyons majestic, fashioned by God,
Life lived in peace, contented and free:
This is the heritage forever to be.

Stout hearts and true hold fast what is ours
God give us courage through darkest hours.
God give us strength and guide with thy hand
America, our heritage, our homeland.

The Girl Scout version skips a verse, but you'll get the idea.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 23, 2023 at 9:16 pm | Edit
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