September 11, 2013

Simpler times remembered fondly

By SUSAN TOBIAS, Pinch of Time

---- — I sometimes get upset with myself when I’m at the grocery-store checkout and remember that I forgot my canvas shopping bags at home.

How many times have I done that? More than I care to admit.

We lived in England for a year when I was about 11. One of the memories I have of that time is taking a reusable shopping bag or woven rattan shopping basket to the market with me (and riding home on a double-decker bus). I had the prettiest basket, kind of oval in shape, that fit nicely on my arm.

Coming from America, I have to admit that I resented the English village markets for not packing your groceries in paper bags. I would begrudgingly drag along my basket and help my mother or grandmother, who also had their own baskets.

Each item on the shopping list was as fresh as fresh could be. Fruits and vegetables were brought in from the villages outside the marketplace, fresh to the green grocer’s stand; meats were cut before our eyes at the butcher shop; medicines were mixed at Boot’s the Chemist while we waited.

We didn’t do all our shopping on the same day. We’d buy only whatever it was we needed for the next couple of days. If we bought then as we do now, we’d need 14 arms and legs to haul it all home.

We lived with my grandparents, intending to get our own house if we decided to stay in England. (We didn’t because it was such a drastic change in lifestyle from Westville.) My grandmother would send somebody to the “top of the road” to pick up a freshly baked loaf of bread.

When I would drive past Bouyea Baking in Plattsburgh, in the 1980s when they baked bread on-site, that aroma would instantly transport me back to being 11 years old in England and going to the bakers. I still love the smell of bread baking in the oven.

Toby and I talk quite often about how “it used to be” and how “it was better then” than it is today. We discuss how glass milk bottles, returned and reused, would eliminate tons of plastic gallon milk jugs from the landfill.

When we travel to Maine or Colorado Springs, we are on the lookout for glass milk bottles at grocery stores. It might be all in our heads, but we are convinced that even organic milk tastes better when it comes from a glass bottle.

Speaking of organic, at one time, we didn’t have to read labels to see what our food holds. There were no growth hormones added to our foods. The cow grazed in the field in the summertime and was fed grain in winter that was cut and thrashed from fields on our land or our neighbors. The same can be said for the chickens and pigs. They came from our own farm. We knew what they were made of because we fed them.

I know there are very responsible farmers who are up against a wall when it comes to making a profit because the government has cut their throats to a point where they are just barely existing. It takes money to farm today, especially if that is the only income, and there have never been guarantees when farming. Growth hormones make animals bigger and enable cows to produce more milk, meaning more income, but to what cost for the consumer’s health? Serious questions, indeed.

With all the modern technology we have today in farming, business and commerce, I still believe that we were healthier and more worry-free concerning our food supply when farming was personal. It amazes me, though, that what we had on the farm years ago for a small price is today classified organic, and costs twice as much.

I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth enough for one week. I’ll close with saying how much I miss the simple life I lived growing up, but then again, our memories tend to be romanticized, don’t they?

I also remember wondering why our little black-and-white TV couldn’t broadcast in color, why there wasn’t an easier way to wash clothes and why we couldn’t fly to the moon to get a closer look. We’ve come a long way in some things, but only time will tell what we’ve really gained. I have to remember that “These are the good ole’ days.” It’s all relevant.

One last thought, as always, please be kind to each other. The world needs more kindness.

Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy. Reach her by email at