The Way it Was: What would grandma say about today's news stories?

by John Straka Published:

I often wonder what my grandparents would have said a hundred years ago if they could read a 2012 daily newspaper. Of course they couldn't read so it wouldn't make much difference to them. What would be different is the subject matter of the "news of the day."

To help understand how they might have reacted to today's news, I selected a daily paper and compared the stories in it to the conditions that existed when I was a small boy.

The front page has a weather report of the temperature as it changed every four hours the day before. In my youth, there were no weather radar stations that forecast the weather and I'm sure the newspapers didn't publish detailed daily predictions and if they did, the forecasts would not be very accurate.

The other major story on the front page is about electric cars. Funny thing is, some of the very early automobiles ran on batteries. My grandparents wouldn't know much about that and a front page story would not interest them mostly because they didn't know anything about automobiles. My grandparents and even my parents never owned a car.

Page 2 has all the winning lottery numbers. I remember when gangsters ran what was known as the "numbers racket." I don't know how they picked the winning number, but I think it was the number with the smallest amount of bets made on it.

Newspapers used to publish some kind of treasury number. It might have been the amount of money in the U.S. Treasury. Various lotteries used part of that number as the one that won the most money. My grandparents would not believe our government now runs the biggest of all time "numbers racket."

Page 7 features a story about a bus driver who was attacked by a passenger and defended himself with a fist fight. In my memory, I believe people had a lot more respect for anyone in uniform. That included not only bus drivers but police, mailmen, firefighters, nurses, waitresses, soldiers, sailors and those wearing religious habits.

Bus drivers are fairly new in history. My grandparents would have been more familiar with streetcar conductors and motormen.

Also on Page 7 is an article about gun control. I don't think there was such a thing. Except for farmers, ordinary folks didn't have any use for guns. A few men might have a gun of some kind as a souvenir, but there was no need to own a gun for protection.

Without cars, people were limited as to how far from home they could go and they lived in close knit communities. Everybody knew all their neighbors and in many places, trusted each other to the extent that no one locked their doors at any time. Farmers and hunters owned shotguns and rifles, not automatic handguns.

Page B-1 features a story about the driver who drove on the sidewalk to get around a school bus. My grandma didn't even go to school, so she would not know what a school bus was. Women did not drive cars in her day either.

She could not read or write, and surely did not know anything about the word "idiot." Reading that the woman who drove on the sidewalk was ordered by a judge to carry a sign admitting she was an idiot, would be totally not understood.

Page B-1 has a story about an alligator found here in Ohio. That might not have been such an unusual story because when people from "up north" would go to Florida for a vacation, they could buy a live baby alligator and mail it back to friends here in Ohio.

Oscar was such an alligator owned by the man across the street from us. He kept it until it had grown to about 4 feet in length and was considered too big to handle safely. Oscar lived in an outdoor pen and his owner would put small pieces of bread in the pen. The bread attracted sparrows and when Oscar got hungry, he just helped himself to a sparrow.

One of the greatest differences between modern and old-time newspapers is the death notices. Now, many include a picture of the deceased, and some include detailed events in the life of the dearly departed.

I remember when death notices were short and included only the identity of the person, including his or her street address. That detail is not in today's notices because it lets burglars know which houses will be empty while the occupants are at a funeral.

Page C-1 has a story about robocalls. This new technology was used to urge voters to vote for or against candidates and issues. It became a real nuisance. Anyone who died before this year's campaigning began died without knowing how annoying robocalls can be.

Older folks like me remember when candidates and their supporters would parade up and down residential streets to attract the attention of voters. Those parades often ended with a party that featured lots of free beer. The more beer, the more votes.

I don't remember if local newspapers published recipes or not. My mother did most of her cooking from experience, not from a cookbook or a recipe. She would use a little bit of this, a pinch of that and just enough of something else, until it felt just right. Since my grandma was illiterate, having a recipe in the newspaper would be of no use to her.

The recipe in the daily paper I'm writing about is for Thanksgiving turkey. I did not taste turkey until I was well into adulthood. We ate chicken, duck and goose, but not turkey. It was claimed to be dry, which it probably was, especially when compared to a duck or a goose.

Housekeepers did not have pans or ovens big enough to roast a turkey anyway.

Editor's note: Straka can be reached at wenceslas88plus@gmail.com.

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  • Love this contrast. I never thought of looking back to what my grandparents would have thought of life today. My grandparents tried to keep up to date, but the world changes a l00 years. Your article points out it's not just technology, but all kinds of behaviors that change.