Boomers Did Chores by Hand

It’s fall, and that intrusive noise in the neighborhood indicates that leaf blower season is upon us. After a thoroughly unscientific survey of the people Mister Boomer knows, he came to the conclusion that the days we knew — of hand rakes and push brooms — appear to be over, replaced by machines that blow things from one place to another. In Mister B’s limited survey, not a single homeowner owned a rake, nor were they interested in buying one; yet all had a leaf blower. Is this a sign that rakes are headed for extinction in the average home, destined to be equipment needed only for a few lawn care professionals in the near future? Many communities are seeking to ban gas-powered models these days, due to the pollution factor, but there are plenty of electric and cordless models around to take their place.

In our boomer years, raking leaves brought opportunity to some of us, as we could make a dollar or two. For others, it was a chore to which they would have preferred some technological solution because the task was accomplished by hand. For others still, the raking part was the prelude to making piles to jump in and play. For Mister Boomer and his brother, it was a bit of all three. Once the family lawn had been raked, the Boomer Brothers enlisted the help of a couple of neighborhood boys in finding houses that had the most leaves on their property. A lot of the time, people would prefer to do it themselves or have their children do it, but occasionally, the boys were employed. The pay was not great — usually less than snow removal — but it was a way to generate some discretionary income as a preteen.

That got Mister Boomer thinking about things other than leaf raking we used to do by hand — especially chores — that are now replaced with some device. Here are a few that come to mind:

Vacuuming. Today’s busy Domestic Engineers (who could be any man, woman or child) increasingly don’t seem to want to bother with pushing a vacuum over carpets and floors, pretty much the way it had been done since the beginning of the twentieth century. Little by little, robot vacuums are replacing the hand vacuum for household use. What’s more, with the addition of one of those home assistant thingies, the robot vacuum can be be started with a voice command. An interesting side note is that pets — boomer cats and dogs — were frightened of vacuum cleaners. Now, as can be seen in numerous videos, cats jump on the robot models for free rides, and dogs see them as a new plaything. (Rosey the robot maid was so old-fashioned with her built-in hand vacuum!)

Grass mowing. Mister Boomer remembers his first lawn mowing experiences with a hand-push lawn mower. It was a real step up when his father purchased the family’s first gas-powered mower. A neighbor had an electric Sunbeam mower that Mister Boomer thought was pretty cool, but there was always the extension cord to manage. Flash forward to today, and Mister B watched a recent episode of This Old House where a backyard robot lawn mower was installed for the homeowner. The thing was programmed to mow the lawn autonomously, activated by a scheduled program day, pushing a start button or selecting a command from a smartphone app — anywhere in the world. When it finishes the job, it parks itself back in its charging station (can you say, “George Jetson?”).

Dishwashing. Dishwashers were certainly available throughout the boomer years, but Mister Boomer knew very few people who had one installed in their homes. The kids took turns doing the dishes in the kitchen sink, by hand, with a washcloth and dish soap. Mister Boomer’s mother tackled the pots and pans. The family did not have a dishwasher until the last years of the 1970s. Visions of the future always included a method for cleaning dishes to relieve women (then the exclusive keepers of the household) of the daily chore. (Jane Jetson could “do the dishes” with a push of a button). Today, it’s practically a deal-breaker for a young couple to buy a home that does not have a dishwasher.

Car windows. There are few hand gestures that so perfectly describe the action to which one asks another to perform. There is that one, of course, but Mister Boomer refers to, for example, the universal symbol of “check please” by clasping the index finger and thumb together and air-writing a signature in order to get a server to bring the check. For the Boomer Generation, one such hand signal — though technically not a “chore” — was the making of a fist and rotating it in a circular motion. Everyone knew that meant “roll down your car window.” Power windows were around in the boomer years and before, but again, Mister B’s family wasn’t one to have such lavish technologies. He recalls the first time he saw power windows, while riding in a neighbor’s car. His friend’s father fancied used Cadillacs, so while driving the boys one summer day, Mister B watched as his buddy pushed the lever and down came the back door window. In Mister Boomer’s mind, that defined luxury.

Almost all cars come standard with power windows these days. This begs the question, how will you ask someone in the next car if they have any Grey Poupon?

The quick adaption of leaf blowers to replace rakes, house robots and power-everything gadgets signal that we are indeed heading toward the Space Age Future we imagined and were promised in shows like The Jetsons. Yet Mister Boomer has to ask, wouldn’t a leaf vacuum be more practical?

What hand chores have you replaced with technology, boomers?

Boomers Welcomed Spring Their Way

As winter’s thawing tentacles recoil and thrash, intent on crushing the young ambitions of budding crocuses, a wellspring of thoughts gurgle with the notion that spring will — no, must — arrive soon.

Mister Boomer hated this time of the season, that interval of neither here nor there. The time when you needed a winter coat for the walk to school in the morning, but by the time school let out, the temperature had risen 20 degrees. Still cold enough to require a jacket, Mister B and his siblings would have to strip off their hats and gloves and unzip coats to maintain a comfortable equilibrium with the day. He hated that.

Mister Boomer’s mom, like many boomer moms, was motivated by the coming of spring. Her actions on spring motivations began with the seasonal change of outerwear. Since a family of five had to share one small coat closet, a move to storage was always in order when the next season arrived. Winter coats, scarves and gloves were transferred to a basement chifforobe. It was a tall, wooden, rounded-cornered affair, probably dating from the 1930s or ’40s. Mister Boomer thought it must’ve been part of his parents’ bedroom set when they were married, a hand-me-down gift from one of their parents or siblings. However, Midwest springs being what they are, seasons can come and go in a matter of hours. Inevitably there were days when Mister B would have to make the trek to the basement to retrieve winter wear that was prematurely sent to the off-season storage. He hated that.

What’s more, the season ushered in annual spring cleaning chores, especially for the Boomer Brothers. Once Mister B’s mom had the hall closet switched to spring jackets, she’d enlist the help of the boys in various chores around the house. His sister was often exempt from participating. Mister B hated that. (See: Spring Cleaning for Boomer Youth)

T.S. Eliot may have christened April the cruelest month, but then, he may never have had to go to baseball tryouts in the Midwest in March. Mister Boomer didn’t make a Little League team his first year, but did the next three. Tryouts, though, in Mister B’s estimation, were problematic due to seasonal conditions. The air was far too crisp for Mister Boomer, the ground far too soft, the sky far too grey. Then there was the sting of catching a ball in a cold glove, and the zap running up each arm, like brain-freeze for extremities, when the ball made contact with the bat. Even as he took his place at the plate, Mister B knew that somewhere in this favored land, the sun was shining bright, but right there on that day, the weather had struck out. Mister B hated that. (See: Going Batty for Spring)

Mister Boomer has mentioned many times that he, like most boomers, spent a good portion of his time outdoors. As far as Mister B was concerned, he could layer up for winter, but this early spring business confounded his selection of outerwear and made it the most uncomfortable season to play in, in the Great Outdoors. One of the first spring activities in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood was kite flying, to take advantage of the seasonal wind. Like baseball tryouts — air, crisp; ground, soft; sky, grey — wasn’t Mister Boomer’s idea of a good time. He hated that. (See: Boomers Go Fly A Kite)

Meanwhile, back at school the march continued toward summer vacation at a snail’s pace. After all, what was spring to a school kid but the gateway to a summer of fun? It would be Memorial Day before Mister B could hope for a full day off for basking in the warm rays of late spring sunshine. Sure, he had a break over Easter, that strange holiday that hopped around the calendar like a crazed bunny hyped up on sugar. It could be a pleasant week off from school one year, depending where it was in the month, or it could snow. Mister Boomer hated that. (See: Our Sunday Best for Easter)

As the passage of time becomes more prescient to an aging Mister B, he hasn’t mellowed much in his thoughts on early spring days. However, hope springs eternal as March has a way of becoming April, which paves the way to May and on to June. Before you know it, we’re in a Frank Sinatra song singing about the autumn of our years. Mister B hates that.

How did you feel about early spring, boomers? How do you feel now?