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An old country girl now in her 80s reflected the other day on how much life has changed since she was a kid. It wasn’t the usual story of colorless television and walking to school with a lunch pail. There was no TV in her small town.
Baths were on Saturdays. They filled “the number 3 bathtub” with water heated on a fire stove. They stitched their own clothes together from feed sacks. “Burlap?” I asked. No, the sacks were softer cotton then. So many Americans made their own clothes from feed sacks that feed makers produced the sacks in a variety of colors and patterns. Attractive patterns improved sales.
Her family had two horses and two mules. When they visited the nearest significant market 18 miles away, her dad hauled the kids in a wagon behind the horses. The mules he used to plow.
They had no electricity and no running water. The latter was drawn from a well. Of course, air conditioning was non-existent.
Today, average American children bathe every day in endlessly flowing water heated or cooled to need. They relax and frolic within five degrees of a controlled temperature. They play on handheld supercomputers with other kids literally on the other side of the world. Their parents drive them 18 miles on a whim to retail playgrounds, like Chuck E. Cheese. A small pizza stain might prompt a mother to fetch one of a little girl’s dozen other soft outfits.
We live in an advanced stage of history. Like a living cell divides into two, then four, then eight, then 16 — until the body contains billions of cells, so technologies and discoveries exponentially offshoot from each other until the rate of change rockets to a thrilling, alarming pace.
We do not live in the end stage, God willing. The scale of difference my octogenarian neighbor recalls is likely to be repeated in the next century.