They all made house calls

By John Nadeau | May 13, 2010
They all made house calls. These people came to our house regularly when I was growing up in New England during the Great Depression and the Second World War.

Although they were all friendly, my family and I never regarded them as friends. They were tradesmen. Every week, they would briefly conduct business with family members, exchange pleasantries, then move on.

The driver for Ray’s Market took a box of groceries, ordered on the telephone earlier in the week, right to our back door.  Cushman’s Bakery had a standing order for bread and pastries.  Rutter’s Laundry delivered crisply ironed bed sheets that were sensuous even to a kid.  The driver for Connell’s Coal and Ice Company carefully observed how we displayed the ICE sign in our parlor window, because that would tell him how much of his product we needed.

We saw some of these gentlemen callers – they were always men – more often than others. The Wason-McDonald milkman called several times a week. Connie Moynihan, the mailman, delivered letters to our front door twice a day.  

A few we saw infrequently, the family doctor for example. But he would make house calls as needed. When I was four, he yanked my tonsils while I was sitting on a kitchen chair.

Of course, all these individuals are gone and, for the most part, so are the ways in which they did business. I don’t think of these people often. But when I do, it’s fondly. They may not have been family or friends, but they were human beings who were part of our lives.

The reasons they disappeared are fairly obvious. After the war this nation became a car-oriented society. Because every family had a car, all of us went to the merchants; they no longer had to come to us. Appliances like washers and dryers took over many household tasks. Because the stay-at-home mom nearly disappeared, there was rarely anyone to receive the route salesman from Cushman’s.

More recently, the computer has eliminated so much human interaction that we can now order everything from airline tickets to furniture over the Internet.

Have we gained anything from these newer business methods? That’s a good question.  But one thing is for certain: In this increasingly impersonal world, each of us has lost a portion of his or her humanity.

Looking at and talking to another human being is an essential part of being alive. Speech, eye contact, and body language are the unrivaled means of connecting with someone, whatever the communication situation may be.

We have evolved faceless anonymity, typified by the robot we deal with when we pump our own gas or the synthetic voice that delivers the forecast on our car’s weather radio. It’s becoming harder and harder in our daily lives to interact with other human beings. Worshipping at the altar of “efficiency” and “convenience,” we have become increasingly isolated.

Yes, I admit I miss Connie Moynihan and his contemporaries. As the years pass, their images become less distinct in memory and their voices fainter.  And I don’t think they will be back anytime soon.

All adults over age 50 are invited to stretch their minds and make new friends through the Creative Retirement Institute at Edmonds Community College, a program that offers non-credit college-level courses at low cost. 

For more information phone 425-640-1830.
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