By Chuck Woodbury
It’s easier, as one gets older, to reminisce fondly about “the good old days.” The problem is, the good old days weren’t always so good.
Despite all the horrible news we read today, the fact is that most of us enjoy charmed lives. Oh, it’s easy to whine about what’s not right. That’s why it’s good to think about those less fortunate than us to gain perspective. Consider the proverb: “I had no shoes and complained … until I met a man who had no feet!”
But we can also look at our history to see how good we have it. For example, consider how people in cities lived in those “good ol’ days.”
I sometimes complain about the ever-present sound of automobiles and their noisy engines. I have caught myself thinking, “Oh, wouldn’t it have been nice before cars and all their noise when the sound was the hoofbeats of horses pulling carriages?” Yeah, sounds good. But as radio commentator Paul Harvey might have said, there’s a “rest of the story.”
Those horses were animals. They burned food, not gas. Their emissions did not rise into the air like gas fumes. They dropped to the ground. Horse poop! Everywhere! In 1894, the Times of London projected that by 1950 every street in New York City would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure.
In 1880, New York and Brooklyn had a combined horse population of between 150,000 and 175,000 (long before the horse population reached its peak). Each horse pooped between 15 and 30 pounds of manure a day on streets and in stables — a whopping three to four million pounds of the stuff. Piles of manure in vacant lots in New York and other cities would commonly reach 40 to 60 feet high. People known as “Crossing sweepers” stood on street corners; for a fee they would clear a path through the mire for pedestrians.
Each horse also produced about a quart of urine daily — about 40,000 gallons altogether.
When it rained, the horse manure turned into muck. People sloshed through it. They dragged it into their homes on their boots. Then summer came and the mess baked, hardened and was pounded by traffic into a fine dust which covered everything. We complain today about a little dust on our coffee table. Just be glad it’s not horse poop dust.
THE RESULT IN NEW YORK and other cities was an ugly, stinky mess! Combine the horse poop and pee with tossed out stinky garbage and the contents of people’s potties dumped from windows onto streets (before the days of running water and toilets) and you had a situation that none of us would dare go near today.
And what did all that disgusting slop attract? Flies! It wasn’t until around 1900 that window screens were readily available. So those flies could buzz right into the open windows of homes and apartments, where they could bite and spread disease. Yet people had no choice but to keep their windows open. They’d die from heat stroke if not. Air conditioning? Yeah, right — half a century into the future! In the winter, Mama cooked on a coal-burning stove. The fumes added to the already foul air.
The good old days?
Today, our cities are clean. Streets are paved. Horses are in the country. Our windows have screens. When it gets hot, we turn on the air conditioning. Life is good. Life smells good.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to afford RVs and travel with them are among the luckiest people today, and in fact in the history of the world. We breathe clean air in wide-open spaces, we camp in quiet places away from cars and pollution and we have more freedom than Marco Polo. The “best” good old days for most of us, I suggest, are now.