While you and I were busy with other things, a number of key folks have disappeared from our everyday lives.
For instance, how long has it been since the ice man stopped by?
And what ever happened to the wandering entrepreneur who sharpened scissors and knives right at your door?
In most areas, the milk man, that dependable carrier of dairy products, is also gone from the scene. This family-friendly delivery man came to know his route so well that he always left exactly the products each customer needed. A short note was all it took to bring an extra quart for holiday baking or weekend visitors.
Somewhere in the dim recesses of my long-term memory, I still can see our favorite milkman in the days before refrigerated delivery trucks came along and made carrying ice unnecessary. Sometimes, on a hot morning, the busy milkman would give in to the pleas of the dusty band of neighborhood kids following his route. Opening the back of his truck, he would pass out delectable slivers of ice to the squealing munchkins. I was one of the smallest and thirstiest. Ice never tasted better.
Another delivery gent who has fallen by the wayside is the egg man. Now, instead of bringing eggs by the dozen to individual homes, the egg man's grandson is probably the one delivering sixty dozen to the local grocery store.
The white-gloved elevator operator at the department store is also gone. I remember stepping into his impressive gold and maroon car and watching him work the big door with practiced efficiency.
His deep voice boomed out, "Second floor: ladies' ready-to-wear. Third floor: home furnishings. Please watch your step."
It seemed a far more elegant entrance into the retail world than hearing the ritual "Welcome to Wal-Mart" as you grab a shopping cart.
The amazing improvements in telephone technology have also taken a toll on some key service jobs. There was the small-town telephone operator, like the never-seen Sarah in Sheriff Andy's fictional Mayberry. These ladies not only knew everyone in town but knew where everybody was at any given time. Armed with this information, they provided the first call-forwarding service free of charge.
"No, Charlie, Sam's not home. He went down to the barber shop. Just a minute. I'll ring him there. And, by the way, how's Millie's asthma?"
That kind of personal contact is gone forever from our less-fun-but-more-efficient telephone system.
Actually, with today's phone service, it's almost impossible to find a real live operator within a hundred miles of your telephone.
Other jobs that have been phased out by our modern advances are the pin boy at the local bowling alley, the telegraph operator, the manager of the women's hat shop and the type setters at the local newspaper.
I'm not so lost in nostalgia that I regret the passing of many of these time and labor-intensive occupations. We've certainly made progress, and that progress is to be celebrated.
Still, I can't help wonder what happened to all those folks who once played such important roles in our lives. Did they go out on their own to pursue a new career? Did they take courses to retrain for the computer world?
Or did they take their skills to less advanced countries? Is the knife and scissors sharpener still plying his trade in the French countryside? And is the milkman still passing out slivers of ice to dusty children in a remote village somewhere?
Will others soon follow?
What about the man who once taught a college slide rule course? And what has happened to the guy who repaired typewriters all his life?
Judging by the traffic around Chautauqua Institution this season, they may all have retired and come to Western New York for the summer!