Were the good ol’ days really that good?

Frank CagleFrank Talk

I was sitting at breakfast the other morning talking to the margarine container. It kept saying it was butter and I couldn’t decide if I’ve been watching too much television or whether being quarantined for eight months had me hallucinating.

Madison Avenue has long used nostalgia to sell products. It is most effective when we only think we remember how it used to be. Take margarine for example. It’s advertised as tasting like country fresh butter. Most of us haven’t had country fresh butter in decades, if ever. Yet we persist in the fiction that this margarine or that margarine tastes the most like butter.

Frank Cagle

Then there are ads for canned biscuits that “taste like the ones Mom used to make.” Really? Sometime in the 1960s Moms started buying sleeves of biscuit dough and the rolling pin went to the back of the pantry. And the biscuit sleeves were consistently the same, unlike Moms, that might be flat instead of fluffy and “packey” instead of flaky, depending on how much time she had before getting us off to school.

Had any farm fresh milk lately? They mistakenly call it “raw milk” now, but it used to just be milk. It would be more accurate to call milk in the dairy case “cooked” milk. But there are a dozen kinds of milk now, most of them made by the addition of water to give you less “‘milk” for more money. When us old people grew up we had two kinds of milk. “Sweet milk” and “Buttermilk.” (I never understood why they call it buttermilk when it’s what’s left after they take the butter out.)

When we had “sweet milk” at grandma’s house the taste often varied. If the Jersey cow had been in the bitter weeds or the wild onions the milk had a rather distinctive taste. And it wasn’t pleasant.

But we forget the rough edges. When the milk tasted bitter, when the butter tasted more like white paste and the biscuits fell flat. If kids today had real farm fresh milk, homemade biscuits and butter they might go back to cereal.

But Hollywood markets nostalgic movies and television shows about the old days to young people who have no idea how grim it was at times. Racism, poverty, joblessness, Southern families dispersed to Northern city ghettos.

“Grease” is a fun movie. But if you were a greaser driving a hot rod the good-looking girls wouldn’t go out with you. And if they would, their daddies would threaten to shoot you on sight.

One of my fondest memories is sitting at Mama Cagle’s kitchen table spreading homemade butter on a hoecake (sort of a giant biscuit) covered with blackberry jelly and drinking a glass of milk. I know that I can’t go back and recapture that idyllic time.

So, what I do is buy margarine that says it’s butter, old-fashioned biscuits from a can and wash it down with Mayfield’s farm fresh milk.

Short takes
  • One of my regular readers and political gurus has looked at the numbers from past elections and thinks the number of early votes and absentee votes in Knox County may comprise 90 percent of the total vote. The alternative is that there will be a huge influx of new voters. We’ll find out today if the total number of voters increased substantially or whether more people just wanted to avoid election day crowds. So maybe media organizations have special election coverage after 90 percent of the people have already voted.
  • President Trump had better hope that all his supporters he’s killed by holding rallies voted early. (Stanford University study, 18 Trump rallies, 30,000 Covid cases, 700 deaths.)
  • How many votes will Kanye West get and will it matter to Joe Biden’s total vote in the black community?
  • Will Rene Hoyos carry Knoxville precincts in the District 2 congressional race against incumbent Tim Burchett? Burchett should win the heavily Republican district handily, but will Hoyos out-perform her last run for the post? Burchett has better television commercials this time around, good visuals and a popular message. Hoyos has the most memorable ad of the cycle, using an extinguisher to put out a fire in her car engine.
  • Being quarantined at home getting you down? How about renting a cabin in Pigeon Forge for a weekend getaway? Good luck with that. A spot survey by a claustrophobic housebound column writer discovered that of all the hundreds of cabins in Sevier County there are no vacancies. You might find a cancellation, but expect to be required to rent for three nights and pay a hefty price. The isolation of your own cabin makes for a safe vacation spot and it appears that Sevier County cabin owners are making the best of this virus-ridden year.

Frank Cagle is a veteran newspaper editor and columnist.


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