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Pink flamingos and other birds (08/05/2007)
By Janet Lewis Burns
"Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long." -Ogden Nash

To think of all the technological advances in my lifetime alone is mind boggling, plus hard on the checkbook. Will there be no cease to inventive genius!?

Way back, even before Grandma's day, women of fashion went cuckoo for bird hats. Women about town sported every color and size, stuffed and strategically placed atop their bouffant hairdos.

Hunters shot all but one in a hundred terns for their plumes. The millinery trade in the 1880s and 1890s cleaned out gull, heron, and egret rookeries up and down the Atlantic coast. It was then that the Audubon Society formed and started to rattle cages.

Times and trends keep right on a-changin'. Where are all those old tried and true household gadgets now? Garage sales and auctions keep a certain number of them in circulation. Most useless items were likely shifted from one cupboard, to a drawer, the coat closet, a workbench in Gramp's garage, and eventually in an incinerator. Some of the stuff may even be valuable by now, "worth hangin' onto", a collector or a packrat might remark.

There was a nutcracker and pick that came with a round wooden bowl with bark around the outside. It was brought out over the holidays, when Dad would crack open pecans, hazel nuts, almonds, filberts, and black walnuts for Mom's divinity fudge. Mom received an abundance of Jergens Lotion, embroidery floss, and Breck Shampoo for Christmas gifts. Lewiston's drug store, run by Rose Neumann, showcased linen handkerchiefs, neck scarves, and cologne for Mom, usually not within a child's budget. Duane's Grocery Store stocked the blue jars of Noxema shaving cream we would borrow from Dad to shave our legs. Mary and I could purchase material, buttons, and rickrack there for aprons, our first sewing project.

What did every mom back then just have to have, and maybe two or three? Jello molds! Sunday gloves for church services. What housewife could live without her furry toilet seat cover, or her hot water bottle?

The trendy bride-to-be felt quite letdown if she didn't receive a punch bowl set for her wedding shower, not to mention carpet rag rugs, plastic fruit in a purple bowl, a Betty Crocker cookbook or two, clothespin bag, a guest book, anything Tupperware, cookie cutters, a clothes hamper, and an oilcloth table cover. A rich aunt may have sprung for a set of Mel Mac dishes and a breadbox.

As for the younger generation, ID bracelets were the in thing (to give to your steady so folks knew who you belonged to). Butterfly and stamp collections were neat, ducktails and black leather jackets were the absolute coolest, and pop-beads and mustard seed necklaces were groovy. Those stuffed teddies and monkeys won by your guy at the County Fair in St Charles were far out!

Neighbors and friends since high school in Lewiston, we once planted a plastic duck family on Kent and Dawn Erdmann's front yard while they vacationed. In due time they always came back to us in the same manner. Then Pat found the pink flamingos, which flew back and forth for decades. The birds are nowhere to be found, replaced by tokens of Packer and Viking rivalry, back and forth across the street.

The gaudy, pink flamingo became the very symbol of "American artificial tacky". Lavish natural landscaping and gardening were status symbols back in the early 1800s, a luxury enjoyed by wealthy landowners. The bird prominently showed up in working-class subdivisions. They competed with the duck family in the 1950s. Inexpensive flamingos became an ornamental fad, along with Madonnas gracing sunken bathtub flower displays.

The pink flamingo holds its prominent place in the 1990 Encyclopedia of Bad Taste and the 1991 Whole Pop Catalogue. As for the bird of paradise - he flew up someone's nose back in '63.

Janet Burns is a lifelong resident of Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@earthlink.net 

 

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