HUCKABY: Even in the land of plenty, some things are missing

We, as a people, take a lot of stuff for granted these days. For instance, we are no longer amazed that we can turn a knob — or, actually, press a button on a remote control — and watch a football game being beamed live from 2,000 miles away, or a dictator being overthrown from halfway around the world. I still remember the first show I watched on a television set. It was a dramatization of “Little Red Riding Hood” and I was scared to go to sleep at night for weeks.

We take central heat for granted, too. At least I do. If the house is cold I just run my finger along a thermostat control and before you can say Jack Robinson I am warm as a bug in a rug -- until my lovely wife, Lisa, comes along and turns it back down again. Not so the humble abode of my childhood. We had one gas space heater in our little house and it was turned off at bedtime, lest the pilot light go out in the middle of the night and cause us all to be asphyxiated by the gas fumes.

Don't laugh. I lost an uncle that way.

I will never take my flush toilet for granted and if you have ever had to put on a winter coat and a pair of shoes to go to the bathroom at night, you won't either -- but you get my drift. We are truly living in remarkable times and should be amazed every single day at the amazing technological advances that we have experienced over the last four or five decades.

Speaking of taking things for granted, consider the modern grocery store. They aren't your mama and daddy's Big Apple or Colonial Store -- I can tell you that. They don't have savings stamps these days but they have a wider variety of foods than those of my parents' generation could have ever imagined.

Thursday was grocery day in our house when I was coming up and my daddy, who worked on the second shift in the Osprey Mill, did the shopping in the morning, when the stores weren't crowded. I loved going with him in the summer, when I wasn't at school. Daddy had a system for buying groceries. He would go up and down the aisles, buying the "specials" first, calculating in his head the amount of money he had spent.

Next he would visit the meat counter, and the amount of money left in his budget would determine the cuts of meat he would buy. Supermarkets had butchers on duty in those days and if a customer didn't see a cut of meat that suited him -- or her -- the butcher would trim something up, right on the spot. After visiting the meat counter we would hit the produce department -- where they also had a person on duty to weigh up the selection, bag it, and put a price on it.

We would buy the milk last so it wouldn't be out of the cooler for very long and Daddy was extremely vigilant about checking the expiration date -- something I have inherited from him.

Of course in those days there were no scanners. The checker had to ring up the purchases by hand and there was a bagger to load the groceries into paper bags -- or boxes, if you preferred. Homer Huckaby loved to do math in his head and he would whisper his estimate to me before the clerk told him the final amount. He was seldom off by more than a few cents.

I don't do all the grocery shopping at our house, but I do at least half of it -- and a lot of the cooking, too. I don't make one trip a week to the market, though. I go almost every day -- and when I stop to think about the vast array of food available at the typical American grocery store -- which I don't do that frequently -- I am truly amazed.

We have an abundance of fresh produce, year-round. We don't have to wait until the 4th of July to buy watermelon. You can buy a slice today if you want to -- and we can buy oranges in June and cantaloupes in April and we can purchase varieties of fruits and vegetables that I didn't even know existed when I was a kid.

They have delicatessens in most grocery stores and fresh seafood and bakeries and anything and everything you could ever think of to take home to cook -- not to mention fresh flowers and helium balloons and prescription drugs.

Yep, we really do live in the land of plenty, and most of the time most of us probably take it all for granted. Of course there is a downside to all this progress.

I have cable television but there's nothing on that compares to "I Love Lucy." I have central heat, but haven't owned a robe or bedroom shoes since we got wall-to-wall carpet. And shopping is a pleasure at my local grocery store -- but they don't have a butcher behind the meat counter or a produce man, and just try to find a jar of pickled peaches!

I guess sometimes progress isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.