Monday, November 07, 2005

Sticks and Stones

Remember milk boxes? No, not those waxy cardboard containers that milk is sold in these days, but rather the little boxes built into homes, beside the back door, before the 1960's or so. The milk man, who made his rounds every day, would leave a quart or two of fresh milk in return for cash left for him in the milk box. The boxes were cut right through the exterior wall of the home, with a door on the outside secured by a little latch, but no lock. The milk boxes were about 14 inches square and could hold three or four quarts of milk in the glass bottles used at the time. Imagine that! Door to door service. Cash left where anyone could simply help themselves. How long would cash similarly exposed last these days?

Up to 1957, in Port Colborne where we lived at the time, our milk man came every day in a horse-drawn wagon. Blocks of ice kept the milk cold. Some years later, in 1961 or so, I delivered milk as a summer job in St. Catharines, Ontario. By then, specially built motorized vans were used for that purpose.

The milk boxes had a secondary use. Teenagers, who would sneak out of the house after their parents thought they were safely in bed, often returned much later to a locked house. I crawled through the milk box in my parents' home numerous times as a teenager. So did my younger brother. If we could get into our home that way, then so could burglars, right? Sure they could. But in those days no-one worried about such things, at least where I lived. That sort of thing simply didn't happen. In fact, most people didn't bother to lock their doors anyway.

Many things were different in those days. Before anyone ever worried about being politically correct, jokes were often made at the expense of just about every race, every human infirmity and every deviation from the norm, however minor. Blacks, Jews and Poles were most often targeted, but every minority took its turn to be joked about, even Germans. I may be a Canadian citizen but am also a proud 'Kraut' (from the German word sauerkraut) and would go so far as to call myself 'Unkraut' which, no, doesn't mean a non-Kraut but is rather the German word for 'weed.' A weed is a plant that grows wild, untamed, and doesn't like to be managed and controlled. That's me, through and through.

Among my high school friends were two Poles, one male, one female. The female knew more Polish jokes than anyone else and told them with the most gusto. She refused to be rattled by the fact that Poles were the brunt of some terribly tasteless jokes ands stories. The male, on the other hand, didn't take the jokes well. He would be hurt, make a show of his displeasure and sulk.

Now I don't condone any sort of deliberately hurtful behaviour, including the telling of tasteless jokes, name-calling, or any other similarly stupid behaviour. I am just an observer. I am fascinated by how people deal with things. Let me explain.

Guess which of my two friends was happier, more productive, more fun to be with? The female, of course. She didn't take anything personally. There was a saying at the time, something like: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Hurtful things were said to me and probably to every other new immigrant when I was growing up. I didn't take anything personally. The things said to me had no long-lasting effect, except to confirm in my mind that there are stupid people everywhere and that nothing will ever change that. There will still be fools in the world long after you and I have gone. Is it worth being angry and bitter to the point of making everyone around you miserable because a tiny fraction of the population behaves poorly?

I don't think so.

We can't legislate against fools. We can't legislate against foolish behaviour. We can, however, ignore fools and their behaviour, unless, of course the behaviour is both foolish and violates any one of many existing laws against the person, like assault, battery, slander or libel.

We all need to lighten up. In some ways, things have indeed improved since the time we had milk delivered direct to our homes. Most of us are more sensitive to fellow human beings, even if they aren't exactly like us. We are at a point, in my not-so-humble opinion, where the professional whiners representing any one of an endless list of the supposed disadvantaged, discriminated against and maligned groups they represent, are actually doing their acolytes a disfavour. The squeaky wheel may get the grease the first time you hear the annoying squeak, but soon after it fades into the background and is ignored.

We should not ignore foolishness, but neither should we blame everyone else for everything that we don't like about our lives, our community, our country, our world.


  1. You've tweaked my memory again with your description of milk boxes. Being much older than you, I can recall when getting a milk box installed was considered a modern convenience.
    But when I was about 7 years old back in the dirty thirties, milk was placed outside on the porch, or beside the side door. This was when whole milk was actually milk with all its virtues, the best being the rich cream which freezing temperatures would convert into the tastiest treat ever. Mom always warned me not to wrench the stack of frozen cream, but I never got over the habit. Thanks for the memory.

  2. Got a letter from the ACLU this weekend past begging for a handout. I'm going to give them a piece of my mind instead, so I never have to hear from them again.
    Have people become so "diligence challenged" they actually need these degreed snivelers of the professional excuse-making industry to whine on their behalf?
    The ethnic jokes you are describing are part of something called "free speech", which we actually used to have in America before the do-gooder altruistic leftist spiritualists and socialists decided the Constitution wasn't good enough.