I was with a group of friends the other day and someone asked the time. Before anyone had picked up/turned on/unlocked their phones, I’d glanced at my wrist and said, “Twelve fifteen.”
Everyone looked at me in surprise; I still wear a wristwatch. I knew that I was an anachronism in this. But I now realized that we have, essentially, returned to the era of the pocket watch.
You know of it, I’m sure; everyone’s seen it in old Westerns and in movies set in the Victorian era. To check the time, a man pulled a chain from a vest or suit pocket and, sometimes after first flipping open a cover, announced the time by looking at a large, hand-held watch. Occasionally, woman might flip up and read the time from a specialty watch, one having an upside-down dial, which was pinned to the bodice of her blouse.
But wristwatches were being seen occasionally in 1800s, and were standard use by the military late in that century. Sheer practicality made watches popular. No more waiting for the clock on the town hall to strike; no more the cumbersome chain and multiple movements needed to check on the time—just a quick glance at one’s wrist. Forgetting one’s wristwatch in the 20th century led to the tired joke, “It’s a hair past freckle”, as one glanced at a bare wrist.
But now we have returned to the era of the pocket watch. Unless a smart phone is already in one’s hand, turned on, and unlocked, checking the time means multiple gestures or wasted effort just to find out what the heck time it is. Call me old-fashioned and I will smile proudly: I find it’s easier to just wear a wristwatch.
Of course, when checking the time, one might also be figuring out when the grocery order will be delivered.
Grocery delivery was a common service in the 1800s. Much of the population lived in rural, farming areas outside the cities, and few housewives had either the time or the wagon available to make a long journey into town for groceries and sundries more than monthly. Such trips had to be carefully planned. But a shopping list could be dropped at the General Store while a male family member was on the way to the blacksmith’s or the feed store, or even by a child walking home from school. The grocer gathered together the items on the list, debited a running account, and sent the groceries off to the purchasers by an employee making rounds in the store’s delivery wagon.
But cars were invented, urban sprawl happened, and within just a few decades, the supermarket became the standard. The lady of the house made a weekly trek to shop for groceries, pushing a metal cart around packed aisles, Stepford Wife-style. No supermarket delivered groceries; that was an antique concept, simply laughable. Until recently. The pendulum has swung once more to the other side of the metronome, and now fewer and fewer full carts are seen being guided through the aisles of the grocery store. Busy purchasers log in and click through an on-line list to select their food purchases. Some arrange a pick-up time; others have their foodstuffs delivered; and a few even have someone enter their homes and shelve their goods.
Leaving entirely aside the fact that I don’t want anyone waltzing into my house and deciding where my well-organized spices belong, nor seeing the likely state of my pantry and cabinets (which gremlins apparently mangle into untidiness just hours after I’ve cleaned and rearranged them), I resist this whole idea. Having someone else choosing my cucumbers and lettuce just strikes me as a bad plan. Is that disinterested clerk going to root to the back of the row to pick out the bagged salad with the most distant ‘use by’ date? Not likely. Are they going to know that I will substitute blueberries, but not raspberries, when blackberries are unavailable? Are they going to select the freshest package of mushrooms? Not to mention that spending an hour pushing a heavy, packed grocery cart hither and yon about the store might be the mildest form of exercise, but at least adds to my daily step count.
Nevertheless, a few years ago when I was housebound throughout the month of December with a wicked illness called adenovirus-68 (the “Killer Cold”), I would probably have paid good money to have someone deliver goods to replenish my depleted pantry. Like those 1800s folk, I’d have used the service out of sheer necessity, rather than modern luxury. Unfortunately, at the time, grocery delivery wasn’t yet a glimmer on the horizon, which meant that I was down to my last can of chicken noodle soup before I was finally well enough to venture out and restock my shelves.
Fashion, I’ve always heard, repeats itself. Save anything long enough, and it will come back in style. So also, it seems, do all the other aspects of daily living. Or, as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same.