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By Staff | Oct 2, 2009

There are things wrong with today’s world that I believe can be traced back to customs we have abandoned.

For instance, we were a much more civilized society when men wore capes. Why did we ever give them up? Nothing lends a guy a sense of savoir-faire like a long, flowing cape. Plus, if it’s red and has a big capital letter “S” on it, you can fly.

And whatever happened to plumed hats? You know, the kind of headgear that looks like it’s the result of a horrible accident involving a pirate’s cap and an ostrich. Our behavior would improve greatly if we went around with the feathers of a large, flightless bird atop our heads. We would also have something to tip with great panache whenever a lady passes by.

Speaking of ladies, when did the practice of wearing elbow-length gloves fall out of favor? And whatever happened to fashions that involve large and graceful skirts, the kind that contain as much cloth as a parachute?

Another custom that has fallen into disuse as of late is the fine art of visiting.

When I was a youngster, people would spontaneously drop in on one another for spontaneous visits. This could happen at any time, but most commonly occurred on Sunday afternoons. There was no such thing as calling ahead to make an appointment.

And no, this was not because telephones hadn’t yet been invented. We had even moved past the string-and-can technology and were using actual phones. But the fact we had to use party lines made our phone calls about as private as a radio broadcast.

Back then, people simply expected visitors, or “company” as it was called. Very often our parents would pack us kids into the station wagon and go visit our grandparents.

At first blush, that sort of thing may have seemed like torture for a little boy. After all, my parents and grandparents tended to just sit around the living room, yakking and drinking coffee. What excitement is there in that?

Most of the time some of my cousins and their parents would also be visiting. This meant there were playmates available for games of tag or hide-and-seek. For some reason, they never even tried to find me whenever I hid. I guess I was just too good of a hider.

At about mid-afternoon the call of “Lunch!” would echo across the farmyard. Lunch was something you ate at the midpoint of both the forenoon and the afternoon.

We would tear off for the house and gather around a table that brimmed with cookies and pies and other such yummies. None of these goodies contained so much as a single calorie, as stuffing ourselves with them never caused us to gain a single ounce.

After filling our bellies with these treats, we would dash back outside to tear around some more.

Speaking of treats, it was customary for a caller to bring along something tasty. This was not just polite, it also served as an excuse: “I just baked this huge batch of brownies and didn’t quite know what to do with them all!”

But not having goodies with you didn’t mean you couldn’t pay a visit. Even if empty-handed, you could still randomly stop at someone’s house and could depend upon being asked in for “coffee and a bite.”

Even our neighborhood Norwegian bachelor farmers would extend this invitation, but you had to be careful there, as their version of “a bite” might involve a lard sandwich.

After a visit it was expected that the visitees would soon come calling on the visitors. At our house, a supply of treats was kept on hand for unexpected drop-ins. We kids constantly nibbled at these treats to keep tabs on their quality.

Our neighbors Al and Lorraine didn’t do much visiting, but let it be known that they thoroughly enjoyed having guests drop by.

Lorraine was a top-notch cook who produced mass quantities of marvelous munchies. Their farmhouse was as busy as Grand Central Terminal.

Once, when my wife and I stopped in, Lorraine complained about how portly their dog, Brownie, had become. “I even bought her this special diet dog food!” said Lorraine, opening a cupboard that contained enough canned pooch food to supply a fallout shelter.

I glanced at Al, who had his hand under the table. Brownie, who was also under the table, was quietly eating the cookie he held.

Al ginned and winked. I held my tongue and grinned back at Al as Lorraine groused about the utter worthlessness of that fancy diet dog food.

It soon became time for us to leave. As we got up to go, we reminded Al and Lorraine that it was now their turn to visit us.

I then tossed on my cape and helped my wife slip into her elegant, elbow-length gloves.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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