Wednesday May 1, 2013

I recently needed to purchase a new vacuum cleaner and I marveled at its light-weight, all plastic parts. It brought to mind the solid metal piece of work that had been my first vacuum cleaner. It was an old canister Electrolux I had inherited from my Uncle Sy, made up of a solid metal body with metal runners along the bottom to help it glide across the rug; its heavy cloth hose wrapped with electric tape covering tears where the wire spring support within had broken through the cloth -- exposing clumps of dog and cat hair -- the demise of many a vacuum cleaner I have had over the years.

But most notable was the worn WWII ration sticker pasted on its underbelly.

That sticker often got me to thinking about the sacrifices that my mom's generation had made in support of the war. Everything from staples to luxuries -- and all the materials to make them up -- were prioritized for the war effort, and anything left over was rationed out. It got me to wondering: could we, as a country, do that now? We are so conditioned to get what we want, when we want it, with a devil-may-care attitude, I can only imagine that octogenarians of that ‘great generation' must often catch themselves shaking their heads.

In the first house we lived in, in Chester, our well would sometimes run dry and my mom would grab the buckets, and with me in tow, she would take several trips up and down the hill to and from a spring hidden behind the tree line, gathering enough water to flush the toilet and to heat baths and dish water -- running hot water was not in our collective experience -- but she took it all in stride. Today I get annoyed if someone starts the washer while I'm in the shower and it drops the water pressure.

And though there is some momentum to the auto industry's push for more gas-friendly cars even as the global warming controversy continues, I don't feel the sense of urgency and panic I felt swirling around me when the oil embargo took place in the ‘70s. Then it was clear we must all do our part to cut back, scale back and plan ahead to wean ourselves off oil. Laws were passed to reduce the speed limit to 55 mph on our highways in the name of saving gas, and small imported, high gas mileage cars took over the market for new car purchases.

But for the past 10 years I have watched gasoline prices rise higher, and fall less, I continue to see mostly large gas guzzling sports utility vehicles and pick up trucks ruling the highways with Hummers and Escalades flaunting their opulence. Speed limits are even being raised in Texas.

What ever happened to that sense of urgency and sacrifice? There is a lot of talk about reducing our energy needs, but no one seems to be in any great hurry.

The attacks on 9/11 showed that we are capable of pulling together for a common cause when needed -- for a short while anyway. I shudder to think what catastrophe would need to take place to bring back a national commitment to place the needs of the country before our own sense of entitlements.

Could we do it without such a motivating event? Maybe, but I don't think so.

Cicely Eastman is the digital content editor for the Brattleboro Reformer. You can reach her at ceastman@reformer.com.