I really enjoy reading The Writer’s Almanac each day. Day after day, no hiatus over the weekends or holidays as there are with some websites, every day I can learn something new and interesting. This past Sunday it was the anniversary of sliced bread:
Sliced bread was sold for the first time on this date in 1928. Up until that time, consumers baked their own bread, or bought it in solid loaves. Otto Frederick Rohwedder, a jeweler from Davenport, Iowa, had been working for years perfecting an eponymous invention, the Rohwedder Bread Slicer. He tried to sell it to bakeries. They scoffed, and told him that pre-sliced bread would get stale and dry long before it could be eaten. He tried sticking the slices together with hatpins, but it didn't work. Finally he hit on the idea of wrapping the bread in waxed paper after it was sliced. Still no sale, until he took a trip to Chillicothe, Missouri, and met a baker who was willing to take a chance. Frank Bench agreed to try the five-foot-long, three-foot-high slicing and wrapping machine in his bakery. The proclamation went out to kitchens all over Chillicothe, via ads in the daily newspaper: "Announcing: The Greatest Forward Step in the Baking Industry Since Bread was Wrapped — Sliced Kleen Maid Bread." Sales went through the roof. Rohwedder not only gave Americans the gift of convenience and perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but he also provided the English language with the saying that expresses the ultimate in innovation: "the greatest thing since sliced bread."
Expressions like that one, and little adages and mottoes color all our daily conversations. One evening last week, during a family get-together, my seven year old granddaughter was, shall we say, ‘lounging’ at the dinner table. I got her attention and said “Mabel, Mabel, strong and able, keep your elbows off the table.” Well that perked her up – she thought it was a hoot – and she sat up straight, withdrew her elbows, and smiled. She loves some of the old expressions I spout from time to time. I’ve got dozens of them, passed down from my mother who probably got them from her own mother: I’ll be there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail; I haven’t seen that since Hector was a pup; She went out looking like Astor’s pet billy goat; I'm off like a herd of turtles. My granddaughter wouldn’t ‘get’ the reference to sliced bread now, but one day she’ll probably use that phrase.
Speaking about adages and quotes and such, it was, by coincidence, the birthday of Robert Heinlein. There are so many memorable lines from Heinlein, and such great, often intermixed stories in his repertoire, that after a while it all becomes, as I once read, “random Heinlein”. If you read most of his works, as I have, it all becomes a separate compartment or pocket of people, ideas and sensations in your (alleged) mind. Heinlein said “Don’t handicap your children by making their lives easy.” How true, how true.