Were They "The Good Ol’ Days?" Doing the Math or Not
One of the most difficult things about getting old is retaining any sense of proportion.
When we'd been married about three years, I remember my husband saying that if he could make X number of dollars a year, we'd be in fine shape, and he would have been right.
At the time I wasn't working, our son was a few months old, and we were in a rented house. My husband was being paid by the hour to cut lines, hold a plumb bob, and generally assist a surveyor. About fifteen years later, he was earning about half the amount per month that he had considered adequate for a year, and we were getting by, but just, in part because we didn't take vacations or eat out, and we lived in a farming community.
Shoes came in widths — in any store that sold shoes. Hats and gloves came in sizes with fractions. Things could be bought that fit.
The grocer had a delivery boy who would bring your order to your door an hour or two after you'd chosen its contents at the store (at least where I grew up, in the city.).
You could buy a little chicken if you wanted one, and you'd get the feet for broth. Recipes in books as recent as Julia Childs' called for "broilers, two and a half pounds." Have you tried to find one of those recently?
Every store that sold meat sold not just steaks and chops and roasts. If you wanted something without bones, you asked the butcher to bone it for you. Now you have to search for meat on the bone. Then all meat counters included various innards, fresh as the other meats: liver (beef and veal), kidneys (both beef and lamb), smoked tongue, and often sweetbreads and even brains.
My husband's suits were 40 Regulars, inseam 33½ inches, his collar size 15. I can't remember his sleeve or hat measurements, but his gloves were 8 cadet. Shoe size was 9½ D.
Nowadays I shop for Petites because I'm short and short-waisted. Then I wore a Junior size 9 or 11. Now I wear a size 8 shoe in narrow if I can find it. Then, it was 7½ AA. Today almost all my shoes are only marginally comfortable.
I can scarcely believe what I recall as the prices of things — like stamps for a first-class letter at three cents. I sometimes wish I were a statistician with the ability to research and do the sums that would tell me whether the prices were the same proportion of ordinary wages as today's prices are to today's ordinary wages. What is 'ordinary?' Something over the equivalent of today's minimum wage?
There was Social Security but no Medicare, dentists were feared as much as torturers, there were few antibiotics and precious little doctoring unless one were dangerously ill. Our first health insurance came with my husband's job, and that lasted for over thirty years, until the company revised its policy, and we had to pay the group rate.
I've had a shot to prevent shingles (expensive, but since I've had it twice, my doctor all but insisted), I get a flu shot annually, I've had the pneumonia vaccine, several tetanus shots as precautions, several surgeries paid for by insurance (for which we paid the premiums, but we budgeted for them), a couple of ER adventures — also covered. To tell the truth, if I'd been born fifty years sooner, it's unlikely that I'd be here now.
I remember as a child listening to silence in the country within a day's drive of a city. No highway speeds, no air traffic, no power mowers. Even in the then biggest city in the country, it was nearly silent in the small hours of the morning except for wild noises like katydids in the churchyard trees and alley cats arguing. Now I live a mile from a village of a few thousand, and always I can hear cars on secondary roads half a mile away. Last night I woke and heard an owl.
It was thrilling.
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