Life in the Old Days Was a Good Life Indeed
Periodically, for years, I have received a document from an anonymous writer listing the many inventions and social changes that have altered the lives of those of us born before 1941, or whatever arbitrary date is chosen.
I have recently received a similar list from Jerry Zucker on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his graduation from University High School. He thinks this might interest me because I am about to celebrate the 60th anniversary of my graduation from Belmont High School.
Since most of us would have been born before 1917, that adds about a quarter-century to the years lived by those born before 1941.
Even the list of phenomena that have occurred since 1941 is stupendous. Those born before 1941, the anonymous author says, were born before television, before penicillin, before polio shots, frozen foods, Xerox, plastic, contact lenses and the Pill.
They were born before ballpoint pens, before pantyhose, dishwashers, clothes dryers, drip-dry clothes and electric blankets.
The document is especially concerned with moral changes or, more accurately, with what its author evidently regards as moral degeneration.
For example, the document says that before 1941, we got married and then lived together, commenting, “How quaint can you be?” Also, it says, “In our time, closets were for clothes, not for coming out of.”
It goes on: “We were before househusbands, gay rights, computer dating, dual careers and computer marriages. We were before day-care centers, group therapy and nursing homes. We never heard of FM radio, tape decks, electric typewriters, artificial hearts, word processors, yogurt and guys wearing earrings.
“For us, time-sharing meant togetherness, not computers or condominiums; a chip meant a piece of wood, hardware meant hardware, and software wasn’t even a word. The term ‘making out’ referred to how you did on your exam. Pizzas, McDonald’s and instant coffee were unheard of.
“We hit the scene when there were 5- and 10-cent stores where you bought things for 5 and 10 cents. For one nickel you could ride a streetcar, make a phone call, buy a Pepsi or enough stamps to mail a letter and two postcards.
“You could buy a new Chevy coupe for $600--but who could afford one? A pity, too, because gas was only 11 cents a gallon.
“In our day cigarette smoking was fashionable, grass was mowed, Coke was a cold drink and pot was something you cooked in. Rock music was a grandma’s lullaby and aids were helpers in the principal’s office.
“We were certainly not before the difference between the sexes was discovered, but we were surely before the sex change; we made do with what we had. And we were the last generation that was so dumb as to think you needed a husband to have a baby.”
I don’t think we were that sexually unsophisticated. I’m sure my classmates and I thought of ourselves as attractive to the opposite sex and no doubt daydreamed about going “all the way.” But as far as I know, none of us did. I’m sure there were girls who got pregnant, but if so they dropped quietly out of school and nobody was the wiser.
That I never went “all the way” is a confession I would never have dreamed of making at the time. One had his reputation to uphold. I don’t know whether my lack of experience could be blamed on my own timidity or the reluctance of the girls I went out with.
I’m sure there were girls in those days with the sexual curiosity and daring to have made a man out of me, so I can blame my failure only on myself. Certainly there were girls we considered “fast,” but I found them too intimidating to date; or perhaps it was that they found me too “slow.” In any case, I never hooked up with one of them.
But there were compensations. Classmate Milton Most, now a judge, writes to me: “I surprise myself at how strong my attachment to Belmont is and it seems to grow stronger the older I get. I often think of the outstanding teachers at Belmont in the ‘30s and what a high quality education they gave us.
“A couple of years ago, about 15 of us took our old high school English teacher, Ruth Guild, to lunch on her 100th birthday. She got up, made a speech and could address us by name. . . . It was a wonderful picture. Our 100-year-old English teacher surrounded by her 70-year-old students.”
One thing I promise. If any of my girlfriends show up at the reunion, I’m going to apologize for my failure to lead them down the primrose path.
Of course, it’s too late now to make amends.