Sunday, July 18, 2010

Open Letter to my Children

(A response while forwarding some old depression era photographs)
Even by my childhood not even 15 years later, the world had improved a lot from the world of the 1930s, but nothing like you know now.

In the early 1950's:
There were no Interstate highways. Most country roads were still dirt.
Motels were little individual houses in a semicircle - and often had flashing neon signs saying "No Vacancy".
Men still wore dress hats and suit jackets to go to town. Women wouldn't be caught dead in pants in town.
By the way, those hats were always removed indoors.
School teachers were always dressed up. Women wore their good dresses and men suits and ties - always.
Good dress? Suitable for church. Even the kids were dressed up for church. The boys wore jackets and ties too.
Somehow what passed for fat back then don't seem anywhere near today's standard. There were no 300 pound people.
There were no jet planes. Crossing the US took an entire 24 hour day by plane and you were dirty and exhausted.
But that was OK because trains still served small towns and competed in style and service.
Telephone calls still required operators except very locally where it was a four-digit dial. There were no Area Codes or Zip codes for that matter.
Party lines where you shared a line and could listen in to your neighbor's call and vice versa were the norm.
Long distance required setting up a connection ahead of time.
Pay phones were everywhere often in great lines.
Television broadcast in black and white like these pictures but just a few hours an evening - sometimes just 15 minutes.
Not every family had one. If you did you were considered rich. In my high school, I was the first to have my own: a 9inch round tube set (with a plastic water blister to magnify the picture) that I patiently restored from dead myself.
FM radio was an adapter that plugged into some radios. There was nothing on it anyway. AM radios glowed orange with the light of the tubes inside. I got one for my eighth birthday. I was proud of it. None of my friends had one.
Soft drinks came in glass bottles with no screw tops.
Smokestack factories dotted our country.
Most things were made in the U.S.A., not yet with a few shoddy things made in Japan.
Most kids still bragged on what there dad "did in the the war".
A penny would buy you candy, a nickel would even get a chocolate bar and you would
be thankful when one of your parents friends gave you a penny.
Most drug stores still had lunch counters or soda fountains as we called them.
Downtown areas were busy with stores - clothing, hardware, grocery, drug, and of course, the bank.
The big cities had a signature department store or two; and you would go once a year generally before Christmas.
There were no computers - not even at the banks.
There were no credit cards. Not even Diners Club or American Express yet.
The bank was like a fortress with walls with gun-ports between you and the teller.
You kept track of your money in a bankbook which the teller wrote in and you guarded with your life.
A camera folded out with a bellows and your pictures were hand developed and back in a week or so.
There were no meals that merely needed to be heated to eat, but mothers stayed home all day to cook and clean.
No one's home had air conditioning. If it was that hot, you went to the movies - maybe. Otherwise you just fanned yourself and bore it.
Coffee, spam, and tuna fish came in cans that were opened by turning keys that wound off a strip of metal and would often cut you.
Politicians knew their constituents and would greet you by name, so would policemen.
Milk bottles were left in a metal container by the kitchen door and the empties picked up. Some places also delivered bread.
And in some places (York, PA for example), even cases of beer were left at the door.
The annual introduction of the new cars was a big deal shrouded in secrecy and created a great deal of interest.
Penicillin was about it for wonder drugs.
X-rays were dangerous except for that machine at the shoe store I guess.
The doctor made house calls - even 15 miles from his office.
When you had the measles, they put dark curtains over the windows lest you go blind or need glasses.
The dentist's drill was run by strings and pulleys - and hurt. Some even were pumped with foot pedals like old sewing machines.
Remember them? Most kids wore clothing made by their mothers. Patches on the knees of boy's pants were not at all unusual.
High schools did not have student parking. Few teenagers had cars. If they did they were being restored. What they did have was bicycle racks.
Cars did not have air conditioners and barely had heaters. Even windshield wipers were primitive and
driven by vacuum from the engine and would speed up and slow down with the engine.
Some even had radios, but most did not.
The dash board was metal and hurt if you hit it on a sudden stop.
Almost nothing in your world was made of plastic. If it was, it would not be any plastic you would recognize today. It would be something like melamine of phenolic. There was no polyethylene or polystyrene. Nylon was new and a substitute for silk in ladies stockings.
Schools did not have intercoms or door holders other than a kid in your class.
The desks were screwed to the floor, often in long rows, but always with an inkwell.
The teacher was an authority figure backed up by your parents who would sometimes even provide a meal for (generally) her.

And these were things the people in these pictures would have found as marvels and been thankful for!
And however bad things seem today, be thankful for the changes we have made.

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