I was born before television, penicillin, polio shots, frozen foods, Xerox, contact lenses, Frisbees and the Pill. There weren't things like radar, credit cards, laser beams or ball-point pens. Man had not invented pantyhose, dishwashers, clothes dryers, electric blankets, air conditioners and no one had walked on the moon.
The term 'making out' referred to how you did on your school exam. Pizza's, McDonald's and instant coffee were unheard of. We had 5 and 10 cent stores where you could actually buy things for 5 and 10 cents. Ice cream cones, phone calls, rides on a street car, and a bottle of Coke all cost a nickel. And if you didn't want to 'splurge' on that nickel, you could spend it on enough stamps to mail a letter and two postcards.
You could buy a new Chevy Coupe for $600, but who could afford one. Too bad, because gas was 11 cents a gallon. "In my day 'grass' was mowed, 'coke' was a cold drink, 'pot' was something your mother cooked in, and 'rock music' was your grandmother's lullaby.
For young people today, it is hard for them to image life for those born in the 1920s or earlier. It was a time when most families did not own a car or have a telephone. There was no TV until 30 years later and radios were not common until about 1930. My mother started out with a wash board and large tubs, rinsing and wringing the clothes out by hand. There were no soap powders; a harsh soap called P&G was the detergent. Later on she had a Magtag washing machine with a wringer that was turned by hand.
She felt she was in the lap of luxury when she advanced to a Maytag with an electric wringer to feed the clothes through. Electric dryers were still in the far distant future. Everone had a clothes line out in the yard to hang out the wash. Doing the wash and hanging it out to dry was a full day's job. Dress shirts then had to be starched before being ironed.
From my early years, I can still remember my mother ironing with two heavy, cast iron flat-irons on a coal-fired stove. The handle portion clamped onto the sides of the iron and was used while the second one was re-heating. What she wouldn't have given for todays wrinkle-free "wash and dry” clothing!
Refrigeration was by a chunk of ice delivererd by the Iceman about every 5 days and placed in the top of the Ice Box to cool the contents. A quart of milk in a glass bottle was delivered every other day and placed on our kitchen window sill.
Electric refrigerators and freezers hadn't yet been invented. Microwave ovens and automatic dish washers couldn't even be imagined, and were ages away. Fast food restaurants didn't exist until after World War II.
In those days, margarine, either in a tub or stick, as we know it today, wasn’t yet in use. It had been invented, but the dairy industry was so powerful and concerned that it would replace butter, that it was not permitted by the government. After a while it was permitted to be sold, but in a strange package. It came in a plastic container similar to today’s baggies. It was a sickly white color with a little yellow colored bubble inside.
To color the margarine, you would squeeze the colored bubble to break it, and then knead the plastic container to circulate the color throughout. When the margarine was colored, you still had the messy task of cutting the bag and scraping out the margarine into some kind of a container. People only put up with it because it was much cheaper than butter. It wasn’t until about 1940 that colored margarine could be sold.
On hot, muggy, summer nights, window screens in a second floor window gave only an illusion of cooling. Few houses were insulated and the upstairs rooms were like hot ovens in August. Window fans were not yet available. And of course, neither were air conditioners.
This is the world I was born into. Living on the city outskirts, we did have indoor plumbing and city water, luxuries that many rural families of that time did not have. By living in the city, we could board a trolley or street car for a nickel to travel to the other end of town or go upriver to Donora or Charleroi. Even Pittsburgh was available by electric street cars. The trolley ride took about an hour, about the same time it takes to drive a car there today with the congested traffic.
My folks had a very modest life insurance policy - I think about $1,000 - which cost about one dollar per month. I can recall the “insurance man” making the rounds and coming to our house to collect each month. He carried a large thick book in which he entered the payment.
Of course, not knowing any other lifestyle and what conveniences and changes future years would bring, most of us living in the 1920s were perfectly happy with the hand that had been dealt to us. One might say that we just didn't know any better! It is only in retrospect - looking back - that we think about how much more difficult the ordinary things of life were then than now.
I have heard many young people today who are caught up in today's hectic lifestyle comment that those must have been "the good old days." Life then was less complicated, less hurried, less troubled and more home-centered, but I don't know many older folks who would like to give up the conveniences the modern style of living has given them, or go back in time, except to recall the good memories.
I’m writing this in the fall of the year 2000 to pass along to you some my memories and experiences of a time you’ve probably only read about or seen on the History Channel. It has been said that “Memories are the cushions of life,” and I have a lot of memories.