Well, It Wasn’t All Bad
I guess I’m waxing nostalgic these days. Could be that once a person enters the golden years, they become sentimental. As we have more time to simply sit and contemplate life, memories easily flood our consciousness. Some are painful and some are sweet. Some are also shocking realizations of what we lost and what we gained through the passage of time.
Now let me just say right off the bat, I don’t for one minute believe that the good old bad old days were harmonious, fair, or pure.
Americans were full of bigotry and hate just like today, but even less self-aware which made their outlook on life when I reflect on those days even more glaringly heinous. My god, we had a get-out-of-jail-free card in our hip pockets that excused the most reprehensible belief systems. We went about our lives with permission to be hateful. Fortunately, Americans were forced to face some of their demons during an era of reckoning thus making social progress for the first time in the history of humankind.
The 20th century triggered a phase of unprecedented social evolution.
Not that we truly appreciate the progress made nor do we remember the hard-won battles that some very brave people fought for us, because the level of awareness is at an all-time low right now. Whether it was racism, sexism, worker’s rights, children’s rights, LGBTQ rights, or even animal rights, a glaring light was shown upon our collective nastiness, and change, although done reluctantly and violently, took place making the world better for lots of people.
However, this article isn’t about how hard it once was to be a woman in America, for example.
This article is about some of the good things that we’ve lost. Because as I said the 20th century wasn’t all good nor all bad. Let’s shift our attention to a few good things that I remember benefitting from back in the day.
When I married my husband at the tender age of 19, we had no real idea how we were going to support ourselves.
We walked into the adult world terribly uninformed as our parents also had little to no advice for us. We were lucky, however, because there were a lot of factories with strong unions at the time. In fact, we were living in a factory town that was sometimes referred to as Little Detroit.
It’s now only a mere shadow of its former self, but we were there during its glory days.
I got pregnant right away. Unfortunately, we didn’t know a lot about birth control, and, what little our parents knew, they refused to share with us. So, as the birth of our firstborn got nearer, we were trying to save money. Why? Because my husband switched jobs and we didn’t have insurance to cover us. Nowadays, that would mean we’d incur a hefty debt that we’d be forced to pay back for a long time. Yet, we were able to save enough money to pay the hospital before I went home with our little bundle of joy.
Cash! Not a credit card. Cash! Holy guacamole! Right?
How much was this bill that we so proudly had saved enough to pay? $800. That’s right. $800. Now don’t get me wrong, that was a lot of money back then but the point is that we weren’t bankrupted. I stayed for three days in the hospital where I was well taken care of, too. Three whole days and nights!
Sounds too good to be true, right?
However, it is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Two 19-year-olds had saved $800 in a year on one job and with no parents to bail us out. Which tells me something important about that time in the history of America. The gap between what people were charged for services and what they made wasn’t a gaping hole like today.
I don’t know anyone without insurance who could be in the hospital for three days and pay cash for the services rendered.
For a routine, uncomplicated vaginal birth, the average hospital stay is between 24 and 48 hours these days. According to the Peterson-Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Health System Tracker, the average cost of giving birth without insurance is around $19,000 for prenatal care, labor and delivery, and postpartum care for a single birth. I certainly don’t know any 19-year-olds who could pay $19,000 out of pocket.
Nope! Many of their parents wouldn’t be able to pick up the tab for them either.
After our son was born, I went back to school. I had already earned nine college credits and fortunately had the good sense to try to finish college. It wasn’t easy. I had to travel out of town for most of my classes. We didn’t have a lot of money but my husband’s factory job earned him enough to pay for a two-bedroom upstairs apartment where we were quite comfortable. We borrowed money, around $500, from the bank and proceeded to send me to school one semester after another until I graduated and landed a teaching position in an elementary school. We were on our way to becoming upwardly mobile.
But wait a minute! How much did I owe on school bills?
Well, the original amount we borrowed was already paid back and that meant I was debt-free once again. Can you even imagine that today? These days, the debt our young people accrue to get a degree is staggering. It takes years to pay it back.
We bought a home eventually.
It was a cottage actually in rural Maine. We had five acres of land. We had to come up with a down payment of $1400. This was one of the only times in our lives that we received money from my husband’s parents. Things were already starting to shift in the US, however. My husband’s secure factory job was eliminated and he had been moving from one factory job to another for a few years.
The US was shipping jobs overseas at breakneck speed and unions were powerless to negotiate.
However, we had our house and lovingly put blood, sweat, and tears into turning the cottage into a much larger home over the years. We did a lot of the work ourselves but in the end, owned a home that we later sold and used the money to pay cash for a house in another state after the 2008 crash devastated the value of real estate.
Oh, by the way, I got my master’s degree in educational leadership and it didn’t cost me a thing.
Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon for school districts to pay for employees to get a master’s degree. My school district covered 100% of nine credits a year as long as I got at least a B for the class. Many school districts across the nation no longer offer this benefit to their teachers. I lucked out once again. I never spent a penny on my second degree which afforded me a significant jump in pay and a good pension.
Of course, I need to remind readers that my generation did not experience the golden years that our parents lived through.
I was part of the first generation of women who needed to work because their husbands weren’t able to make enough money to achieve the American Dream. Unlike my mother and mother-in-law who stayed home while their hubbies’ single incomes provided a house, car, and a vacation. Those days were over by the time my husband and I were young parents. They haven’t returned.
It’s beginning to look like we’ll never again experience that short-lived but enviable time period that our parents enjoyed.
Well, you know, trickle-down economics came along and swept many of our parents off their feet. Plus, my generation was busy creating a sexual revolution as well as recreating social expectations. Even though some of us remember the good old bad old days, we’ve grown accustomed to the low wages and high prices of today as well as the need for dual incomes.
It’s the new normal. Like I said, the glory days when the American middle class grew at unprecedented speed are long over.
I can still remember what it felt like in the good old bad old days but now it mirrors the olden days. Everything from the 50s, 60s, and 70s looks dated. Old news clips appear on our screens, a peek into a long-lost past. I get the same feeling I used to have when I watched silent films. Ghostly visions filtered through a memory bank of twisted emotions, some good and some bad but all terribly outdated and no longer considered relevant.
Makes me wonder what it’ll be like for my granddaughter when she is old enough to look back on the world her parents created for themselves.
Teresa is an author and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.