THE OLDEN, GOLDEN DAYS


“It’s Quarter to Three.” I think that is the title of the song. Well, it is quarter to one and I was about to go to bed and dive back into Colleen McCullough’s Roman series. If you don’t know them, go find them. They are wonderful. The story of the Roman Empire from Gaius Marius (I didn’t know about him either – he’s great) about 110 BC – Before Christ, to the death of Julius Caesar. Great reading and fascinating history.

Which has little to do with what I am writing about except that I’d rather – oh, well – it happens all the time. Distractions. Delays. I’ve been watching the news. By the end of the evening my motor kicks in. I think about who I can send a post to, to persuade them not to vote for this disastrous health care drama they call a bill. One sure to cost  15 millions, or 30 billions or maybe trillions.

Right now I can picture myself facing the first grade teacher with our little one-party wooden desks with an opening for an ink well in the upper right and twenty-thirty, perhaps more, names scrawled in the wood. We wouldn’t have known anything about millions or trillions but we would have known that thirty is more than fifteen. We could have figured that  if she wrote a trillion and a billion on the blackboard, one had a lot more zeroes.

I didn’t know it then but the country was in the middle of a great depression. I did know that I was in what was colloquially called an orphan’s home. You know, Little Orphan Annie and Little Annie Rooney whom you always see scrubbing floors.

To get off on a tangent (another one) – when my kids complained about chores, I naturally told them about the unfinished pine wood floors in the dormitory we scrubbed with Fels Naptha Soap, brushes  and hot water every Saturday morning. But then we had the rest of the day to play ‘Go Sheepy Go’ and Hide and Seek and I was neither hungry, nor cold, nor abused and we had clean floors.

Even Little Orphan Annie knew better than our congress that one couldn’t buy a leather bound book  with the five cents you managed for a “Little Book” on Sacajawea. If that were the only bad news for the day, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking about the olden days when desks had ink wells.

And going from young to old, one of the online news magazine articles evoked a comment you often hear about social security from the young or younger, complaining about the cost of seniors. Not that I don’t think it is a problem and I can understand their anger at having a sizable chunk taken from their check to support people who are nothing to them. Nothing except the cartoonish hags and crones – what’s the name for an old man? An old man? Well, whatever. There are all these old people out there with their hand out demanding your money. After all, what did they do to deserve your charity?

Back in the good old days, those old crones were young mothers. It was a good time to be a young mother. The best. Not perfect, but when is life perfect? Even today those whose lives are better must sometimes wonder about the mess the world is in and having to grow up when sex and drugs and violence are the world’s nannies.

I think of slow dances with your head on the guys’ shoulder, a seven and seven that didn’t have a date rape drug in it. Of guys who took no for an answer. Of times when you worried if Dad would get home for dinner before or after you put the plates out. I used to kid my husband and tell him he had a nose like a hound dog. I could wait all evening and the minute I picked up the spoon to dish the food, there he was.

But getting back to social security or pensions, the unions were relatively young and strong in those days. The men got a good wage, a real pension to look forward to, and eventually he could have two cars so that his wife instead of himself, could take the kids to school. Bread was about thirty five cents a loaf, a four pack of papier a la toilet was thirty four and as big as a triple roll now. You could get a baby sitter for a couple of dollars and have a wiener roast where the biggest jerks only got drunk on beer.

It isn’t my intention to say, “well the unions did this and Khrushchev did that,” but to point out that life in the fifties was different. The outlook and dreams were different. We knew we would get old, but we were buying houses and feeding kids and looking forward to a great tomorrow. The war was over, times were good. We certainly never dreamed life would include five-dollar loaves of bread, nor fake giant-sized rolles de la toilet papier for twelve. Perhaps we would have not have stopped at that last drive-in  to see a re-run of Gone With the Wind.

I had a beautiful lavender cotton dress with embroidered lilacs (my favorite flower) on the skirt. Perhaps I could have resisted buying it. But I’m glad I didn’t in spite of disgusted looks these days from kids who think we think age is a license to steal. In case you believe we were all wastrels, I sewed almost all of my girls’ clothing, including Easter dresses and the coats they wore with their ruffled socks and patent leather shoes and brand new Easter hats and GLOVES!

It’s true that social security saves many a neck. There are many parents who actually do stand on their own with the help of that income. A lot of people would have to contribute more to their parents if not for social security. Or they might end up with mom and dad prematurely living with them. Wouldn’t that be a laugh? Social security gives freedom to the generations, young and old.

I often wonder about those who complain. Did their parents leave them in the closet and never feed them or clothe them or see that they had as good a life as they could give them? If the parents spent their money to buy the kids’ patent leather shoes, is it really so awful to think you might have to give back?  I would imagine the parents never wanted to ask anything from their children. I know we felt it was our job to support you, and many parents support their children well into the adult years.

Are these the ones who complain? I don’t know. I know they have a right to complain about the taxes – the whole business is shameful, but I really don’t understand the hatred for the seniors. And it is there.

So now, it is two o’clock and I think there is another old song “It’s Two O’clock in the Morning.” I am going to go read about the Romans who complained about their kids and their kids who complained about them.

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