We’ve come so far


I was born in 1961 at a time when the milkman delivered dairy products in the early mornings. My bedroom window overlooked our tiny back porch — the home of our milk box. The rumbling of the milk truck in the alley and the clinking of the empty glass milk bottles he picked up from us woke me many times.

Our telephone was a heavy black monstrosity that looked like everyone else’s phone. We had to rent them from the phone company.

We had a “party line” — a line we shared with another resident in town that saved us money. Early in life we were taught phone etiquette, which included what to do if we picked up the receiver and our party line friend was using the phone. More than once my sisters and I listened in on the other person’s conversations, trying to be quiet so she wouldn’t know we were listening. We failed.

We only had to dial five numbers back then to get a local connection, but operators were critical to the telephone world. They looked up numbers for us and connected us long distance, person-to-person, or collect. My mother was a PBX operator who physically connected telephone calls with wires and plugs. In my teen years, I too operated a PBX board as a part-time job.

I walked to school from kindergarten until the third grade when my parents gave me permission to ride my bike. From then on, I rode my bicycle everywhere.

My elementary school had rows of bike racks that numbered more than parking spaces. I rode to the local parks, to baseball and soccer practice, and to the library. And for four years I delivered newspapers on my bicycle in the wee morning hours, always alone and rarely ever concerned about my safety.

I rode my bike to the one theater in town, an ancient building where an occasional bat flew about the ceiling during films. A ticket was fifty cents and every movie was preceded by cartoons or newsreels.

We had no air conditioning, one small bathroom, and the entire square footage of our house was smaller than some living rooms today. My mother shopped at various small stores for different products — meat, bread, and fresh vegetables. When a “super market” was built in my small town, it was innovative and exciting. Everything in one store. Who would believe it?

My father would give me a dollar to fill our one-gallon gas can for the mower. I walked to the gas station and I’d often bring home 75 cents in change.

Professional baseball games were always played in the daylight and the scoreboard was made of wood. Large numbers were physically manipulated by an attendant behind the board in the outfield.

When we bought a television, it was a black and white console. Color televisions were new innovations. I didn’t know anyone who had one.

No one I knew had ever seen a computer and the Internet wasn’t yet even an idea. “Calculators” were mechanical adding machines, not electrical, with a lever on the side to manipulate the gears. Even at the bank, the teller would write my deposits and withdrawals in my bank book with a pen, scribbling her initials beside it.

Car tires were occasionally still advertised as “pneumatic,” an archaic holdover from a time when tires were hard plastic or solid rubber as opposed to being filled with air.

“Plastic” was a new product. Today almost all of the interior of a car is some form of plastic. Back then most of the inside of a car was metal, including the dashboard. Vehicles were very heavy and 10 miles per gallon was normal. Interstates were still embryonic and most of them were incomplete. Stores of nearly every type were closed on Sunday, including gas stations. Travel had to be carefully planned.

When I think back to my early days, I am filled with nostalgia at the innocence of the age, but I don’t want to go back. We have computers in almost everything we own, nearly everything is cheaper than it was in those days, adjusting for inflation, and life is easy.

Most convenient of all, unlimited information about anything we want is at our fingertips at any moment. The cell phone I hold in my hand has more computing power than NASA had at their disposal in the 1960s.

As I write these words, the close of 2019 is on the doorstep and I am standing in the shadow of an approaching sixth decade of life. We’ve come a long way. Whenever I feel like complaining, I try to remember how good we have it.

Happy New Year and may you be grateful for the life we have come to know.

[Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D., is a college professor, published author, licensed counselor, certified professional counselor supervisor, newspaper columnist and public speaker. His website is gregmoffatt.com.]