I was born March 27, 1940. My mother told me, years later, that I came into the world during the early hours of what was a very cold, late winter day.
America was still suffering from the Great Depression when I was born and involved in World War II less than two years later.
The Depression made times financially difficult for the majority of families, but that would start to improve economically with federal spending brought by the war effort.
But before that happened family finances were tight.
I’m told my mother called my father at work one day and asked him to bring home a loaf of store-bought bread. He arrived home that night with two loaves in his hands and the warning to use them sparingly. He had lost his job at the local Ford dealer that day because of a lack of work.
But the situation changed greatly by the end of the war and I had turned 10. The economy was growing, life experiences were expanding, the postwar generation was building or buying homes, and everybody seemed better off than they were before the war.
My generation is, perhaps, the generation that saw more changes, improvements and advances in a single decade than any other.
There was no TV that first decade. My entire family would gather around a big floor model radio each night to listen to “The Lone Ranger,” “Fibber McGee and Molly” and “Your Hit Parade.”
Television didn’t come to Sioux Falls, SD, until 1953. Even then it wasn’t on the air until just before suppertime, usually with the black and white “Crusader Rabbit” cartoon program. But then all programs were in black and white.
Regular color programming didn’t begin until almost a decade later. Some homes, however, did attach a color transparency over their TV screen that made the sky blue and the grass green. The problem was not every program was filmed outdoors. The false color looked strange when the program was “The Steve Allen Show,” a local news broadcast or a scripted comedy.
We didn’t have many of today’s modern medications, frozen foods or the freezer space to store such items. Nor did we have TV dinners, Tupperware, plastic sandwich bags or nonstick pans.
There were no fast-food restaurants or pizza parlors. Instead of leaving school to hit a McDonald’s for lunch, we carried lunchboxes filled with peanut butter sandwiches, some sliced carrot sticks and an apple.
Meals were prepared without any thought of fat, cholesterol, sodium or all those other things that we worry about today. Cholesterol and triglyceride were not considered a problem.
It was an age before microwaves, single cup coffee makers, copy machines, air fryers, fax machines, 10-key adding machines and a multitude of other things we can’t do without today.
Cellphones weren’t on the horizon and my family thought we were “really with it” when we got a telephone extension put in my older brother’s study on the second floor of our home. There was a little plastic box with a single button taped to the cord of the phone. You would push the button to let those on the other floor know the call was for them.
There are three or four generations today that cannot fathom life without e-mail, texts and a dozen even more recent forms of instant electronic communication.
And, of course, we didn’t have computers. We had to either type or handwrite everything from homework to letters and notes. Business and personal letters to friends were an ordeal. You had to express yourself in neatly formed cursive or, if you were me, in block printed letters, place what you had written in an envelope, put a stamp on it and hope the postal service would get it to the receiver. Now we can sit down at a laptop, write a message to someone far away and get an answer back in seconds.
My growing-up years were a time before home dishwashers, clothes dryers, FM radios, electric typewriters and air conditioners. My mother was the family dishwasher.
Doing the family laundry was a major chore for her. I can remember her doing the wash in a huge agitator tub and wringing it with a hand-cranked wringer. In the summer she would hang the wash out to dry in the backyard and in the winter on a clothes line in the basement.
You could buy something for a nickel back then, like a soda or a candy bar. Two penny stamps were all it took to cover the cost of mailing a postcard.
For those who could afford a new car, you could buy one for as little as $900 and put gas in it for 25 cents a gallon
If you, like me, have survived the last 70-plus years of change, it has been a whirlwind. Hopefully, we are wiser as well as better people for the experience.
Peter W. Wagner lives in Sibley. He is the founder/publisher of The N’West Iowa REVIEW and may be reached at email@example.com.