To some people, the year 1940 sounds like a million years ago. To others its memory is still vivid. About 25 years ago, while I still was working at my daily job at the Denison Herald, someone brought me an article from the Houston Post Silver Set that was headlined “Born before 1940.” It was attributed to an unknown author.
I ran across the article this week while rearranging my file cabinets to make room to hold more of my collection of “stuff.” Rather than run the article verbatim, it’s more fun to me to add my own comments and thoughts and just “borrow” the ideas of that unknown author.
Frequently, I receive emails about something reminiscent of the ’40s or ’50s, groups with which I can relate, and many of them involve high school class reunions. This particular column is for those born before 1940 and those who want to see what it was like to be born before that year. As an aside, the class of 1953 at Denison High School, all of whom were born around 1935 will have a gathering here on June 16 at 1 p.m. at the Rig Restaurant. All classmates and friends are invited. No reservation necessary.
If you can believe it, there was no television before 1940 — at least not at my house. We didn’t have penicillin, polio shots, frozen foods, copy machines, fax machines, plastic, contact lenses, the pill and thousands of other things we cannot do without today. No one had even walked on the Moon, much less circled the Earth.
More important to many is that we didn’t have computers. We had to either type or hand write everything in cursive, thank you, unless you could print fast, place it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and hope it got to its destination while it still was fresh or before the deadline. This morning, I sat down to my computer and wrote a message to someone out of state with a question and had an answer back in less than five minutes. She just happened to be working on her computer at the same time. How did we ever have time to wait two weeks for answers or have the money to make a long distance telephone call to learn the answer sooner?
Today with cellphones, those long distance phone calls are included in our monthly “plan” and if our computer is out of reach, we can simply make a phone call or send a text message or email from our telephone from anywhere except in a few zones like near schools. A reminder here, do not text or talk on those cellphones while driving, period.
But wait, communicating wasn’t the only thing that was still in the dark ages. We didn’t even have pantyhose. While women don’t always wear hose at all today, back in the 1940s no well-dressed woman would leave home without hose. They all but disappeared during World War II when nylon was used for parachutes and not for ladies’ hosiery.
I can remember the washable paint that some women put on their legs to make them resemble hose. I also can remember that hosiery in those days had seams down the back and you needed four hands to keep them straight up the back of your leg. Not having a panty attached to the top, they were held up by a contraption called a “garter belt” that hooked around your waist and had little straps with hooks on the end into which the hose were attached. Pantyhose sure eliminated a lot of problems. But pantyhose also were almost eliminated and women today prefer the “bare” look of no hose at all.
What about dishwashers, clothes dryers, FM radios, electric typewriters and air conditioners? I was the family dishwasher at our house when my mom could catch me before I found somewhere else to be. I can remember hanging clothes on the outdoor line even when the first garments hung were frozen stiff before I finished with the job.
I worked on mechanical typewriters for years before the electric ones came along and to be honest I still prefer the mechanical ones because the electric ones couldn’t keep up with my typing. I’d have to stop and wait for us to be on the same wave link. Computers beat the heck out of electric typewriters. I also liked the clickity-clack sound of all the mechanical typewriters going at the same time in the newsroom.
Water cooled window fans helped a little during hot weather and were cheaper to operate, but nothing could be better than central air conditioning — especially if you have allergies to everything that grows outside.
“Have a heart” meant have pity, not a heart transplant. Foods were fried without any thought of fat, cholesterol, sodium and all those other things that we must worry about today. The more dairy products we had, the better they were for us. Cholesterol and triglyceride were of no consequence. I checked an older dictionary for the spelling and the words weren’t even in it.
Those born before 1940 were so quaint that they got married first, then lived together. You had to have a husband to get a baby and closets were for clothes, not for “coming out of.”
Designer jeans were scheming girls named Jean, not something you wore. Only the guys wore jeans in those days, not everyone who could squeeze into them.
Fast food was eaten during lent and no one had heard of house husbands, gay rights, computer dating, dual careers or commuter marriages. That was when day care centers, group therapy and nursing homes were just getting started.
Guys wouldn’t be caught dead with earrings in their ears and very few guys and girls had tattoos. Smoking cigarettes was fashionable and not necessarily deadly as they are today. Grass was mowed, Coke was a soft drink, crack was a broken window and pot was something to cook in. “Making out” referred to how you did on your physics exam.
Timesharing meant togetherness not condominiums. A chip was a piece of wood, hardware meant hard ware and software wasn’t even a word. “Made in Japan” meant junk, not something sought after at antique shops and flea markets. “Made in China” was only printed on very little you could buy.
You could actually buy something for a nickel or a dime like make a phone call, buy a soda pop or a round box of roasted peanuts that might have a coin in the bottom if you picked the right box. You could buy penny stamps to mail a letter and get two penny postcards.
For those who could afford a new car, you could buy one for as little as $600 and put gas in it for 11 cents a gallon.
Sex was a word rarely spoken and a few words batted around by the media today were NEVER spoken.
Times have changed, but would we wish they had remained the same?
Those of us who have survived the last 70-plus years of changing times, hopefully are wiser as well as older and better persons for having seen the changes.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.