1989. The 17 Bar, Billings, Montana.

A friend and I sit at a table with two old-time cowboys, one in his late eighties and the other past ninety. The conversation turns to the problems of the day, which we agree are many. We talk of other days, times when life was better or in retrospect seemed to be. We sip our adult beverages and fall silent for a time. Then, breaking the silence, the ninety-year-old speaks.

“The good old days,” he says, “were when we was young.”

“When we was young?” Sure, I thought. Young, wild, and full of beans. Young, when it seemed there wasn’t a horse that couldn’t be rode or a girl who couldn’t be won. Young, reckless, and loose as ashes in the wind. Young when the world seemed young too, when anything seemed possible, and where death, if a feller thought about it at all, was still way out there in the future, beyond the most distant horizons of his mind.

But what about the “good old days?” Were the times really better, or did they only seem that way? How about the turn of the century when that old cowboy was born, say 1903? A better time, right?

Well, yes and no.

In 1903:

The average life expectancy was 47 years.

Only 14 percent of American homes had a bathtub.

Only 8 percent of American homes had a telephone.

There were only 8,000 cars in the U.S. and only 144 miles of paved roads.

The average U.S. worker made between $200 and $400 per year.

Sugar cost four cents a pound. Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen. Coffee cost fifteen cents a pound.

The five leading causes of death in the U.S. were:

  1. Pneumonia and influenza
  2. Tuberculosis
  3. Diarrhea
  4. Heart disease
  5. Stroke

There were only 230 reported murders in the entire U.S.

Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school. One in ten U.S. adults couldn’t read or write.

Good old days?

I wondered. How about the year I was born, 1931?

Yeah, right.

Drought. The Dust Bowl. Bread Lines. Unemployment at 16.3%.

Average wage for those who have a job is $1850 a year.

2500 U.S. banks fail. Foreclosures force people from their homes.

A new car costs $640 and gasoline is 10 cents a gallon.

Bread is 8 cents a loaf. Hamburger is 11 cents a pound.

A first-class postage stamp is 3 cents. A penny postcard is, well, a penny.

The four leading causes of death in the United States are:

  1. Heart disease.
  2. Cancer.
  3. Pneumonia.
  4. Infectious and parasitic diseases, including influenza, tuberculosis, and syphilis.

Average life expectancy is 58 years. Good old days? During the time of the world’s greatest economic collapse? Not so much.

All right, what about the present? Are these the Good Old Days?

Again, not so much.

“The United States is presently facing economic disaster on a scale few nations have ever experienced. We no longer produce what we need to sustain ourselves. We import much more than we export. We are selling off our assets and taking on massive debts to sustain a standard of living we can no longer afford.” (

The average life expectancy is 78.7 years for men and 80.l years for women.

There are 300 billion automobiles in the U.S.

91% of Americans use cell phones.

99% of Americans own television sets. Average number of television sets per household: 2.24.

Average U.S. household income is $51,413 per year.

The five leading causes of death in the United States (65 and over):

  1. Heart Disease.
  2. Cancer.
  3. Chronic low respiratory diseases.
  4. Stroke.
  5. Alzheimer’s disease.

Most recent statistics report 14,748 murders per year.

All right, so maybe the Good Old Days have less to do with a particular time or place than they do with our attitudes.

Life happens, ready or not.

Events and circumstances come into our lives uninvited.

Bumps in the road cause us to stumble. Road blocks spring up and stop our progress. We take detours we didn’t plan for. Setbacks stop our progress or help us to grow. Try as we may, we can’t control the events that come our way. But we can control how we react to the events that come our way.

Looking at it that way, maybe the old cowboy was right after all.

Maybe the good old days are when we’re young.

Young at heart.

Generous in spirit.

Positive in outlook.


Choosing gratitude.

May all your days be Good Old Days.







About stan

Author of eight novels featuring the adventures of Deputy U.S. Marshal Merlin Fanshaw, Stan Lynde is a fourth-generation native Montanan and the creator, author, and artist of two highly acclaimed syndicated cartoon strips, Rick O'Shay and Latigo. He lives in Cuenca, Ecuador, with his wife, Lynda.
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7 Responses to THE GOOD OLD DAYS

  1. David Ellen says:

    That is so good I hope you don’t mind if I post a link to it.

    Do you remember the time prisoners rioted at the Deerlodge Penitentiary? 1950s something. People came to town with their .30-30s and sat around waiting for something to happen. Finally the National Guard came in with a bazooka and breached the tower. That’s all it took to quell the riot.

    • stan says:

      I wasn’t in Montana at the time of the Deer Lodge Penitentiary riot, but am familiar with the story. Marks from the bazooka are still visible on one of the towers.

      I’m glad you like the post; feel free to post a link to it.

      Thanks for writing.

  2. Mary Scriver says:

    Oh, the good old days are fine, but what about the old good days? These days I’m pretty old but I’m wicked and it’s a lot more fun than bein’ good was. In those old days I had a lot more energy or I might not have survived. Bein’ good takes effort and payin’ attention. These days I skip a beat now and then, sorta let the dust bunnies have free range. I don’t forget much, but sometimes I pretend I do. It’s more wicked.

    Prairie Mary
    (Mary Scriver)

    • stan says:

      Hi Mary,
      You make a good point. The good old days refer to a specific time and/or place, but the old good days can be any time–should be EVERY day, inasmuch as we can make them so. Having reached “a certain age,” I’ve come to learn which hills are worth dying on. Funny how often the old good days involve grandchildren.

      Nice to hear from you, Prairie Mary!

      Best personal regards,


  3. Dave McGowan says:

    1903: “There were only 230 reported murders in entire US:
    Present: “Most recent statistics report 14,748 murders per year.”

    What do those figures represent as a percentage of population?
    How many of those murders can be included in that section of society that hides from reality (ie: no job) in a drug induced haze or those who have become rich making sure as many as possible stay in that haze?
    A lot of questions raised by your post.
    Heart and stroke the leading cause of death? Well sure, I just paid $2.50 for enough gas to go to the end of the block.
    10 cents a gallon? I don’t care since I don’t need it.
    Personally I vote for the simpler times.

  4. Cory Johnson says:

    You bring up some interesting points. I had an old man tell one time that the good ‘ol days are now, back then he didn’t have an air conditioner and several other modern comforts. I agree with him on that, but I believe you are right. It has more to do with our attitude, I remember simpler times in my writing….where the pressures of life didn’t bust me up side the head as much….or maybe I didn’t notice it as much!
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  5. Great post! I live up here in Montana and so it’s always fun to come across posts that mention this lovely state. I vote for the simpler times too!

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