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.
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:
- Pneumonia and influenza
- Heart disease
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?
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:
- Heart disease.
- 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.” (http://economyincrisis.org)
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):
- Heart Disease.
- Chronic low respiratory diseases.
- 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.
May all your days be Good Old Days.