by Marshall Lynse
A few days ago I was making some space in our garage and came across a fairly large box that had been sitting there for some time. I remember bringing this box in from the barn a while ago, but as often happens it was set down in a not so out of the way place and ignored. Finally, when I’d squeezed between it and the front of the car enough times to get my slacks dirty with barn dust and road salt, I finally decided something had to change.
I knew I had lugged this box from our Iola farm when we moved to where we live now, and then hauled it up into the hayloft for storage. That was eleven years ago, so I guess you could say things don’t move too swiftly in certain areas of our life. I’m not quite sure why I even brought it into the garage, but I suspect I was up there one day and saw it and decided maybe I should find out what was so important that I packed it away in a big box so long ago.
I don’t know about you, but I find there is a certain amount of mystery and excitement connected to opening old boxes. It’s kind of like an archeological dig; only this stuff is probably going to tell you something about your family or yourself.
As I opened the box it was filled with loose papers of every kind. Did I say someone “packed” this box? It looked more like someone had emptied a few drawers from an old desk, closed up the box and left it for posterity. I may have carted it around from place to place, but I can’t take credit for this mess.
As I gingerly picked my way through the contents of this box, there began to emerge a portrait of life in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. There were old bills for gas and oil, there were canceled checks, loan papers, income tax forms, wage stubs, ledgers with church donations, notations on the backs of envelopes of who attended my father’s funeral, dozens and dozens of birthday cards, get well cards, some old post cards, as well as a few mouse eaten letters from some family members.
Some of the things I found brought back vivid memories of life as it was during those times. I, of course, was a teen in the mid 50’s and early 6o’s and so my recollections of those times and events was from an entirely different perspective than what I was seeing now as I handled and read those papers and receipts.
For those of us that grew up in that era, society was, in many ways, remarkably different. I saw things at that time from my point of view as a teen with all the angst and excitement that accompanies those times. My life was going along great. We all seemed happy for the most part; I never really felt deprived of things, and we had plenty to eat. Yes, there were lots of things that we didn’t have, but if you’ve never had them, you don’t miss them. Only occasionally was there ever any mention of finances in any significant way. As far as I was concerned, things were fine.
Looking at the evidence now, however, the wage stubs, the bills, the bank statements, the saving accounts, it was pretty apparent my parents were really good at keeping things to themselves. They made do with what they could afford, and I never really heard any complaints.
It was interesting to see how things then compared with how things are today. I ran across a pay stub of mine, I don’t know from whom because there was no company name on it, but I worked 46.5 hours; 40 hours at $1.25 per hour and 6.5 hours at $1.88 per hour for a grand total of $62.22 before taxes. I can’t remember, but I can guess that I was pretty pleased with that.
My mother worked in a restaurant for many years while I was growing up. I happened to find one of her pay stubs. Not too formal, just written out on a sheet of notepaper entitled “Specials Today”. Looks like she got paid $.75 per hour and was charged $2.40 a week for meals, which were credited back, if she didn’t eat.
As different and apparently difficult as this may seem to us today, in the grand scheme of things, it probably wasn’t that much different. The numbers may have been a lot less but most things were proportional relative to income and cost. And there probably wasn’t as much disparity in the standard of living then as there is now. Most folks probably thought of themselves as living in the Middle Class and more or less on par with most of their friends and neighbors.
I tried to save at least one example of the various types of items I discovered in that old box. Some of the journals and mouse eaten letters were quite interesting. The rest, well, it went where most of these items should have gone fifty years ago, in the recycling bin.
That old box of stuff did serve to remind me, and a in larger sense probably most of us, that the opportunities afforded us in those formative years occurred not so much as the result of enhanced economic advantages, but more often as the result of the love, devotion and hard work of dedicated parents and family who were always striving to see that we had a better life than was given them.
I was going to write about an old Model A that my dad had when I was growing up, but then I found the box in the barn. I kept the title as I thought it might grab your attention more than “The Old Box In The Attic”. The Old Model A will be a story for another time.