Thursday, April 26, 2007

Back in the Day!

The years I am talking about here are 1959 until 1971. This was my growing up time from the age of 6 to 18. I have very vivid memories of buying special treats and remembering the cost. My parents did not have a lot of money and they were frugal on top of it. As such, when I had a nickel or dime to spend as I pleased, it was a big deal. Every now and then over dinner, my husband and I discuss "back in the day." And since we grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same schools from first grade through high school (yikes, and college, too) we remember some of the same things. I just realized how strange that last sentence is--that my husband and I had identical childhoods.

We had a little neighborhood grocery store called Louie's. Every kid who went to Ray Bjork Elementary school had great fondess for this place. It is still there in Helena. Packs of sugary gum whether Wrigley's Spearment, Doublemint, Juicy Fruit, or Beeman's and rolls of Life Savers were 5 cents. My favorite gumballs were grape and Sputnik (named after the Russian satelite and it was light blue and bumpy and minty) for either a penny or two for a penny. We could get a can of pop from the walk-in cooler behind the cash register for 10 cents. My favorite was grape or black cherry Shasta. And yes, in Montana, we called it "pop" and never soda. I remember I wasn't a huge fan of Coke until they came out with the diet variety called TAB when I was in high school. Candy bars like Milky Ways or Three Muskateers were also 5 cents. I was never allowed to get the bigger one for 10 cents. Unlike today, where kids are fighting weight issues because they eat this junk everyday, buying a can of pop or a candy bar was an occasional treat back then.

We had one drive-in on the east side of Helena called Scotty's. Now and then we would stop there after returning from a fishing trip or before going to the drive-in movie. Hamburgers were 15 cents, fries were 10 cents as was a small pop. I don't remember how much milk shakes were which is odd because I loved chocolate milk shakes. I do remember chocolate ice cream cones at the little store by the campground in Idaho where we stayed every year, were a nickel for one scoop and a dime for two. Later when I was in high school, the hang out was the A&W and by then hamburgers cost a quarter. My Dad loved a good root beer and I have memories of driving into A&W's for frosty cold real glass mugs of foamy root beer. They'd bring it on a tray and hook it on your car window. A regular was 5 cents and a large, which is what my Dad would get, was 10 cents. There were no McDonald's in Montana until I was in college.

Our student council at the Junior High would sell raised donuts--big and puffy ultra-fresh glazed and chocolate--for a nickel once a week. Krispy-creme does not even come close. My friend and I would walk home from school and stop at Safeway to order cherry phosphates for a dime. Sometimes we would go into the 4 B's cafeteria and get fries for 10 cents or a single hard roll for a nickel depending on how much change we had. Dave remembers because he was a picky eater, he wouldn't eat the school lunches at the Junior High. So he would walk down the street to a nearby hamburger joint and for a nickel, they would grill him a hamburger bun with butter. He couldn't afford the meat. If his Mom knew this, she would die all over again, I swear.

We had a drugstores called Super-Save and they had one in the new mall built not far from Ray Bjork school. I can still picture the sign--88 cents--for 45's. These were records with a single song on each side and a big hole in the middle. You had to put this special column thingy on your record player to play 45's. Albums were called 33's and a good album cost anywhere from $2 to $4. Now I guess it is cool to call records "vinyls." Barbie Dolls which my friends and I played with when we were 10 and 11 and not 4 and 5 like little girls today, were expensive and the clothes were intricate. We only had two or three at most---Barbie, Ken, Midge and maybe Barbie's little sister Skipper. My Mom would not let me have Ken doll so I had Barbie, Midge and Skipper. I am not sure what that was all about but I am certain it had do with prudishness. Anyway, the dolls cost $3.50.

I do not have a memory of how much things in a grocery store cost. Our freezer was full of wild meat and fish including elk, deer, antelope, moose once, ducks and more ducks, sage hens, an occasional pheasant or goose, trout and salmon caught in Idaho. In the summers, when we would run low on game, my Mom would buy beef. I have a vague rememberance of going to a bakery with my Mom to get day old bread, 10 loaves for a dollar, that she would freeze. Likewise, I do not recall clothing prices because my Mom made most of my dresses. One time, though, she bought me an Easter dress because I loved it so much. I can still remember it was a green print with lace trim and it cost $4 which was kind of expensive. My Mom also made my wedding dress in 1973 and for the pattern and material, it cost a whopping $25.

My parents bought the small house where I grew up in 1960 for $11,000, I believe. They sold it 11 years later for not much more than that. Dave's family lived in what was considered kind of a fancy house built in 1952 for $16,000. When his Dad died seven years ago, the family sold it for more than $100,000 and maybe as much as $125,000.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
Dave's childhood house on Broadway in Helena--sorry it is blurry.

I suppose it is all relative. But I do believe there is a gluttony in America with children. Treats are no longer treats but everyday expectations. Little girls have boxes full of Barbies and teenagers drink multiple cans of pop everyday. Being given a nickel or a dime or a quarter by an adult was gratefully appreciated and valuable. In fact, Dave remembers that when he was a little kid, he spent gobs of time at the local gun club because his Dad was a champion trap shooter. When he was bored, he would look under the cushions in the chairs and couches for prized coins. As a kid, you could get a lot of "junk" for a few coins and it was always special. I wonder if anything is truly "special" anymore.