I was visiting my elderly father in his retirement condo in Florida about 15 years ago. (The same community where, by coincidence, Jean Williamson’s parents, Coit and Mary, lived. Jean lived nearby, and I often saw all three of them at dinner.) My mother had died a few years before, and I tried to visit my father 3 or 4 times a year.
I showed him our new Camry. “How much did you pay for it?” he bluntly asked.
“Twenty thousand? Twenty thousand!” he shrieked. Poor guy. I thought I did him in, he was so shocked.
“Sure, how much do you think I should have paid?”
“Oh, I would think you could get a pretty good car for $600.”
That gave me a benchmark. I should have said I paid $800. That would have impressed him without the shock. As it was, for the entire visit, he would stop anyone he met in the halls, in the cafeteria, the laundry room—anywhere. “Guess how much my son paid for his car. Twenty thousand! Can you believe it? Woo-hoo!”
The others his age were just as shocked. Wherever I went, I could see them pointing and whispering like I was a drunken rock star.
All this came back to me when I received a forwarded email from Fred Weinstein showing pages from a 1934 Montgomery Ward catalog. You could get all of the materials for a 6-room house, paint, hardware, everything, delivered to your door (if you had one) for only $1,092. Ladies could get a ghastly full-length, knees-to-neck girdle for $1 (no wonder my grandmothers wore them). They could also order an iron for $2.98, not all that cheap, but it ran on gasoline. I would like to see them fire that up every Tuesday!
Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, Mend on Wednesday, Churn on Thursday, Clean on Friday, Bake on Saturday, Church on Sunday.
Increasing prices are often the measurement of time, and we tend to forget this as we age. To me, $20 is still a lot of money to carry around, even though I know that is trivial today. The old Jean Shepherd radio shows from the 1960s sound totally contemporary until he mentions a price, like $5 for a meal in a NYC restaurant, a price my father would expect to pay.