Putting mother’s lifetime into perspective

Posted Aug. 20, 2010, at 5:04 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:46 p.m.

My sainted mother was born more than a century ago, in 1909. She would tell us those stories of “the old days,” such as when her father would saddle up the horses he kept in downtown Boston and ride out to view the house of Mayor James Michael Curley, on the Jamaicaway.

His horses were kept just off Beacon Street near the location of the imaginary television “Cheers” bar. I always assumed those were his horses shown at the beginning of the show.

We heard those stories so many times that, I must confess, we never paid much attention.

I gained new respect (finally) for the old girl when I hit StumbleUpon.com this week and came across a report from e.thePeople about the country when my mother was born. It was absolutely startling what occurred during her lifetime.

In 1906, three years before she was born, the average life expectancy in the U.S. was 47 years. She certainly beat that projection when she died in 2002 at age 93.

When we complained about our house (often) she would always say, “We’ll see if you have as good.” In her day, only 14 percent of the homes in the U.S. had a bathtub and only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone.

If you wanted to call a friend in Colorado, you’d better be rich. A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost $11. Think of the weekly paychecks. The average wage in the U.S. was 22 cents an hour. The average U.S. worker made between $200 and $400 a year. A year! Canada passed a law simply banning poor people from entering into the country for any reason.

An accountant could expect to earn $2,000 a year, a dentist $2,500 a year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 a year. A mechanical engineer could brag about $5,000 a year.

Doesn’t your paycheck look good now?

On the other hand, money went a lot further at the grocery store. Sugar cost four cents a pound.

Eggs were 14 cents a dozen. Coffee was 15 cents a pound. But there was enough money to hire a maid, since 18 percent of households in the U.S. had at least one full-time servant or domestic help. Most women washed their hair only once a month, and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.

Egg yolks?

There was damn little traffic on the Jamaicaway in those days, since there were only 8,000 cars in the entire country and only 144 miles of paved roads. It took all day to get anywhere since the maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.

California was no big deal in those days since Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa and Tennessee were each more heavily populated. With a mere 1.4 million people, California was only the 21st most populous state in the Union.

It’s hard to believe today, but the tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.

Health care? More than 95 percent of all births in the U.S. took place at home, and 90 percent of all U.S. doctors had no college education. Instead, they attended what were called medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by the government as “substandard,” e.thePeople reported.

The five leading causes of death in the U.S. were pneumonia and influenza, tuberculosis, diarrhea, heart disease and stroke.

The American flag had 45 stars, since Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska hadn’t been admitted to the Union.

You could get a great deal to stay in Vegas. The population of the gambling mecca was only 30 souls.

My afternoons would have been hideous since crossword puzzles, canned beer and iced tea had not been invented yet.

There was no Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

But I would have been considered a genius, since only two out of every 10 U.S. adults could read or write and only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.

Wanna get high? Marijuana, heroin, and morphine all were available over the counter at the corner drugstores.

E.thePeople reported that one pharmacist advertised, “Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.”

It was a lot safer, though. There were only 230 murders reported in the entire country.

It was only a century ago. My mother saw it all. Imagine what my perfect grandchildren, Matthew and Meara, will experience in their lifetime.

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