Thursday, May 14, 2009


This post is in response
to a writing prompt at
Prompt: "I REMEMBER WHEN..."
Click on the link to join in or view other responses.

At the risk of revealing my age, all of these things happened in about the first half of my life.

In approximate chronological order,
I remember when...

We lived upstairs of my grandmother. At that time it was typical for young couples to move in with a parent, so my parents lived with my paternal grandmother for 11 years, until she died when I was 6. (I'm glad that tradition ended.)

Street cars were the main means of transportation in the city.

Our first TV was black and white with a 9-inch screen. We ran home from school to watch Howdy Doody.

I watched Mr. Rogers before he was “Mr. Rogers.” Fred Rogers was the puppeteer on the “Children’s Corner” broadcast live on WQED in Pittsburgh and he was never on screen. Daniel S. Tiger and King Friday XIII were among Fred's first puppets.

I usually took a packed lunch to elementary school, but occasionally I walked a block from school to a grocery store that had a lunch counter. I had a toasted cheese sandwich (10¢), a bowl of soup (15¢), and a glass of milk (5¢). My mother gave me 35¢ so I could buy 5 pieces of penny candy, too.

It was considered an honor to be chosen to clean the blackboard erasers for the teacher ---back when blackboards were black.

I played with the neighborhood kids outside for hours without supervision. We rode bikes, played softball, rode sleds and built forts in the snow, played cowboys and Indians, roamed the woods, and built dams in the creek ----all day long and no one seemed to worry about our safety. Each day was filled with great learning experiences. We had disagreements, but we learned to resolve differences without adult interference and also how to make our own fun.

I walked to school every day with my friends. In my school district, one had to live more than 2 miles from the school to ride a bus. I lived less than one-half mile from every elementary, Jr or Sr High I attended.

A neckerchief was a popular fashion accessory. (Age 9.)

I was proud to be a girl scout when the fashion included ponytails and saddle oxfords. (Age 11.)

A few years later, we wore full skirts with a dozen petticoats under them, bobby socks, penny loafers, pointy bras, men’s white shirts with long tails hanging out, jeans with the cuffs folded to below our knees, white lipstick and fingernail polish. We teased our hair and sprayed it so it would stand about five inches higher than our heads.

I received my first kiss on the step of the North Park (Allegheny County, PA) boat house. (See photo.) My first boyfriend was 6'3", while I was 5'7" so he asked me to stand on the step to equalize our heights. It was after dark, just a month before I turned 16, so instead of being "sweet sixteen and never been kissed" I could say I was "sweet sixteen and never been missed." The romance lasted about 3 months.

Everyone dressed up to go clothes shopping at department stores downtown. There were few shopping malls. I wore a “Sunday”dress, a fashionable hat, heels (with a matching purse), stockings, my best coat (in season) and white gloves. Department stores would deliver purchases to our home. (Age 16 ---my mother would have been mortified if I'd forgotten my white gloves.)

My mother and I would go to town to look at prom dresses. I would choose the one I liked, then my mother would make a duplicate for me for about $5 while the store-bought one would run about $35. (Before she was married, my mother had worked as a seamstress at a dressmaker’s shop, sewing elegant gowns for society women.)

We could buy 2 or 3 bags of groceries for about $10.

Guidance counselors steered girls into being secretaries, teachers, nurses, or homemakers. I don’t remember anyone suggesting any other options

My second high school boyfriend worked at one of the first fast-food places in our area. Winky’s sold hamburgers for 15¢ each.

Almost every store or restaurant was a locally-owned business, so each was unique.

We were innocent, naive, optimistic, and believed (just like Superman) in truth, justice and the American way. That suddenly changed during my freshman year of college on 11/22/63.

In college we wore wool jumpers. cardigan sweaters, straight skirts or kilts (held closed with a huge decorative safety pin), knee socks or textured stockings, loafers or dress flats. We were not permitted to wear slacks, but I was an art major, so I often wore paint-splattered cut-off jeans hidden under my trench coat. I was notorious for my many pair of patterned knee socks.

At my state college, freshman girls had to be in their dorm rooms studying from 7-9:00pm. Weeknights we had to be in our rooms by 10:00pm, one-hour later on weekends. Girls had to live in dorms and eat in college dining halls ---were not allowed to have apartments off-campus. Boys had NO RULES whatsover. If a female student were caught in a boy’s apartment, she was suspended for a semester. Upon her return to school, if studying to be a teacher, had to move out of the education department because a morals charge had been placed on her permanent record, so she was unable to teach in our state. You guessed it, NO ACTION WAS TAKEN AGAINST THE MALE STUDENTS. (This is one of many reasons why I became a feminist.)

My first car, which I needed for student teaching, was a used Corvair which cost $300. (Age 21.) Ralph Nader later decided Corvairs were "unsafe at any speed."

Everyone worried about getting pregnant (before birth control pills) but no one had to worry about AIDS. In the years before abortion was legal, several high school and college friends had illegal ones.

When I graduated from college, the starting salary for teachers was $4500/year.

Idealistic college graduates joined the Peace Corps, although some were more motivated by a deferment from military duty during the Vietnam war than in saving the world. I served two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Brazil. (See my other blog: A Little "Peace" of Brazil)

After returning home from the Peace Corps, teachers’ salaries had jumped to $6300/year ---whoopee! It was one of the few jobs that paid the same for male and female workers. In most fields women earned about half of what men earned for the same job.

Soon, we were wearing tie-dyed shirts, peace signs, and bell bottoms just to feel “groovy.”  I am one of the few people I know who has never smoked marijuana, even though I was an artist and surrounded by hippies and flower children.

I paid $55/month rent for my first apartment.
The first two years I taught, female students and teachers were not allowed to wear slacks. Finally, the school board decided slacks were preferable to mini-skirts.

My first new car, a tan VW Beetle, cost $2000. (Age 24) Believe it or not, I still have that white hat ---forty years later.

My first husband and I paid $4 ($2 each) for our blood tests, $5 for our marriage license, and gave the JP $5. I wore a brown pants suit and he wore slacks and a turtleneck sweater. We had dinner for a total of $9 and then went to a very bad movie. I was 25.

Granny dresses were popular. My sister made me one to wear to the first two-person art gallery exhibit my ex and I had together. She added hand-made lace (to the sleeves and collar) that I had purchased from a local lacemaker while living in Brazil.

Fourteen years after I was married, I did my own divorce. Paper work, filing fees, and a registered letter to my ex cost a total of $38. (We had no children nor property, and had been separated for several years, so we had already divided everything and were still on friendly terms --- it wasn’t a difficult process.)

I paid $27,000 for my first home, a huge 13-room house with three full stories and a full basement; each floor was 1200 square feet.

A few years later, my life entered a new stage, when I met and married my second (& current) husband.

I've had a fantastic life. I hope you enjoyed remembering it with me.

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)


Trudy said...

What a lovely walk down memory lane! Thanks for sharing that. It makes me wish I could have lived in a time that seems so much more simple! I miss Fred Rogers too.

Visiting from Mama Kat's. You are a beautiful writer!

CaJoh said...

Hay, another CJ…

Stopping by from Mamma Kat's. Love the prices of things. I tend to forget how much things cost when I was younger. Looks like you had a lot of great memories.

Anonymous said...

Over from Kat's. What a great post - it is amazing to look at how much your life, our economy, and society has changed.

Angel said...

Wow. I wish I lived in your memory! You are a wonderful writer!

Visiting from Mama Kat's.

Jenners said...

Just back from vacation and catching up with your blog. This was one amazing post!! I loved it! It was so interesting and I love all the little details -- especially the pricing of everything! Isn't it scary how much things have changed? thanks for this! I really really enjoyed it!

Cynthia Samuels said...

Hey. I grew up in Pittsburgh at the same time and was a Tame Tiger! This was just a blast to read. Where are you now?