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In the Heart of the Blackland Divide

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Down Memory Lane: Money Then and Now

Shields Grocery ad from a 1959 Roscoe Times.

One thing we’ve all experienced in our lives is the way money and our relationship to it has changed over the years.  In general, I’d say that the current generation is growing up with a silver spoon in its mouth compared to the way things were fifty years ago—but of course back then we all grew up hearing stories about how we were the ones who were spoiled because we’d never gone through the hard times of the depression. 

With that said, it goes without saying that today’s dollar, which is not even worth as much as a Canadian dollar, has nowhere near the value it had back then.  Like many other Roscoe boys, the first paying job I ever had was folding papers for George Parks at the Roscoe Times on Thursday afternoons.  The pay was seventy-five cents for about two hours’ work, and to a boy in those days, it seemed like a princely sum.

I would keep a quarter and put the rest in the Boys Club bank to use for trips or other Boys Club expenses like shotgun shells during dove season.  That quarter I kept would usually last me through the weekend, being spent on such frivolities as baseball cards, balsawood gliders from Arant’s Variety Store, or ice cream cones from Haney’s Rexall Drugs.  Baseball cards were a nickel a pack, the gliders were a dime apiece, and ice cream cones were a nickel for a single dip and a dime for a double.

When I was eleven, my financial status jumped considerably when I got a regular job at the Times Office, working every day after school, and eight to twelve on Saturdays.  George paid me four dollars a week for the first month I worked there, and then he kicked it up to five after that.  From that point on, I considered myself wealthy, and I was, compared to most of my classmates, who were typically broke and had money only on occasion.  I always kept at least a quarter in my pocket, and when I think today about how having a quarter in my pocket back then could change my whole outlook on life, I have to laugh. 

But a dollar back then was a lot more money than a dollar is now.  In very general terms, a modern dollar is worth maybe a 1960 dime—if that.  In the fifties a cup of coffee went from a nickel to a dime, and then about 1960 or so, fancy places started charging twenty cents, and I can remember listening to adults saying that they’d quit drinking coffee before they’d pay twenty cents for a cup—and this was in the day of unlimited free refills.  Today, if you can get a single cup for $1.50, you’re lucky.

Hamburgers at Haney’s Drug Store were 25¢, cheeseburgers were 30¢, potato chips on the side were another 5¢, and a cherry coke to drink with it was either a nickel or a dime, depending on the size you got.  And you didn’t have to go to the counter to make your order or to pick it up when your number was called.  You were served by a smiling waitress who brought you a glass of ice water before you ordered. 

At the Joy Theater, if I remember correctly, admission was 14¢ for kids and 35¢ for twelve and older.  A small paper bagful of popcorn was a nickel, and so was most of the candy they sold there: Big Hunks, Sugar Daddies, Snickers, and Baby Ruths.  Compare that with today’s movie prices in cities, which are something like $8 or $9 for a ticket, $7 for popcorn, and $5 to $7 for a Pepsi, depending on what size you get.  

Back then, a dollar’s worth of gas was a standard amount at Chubby and Mac’s or Pat Vines’ or Hugo Zetzman’s service station, and in addition to about four gallons of gas, that dollar got you a clean windshield, an oil check, and air in your tires, if they needed them, from an eager attendant.

Who knows what a dollar will be worth fifty years from now?  If we use the change in the dollar over the past fifty years as a guide, we can project that people will be paying something like $35 or $40 for a cup of coffee and something over $1000 to take the family out for a meal at a nice restaurant for which the tip to the waitress will be $150 or so.  A decent job will pay half a million a year and God only knows what college tuition will cost.

Compare those figures with the old stories many of us have heard about the depression—how a hamburger was a nickel or how men worked hard labor jobs for a dollar a day and felt that they were lucky to get it.  



While hurricane Irene flooded the entire east coast, Roscoe and the rest of west Texas experienced yet another week of hot, dry weather.  The past three days here have each had a maximum temperature of 105°F, and today’s forecast is for a high of 103°.  On Monday, after a sunny high of 105°, the skies clouded over about three o’clock, but the temperature dropped only to 102° for the rest of the afternoon.  Maybe I’ve been gone from west Texas too long, but I can’t remember ever being in cloudy weather when the temperature was that high. 

The high for the rest of the week is supposed to drop down into the double digits, 98° or so, but there is still no serious chance of precipitation in the forecast. 

1 comment:

  1. Yowza, $40 for a cup of coffee?!?! I guess that's possible, but it sure does sound crazy right now!


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