Tag Archive | "Golden Age of Radio"

The Way We Were

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With the change in the weather brings thoughts of spring after a long hard winter. It’s the time of year when Mother Nature ushers in the birth of all things; it’s a time to reminisce.


They say that with age comes wisdom, and rightly so.  But after experiencing a lifetime upon which to reflect, I wonder where we went wrong … particularly since it seemed to start out right.


My formative years were spent in South Philadelphia, where I grew up in an ethnically diverse neighborhood during the Great Depression.  Life was hard during that Depression, but it was also much simpler.  Then, my family’s chief concerns were the basics of life: food, shelter, and clothing.  The family, in fact, was the center of our existence.


Sharing my joys and sorrows with my brothers and parents gave me, and indeed, all of us, a sense of unity and security.  Dad supplied the needs of the family while Mom managed the household duties.  Religion also was part of our lives.  It helped to mold our characters by instilling humility and kindness into our lives.


Although times were hard, life was not unpleasant.  Family outings and visits to friends and relatives, punctuated with much laughter and good times, brought peace and serenity to our lives.  I guess you really could call them “the good old days.”


During the Great Depression, we had few amenities such as people enjoy today. The main modes of travel were automobiles and public transportation. There was no air conditioning back then, and no one had a telephone in his or her home.  Health insurance had yet to emerge, and television had yet to be invented.  Credit cards were still a thing of the future.  Yet, we all survived.


We did have gas appliances, hot water, and forced-air heat. For entertainment, we had Victrolas™, local movie houses, and the radio.  This was the Golden Age of Radio.  The music was good, and the radio also offered mystery stories, such as The Shadow, that sent chills up the spines of every single family member.  We looked forward to gathering around the radio for fun.


Other forms of entertainment were really up to the individual.  We walked and hiked to explore our world.  We played street games or listened to a public concert at a local park, which made life more pleasant.  I can clearly recall sitting by the Wissahickon Creek on warm summer afternoons, listening as the water rushed and gurgled through the valley.  That is a fond, lasting memory for me.


Then something happened that would forever change our lives: World War II came along.  With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, America was plunged into war and many young people grew up overnight.  In the process, thousands of men from ages 18 to 45 years old were conscripted into the military.  In the work force, particularly in the factories, women stepped in to fill the shoes of the men drafted into service. 


Those were the days when the patriotic spirit of America flourished throughout the land. War bond sales and Hollywood stars joined forces to defeat our enemies.  USOs sprang up around the nation to offer a home away from home to our servicemen.


After four and a half years of bloody war, America emerged victorious on September 2, 1945.  The introduction of the atomic bomb put an end to the conflict and propelled the troops to return home.  There, we tried to pick up the pieces of our lives and move on into the future.


The immediate postwar years were bleak.  There was too much manpower and not enough jobs.  Factory wages were less than $2.00 an hour and the need for housing to accommodate newlyweds was on the horizon.


As we slowly moved into the future, enterprising real estate developers, such as Levitt in Pennsylvania, offered burgeoning new families modest dwellings in suburban locations, thus creating the exodus of many city dwellers to suburbia.  Along with the introduction of television, this industry spurred our economy with the need for more jobs to satisfy the wants of new home buyers.  Happy days were here again!


The fly in the ointment was the banking industry.  Back then, banks followed stringent standards when supplying loans to people without collateral.  A rule of thumb in procuring a loan was that one week of the loan recipient’s monthly income had to cover his mortgage payment.


Enterprising businessmen saw the opportunity of establishing credit to these borrowers, by offering store credit cards.  It seemed a good solution to the problem.  Hence, the system of credit scores evolved.  As we continued to move into the future, the economy improved, bringing more jobs and higher wages.


America was on a roller coaster ride.  We climbed high and exuberantly as Wall Street experienced record sales with an inflated economy.  However, the threat of financial collapse waited around the bend.  The ride, you see, was dictated by banking institutions and the very watchful eyes of the government.  The banks had to remain prudent in their lending practices; in turn, those practices were to be monitored by the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission).  Obviously, the banks and the government loosened their vigilance, for in September of 2008, we experienced another crash on Wall Street.


Barbara Streisand once had a hit song bearing the same title as this article.  Her haunting words still ring in my ears, “What’s too painful to remember is so very hard to forget.”  That just about says it all.


As I sit typing this article of reminiscence about the America in which I grew up, and the America in which we live today, I recall the Native American portrayed in a poignant, old commercial.  A tear ran down his face as he watched this beautiful land turn into a garbage dump.  Indeed, “where did we go wrong?” 


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