Long Ago, & Far Away in a Land that Time Forgot

Those who grew up in the 1950s know a few things about that era. For example, we know the 1950s weren’t perfect. What era is? We know opportunity wasn’t always available for minorities, and neither was equality when it came to civil rights or equal pay for women.

But we also know that the 1950s were a more congenial and safer time to be a kid than it is today. There was no Internet or social media to bully and insult us. Conversations were face-to-face; the telephone was the only technology we used to communicate.

School shootings were unheard of, and the only demonstrations that occurred on high school or college campuses were pep rallies before football and basketball games.

We mowed grass. We didn’t smoke it.

Crime was low. In 1957, for example, the murder rate bottomed out at four people per 100,000, the lowest in fifty-five years. Before that, it spent three years hovering around 4.1, which is still pretty good. By comparison, in 2021 and 2022, the murder rate was 7.5–almost twice as high.

In the 1950s, meeting new people naturally and spontaneously in public was easier. We didn’t have GPS, geotags, social media, or iPhone tracking systems. There were no dating Apps or Internet hookups.

Credit cards were rare. The Diners Club card, invented by businessmen in 1950, was the first modern-day credit card. It allowed people to charge meals in local restaurants and then pay the full balance due at the end of a month. People purchased things using cash or checks. Today, financial transactions have gone digital, meaning you have a digital footprint you can’t avoid or hide from.

The world in the 1950s was slower—much slower than it is today. You had time to focus on a task, and attention spans were significantly longer. Today’s technology has changed that. A recent study found that in 2004, people, on average, were distracted every three minutes, and by 2014, the average attention span dropped to 59 seconds. There isn’t much time for concentration or reflection in today’s frenetic world.

Today, studies reveal that people, especially young people, experience more stress, anxiety, and even depression caused by their addiction to social media and mobile phone usage. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 10 Americans suffers from some form of depression. People in the 50’s were healthier mentally and emotionally before the relentless rise of technology.

Air travel was uncomplicated and relaxed. There was no TSA, long security lines, shoe removal, metal detectors, or invasive body scanners. After checking your bag, you boarded the plane—no hassle, no stress. And one more thing. The seats, even in coach, were wider, with more legroom. Flying today is like riding in an over-loaded boxcar and just about as uncomfortable. Okay, there was one major downside in the 1950s regarding air travel. Smoking was allowed.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of fathers were the only source of income for the family in the 1950s and even in the 1960s. Today, raising a family on a single income is almost impossible, and 60 percent of families depend on dual incomes to survive. Yep, times have changed.

But perhaps the biggest difference between today and 1951 or 1961, is what has happened to home ownership. Homeownership has always been the backbone of the American Dream. Today, the dream has become a nightmare. In 2022, first-time homebuyers declined to just 26 percent, the lowest level since the National Association of Realtors began tracking data decades ago. The homeownership rate among young adults (25-to-34-year-olds) declined from 45% in 1990 to 41.6% in 2021. In 1955, the homeownership rate was 68%.

According to the US Census Bureau, a median home cost $11,900 in 1960, while the household median income was $4,970 (or about half the cost of a home). In 2010, the median home cost nationwide was $221,800, while the median income was $49,445 (or a bit more than a fourth of the cost of a home).

In my state of California, the median home price in 1950 was $9,564. In 2019, the median value of a California home was $568,500.Today, the median home price in California is forecast to hit $860,300, and if your mortgage company requires a traditional 20% downpayment, you will need to come up with $172,000! Given that the average savings rate in America today is just 4.1 percent of net income, few home buyers have that kind of cash. In the mid-1950s, the savings rate was 10-11 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Because people didn’t have credit cards in the 1950s, they saved when they wanted to buy things. There was no credit card debt. Today, credit card debt in America exceeds $1 trillion, with the average family owing about $12,000 to credit card companies.

And finally, here’s something else that was done better in the 1950s—writing in cursive. Be honest. Can you even write in cursive? It’s become a lost art in the age of typing and texting. Many schools don’t even teach it anymore. So why learn it? Well, some educators say knowing it will help if you ever need to read historical documents, and there’s evidence it can aid in developing fine motor skills.

Recently, I received a poem entitled: “Long Ago, & Far Away in a Land that Time Forgot.” I have no idea who the author is, but whoever it is has captured the essence of the 1950s. Give it a read, IF you can find the time, and your 21st-century attention span will allow you to return to a place long ago and far away.

“Long Ago & Far Away in a Land that Time Forgot”

Long ago and far away, in a Land that time forgot,

Before the days of Dylan, or the dawn of Camelot.

There lived a race of Innocents, and they were You and Me.

For Ike was in the White House in that land where we were born,

Where navels were oranges, and Peyton Place was Porn.

We learned to gut a muffler, we washed our hair at dawn,

We spread our crinolines to dry in circles on the lawn.

And they could hear us coming all the way to Tennessee,

All starched and sprayed and rumbling in the Land That Made Me Me.

We longed for love and romance and waited for our Prince,

And Eddie Fisher married Liz, and no one’s seen him since.

We danced to “Little Darlin” and sang to “Stagger Lee,”

And cried for Buddy Holly, in the Land that made Me, Me.

Only girls wore earrings then, and three was one too many.

And only boys wore flat-top cuts, except for Jean McKinney.

And only in our wildest dreams did we expect to see,

A boy named George with lipstick, in the land that made Me, Me.

We fell for Franky Avalon; Annette was oh-so-nice,

And when they made a movie, they never made it twice.

We didn’t have a Star Trek Five, or Psycho Two or Three,

Or Rocky Rambo Twenty in the land that made Me, Me.

Miss Kitty had a heart of gold, and Chester had a limp,

And Reagan was a Democrat whose co-star was a chimp.

We had our share of heroes never thought they’d go,

At least not Bobby Darin or Marilyn Monroe.

For youth was still eternal, and life was yet to be.

And Elvis was forever in the land that made Me, Me.

We’d never seen a rock band that was grateful to be dead,

And airplanes weren’t named Jefferson, and Zeppelins were not Led.

Beatles lived in gardens then, and Monkeys lived in trees,

Madonna was a virgin in the land that made Me, Me.

We’d never heard of microwaves or telephones in cars,

And babies might be bottle-fed, but they weren’t grown in jars.

Pumping iron got wrinkles out, and ‘gay’ meant fancy-free,

And dorms were never co-ed in the Land That Made Me, Me.

We hadn’t seen enough of jets to talk about the lag,

And microchips were what was left at the bottom of the bag.

Hardware was a box of nails, and bytes came from a flea,

And rocket ships were fiction in the Land That Made Me, Me.

T-birds came with portholes, and side shows came with freaks,

And bathing suits came big enough to cover both your cheeks.

Coke came just in bottles, and skirts were below the knees,

And Castro came to power in the land that made Me, Me.

We had no Crest with Fluoride, we had no cable TV,

We had no patterned pantyhose or Lipton herbal tea

Or prime-time ads for dysfunctions in the Land That Made Me, Me.

There were no golden arches, no Perrier to chill,

And fish were not called Wanda, and cats were not named Bill.

And middle-aged was 35 and old was sixty-three,

And ancient were our parents in the Land That Made Me, Me.

But all things have a Season, or so we’ve heard them say.

And now, instead of Maybelline, we swear by Retin-A.

They send us invitations to join AARP,

We’ve come a long way, Baby, from the land that made Me, Me.

So now we face a brave new world in slightly larger jeans,

And we wonder why they’re using such small print in our magazines.

And we tell our children’s children the way it used to be.

Long ago, far away, in the land that made Me, Me.


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About Ronald E. Yates

Ronald E. Yates is an award-winning author of historical fiction and action/adventure novels, including the popular and highly-acclaimed Finding Billy Battles trilogy. Read More About Ron Here

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