Half a century

Waking up this morning and realizing that I’m 50 doesn’t seem much different from 49. It’s just a number, a demographic segment of the population. I work with other women in their 50’s, and it seems a good group to have that in common with.

To realize, though, that I have lived half a century – that puts it in terms, not of who I am, but the history I have lived through. And a half century of history seems like a long time, compared to the pace of life as we live it.

I have been alive for all or part of the terms of ten U.S. presidents. And I can remember events related to all but the first two of those. Probably the first historical event that I remember being aware of was the moon landing, though I had trouble seeing why it was quite the big deal that adults seemed to think it was.

Out of curiosity, I looked at some of the websites that list significant events in 1962. Lots of them have to do with people and places that I still know little about, but some are easy to relate to.

The year I was born, the first Wal-Mart opened. And the first Kmart, and the first Target store. The first Taco Bell also opened that year.

Tab-opening aluminum cans were introduced. The first active communications satellite was launched, and relayed the first transatlantic television transmission.

The first industrial robot was introduced. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. The first American rocket reached the moon. The first interplanetary probe reached Venus. So it’s not surprising that toys offered that year included a moon landing set and a robot.

John F. Kennedy was president. His younger brother Ted was elected (as the result of a great deal of money spent by his father) to the Senate seat JFK had vacated to become president.

Things cost a lot less in 1962. (Exact numbers differ depending on what site you look at, but they’re all in the same range.) You could buy a new house for $25,000 (average), and a new car for $3,125 (average). Of course, you were likely making only about $5,556 a year.

Gas cost 28 cents a gallon. A first class postage stamp cost four cents. A pack of chewing gum or a candy bar cost five cents. (I can actually remember paying those prices, and being indignant when the cost doubled to a dime.)

Some things cost a lot more. You would have paid $400 for a color TV, and $40 for a transistor radio (AM only). Realizing how much of a person’s earnings it took to buy those, consumer electronics are amazingly inexpensive today.

Chubby Checker‘s recording of “The Twist” hit the top of the charts for the second time (and was the most popular song the week I was born). Shortly thereafter, Bishop Burke of Buffalo banned it from all Catholic schools as “un-Christian.” (The bishop died later that year; one can only imagine what he would think of the music young people listen to fifty years later.)

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