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Things we see as permanent will eventually change

October 12, 2018

The Huntington Museum of Art (HMA) is a wonderful asset to our community. When visiting there, I think how fortunate we were to have Huntingtonians here in the 1950s who envisioned it and were willing to donate the resources to establish this fine facility.

And speaking of that time period, when Maury and I were helping sort books for the HMA’s August used book sale fundraiser, I found a 1950s information book that called my name. I had to buy it as it is a perfect reminder of how things we see as permanent and immutable today will change.

That same week a friend sent me one of those emails that often invites the delete button. But this one, also about life in the 1950s, added a touch of humor to reality. For example, a section about sports stars included the incredulous question, “Did you see where some baseball player just signed a contract for $50,000 per year to just play ball?” Today’s lowest-ranked players would laugh at that measly sum.

I just filled my car’s gas tank; it was $2.95 per gallon. This reminded me of another comment on that email, “When I first started driving, who would have thought that gas would someday cost 25 cents per gallon.”

“Forever” postage stamps now cost 50 cents, which fits nicely with the 1950s comment, “Can you believe the post office is planning to charge seven cents just to mail a letter?” A timely quip was, “If they raise the minimum wage to $1.00 an hour, nobody will be able to hire outside help at the store.”

Regarding the new idea of cheap, quick eateries in the 1950s, the comment was, “The fast food restaurant is convenient for a quick meal, but I seriously doubt it will ever catch on.” Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s arrived on the scene in 1955.

McDonald’s 15-cent hamburgers sold a million that year, but by 1994 it was estimated that 100 billion had been consumed. Now their billboards simply say, “billions and billions served.”

Notable events of 1955 include Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, which led to needed changes in our civil rights laws.

Israel and Egypt agreed to a cease fire, which few believed would ever happen. The Salk polio vaccine became available to the public, rapidly decreasing the paralyzing disease that scared America and the world.

Less positive 1950s comments that deserved more attention include one by the then head of the National Cancer Institute who said, “The risk of acquiring lung cancer is greater among smokers than in nonsmokers.” The tobacco companies’ leaders turned a deaf ear to that information.

In September 1955, forest fires in Santa Barbara, California, area resulted in $15 million in property damage and six deaths. Yet, so many people believe that the 2018 fires there were a one-time event.

In the 1950s, IBM’s computers were massive and the video telephone, which was unveiled at an electronics convention, was to cost $5,000. FaceTime, Skype and more are everyday and inexpensive worldwide communication tools. New scientific and technological developments will make much of our current way of life obsolete.

We tend to focus our attention primarily on our current and near future environment; the past is often forgotten.

These reminders from the mid-20th century illustrate that many things that we view as stable and permanent today will be very different in the future.

Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.

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