By Ralph Hood

My mother collected history in the making. She saved important issues of Life magazine over the years, and I stole the collection. She saved big stories like Kennedy’s assassination and moon shots, of course, and she also saved issues that were of particular interest to her. Hemingway’s death is there, as is that of William Faulkner.

In some issues she inserted a newspaper story of the day. The Kennedy assassination issue has the front page of the Washington Post, screaming that Kennedy was “SHOT DEAD.”

The stories are fascinating, particularly those I remember reading when they happened—Sputnik, for example—and Truman firing MacArthur. But evidently it wasn’t until the sixties that I began reading the news in any depth.

The ads tell more about how we lived in the sixties than the stories do. Cigarettes were advertised with pride and no warning of death. One could imagine that we did not yet know about the cancer-smoking link. That’s odd, because I clearly remember cancer/cigarette jokes being told in high school during the fifties.

Cars were huge and described as such with words like “widetrack’. This was before OPEC and before we had ever heard of a fuel shortage. Gas was cheap and you got a free set of glasses if you bought enough. Honda was a motorcycle, not a car.

Some of the advertised products are still around (like Contac) and others I haven’t heard from in years (whatever happened to Benrus watches?).

This was before feminism, and you can sure tell it from reading the ads. A tire company shows an obviously helpless damsel with gloves, heels, puffy hairdo, and flat tire. The headline reads “When there’s no man around, our tire should be.” No company would dare run that ad today.

I was dating in the sixties, I got married in the sixties, and I certainly thought the women of the sixties were gorgeous. Reading the ads today, however, tells me how much I’ve been changed by the feminist movement. Frankly, the girls in those ads look like airheads. I guess that’s the way we wanted them to look, but it sure looks silly now.

Back to tires for a second. There were no steel-belted radials (or any other kind of radials) advertised. Back then they bragged about how many plies the tire had.

Somehow, I feel superior to the people of that era, which is ridiculous, since I was one of ’em. They didn’t yet know about Watergate, the ozone layer, microwaves, cable TV or pocket calculators, much less VCRs and personal computers.

They knew so little, how in the world did “they” ever become “us?”