The Christmas season has always been a time to recall the memories of the past years. In my mind, I can once again be 6 years old out shopping for holiday gifts with my mom at the five and dime store on Broadway. The building was destroyed in a 1963 fire and the Cumberland Farms store is there today. Back then — a half-century ago — with a budget of $5 I could buy a present for each of the eight people on my Christmas gift list. Ah, those heady days when a bottle of Coke cost a nickel, stores offered penny candy, Howdy Doody was on TV every afternoon, and rap music hadn’t been invented.
I suppose it’s human nature to look back fondly to those by-gone days and believe that back then life was simpler, people were nicer and things were done right. In December 1928, an anonymous writer in the Derry News wrote this piece about Derry back in the time that he fondly remembered as “the good old days”:
“THIRTY YEARS AGO (1898): Beer was 5 cents a glass and there were free lunches in the saloons. Eggs were 3 dozen for a quarter. Milk was 5 cents a quart. The butcher gave liver for the cat, and treated the kids to bologna.
“The hired girl was satisfied with $2 a week and she did the washing. Women did not power or paint, smoke, play poker or shake the shimmy. The men wore boots and whiskers, chewed tobacco, spat on the sidewalk, worked 11 hours a day and never went on strike.
“A kerosene lamp and stereopticon in the parlor were luxuries. No one was operated on for appendicitis. Folks lived to a good old age just the same and walked miles to wish their friends a ‘MERRY CHRISTMAS.’
“TODAY (1928): Everybody rides in autos or airships, plays poker, shoots craps, plays the piano with their feet, goes to the movies, smokes cigarettes, drinks highballs, and blames the high cost of living on the Republicans.
“They never go to bed the same day they get up and think they are having a wonderful time. This is the age of suffragettes, profiteers, excess taxes and prohibition, and if you think life is worth living, I wish you a ‘HAPPY NEW YEAR.’”
After reading that, I guess life in is some what better today than it was in 1898 or 1928. At least now, in 2012, we don’t have Prohibition, we don’t work 11 hours a day for $2 a week and no one that I know “plays the piano with their feet.”
And from your town historian and his entire family, a merry Christmas, a Hanukkah filled with peace, a jolly, holly Festivus, a thoughtful, family-centered Kwanzaa, and Aselah Malakim to both stranger and friend, Republican or Democrat, young or not-so-young in old Nutfield where it is a blessing to be able to call it home.
Rick Holmes is the official town historian of Derry and plans to hold office hours at the municipal center. He is the former chairman of the Derry Heritage Commission. Several of his books on local history are available at Mack’s Apples and Derry’s libraries.