Being among the first batch of baby boomers, I can do nostalgia with the best of them. I can describe the good old days of the 1950s and early ’60s, when kids created their own entertainment and applying to college was not the stress-driven process it is today.
I can wax poetic about the affordability of housing and a much narrower wage gap that allowed schoolteachers, police officers and airline pilots to live in Los Altos alongside the doctors, attorneys and engineers. And yes, it was wonderful when the cost of attending a UC campus was $1,800 a year – which included room and board – and college debt was virtually unheard of.
But to be honest, there is an awful lot about modern-day life that is better today. So in the spirit of fairness, I want to admit that there is much to celebrate about life today.
In the ’50s, we had no NPR, no PBS, no Trader Joe’s. Youth soccer was unheard of. We went to the Bay only to go to the dump with our fathers, as it was a smelly, grungy place. Thanks to those who worked so hard to restore the Bay, biking or hiking at Shoreline Park is now one of my husband’s and my favorite activities. And when we go there, we celebrate the fabulous diversity of languages we hear, reminding us of how diverse this once homogenous area has become.
When I was in high school, females were expected to wear torturous undergarments – girdles, garter belts, merry widows – so that we could squeeze into our prom dresses. And no matter how cold it was outside, female students and teachers could not wear pants to school.
In the ’50s, no one wore seat belts or bike helmets. And almost all the parents smoked. In our Brownie troops and elementary school classrooms, we made ceramic ashtrays to give our parents for Christmas.
When I was young, parenting was pretty much the domain of the mothers. Now as I watch the influx of young families into our neighborhood, I marvel at how much time today’s fathers spend with their children. On weekday mornings when I go outside to snag the snails, I note how the parade of children, walking and bike riding the mile to Gardner Bullis School, are as likely to be accompanied by their fathers as their mothers.
What a better world it is for women, who have the choice of whether to stay at home or return to work. (I say this conceding that many low-income women have to work and wish they had that choice to stay at home with their children.)
While racial discrimination still endures, I think it’s safe to say that no black family would be hounded out of Los Altos as an African-American doctor and his family were in the early 1960s when they purchased a house near Los Altos Golf & Country Club.
And it certainly is a better world for young people who know they are gay. No longer must they remain in the closet, terrified that someone will guess. Teachers who are gay can now be open about their sexual orientation and no longer worry that they will be fired if anyone finds out.
Yes, there was a lot about life in Los Altos 50 years ago that I miss. But there’s just as much, maybe more, to celebrate about the changes that I’ve seen. The good old days weren’t always as good as we old geezers like to think they were.
Nancy Ginsburg Gill moved to Los Altos with her family in 1952, when she was 4 years old. In 1979, she and her husband moved back to her childhood home on Orange Avenue with their two young children.