"Time has no divisions to mark its passage; there is never a thunderstorm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month, year, or century. It is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols."
- Thomas Mann
The trouble with us humans is that, no matter how good the times or prosperous our financial condition, we're more prone to dwell on what's wrong with our lives than what's good.
Yes, we got a raise last year but the car died, our taxes went up and Johnny made his first trip to the orthodontist. Yes, we have a nice home in a nice neighborhood, but now DOT is cutting down all our buffer trees to make way for a new Interstate ramp, and 20 years from now when we're ready to sell we won't make a dime. Yes, our company had a banner year in 2005, but with gas prices so high and competition creeping in from China, we're afraid the good-times bubble is about to burst.
The second trouble with humans is that, in assessing our well being, we make all our comparisons too close together.
We're broke because we have less money in our wallet today than we had last week and, Christmas notwithstanding, we owe more on our credit cards now than we did two months ago. We're also quite sure we're spending more of our income on necessities - food, clothes and housing - than we did a year ago.
I can't vouch for the accuracy of the following, but if a fellow writer is correct, we may all feel better if we judge our current situation by the standards our American counterparts enjoyed - or suffered - 100 years ago than by what we have come to expect in 2006. These are some of the conditions we might have expected in 1906:
The average life expectancy was 47 years.
Only 14 percent of homes had a bathtub; only 8 percent had a phone, and a 3-minute call from Denver to New York City cost $11.
There were 8,000 cars in the country, 144 miles of paved roads, and the maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.
The average wage was 22 cents an hour, and the average worker made between $200 and $400 per year. An accountant might earn $2,000, a dentist $2,500, and a mechanical engineer as much as $5,000.
About 95 percent of all births took place at home.
Sugar cost 4 cents a pound, eggs 14 cents a dozen, and a pound of coffee about 15 cents.
Most women washed their hair once a month, and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
The five leading causes of death were: pneumonia and influenza, tuberculosis, diarrhea, heart disease, and stroke.
Instead of Medicare, health insurance or specialists in every known medical field, 90 percent of doctors had no college education, but received minimal training at medical schools considered substandard by the government and the press.
Two in 10 American adults could neither read nor write; only 6 percent had graduated from high school.
On the bright side: 18 percent of households had at least one full-time servant, and there were fewer than 250 reported murders in the entire country that year.
Closer to home, along with higher prices, more income, cars and paved roads, Georgia's population has increased from 2,216,331 in 1900 to 8,144,000 today, while Columbia County has increased from approximately 9,000 a century ago to more than 100,000 today.
Despite what we may think about our fast-growing county today, with a population of 8,345 in 1800, Columbia County only increased by 1,200 people during the next 150 years. But from 1950 until now, the county has increased 10-fold, and more recent energy has been expended by county officials to control that growth than on any other project.
As we prepare to open our fabulous new library, break ground for bigger and better commercial establishments and continue erecting new schools and homes, methinks all crystal ball gazers in 1906 would have been more entitled to their "ain't it awful" description of the 20th-century than any citizen of Columbia County today should be about century No. 21.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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