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The Biggest Changes

February 2024
1min read


Your “50/50” series of the biggest changes since 1954 inspired me to compile a list of 10 things that came along during (or rose to prominence in) the last 50 years that have contributed most dramatically to my own life. Having become a teenager in 1953,1 well remember those heady days of early rock ’n’ roll, blockbuster films, and cake mixes. The items I have chosen, however, have to do with daily life:

  1. 1. Hair spray
  2. 2. Stiletto heels
  3. 3. Pantyhose
  4. 4. Disposable contact lenses
  5. 5. Refrigerator magnets
  6. 6. Grocery bags with handles
  7. 7. Cat litter
  8. 8. Paint rollers
  9. 9. Mystery series with women gumshoes
  10. 10. Brown v. Board of Education

Microwave ovens and cable television have made only a marginal difference in the way I live. But cat litter means my beloved felines never have to go out into the flea-infested world; paint rollers made it possible for me to trust my teenage children to redecorate their rooms. In the hot and humid South, Spray Net and its progeny made style possible for hairproud teens. For those who struggled with merry widows (corsets) and garter belts, the ease of pantyhose and trouser socks has been wonderfully freeing. Despite pinched toes, I still wear pointy “witch shoes” with stiletto heels whenever appropriate; they make me feel as powerful as Nancy Sinatra in her boots “made for walking.” Disposable contacts mean we no longer spend a halfhour combing the carpet for a tiny piece of clear plastic, and grocery bags with handles—the local natural-food store even has paper bags with handles—halve the number of trips from car to kitchen. Inspector Morse and Matt Scudder are wonderful characters, but Amelia Peabody and Kinsey Millhone are more fun.

Most important, though, is that without integration I would have missed knowing my best friend. We are the same age; we grew up less than a mile apart; our grade schools were across the street from each other. We first met 2,000 miles away from home when we were 40 years old. In 1954 we could not have had lunch together or gone shopping together or just hung out. In 1954 she could have come to my home only as a servant, and I could have visited her home only to bring over laundry. Even though my friend and I had finished high school before integration came to our hometown, the far-reaching effects of Brown v. Board of Education made overt interracial socialization possible and thereby greatly enhanced the life of this white woman.

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