Su Lum: Slumming
The other day I found one of my old check registers dated July 25 to Dec. 3, 1979. This was before those carbon copy-type checks came out (a boon to me) and way before automatic deductions or online billing came on the scene.
I was quite diligent, if not tidy, about recording these transactions and I could instantly see why since my beginning balance in this register was $155.51, and it often dipped perilously lower than that. I had to keep some serious track of the money.
If I did a major dig I could find out how much I was earning in 1979, but the hell with it. To my mind it was a LOT, probably around $13,000, which was a good wage back then for a single mother with two teenagers.
I worked entirely on commission on ad sales at The Aspen Times, where I had worked for 14 years at the time of the check register. During the lucrative months I’d pay off my Visa bill and start over again the way most people I knew did.
We didn’t live high on the hog, but we didn’t live all that close to the bone, either. We did most of our shopping at garage sales and the Thrift Shop, then took annual vacations to places like Disneyland, Hawaii and Europe, spending weeks in the picking, the planning and the research.
In my time warp, 1979 seems like a very short time ago. Aspen is expensive now and it was expensive then, but inflation just keeps gradually creeping up on you and now, 31 years later, I look at the check register and think holy cow, things were really cheap back then!
Twenty-five dollars for a hair cut was a definite splurge. A $266 house payment (now $420 per month for taxes). A $76 car payment. Dr. Crandall, $20. Grocery store checks were dramatically low – $16, $18, sometimes a whopping 30 bucks.
The trash bill was $5.20 (we’re being killed there now). Cable TV $17.50, but not many channels and it tended to go off during the most exciting moments such as the end of a movie or the middle of the Super Bowl.
It cost $1,475 to have my whole back porch replaced. It was $259 for contact lenses I never got used to; I’m now on the way to cataract surgery, covered by Medicare, so it all works out if you live long enough.
Eleven dollars for a veterinarian. Car insurance was $104. Thirty-dollar phone bill (Mountain Bell) – this one varied due to high long-distance charges. A natural gas bill toward the end of the register when it must have been getting chilly, $32. Electricity and water from the city, $35.
I paid for gasoline with the credit card so I have no record of that, but I bet the Visa people know.
Same for dining out, that all went on the card – we didn’t do much of that but I’d love to compare those prices with today’s.
My favorite restaurant ever was the old Copper Kettle, built by KNCB Moore and owned by Sara and Army Armstrong (R.I.P.). Sara did all the cooking, including the bread and soup, and every night they featured a meal from a different country. If you veered from the menu you could get a steak, but that was it. The atmosphere was stupendous and the meals fabulous. When we moved to Aspen it was the most expensive place in town to eat with a prix fixe of $11 and worth every penny.
Spaghetti and meatballs cost $2.50 at the Mother Lode and those are the only specific prices I remember and that was in the late ’60s.
My old miner’s shack cost $47,000 furnished in 1972, the most terrifying purchase of my life and the most fortuitous.
Shortly before they died, I helped the old Fisher sisters – Elsa, Frieda and Martha – move to assisted living in Grand Junction. They said farewell to the huge spruce trees they had planted but their memories were of having been blessed to have lived here. “Aspen was good for us,” they said.
Aspen has been good to me and I don’t forget that.
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