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South Texas Living

The good ol’ prices of the ‘fabulous ’50s’

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Julia Castro
Apple Pie and Salsa
July 9, 2014 | 3,842 views | Post a comment

When I lived with my parents on Second Street before getting married and afterwards while Henry was in the Army, it seemed that it was the custom for men who had the time to stand at the corner in town in front of the bank and pass the time of day talking about the weather and other things that men talk about(?). Papá was one of them when he could no longer work. Others would sit at Smith Drug Store and drink coffee and talk. Now, not only men but women and children as well eat at restaurants and sit and talk at length. They probably still talk about the weather or who passed away, or other current events. With us women these days one of the main topics is the rising cost of living. Every time we go to the store, we see that prices have gone up. And it’s not only groceries, it’s everything! And on top of prices going up, the packages are getting smaller. The first item I noticed getting smaller a few years ago was a can of tuna. For tuna salad I didn’t notice it, but when I could no longer get three patties from a can, I decided to check the label. The weight has gone from 6 ounces to 4 ounces when drained. I keep cans of sardines in the pantry also. They used to pack four sardines to a can, now it’s only three!

And what about meat? Oh, my gosh! We had been warned that because of the drought we have been in for several years here in South Texas that the price of beef would go up considerably. Well, it went up drastically! I have always been able to stretch a pound of hamburger meat to the limit. Ground hamburger was always the cheapest cut of meat. Now, if you buy a pound of ground beef for under $4, you have to drain off a lot of grease. If you want the leaner meat you pay close to $5.

I know we’re not living back in the “fabulous ’50s,” but here’s a little bit of history from back then. I found an ad from J.C. Merchant’s Super Market from that era. And most of the other grocery stores (there were four more just downtown) carried pretty much the same prices. Hamburger meat sold for 49 cents a pound; chuck roast also 49 cents; sirloin steak 75 cents a pound; 7 steak 53 cents a pound; shoulder roast 59 cents a pound; rib stew 35 cents a pound; and fryers 55 cents a pound. Now, fryers are the least expensive meat, at under $1 a pound when they are on sale. And there was a drought back then too!

Pet milk, which a lot of mothers used as a baby formula, was advertised as “one tall can or two small ones for $.14.” And for your hygiene needs, four bars of bath soap for 25 cents. Tide large size 27 cents.

For your home -- from the Wilson County Lumber Company, 1 gallon of white paint, $6.25, on sale for $5.19. A gallon of semi-gloss enamel, $6.05, on sale for $4.85.

From the I.D. Flores Rexall Drugstore -- a 12 oz. bag of Hershey’s Kisses, 24 cents, an 8 oz. bottle of Cherosote cough syrup, 89 cents.

And for the ladies’ sewing needs, Ellinghausen-Teltschik’s offered their finest material, Irish linen for $1.95 a yard, Dotted Swiss (I loved that material) for 98 cents a yard. The lowest priced was percale at 39 cents a yard. Now there’s only one store in town that sells materials and you can’t buy anything for under $4 a yard.

So, while I know that prices can never ever be the same as in the ’50s, I wonder if some businesses are overpricing merchandise because of the oil boom. Are they taking advantage of us because a lot of the oil-field workers are making good money and can spend more? What about those of us who are on fixed incomes? And what about gas prices going up? Gas, gas everywhere, but no discounts around here! I will continue to buy what I can afford for as long as I can. And I will try not to complain. I know that I am blessed to live in this country, and I do thank the Good Lord for all our blessings!

Julia Castro, a retired Head Start teacher and mother of 10, lives in Floresville with her husband, Henry. Her email is

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