August 27, 2013

A Hundred Years… A Million Changes

Deuth,-Dave-colorBy David W. Deuth, CFSP
President, Weerts Funeral Home

We’ve probably all said something like this at one time or another: “Gosh, I haven’t seen Joe in a hundred years!”

Whether you think a hundred years is a long time or merely a blip in the big picture, one thing is certain: a lot can happen in a hundred years.

A hundred years ago, World War I hadn’t yet begun. Alaska and Hawaii were not yet part of the United States. America was learning about the “continuous moving assembly line,” as it was successfully being implemented by automobile manufacturing entrepreneur, Henry Ford. The telephone, while already in existence, was a luxury and was certainly restricted to matters of necessity. And it was far from mobile.

A gallon of gasoline cost fifteen cents; mailing a letter (first class) would set you back 2 pennies; a loaf of bread, a nickel. Aviation was just in its infancy; space travel was likely not even conceptualized yet. The terms “gigabyte,” “email” and “internet” could not be found in the dictionary. And the term “text” was relegated solely to the noun form; it would be several decades before it would also enjoy verb status.

Construction was done largely with hand tools; power tools, if they did exist, were certainly primitive by today’s standards and not at all prevalent. (Think about this the next time you’re in any of the magnificent area churches or other structures in the Quad-Cities area that are over 100 years old!)

Fast forward one hundred years. Cars now cost far more than most families paid for their homes 100 years ago. Land that once was the “family farm” may now be a shopping center, an airport, a parking lot or a housing development. Many people “go to work” while still at home these days, tethered (usually wirelessly so) to some type of computer, whether desktop, laptop or tablet. Many others travel internationally on a regular basis for their job. And a large – and growing – number of young adults no longer raise their own family in their hometown; they relocate wherever the job takes them. My brother and I are no different – both of us live several hours away from our hometown; Linda and her three siblings are the same.

Commercial air travel is mindboggling today. Online searches suggest that some 93,000 flights originate DAILY from over 9,000 airports around the world, with as many as 13,000 airplanes in the air at any given moment. And soon, commercial space travel will soon be available to the general public!

A lot has changed in 100 years!

Another big change during the past 100 years is that of life expectancy. While figures will vary due to reporting methods and data sources, the life expectancy of a male born one hundred years ago in the United States was somewhere around 50 years of age; a female could expect to live perhaps a few years more. Today, those numbers are somewhere around 76 years for a male and 81 years for a female, a big change to be certain.

Certainly this article certainly isn’t intended to be a statistical resource of any kind. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that advances in medical science, as well as a better understanding of immunizations, nutrition and healthier lifestyles, have all certainly contributed to a decidedly longer life expectancy today than our counterparts experienced a hundred years ago.

At that time, it was quite common for families to purchase multiple burial spaces in the same cemetery: 6, 8, even 12 or more graves so everyone in the family could be buried in the same “family plot.” Families, by and large, remained in close proximity to their extended family in those days, often farming the same land or operating the same family business generation after generation. Childhood illnesses and plagues claimed the lives of many children; epidemics claimed the lives of infant, child, adolescent and adult alike. It’s easy to understand why the family burial plot, often adjacent to the church at that time, held such significant meaning.

A few things haven’t changed in the past hundred years. There are still only 24 hours in a day. The sun still rises in the East, sets in the West. The sky is still blue. And 10 out of 10 people still die.

Next month, we’ll talk about a few other things that have changed with funeral customs and preferences in the past
hundred years.

Until then, as you think about how things might be different 100 years from now, it might be worth considering that in two days, tomorrow will be yesterday….

Remember Well.