Still nifty at 50: A look back at five decades of bliss … and Social Security (2024)

My wife and I are celebrating 50 years of wedded bliss. I wrote a column similar to this one on our 45th anniversary. I did it then because I was worried we weren’t going to make it to 50 – not because of any marital discord but because of health issues. I inherited some terrible longevity genes. My dad died at the age of 47. I don’t have a single uncle who lived past the age of 60. So, my prospects for old age were gloomy. About five years ago, my wife started struggling with health issues. But here we are at our 50th anniversary. My wife has been given a clean bill of health by all her doctors. For some genetic reason I don’t understand (but am thankful for), I’m still kicking.

Anyway, I got more positive feedback to that anniversary column I wrote five years ago than I’ve received about any column I’ve ever written. So I thought I’d repeat a slightly updated version of it now.

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We were married on June 1, 1974. I was a relatively new employee of the Social Security Administration at that time, having been hired just a year earlier. How that came to be is an interesting story.

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After graduating from college, I floundered around for a year or two looking for work. I finally decided to take a federal civil service exam. Within a month or two, I started getting letters from various federal government agencies inviting me for job interviews.

The first letter came from the Federal Aviation Administration for a job as a “sky marshal.” Older readers may recall that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were a spate of airline hijackings in this country and around the world. So, the government was beefing up the air marshal service that had started in the 1960s. The interview did not go well. They were looking for tough young men (and back then it was just men) preferably with military training who were familiar with guns, not a bookish nerd who barely knew the difference between a six-shooter and a pea-shooter.

Next came a letter from the Internal Revenue Service. Once again, I didn’t impress them. They wanted someone who was good with numbers. I was never into math and could barely balance my checkbook, let alone be ready to audit someone’s tax return.

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Three or four more letters arrived from various government agencies. I don’t even recall what the jobs were. I just remember that each interview was a flop. I had pretty much concluded that a career with the federal government was just not in the cards for me. So, when a letter arrived from the Social Security Administration about a job in Springfield, Illinois, I just threw it in the trash figuring it wasn’t worth the effort of scheduling an interview.

Then, about two weeks later, I got a call from the manager of the Springfield Social Security office. I was living in my hometown, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and he said the reason he called was that he was born and raised in the “Bratwurst Capital of the World,” and he thought he’d try to help a fellow Sheboyganite. He asked if I had received their letter. Thinking quickly on my feet, I lied and said, “What letter?” I then cursed the post office (apologies to my postal service friends), and he promised to send a follow-up invite.

Long story short: About a month later, I found myself reporting for duty at the Social Security office in Springfield, Illinois. Following a long training class, I was eventually assigned to Springfield’s new branch office that they were opening up in a small farming community about 50 miles south called Litchfield.

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One of my duties in that office was to take phone calls from the insurance billing clerk at the local hospital. Becky Bachstein would call almost every day to verify Medicare numbers so she could complete the billing process for various elderly patients. We had been exchanging these phone calls for many months when her boss decided to try to play matchmaker by inviting me out to the hospital for lunch to meet Becky.

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That was in January 1974. Five months later, we were married! Of course, I’ve often thought about the serendipity of our getting together. If the Springfield Social Security office manager hadn’t been from Sheboygan, and if he hadn’t felt inclined to call me, that Social Security job invite would have remained in my trash basket – and who knows where I’d be today? Who knows who Becky Bachstein’s boss would have invited to have lunch with her?

I promise I will tie something to do with Social Security into these memories. But first I must share another cute story involving my courtship with Becky. Please indulge me. After all, how many 50th wedding anniversaries do you get in a lifetime?

The story involves asking Becky out on our first date. On an upcoming Saturday night, I was going to invite her to a popular movie at the time, American Graffiti. Starring Ron Howard and Richard Dreyfus, it is the story of recent high school grads cruising their summer nights away in 1962 before going off to college.

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Anyway, the tagline to the movie was this: “Where were you in ‘62?” I had cleverly (or so I thought) planned to use that as one of the opening lines in my date invite. Now, in 1962, I was in 7th grade. I fully expected Becky’s response to be something similar. So imagine my shock when she answered, “Oh, that’s the year I graduated from high school.” Then she turned the question on me. “Where were you in ‘62, Tom?” Not wanting to admit that I was just a youngster and that she was about to “rob the cradle,” I merely replied, “Oh, about the same.”

I suddenly realized I was talking to an older woman! I had no idea. My mind raced. What should I do? I thought of coming up with excuses. “Oh, I forgot. I’m washing my car Saturday night and I can’t go.” But I decided I’d forgo the excuses and take a chance by asking this older woman out on a date. Thank goodness I did. It’s been a fantastic 50 years! She’s still five years older than me, but she looks and acts 10 years younger!

OK, so what is my Social Security tie-in to all of this? Well, I thought I would look back to see what Social Security was like in 1974.

In 1974, there were around 30 million people getting Social Security checks totaling about $61 billion in annual benefits. Today, there are 66 million beneficiaries, and annual Social Security benefits will top the $1 trillion mark. (That’s what happens when every single day, about 10,000 baby boomers turn into senior boomers and file for Social Security benefits.) My love for baby-boomer-turned-senior-boomer Becky Bachstein has continued to grow for 50 years. So has Social Security!

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If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has two books with all the answers. One is called Social Security – Simple and Smart: 10 Easy-to-Understand Fact Sheets That Will Answer All Your Questions About Social Security. The other is Social Security: 100 Myths and 100 Facts. You can find the books at Amazon.com or other book outlets. Or you can send him an email at thomas.margenau@comcast.net. To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Still nifty at 50: A look back at five decades of bliss … and Social Security (2024)

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