Life was neat, but not gaudy during my salad days.

People were a lot like they are today. Most were always nice, others were nice when they got around to it.

I never went hungry. I had food. It wasn’t always the kind I wanted, but it was edible. My pockets were penniless, but my food was provided.

I was at a high school ballgame not long ago. A guy told me the hot dogs at the concession stand were $3 each. He complained about the price. “For a hot dog!” he said. He wondered aloud who’d pay that much for something that wasn’t even good for a person. Toward the end of the game, an announcement was made that the price had been reduced to a clearance-inducing $1. The man sneered. As we left, a worker in the concession stand offered the hot dogs for free. The man grabbed three. We like free food.

We like free stuff. I raised chickens for years and I was an avid gardener. I took a pickup load of chicken manure to a neighbor. As I parked near his house, he greeted me and asked what sort of mischief I was up to. I told him that I’d brought him a truckload of chicken manure. I thought he’d be pleased, but he wasn’t. He said, “That stuff isn’t worth putting on a garden. I read that in a magazine. ‘Sports Illustrated,’ I think.” He went on telling me that putting chicken manure on a garden was hardly worth the chickens’ effort.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you. It’s free,” I said.

His attitude made a U-turn. “Dump it right on the compost pile. There is nothing better for a garden than chicken manure.”

Especially free chicken manure.

Car dealers hold free feeds to attract customers to buy used cars during rattletrap roundups.

I read that on St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, Protestants wear orange and Catholics wear green. I’ve never been to Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day or any other day, but I know that growing up, the gathering of the orange meant Allis-Chalmers Day and the green, John Deere Day. My hometown held those two delightful days every year. Each was a grand event — big doings featuring door prizes and funny films. Arguments broke out as to who was the smartest of the Three Stooges. It was Curly. I was the executive vice president of the Northern Freeborn County Chapter of the Curly Fan Club. One year, I won a grease gun. I gave it to my mother for Christmas. She unwrapped it cautiously, but seemed surprised.

Calendars were cleared for these casual banquets where gourmands and penny-pinchers met. Some needed help carrying their appetites. They were talented folks who could eat and chew gum at the same time. Unlike a cat sneaking up on its food dish, these people went boldly where others had gone before. Some came early, hoping to be first in line. That gave them first-strike capability. They believed a person should never apologize for or explain one’s position in life. They probably learned that in a political science class.

We washed, but we didn’t get behind the ears, before chowing down on hot dogs, baked beans and potato chips. Whether we ate at the orange or the green, seconds were sometimes offered and were eaten within seconds. The food wasn’t gluten-free or glutton-free. Some people had a way with moderation. Others tried, but their brakes failed.

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. I’ve heard that economic theory often. The prominent economist Milton Friedman was fond of that saying. It means whatever goods and services are provided, they must be paid for by someone. I’ve seen it indicated by the initialism “tanstaafl.”

I must add that I don’t recall any teacher ever saying “ain’t” other than when reading from a book or correcting a student’s words.

I’m not sure if Miss Manners takes a side on this, but my family rule was that we could go only where we’d done business. If we hadn’t spent any money there, we couldn’t eat their free food. It was a moral compass that applied to hot dogs, potato chips and baked beans offered gratis.

We loved to hear “free” and “food” in the same sentence. That sentence was typically followed with a question, “Can we go?”

Allis-Chalmers and John Deere Days weren’t fat-free, gluten-free, sugar-free or lactose-free. They were just free.

That sounds like the heart of a country song.