Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear.

Those good old days when:

Doctors made house calls.

People didn't talk about their HDL and LDL levels at lunch.

Journalists drank boilermakers, not fancy French mineral water.

Government was trusted by the public and civil servants were held in high esteem by citizens everywhere.

Washington, D.C., got some respect. Or not!

Some civil servants yearn for--or claim to remember--a time when the public service was a high calling. When a government job was valued and appreciated. When we asked not what our country could do for us, but what we could . . . well, you know . . .

But is it possible that memory plays tricks? That maybe the good old days weren't all that good?

Well, to confirm suspicions and dash our hopes, along comes Larry Gordon, a human resources specialist with the General Services Administration. He has evidence, in black-and-white, that the good old days--as far as civil servants and civil service were concerned--maybe weren't so hot.

It appears that even in the good old days--we are talking pre-World War I here--that federal civil servants in general (and those in Washington in particular) had problems beyond the Beltway. Even before there was a Beltway. Even then, it appears, toiling for Uncle Sam wasn't what Mother, or Father, had in mind for their children.

Gordon, who lives and works in Kansas City, Mo., has evidence that feds, even in the early, more innocent part of this century, suffered from image problems. Gordon is the proud owner of an early how-to-get-a-government-job book. It is called "How to Prepare for Civil Service," written by E.H. Cooper in 1916 and copyrighted by Gregg Publishing Co. in 1918.

Most of the book, Gordon says, has information about tests for clerical and bookkeeping jobs similar to current how-to-get-a-job books. But Gordon finds that the section on the ins-and-outs of federal employment--and especially life in Washington--"provides a revealing look at the social mores of the time . . . and a little humor!"

For a look at the way our grandparents might have viewed civil service, consider these excerpts supplied by Gordon:

On the subject of job security and retirement, the book says: "You are reasonably sure of your civil service position as long as you do your work satisfactorily. There are pending before Congress at this time several bills to pension all civil service employees who have become old in the service. It is believed that it is only a question of time until one of these bills will become law. There are civil service employees at Washington who have grown so old and decrepit in the service that they have to be wheeled to their offices in roller chairs, but still hold their positions which many of them have had for over 35 years."

On "pay equity" the book advises: "With regard to salaries . . . you will be asked: 'What is the lowest salary you would accept?' . . . If a man, put down $900 a year if you are taking the stenographer and typewriter examination. . . . If you are a woman, put down $840 per year. . . . There is no demand for women bookkeepers in the government service."

Women seeking federal employment in 1916 were advised: " . . . the civil service affords excellent opportunities for the proper development and expression of their social life. . . . It should be a part of the education of every woman to be charming and graceful in her manner, and in Washington the woman engaged in government service will have the opportunity to correct and improve her personality from observation and study. . . . A happy marriage is the birthright and rightful destiny of every woman and a little more conscious considerations on her part of her opportunities to meet the right kind of companion would result in more happiness in the world."

For men, the book describes some of the pitfalls of choosing the life of a civil servant: "The life of most government clerks at Washington will ruin any man for an active, successful business or professional career if he does not have any other interests outside of his office work. Right here [in Washington] is the young man's opportunity to study his chosen profession or career, whatever it may be" was the word in the 1916 guide to the civil service.

Maybe the good old days of the civil service were a little further back than previously thought.

Thanks a lot, Larry, for shattering another illusion.

Mike Causey's e-mail address is causeym@washpost.com