Both my Houston ‘nefoo’ and my Cajun editor say they prefer my blogs which tie in my adolescent experiences with a current topic. Considering what is happening in the world, I have decided to author a blog that only relates to my experiences growing up as a Midwestern kid in the 1950s.
Here are the current world events trending as I am typing away: ISIS is being bombed, a policeman was shot in Ferguson, Missouri, and the Americans are having their hats (this is a G rated blog, so I won’t say asses) handed to them in the Ryder Cup. A volcano has just erupted in Japan, and a man has been arrested in Oklahoma for a beheading. Egads! After all of that, my recollections are not just a ray of sunshine, they are a beam of nostalgic bliss!
The biggest differences between today and the 1950s are undoubtedly the unbelievable technological advances in nearly all aspects of daily living.
I can still remember when neither of my sets of grandparents had electricity nor indoor plumbing. One set of my grandparents remedied this shortfall before the end of the 50s. My other pair of grandparents passed away in the late 70s, never having embraced these eventual neccesities in their home. Those grandparents had both an outhouse and an outdoor pump-handled well. Their illumination was made available with kerosene lamps, and their heat was obtained through use of a wood stove that was also used for cooking. When my aunt needed to iron her clothes, she heated metal pieces on the stove that clipped into a handle. It looked like a modern iron except that the business side of the iron was removable so it could be heated. They had two or three of these removable ‘iron bottoms’ so that when one got cold, she placed it back on the stove and replaced it with a hot bottom. You would only find these in an antique store today, and I admit I have not seen one for years.
I loved staying with those grandparents and I did so often. They lived near the railroad, so many times in the middle of the night, my bed would tremble with the passing of a train. I loved it! There was nothing quite so comforting as feeling the house cooling in the winter as the stove fire was dying, while I was buried under a warm mountain of blankets and quilts. I do have to admit that going to the outhouse was a challenge, especially in winter. Not only did you face the prospect of wading through snow on a very cold, windy night, but then you had to put your butt down on a very cold piece of wood.
My grandmother was a magician with that wood stove. The best pies, cakes, rolls and roasted meats came out of that oven. She did everything on that stove that anyone could do with a modern stove.
Most people today could not fathom living in a house such as my grandparents had. They lived there for decades and raised three children in that house. They lived well in that cozy home and died happy and fulfilled. It never occurred to them to live any other way. I enjoyed staying in that house more than any other place outside my own childhood home.
Another big technological advancement was television. We had a black and white 19″ console TV in 1952. We were ahead of 90% of my hometown in that regard. We had three channels which were the big three networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. About 10 years later, we had a fourth independent channel. That was huge! It was particularly huge because we now could get American Bandstand on that channel hosted by Dick Clark and originating from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania! I was in my preteen years and if you did not watch American Bandstand with the music and the dancing, you were a nobody and a hick. (You did not want to be considered a hick in an agricultural community!) At the time, I thought Philadelphia, wherever that was, had to be comparable to Oz! I vowed I would one day go there. It had to be beyond cool! (I have yet to do so!)
In 1963 we got a 19″ color console TV. We were the third family in town to own one! It cost my dad $750 to buy that TV. That was a princely sum and equaled about six weeks’ net pay for him. I instantly became popular with my classmates. The first shows we watched in color? Bonanza and the Wonderful World of Disney. Both were great family-oriented shows.
We got our first phone when I was in the third grade. I can still remember how I proudly reported to my teacher that we now had a phone and that our phone number was 349-R2. (Yes, this really was our first phone number!) What does the R2 stand for? We were on a party line. Our neighbor, who had a phone before us, would be notified of a phone call by the very personable operator with one ring. We would be notified of a call with two rings. Thus the party line. Our neighbor could pick up the phone at any time and listen to our conversations. We could do the same.
There is one advantage to not having every person in the US carrying a cell phone. Parents would always know who their children were associating with, because they answered the phone. “Ring-Ring. Hello? Is little Grandpa T at home? Who may I say is calling? It’s little Johnny, the local smoking and drinking teenager. I’m sorry little Johnny, little Grandpa T is at his grandmother’s house, and they don’t have a phone.” Of course, I am at home, but you get the picture.
I can remember reading in a Popular Mechanic’s magazine article, as a teenager, about the future use of automated teller machines that would dispense money in lieu of having to go into a bank to receive cash. ‘Are you kidding me? It will never happen! Crooks will crack those machines like a cheap, defective walnut!’ Now we can’t live without ATMs, and we seldom go into our bank.
So much can be said for the technological advances between the 50s and today. The differences are comparable to the difference between a kite and an airplane.
It appalls me that over 15% of Americans are dependent on food stamps. Both of my grandmothers had gardens. Both sets of my grandparents lived through the Great Depression. Out of necessity, they both took gardening to a science. My local grandmother, the one without electricity, had a garden at her house, and a bigger one on our farm. We grew everything with everyone in our family contributing to the welfare of that garden. Being that my grandmother had survived the Depression, it made for interesting eating habits. For instance, peas mature and ripen for 2-3 weeks. When they would ripen, you could expect to eat peas for two meals a day for those three weeks. (My grandmother made our meals as my mother was working.) The same thing happened with every vegetable that we raised. Once it ripened, you could expect to be inundated with it until the growing season ended. In the mind of a Depression survivor, nothing was to be wasted. If it could not be canned or frozen, it was, by God, going to be eaten! That garden regularly fed eleven members of our family and any friends or family that visited.
It does not take acres of land to plant a garden. A 10′ x 12′ plot could supply lots of food for a family of four. Carrots, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, peas, lettuce, radishes, cabbages and many other vegetables can all be grown with minimal space. Some of those vegetables can be grown in pots, thus eliminating the need for any garden space. Gardening has become a ‘lost science.’ It should be revived in light of the number of people dependent on food stamps. Maybe we should have fewer food stamps distributed along with vegetable seeds. If I were underfed or undernourished, you can be sure I would have a garden. Let’s plant that idea amongst the hungry.
One of my grandparents had Polish heritage and the other had German heritage. All four of my grandparents were born in the US, but most of my great-grandparents came from the ‘old country.’
My Polish grandparents would speak Polish in the house. In particular, they would discuss what I would get for Christmas in Polish. I eventually caught on, and eventually figured out what I was getting. They never, ever spoke Polish outside the home. They were Americans through and through. My grandfather served in WWI, and his two sons served in WWII.
My other grandmother grew up in the US, speaking only German. She did not learn English until she was 10 or 11 years old. Once she became an adult, she never allowed German to be spoken in her house. My mother and her siblings never learned any German because Grandma became all-American and wanted her children to be the same. Grandma’s siblings felt the same way, and so I never heard any of them speak a word of German.
The purpose of this? My relatives, all from European countries, could not wait to assimilate into American culture. In their own minds, they could not assimilate quickly enough. There was not going to be any ‘press 2 for Polish’ or ‘press 3 for German’ as far as they were concerned. They would have been appalled and embarrassed by the suggestion. Without question, all of my ancestors came here to be independent, to be free, and to have the opportunity to be a part of the great American society. They embraced their country of residence and the future it offered both them.
Our education was also different than today. We said the Pledge of Allegiance every day. It was the first thing we did every morning from first grade through high school graduation.
Teachers had absolute authority. If one of my teachers decided to ‘drop a dime’ about my behavior to my dad, I could expect my dad to ‘drop a dollar’ on me. My parents, like most parents, would do this without fail and without questioning the teacher. This would not end well for me. The husbands of three of my first six teachers worked with my dad. He knew about everything I did.
Parent-teacher conferences occurred after the first nine weeks of school. This was considered a social event in our small town. I had 60 classmates. All 60 of their mothers would attend these conferences. Most of the mothers would buy a new dress for the occasion. My mother attended all twelve in my childhood, even if she had to change her work schedule, which she had to do often.
All I can say about typical Baby Boomer education is that it was good enough to invent computers, mobile phones and all the technological advances that young people enjoy today. Having said that, I want to point out that a select few of the Baby Boomer generation actually invented these items. The rest of us are still trying to figure out how to use them. Where are the grandkids when you need them?
Thanks for allowing me to reminisce.
PS: On September 14, 2014, Common Sense by Grandpa T surpassed 100,000 unique hits. Grandpa T’s goal is to educate people on the value of common sense in our ever-changing world, one impressionable mind at a time.