Here in northeastern PA, in the area where accused assassin Eric Frein is believed to be hiding, yesterday was a cold, dreary, rainy, windy day … more like November than October. Today was the complete opposite, sunny, breezy, pleasant … more like May than October. But that’s typical of our local weather. We have these wide swings in the fall. There’s not much news about the search for Frein; there was a flurry of activity Monday afternoon, but on this Friday afternoon we are hearing very little.
Watching the evening news was so depressing I decided to indulge in nostalgia, revisiting the era in which my books are set, and relive some of that gentler time. I made a remark in one blog some weeks ago about the fifties being a “kinder, gentler time” and one reader disagreed, pointing out the horrors of World War II (which of course ended prior to the fifties), in particular the holocaust, and the oppressive segregation in the United States.
Yes, those things were true. However … we didn’t see news of a school shooting and think of it as an oh, no, not again event … to the best of my memory, there weren’t any in the fifties. We didn’t see ongoing attacks on law enforcement officers. It seems these days that is beginning to happen far too frequently. Not just here, but in Canada as well. What in the world is going on?
We didn’t have to worry about Ebola invading our shores, but we had concerns. Infantile paralysis was the scourge of that era, and I remember our huge municipal swimming pool being closed for an extended period at least one summer because of the fear of an outbreak of polio.
The fifties weren’t perfect, but looking back to my teen years, life seemed to be a lot less complicated than it is today. My family lived comfortably but we were hardly wealthy. We had one car and one television set, and one telephone with an extension. When I was in high school we had a private line; until then we’d been on a party line. Different rings for different people on the line, and you had to check carefully before making a call in case someone else was using the phone line. We had a manual typewriter, which some people did not. Computers, both desktop and laptop, were being dreamed of somewhere, but most of us had no inkling of the wonders to come.
We sometimes called friends and relatives who lived at a distance. Long distance telephone calls were expensive, so we didn’t make those calls too often. We wrote letters. We sent cards and postcards, and receiving mail was something we looked forward to. Many young people had pen pals, sometimes even in another country. Instant communication was another “pie in the sky by and by” item. “Handwriting” was something we learned in school. I think it’s called “cursive” these days, and I don’t know that anyone under thirty knows what a “typewriter” is. And “typing” is referred to as “keyboarding” these days.
As teenagers, we went roller skating at the local roller rink and went to dances at the local teen “hang-out” probably once a week. There were after school clubs for nearly everything from chess to theater. There were drugstores with soda fountains where we spent a little time after school when we didn’t have a club meeting. Cherry Coke was my favorite. Juke boxes played constantly when the kids were there for sodas and sometimes a bite to eat.
And movies! It was the golden age of Hollywood. We went at least once a week, sometimes more. And you could pay one admission and stay and watch the film a second time. Movie stars were America’s royalty. They were elevated above us mere mortals and lived in Nirvana, only they called it Beverly Hills.
Music was an important part of my life, and I was fortunate enough to attend a high school with a strong music program. Band, orchestra, chorus, and a spring musical were part of my life. Piano, voice, and dance lessons were something I enjoyed, and I know now that my parents probably made some sacrifices so I could have the benefit of those lessons.
There was culture in my town. We had our own symphony orchestra and our own community theater. But the biggest community events were the high school’s football games in the fall and basketball games in the winter. It was small town America at its best. It was life in the fifties.
The fifties weren’t perfect. There were some things that were swept under the rug. Domestic violence was nearly always covered up; the story of HOW I GREW UP is based on a true incident in my town when it exploded in one family. Racial inequality was largely ignored. The Korean War came and went but we were children during that time and hardly noticed it.
The sixties were fast approaching, a decade of change was about to descend on us. The post-World War era was coming to an end; Vietnam lay directly ahead.
But there was this bubble for a few years. For the most part, it was nice.