Friday, August 10, 2012

The Good Ol' Days

There was a time when I hated hearing older people talk about the "good ol' days."
People who walked around spouting stories from the wonderful past seemed a little out of step with progress. Well, I guess it's my turn now.

Not everyone had a great time during childhood. Perhaps their family structure was lacking, perhaps they suffered a deep and long-lasting loss. Adolescence wasn't so great either with all that self-doubt and uncertainty about the future.

If we remove the big picture and re-examine the small elements of childhood from the 1940s through 1960s, it was a pretty nice time.

Television was new and fascinating. When we bought our first set, it was a magical occasion, like lifting a curtain on the entire world. TV provided increasingly novel television entertainment including American Bandstand, which spoke our adolescent language. It played our own music and dancers showed us the latest fashion from the big city of Philadelphia. Adults enjoyed television, too, but certain shows were designed just for youngsters.

Crime was low. We could ride our bikes to the movies, to the downtown Kresge's and even to school without locking them. Kids could catch the bus for a few cents and go all over town safely. If I came home after school and my mother wasn't home, I could get into the house without a key. If I stayed after school for band or Girl Scouts, I could walk home alone without being afraid.

Little events seemed like big treats. We could visit our neighborhood grocery and even walk into the store through the back door (which was always open) because it was closer to our street. We could buy a Popsicle for a nickel or a candy bar for a few cents more. It was a great treat to pick out what we wanted and become independent.

We were seldom bored. It may be hard for people raised on computers to understand but we could always find something to do. My brother and I never tired of playing Monopoly, Chinese Checkers or any number of other games. We played baseball in the street with other kids on the block or rode our bikes to explore new neighborhoods. My friends and I skated on the sidewalk, jumped rope, played jacks or otherwise entertained ourselves.

Going shopping for Christmas or before school started each year was a big event. Sometimes our mom drove us to nearby cities to shop. We usually "dressed up" and were treated to new restaurants and eating experiences. Going into a grown-up store with polite sales people was a thrill. They all seemed to know how to help us find what we wanted and were efficient and courteous. What fun!

Thinking back about childhood, I wondered if perhaps we had fun because we lived in a small town. But my cousins lived in Chicago and had many similar experiences. Rather than where we lived, I think it was when we lived.

At the end of the war, the country was bursting at the seams with prosperity. Millions of young families were provided mortgages under the G.I. bill, creating a huge housing shortage. Men returned to civilian life and the baby boom began. Jobs were plentiful and we made many products in the U.S. from photo flash bulbs to appliances to clothing. Towns from coast to coast boasted factories that produced nearly everything we needed. Imported goods stamped "Made in Japan" were thought of as inferior and shoddy. College came to be within reach and educational standards were raised.

It seemed like we were living in a perfect world.

Later as an adult, I remember reading the sordid details of the so-called Red Hunt as America came under the spell of Sen. Joe McCarthy. The story of fear and finger-pointing by otherwise upstanding Americans shocked me. I asked my mother what it was like to live during such an unpleasant chapter. She shrugged slightly, smiled and replied, "It really didn't bother me at the time. I was busy caring for my family."

Such was life in the 1950s. There were many unpleasant events going on at the time -- the Korean Conflict, the threat of nuclear armaments, growing civil rights issues -- but for most of us growing up, we remained insulated. I guess we were too busy enjoying the trees to step back and look at the entire forest.

The past is what we want it to be.

No comments:

Post a Comment