I never went car shopping with my parents. Children were not considered necessary at that kind of event. Frankly, no one cared what you thought about a new car. Or what color it should be. Or anything about it. You were a kid.
The first car that I can remember my parents having was a Studebaker. It was a coupe. It was light gray. I don’t remember riding in it or helping to wash it. But I remember my best friend’s car. She was from Michigan and they drove a Packard wagon. I thought it was the coolest car ever made. First of all, it was a station wagon. You could lay down in the back of it!! That was a first for me. But what made it so special is the car had wood paneling on the outside. Yep-the outside of the car. Wow! I had never seen a car with wood paneling. Her father would not let the kids help him wash it. He said it required special attention because of the wood. Somehow I think he just wanted to do it himself!
I remember when my father traded the Studebaker in for a car that was more family friendly. He bought a Ford Fairlane Station Wagon. Oh joy! It was so cool looking. And it was BIG! It had four doors and the rear door made five. You could roll the rear window down which was pretty cool. And you could lay down in the back behind the rear seat. It was a kind of personal child bed. And the car was a light olive green. It was wonderful.
Back in the 50’s, there were NO safety features like we have today. The dash in front was metal. It was not coated nor covered with anything. If you were sitting in the front seat and the driver slammed on the brakes, you hit the dash-BAM! And you probably smushed your nose against the dash or broke a tooth. We had NO seat belts. NONE. No one had seat belts. Ever. WE had no baby seats. You held your baby in your arms. That was it. We didn’t have air conditioning either. Heaters were also optional on many cars. No one cared if they drove in luxury. You drove to get somewhere. Period. We stuck our heads out the back window of station wagons. And trucks? They were the best. You could sit in the bed of the truck-unsupervised-while your parents drove all over the place-even on the highway. If you have never ridden in the back of a truck, you have missed a delightful time.
About this same time, my Dad bought a used 1949 Chevy sedan as a second car for us. He paid $100 for it. It was pretty cool, too. It was black. And it had rust spots on the fenders. You did not even need a key to start the car. When Dad bought the car, the man gave him a key but Dad never used it. The only trouble with the “keyless” Chevy was that someone could drive your car away without your permission. That happened once or twice but the police always found the car-without any gas left in it. Kids joyriding – they would say.
Oh and I forgot to mention—the RADIO. HaHa. What radio? You had to pay extra for one and the chances were good that you could get no reception anyway inside the car. There were no CD players or stereo sound or Pandora or movies. When radios finally came out in all cars, they turned on and off and you used a knob to move from one station to another. Antennas stuck up on the front fender of your car. If they broke off, you could use a coat hanger as a substitute. Cars were not automatic. They had a clutch and you had to shift gears. The gear shift was on the steering wheel. In fact, when you took your driver test you had to drive a car with a clutch. No options.
Wow! You are saying. That must have been awful. Nope! It was just fine. We were living and loving the 50’s. We thought we had the very best. NOTHING could be better!
I spent the 1950’s growing up in Marietta, Georgia. As I have said before, it was a simpler time for everyone-especially children. From Labor Day to the week of Memorial Day, children went to school. We had few holidays. For the first few years, I could actually go home for lunch. That was terrific, I thought. During the summer, children went to the reading program at the local library and took Red Cross swimming lessons at local pools. Boys got to play baseball. Girls got to watch. Girls did NOT play sports when I was a child. I was happy my Dad and Mother let me have a bike.
Technology was limited. Really limited. In fact, the word technology may not have even existed at that time. Really! There was NO Twitter. NO Google. NO cell phones. NO internet……..I could go on and on about what we did not have. Instead I will focus on what we did have that just might-and I mean just might relate to the concept of technology.
We had telephones. You are probably saying-DUH. Our telephone looked exactly like this—-
The actual phone was made of some hard black material. Later-much later-they were a hard black plastic. Please notice that the cord is just a cord. It is not a stretchy cord. It has a rotary dial. Our earliest telephone number was 5 digits. I still know it! Our phone was in the kitchen. We had ONE phone. If someone called, you talked to them in the kitchen. You couldn’t go elsewhere. The cord did not even allow you to stretch to the doorway and secure some privacy. Of course, privacy for children was ridiculous! Kids rarely talked on the phone. Instead you walked to someone’s house and talked to them on their porch. When you wanted to call long distance, you called the operator and she did the tough stuff of connecting you. People rarely talked long distance. We wrote letters instead. With ink pens. On writing paper which you put in an envelope and used a stamp to guarantee delivery. This phone is a long distance from the smart phone I have now.
When I was 10, I received a transistor radio. WOW! I was SO excited! I had made all A’s and this was my reward from my parents. My radio looked exactly like the picture below except mine was turquoise colored. Turquoise was a BIG color in the 1950’s.
My radio was AM. That was it. It ran on batteries. I could carry it anywhere I wanted to go. There was no guarantee that I could actually receive the radio signals. The big radio station in our area was actually close enough to our house that I could walk there. They had programs like preaching on Sunday, ball games on Friday nights and music at other times. The music had words you could understand and actually spell. There was no profanity. They came on generally at 7am and “left” the airways at midnight. They had news every hour just like today. But the news was less graphic. And most times, the big news from other countries took a few days to get to us via the radio or even the newspaper. No one was “instantly” or “constantly” in touch unless you were sharing the same swing on the front porch or in the backyard.
So you may be thinking how awful it was to be without cell phones, computers or the internet. Well, I have news for you. We talked to people in person. Real conversations. We had dinner together without watching television or checking Facebook or our email. We wrote real letters on paper-not on the computer. We read books that we had to turn the papers ourselves. We were off the grid and life was good!
It was a Friday. Fall was finally feeling like Fall in the South. Our weather is always a little screwy. It was almost Thanksgiving. I was excited that we would have a few days off. I was in the ninth grade in a newly started middle school. Actually we were not a real middle school. We were a bunch of ninth graders that didn’t fit into the statistics for enrollment that year. So half of the ninth graders went to a brand new high school. The rest of us unfortunate people went to the old high school that had room for us. That meant that by the time we arrived in another year, friendships would already be formed without us. There was no band or chorus. We were just out of luck. Some teachers were required to stay at the old school and were glad. Others-not so happy. That year I had two excellent teachers-my English lit teacher and my world geography teacher. But that is not a real part of this post. Just supplemental information!
My geography class was 5th period. I have no inkling what we were studying. Looking back I should have remembered. But then again it wasn’t that important to the day.
The Date was November 22, 1963.
What were you doing that day?
For many of you, this date means nothing. For me, it was the day that the principal announced over the intercom: John F Kennedy has been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. We were silent. I could feel my heart beating -fast. Who would do this? Should I be afraid?
I had reached the age where I had begun to notice political things and The Kennedy’s were certainly worthy of watching. One of the big things I heard adults talking about at church was if Kennedy was elected would the Pope be able to have him do special things for the Catholic Church. Hmm. I had never considered that the Roman Catholic Church might end up running the country. Does that mean that Billy Graham could call up a senator and get special treatment? Hmm. People talked about Kennedy and his heroism in the Pacific. Everyone knew about PT 109. I still have that video! People talked about how rich the family was. So wealth was an issue, too.
But he was elected President and fell into the media spotlight. Women wore pillbox hats because Jackie did. Women wore big sunglasses because—-Jackie did. And everyone grieved for the children they lost.
We all watched the funeral procession and wept for the life destroyed before it’s time.
And we all watched John-John as he saluted his father’s casket .
Media in the 1950’s and 1960’s was so different than today. I can actually remember when we purchased our first television set. It was common for them to have a screen of only 12 inches. They were black and white. That is IT! NO color. Zero. Nada. We had rabbit ears on top of our set so we could “receive” three different channels–2,5 and 11. Television stations only ran certain hours– not 24 hours a day. At midnight, the stations would show the American flag and play the Star, Spangled Banner. Then all you would see is a test pattern and hear a tone until the stations started up again the next morning.
I cannot remember everything that was on TV but I can remember the ones my parents let me watch. In those days, parents were in charge. Period. At our house, the television did not come on early in the morning. The radio did. It was the source of news and weather and music and programs like “The Shadow”. Everyday at 12, Back to the Bible came on the radio and we always listened. The theme song in those days was “I Love to Tell the Story”. We always listened and ate lunch. Well, except on Thursdays. That was payday and we would pick Dad up at the Plant and go to the bank.
Our little household would generally halt every day around 1 because that is when “As the World Turns” came on the television. That is generally when the television was turned on for the day. People worked in their homes. They listened to the radio and worked. All the women tuned in to their favorite soap. They laughed and said they would not even answer their telephones!
After school, children played outside or did their homework. Sometimes children watched TV because there were a few children’s shows on. One I can remember was The Howdy Doody Show. It had a clown and showed a few cartoons. Another very popular show was ” The Mickey Mouse Club”. I knew every word to the song. Annette and Tommy and the others were glamorous to all us who watched from home. One of our local channels had an afternoon children’s program and my Brownie troop was in the audience. We were so excited to be on TV. There was no taping of shows. You saw it or you didn’t. VCRs were not invented.
Night programs included a few that you may be familiar with today. The KING of evening TV was I Love Lucy. You may remember that the couple had twin beds. That was just the way it was. Even married couples were not filmed in bed together. I have many favorite episodes. Do you remember the chocolate factory? Or the Vita Veta-Min Commercial? Other favorites included “Father Knows Best”, “Donna Reed Show”, “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Dragnet”. On Sunday night, you could watch the Ed Sullivan Show. I never saw Elvis on it. My parents said no. But years later I saw The Beatles. You could watch Lassie but I never watched animal programs. I was a weepy mess because Lassie was always in trouble. And you could watch Walt Disney World. On Saturdays I watched Sky King and The a Roy Rogers Show. I loved Roy and Dale! They were always singing and doing the right thing. I also watched The alone Ranger. He was another good role model for children. As a preteen, my all time favorite program was Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey. I even had an autographed picture of Ben Casey! And one of those white button up jackets like interns wore. Lots of girls had them. I received mine as a gift. I ironed and starched it myself. crazy, I know! This seems mighty tame compared to the stars that children look up to today. I have to say I prefer the old days even now.
So I guess I will leave you with this tidbit of a song. See if you can finish it! Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse. Forever let us hold our standard high!