1950

Where were you in 1950? I've probably lost most of my readers by now, but for those of you with an AARP card, let's take a trip down memory lane. Maybe we'll do the 60s and 70s in the next couple of posts, but then skip over the 80s: the era of big hair and leg warmers.

I was born in 1953 and so don't have a lot to add to this decade, but I recently ran across some files that one of my cousins sent me, one of which was a list of questions to be completed by students from Orrick High School in Orrick, Missouri. My mother's home town. Blogger won't let me attach the file, but I thought I'd take a stab at answering the questions myself.

1. When did your family come to Orrick and from where? How long have you been living in Orrick?

I've only been to Orrick a couple of times: once when I was a baby, once when I was about 6, and then in January of 1972 when my grandmother had a stroke. My mother's family started pouring in around 1835 from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Canada by way of St. Louis. The last of her siblings left around 1960. My grandparents lived there until about 1975.

2. What job were you working at in the 1950s? What kinds of work were other you knew in town doing? 

My parents were still married in the 1950s: my mother stayed home and raised three kids; my father had a series of businesses from owning a garage and gas station, to starting a store that carried floor and wall coverings. The carpet business is what I remember the best.

3. What crops were being grown around here in the 1950s? 

My parents moved a lot. From 1953 until 1960, we lived in Charleston, South Carolina (where I was born), then to Denver, to Irving, Texas, to Los Trancos Woods, Los Gatos, and finally Freemont, California. No crops--we never stayed anywhere long enough to have to mow the grass, really.

4. What were things like in schools, transportation, and amusements?

This is a good question. I started school in Freemont, California. At the time, the neighborhood and schools were new and well funded. We had small classes and lots of activities. One I remember most were peanut hunts. They weren't really peanuts, but plastic eggs that contained prizes and candy that the staff would scatter in the field behind the school.

Nothing was air conditioned, but the school rooms had a big fan in front of the teacher's desk that would send students' papers and pencils flying. Penmanship was very important. We were required to use pencils through the 3rd grade and practice writing on Red Chief tablets. In the 4th grade, we learned cursive with fountain pens that leaked. I have a knot on the middle finger of my right hand from years of writing; typewriters weren't accessible until high school.

Bells started and stopped every class session. Students needed a hall pass to move from one class to another. We all dressed our best.

The kids in my school walked to school. It wasn't a big deal to see a 4 year old running up and down the sidewalk on a scooter unattended. My mother knew how to drive, but never got a driver's license. My parents had a series of cars from a black Studebaker to a station wagon. Driving trips were all the rage. Interstate highways were still relatively new and so parents would pack up the kids and go somewhere interesting: the Grand Canyon, Lake Tahoe, the Continental Divide.

Amusements from a child's point of view? We all played outside. We made tents, rode our bikes, played tether ball, jumped rope and played jacks and marbles. We played with green plastic army men or plastic cowboys and horses and created entire cities with sticks and mud under an oak tree where my mother had long given up trying to grow grass in the Texas sun. We fished for crawdads barefoot in the creek with a piece of string wrapped around salt pork and cheese, we dressed our dolls, and made doll houses out of shoe boxes and pasted cut outs from the Sears Catalog for rugs, curtains and furniture.

5. What did you think about the dangers of atom bombs and Communists to you and your community?

The school year started with black and while films shown on a projector about the Bomb and then we'd practice duck and cover drills. Sometimes we'd cower under our desks, sometimes we'd line the hallways in school hunched head-to-heels like a string of baby turtles. I remember the floor smelled.

6. Were there Beatniks or hoods in your town? What did you think of them?

Not that I remember. The first beatnik I remember was Maynard G. Krebs on the Dobie Gillis show.

7. Tell about the first TV sets and how people enjoyed them: Milton Berle, Wrestling, Dragnet?

Our first TV was a small round-screen RCA that hissed snow the entire time it was on. Bugs Bunny was on at 7:30pm. If I was good, my father would let me sit in his lap and watch till 8:00 and bedtime. I don't remember my parents watching much TV. They listened to the radio and liked to dance in the living room.

8. Did you have indoor plumbing?

Yes, but most people didn't have TV until the mid to late 50s. My grandmother's phone used a party line: she was two rings, but you could pick up the receiver at any time and listen in on whoever was on the party line.

9. How did young people get along with the law?

We were taught to say yes sir and ma'm and to love police officers. I remember getting lost in the neighborhood one day and waiving at a patrolman to come take me home. It would never have occurred to me to be disrespectful.

10. What did you do on Halloween? What did others do?

Halloween was grand. Everyone made their costumes and took pillow cases to hold the loot. Store bought candy was the norm, but sometimes you'd get a caramel apple wrapped in wax paper, or a popcorn ball.

11. What music did you listen to. What dances did you do?

Rock and roll, of course! I loved Ricky Nelson. My mother taught me to "Lindy," spinning me around the kitchen floor like a rag doll.

12. How was your life affected by institutions: church, school, community government?

I loved school and church. Especially Sunday School because they had crafts with glue and glitter. My father never went to church, but my mother alternated between Catholic mass and Lutheran services.

13. What community activities do you remember enjoying? Picnics, pie suppers, sports, ice cream socials?

My parents belonged to a country club which I loved. We swam, had Easter egg hunts and dressed up for the simplest of things.Community then and community now were different--I don't remember people coming to our house; we went "out." Out to dinner. Out to the lake and a lodge. My parents went "out" to Reno, to go dancing, to go...out.

I'm going to close with a great dance clip from American Bandstand, 1957:











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