Above all else, grade school was a place of order. Bells, lines, and desks in a row, it seems regulation was considered the path to knowledge. Repetition was the guiding force.
It began with the first warning bell. As we left the playground to begin the day, our wiggles and giggles were gobbled up by the wide halls where teachers stood at class room doors and rows of lockers called for our coats. Enthusiasm gave way as we slipped into our desks and faced the front of the room where the green blackboard wore a hat of a perfectly executed alphabet.
Students learned best by drilling and repetition. Diving under our desks and covering our heads with our arms would protect us from a nuclear attack. In the 1950's the fear of Russia’s power was as real and accepted as the sun rising in the east.
Children of the Lone Ranger and Popeye years grew up under a cloud of other beliefs that shaped our lives. We were eating the best apples ever produced with the help of DDT and arsenic. We couldn’t drink coffee because everyone knew it would stunt our growth, while smoking cigarettes was chic and cool, one of those things adulthood held as a carrot to a rabbit. Most of us lived in second-hand smoke without a single thought for our health, but we didn’t swim for an hour after eating.
When I was in grade school, apple orchards held Chelan together like stitches in a quilt. They were part of our neighborhoods and defined the edges of my world. My life was unfolding within their rhythm of bare branches nipped over snow-covered ground, blossoms singing in spring, green leaves cooling the summer air, and then red and golden nestled in trees and ready to be picked.
Americans were introduced to television at the New York World’s Fair in 1939-40, but TV’s didn’t begin to dot the landscape across the country until the 1950’s. By the time it came to my house, it arrived with all the flash, thrill, and excitement of three different stations! Oh yes. We could jump up and turn the knob to choose shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC.
They were the “Big Three” and the beginning of my adventure with managing technology. Learning how to tell time was essential. Little hands learned to be steady and patient to stop the occasional rolling images or to adjust the shades of gray. And then there was sharing. With so many choices, negotiating with siblings and parents became part of the experience.
There’s a kind innocent freedom in lack of awareness. Each generation experiences it in what they take for granted. I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s assuming my community would always be surrounded by acres of apple trees singing to the sun with the tap, tap, chorus of sprinklers. It’s now surrounded by vineyards with silent irrigation.
A glacier-fed lake nourished those years I shared with Ed Sullivan and Howdy Doody. I played in it with the same abandon as the lawns I ran across in my neighborhood. In the fall, the water level fell as the dam released the warm vacation playground, but each spring my endless swimming pool would fill up once again with fresh water from the snow-filled mountains at the head of the lake.
Soft. Crispy. Cakey. Nutty. A hint of almond. Filled with chips. Out of the bowl! Robbed from a cookie jar. Packed in a lunch. After school. Straight out of the freezer. ~ With milk. With cocoa. With a good book. Without permission?!
Is there anyone who can travel back in time without pausing at chocolate chip cookies? In the days of Milton Beryl and Art Linkletter, these icons of delicious delight were the favorite at childhood club meetings, potlucks, mothers gathering for coffee while their children played, and after-dinner treats.
Best-selling books can transform lives, but they also plant seeds across the country like Johnny Appleseed. These author insights can grow into dawning awareness, transformed beliefs, and inspiration to action. A good novel, one that catches the attention of many, can challenge tradition and change the direction of our culture.
The fiction I was reading in the 1960’s had that power.
As I travel around my home town, remembering how it was when I was growing up in the 50’s, I’m always amazed that some things feel the same. I was four years old in this photo… and the Treadwell Apartments still stand, looking much the same.
So much was said to us by the clothes we wore in grade school. We were girls before we were people. Enthusiasm must be checked by modesty. We were little versions of the grownup world.
It was subtle and totally acceptable when I was back in the 1950’s wearing skirts and dresses to school: being a girl was more about being cute than being exploring our potential. It wasn’t how fast we could run or how high we could jump as much as it was the bow in our hair. Boys wore sturdy shoes and warm pants when the temperature dropped. Our shoes and bare legs changed our relationship with recess.
Doing dishes. Standing over the sink with water up to your elbows is an image from the 1950’s as common as today's bent elbows with a cell phone pressed against ears. Though the first mechanical dishwashing device was developed 100 years earlier, the affordable, practical version was just beginning to enter the kitchens of the Elvis Presley years. In most homes, children were the dishwashers.
It was a right of passage for little kids. We had no idea how soapy water could ever turn into drudgery when we were first trusted with sharp knives and fragile glasses. The young child who sometimes got to stand on a stool and chase suds with wooden spoons could only dream of the time when they would be grown up enough to take over the sink without supervision.