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The early 50s were much different than the late 50s. Growing up in the subs of Pittsburgh, in those days Pgh, steel mills were blasting 24/7, the skyline glowed all nite.
Jobs were plentiful, we got our first TV around 1950 that was a big event.The hills around our neighborhood were woods where we picked wild elderberries every summer.
The middle 50s, movies, school dances and cars were the things to do. Pgh still glowed 24/7 a different but happy time. Rege Kordick? on the radio.
The late 50s jobs were still plentiful and Pgh. was still a busy town. But things were changing fast. You could write books about everywhere in the 50s
It was an exciting changing time, and I loved it.
Last edited by John Buettner; 12-04-2009 at 12:58 PM..
I guess when I was growing up in the 50s life was simpler. We had one phone, one TV which got 3 stations and was black and white. We didn't have video games to sit in front of for hours so we made our own fun with friends and activities. Most of us didn't have our own cars when we were still teens, although most parents were generous and let us use theirs. My friends and I would swap off doing the driving to different events. I remember skating parties (ice) belonging to many organizations, and just having a great time. They say the teens years are the worst but than was not the case for me.
I was raised in a small town in the countryside, fifty miles froma city of half a million and twenty miles from a city of about 200,000. I was in Jr. high and high school from '50 to '56, and college until 1960. My high school years were pretty much the same as what Newdaawn wrote above.
A few specifics:
1. Nature/outdoors was an everyday part of your life. We had just been turned loose during the Forties to play anywhere in town, and in the fields and woods in and around it. Many kids were raised on farms, and others worked outside in h.s. on part-time jobs. Knowing seasons, wild animals, different kinds of plants and flowers, fish, etc., was a part of what you learned automatically. The loss of this connection has to be one of the greatest deprivations that later generations suffered.
2. Most adults smoked, and kids followed suit as soon as they could get away with it. The drinking age was 18, but as they were numerous bars in the countryside and at lakeside amusement parks that didn't mind catering to minors, not a few kids were drinking before then. Getting someone to buy a bottle of liquor for you and then hanging out with a bunch of guys boozing in a parked car was a phase some guys went through. You could get a junior, i.e. daylight, driving license at age 16, and the full adult license at 18. A very tiny minority of kids had their own cars. Premarital sex was totally taboo, but some of us did it, and because the local drug stores wouldn't sell condoms to teenagers, some kids took a chance...and some came to regret it. Having a child out of wedlock was a MAJOR stigma, and could literally ruin someone's future.
3. Our town had a movie theatre, but teenage attendance dwindled during the school term because between sports events and dances there was something to do there almost every weekend.
4. Post WW II pop music was mostly a dreary series of saccharine ballads. But in the early Fifties the DJ on a tiny daylight station in Niagara Falls began to play black Rhythm n Blues music, aiming it at white kids and not just blacks...the station was so low watt that we could barely hear it, and at sundown as the signal weakened you had to press your ear to the radio. But this guy was picked up by a mega-watt station in Buffalo, who latched onto the fact that this guy was drawing a huge teenage audience. His name was George Lorenz, "The Hound" and he was one of the driving forces in the transition of black R&B into rock n roll aimed at white audiences. I and my friends were insane for this music...though we sneered at the cover versions of R&B songs that major record companies began to put out by white artistis. I mean, Pat Boone covering Little Richard!!!!!!!!!!! People today seem to have no idea about how freaked out adults got over this black music, and the desperate attempts that were made to "whiten" it. Makes fascinating reading, even Congress got involved.
5. Some dress fads - extremely full quilted skirts or full skirts with a poodle on them (I am clueless about why the latter every became a fad.) The renegade images of Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, combined with the dubious allure of the tough image projected by urban teenage males were cautiously imitated by a very, very few in our town....DA hairstyles, pegged pants, leather jackets, motorcycle boots (called engineer boots at first, as I recall.) Most parents put a very quick kabosh on such threatening male attire. The female equivalent was probably the very tight skirts topped with a tight sweater.
6. Parental discipline was VERY strict by today's standards, and many parents did not hesitate to slap or even punch a disobedient teenager if provoked enough...though this was probably mainly true of working class parents.
7. Almost all Catholics went to church every single Sunday, and every single mass was crowded. Most Protestant churchs had a single Sunday service, and they were very well attended. My state allowed one hour of released time from public school per week to attend religious instruction at your local church. Virtually all Catholic kids attended this, and a much smaller number of Protestants.
8. School prayer was introduced and many parents were very unhappy about it, but especially Catholics in my town. They wanted no prayer in public school, and objected vociferously to the defense that it was "non-denominational." Their response was that they were Catholics and they were not the slightest bit interested in non-denominational, and wanted to control the relgious life of their children as they saw fit.
In the latter half of the Fifties I attended a Syracuse University a hundred miles from my hometown in a city of about 125,000. At least half of the student body came from the big cities of the northeast seaboard, and I found their sophistication and aggressiveness intimidating - it was very unlike the tone of life I had experienced.
There was a complete disjuncture between the tasts of high school and those approved of once you went to college...anything that smacked of high school was taboo. One was expected to dress in a style known as "Ivy League" after the schools where it had originated. That uniform was chino pants, oxford cloth button-down shirt and crew neck sweater. Most fashionable college male clothing was in muted, toned down colors. One was expected to drop any taste for R&B and rock n roll music and embrace jazz, and a vogue for folk music had also begun, i.e. the Weavers, Odetta, Woody Guthrie. This latter was largely embraced by the would-be Beat students on campus, whereas the Kingston Trio with its popish interpretation of folk had much wider appeal.
The Beatniks had reared on the horizon as soon as Allan Ginsburg's little book of poems, Howl, hit the scene, and Jack Kerouac's On the Road, of course. However, those students who affected to be the local Beats, or even just routinely bohemian, were held in contempt by the ultra Ivy League fraternity crowd, and regarded as just a bit too bizarre even by those not quite so elitist students.
In my high school black kids, of whom there were only a few in each class, pretty much mixed with whites for sports and social occasions, though there was not interracial dating. I was surprised to find in college that there were percentage-wise a far smaller number of blacks...in fact, except for a handful of black athletes you rarely saw a black student.
College proved to be very stressful for me, though I did well academically. At first I went the Ivy League style/fraternity pledge route, but I found that elite and their prejudices very unappealing and I totally dropped out of that scene. I made a brief foray...and very tentative one, toward the Beatnik element on campus and found myself interested and excited by their intellectual curiosity and freedom, but numbed out by the conformity to a very rigid non-conformity.
I started hanging around with one of my grad student instructors, who was much older than the usual grad student, a vet, and much more worldly. And he and a very small group entirely ignored campus life and went to bars in the nearby black ghetto that had live rock n roll or jazz entertainment, to bars and clubs in the downtown city...that had some entertainment or an off-beat draw, and their literary and political explorations were a lot broader and more subtle than those of the campus Beat crowd. I took off for New York City the summer of my junior year, and lived by hook and crook there, came back for my senior year and spent all my leisure time off campus and immediately took off for NYC upon graduation; and within a short time had found myself a share in an apartment in the Puerto Rican ghetto of the Upper West Side.
At the end of the Fifties, I had probably led the kind of existence that the campus "Beatnik" crowd sat around the campus bar and talked about. Odd as I had never planned it that way. Thus, I finished the Fifties (and the university) totally undistinguished one way or the other in dress style or personal appearance, but having become largely disaffected from all the prevailing norms and tastes of the era. And this may be why I would say that the Fifties really didn't end until just this side of the mid-Sixities.
For me;of all the shows I have watched :Christmas Stroy;brings back not only what the people were like but exactly how I thought as a kid back then. I lie that it was set at christmas as my father was really one to go over board on Christmas and many of the scences of going to Sears and seeing santas claus ;picking out a tree; going to the christams parade;the kids at school . I really thnik it captured much of what it was like for many kids in the 50's at that age.
A fifth generation Californian I was born in San Mateo and while growing up I lived in San Carlos, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and Santa Clara.
My earliest memories were during the very early 50's while living in of San Carlos on Mc Cue Avenue near Old County Road.
Even very young we played outside a lot and I remember a old two story wood framed market that was on the corner where we kids could buy 2 for a penny candy. I do remember there was nothing developed on the east side of Hwy 101 it was all marsh or cow pastures.
Television was black and white which was viewed on a small screen (10" diagonal?) set in a huge cabinet full of tubes that had to be periodically replaced with new ones that were purchased at the local hardware store. I do remember watching the Adventures of Superman which was released September 19, 1952 so that kind of dates me. My mom dyed a pair of pajamas red and with a cape I would run around the neighborhood thinking I could fly.
Shortly after we moved to a house at the end of 16th Avenue in Menlo Park which had half the lots empty... halfway down the street there was an original farm house where people raised rabbits and had an orchard. On the other side there was an empty field where we would play.
Parents then were not near as protective and paranoid as so many are today. At age 6 and 7 we would be gone all day with nobody knowing where we really were. Sometimes Flood Park and other times exploring the open paved ditch that ran alongside Marsh Road.
We weren't here long before moving to Runnymede Avenue in East Palo Alto which would put us there in the mid 50's. It was a nice place for a kid to grow up a place that had a lot of empty fields and small farms of two or three acres where they grew almonds, figs, pears and even a few small egg laying operations. To give an idea how much open space there was it was before Buchanan Court, right off Clarke Avenue, was constructed. In 1955 this was a large field where kids could could build forts, climb the giant weeping willow tree or play in the bamboo groves.
On Saturday my sister and I would walk to downtown Palo Alto where they had two movie theatres and you could catch a matinee for 25 cents. 6 and 7 years old we were on our own and with an extra 10 cents we could get popcorn.
We would also explore all around Stanford University. 6, 7 and 8 year old Kids back then wouldn't think twice about jumping on a bicycle and go 10 miles to see something.
The towns of Palo Alto and Mountain View to Sunnyvale to Santa Clara were separated by huge, expansive orchards of mostly pear trees but there were a large number of prune and cherry trees as well. Local farmers would have fruit stands out by the road peddling fresh fruit and vegetables.
East Palo Alto was a different world back then.
It was 1959 when we purchased our first house on Dundee Drive in Santa Clara. It was called the "Bonnie Brae" sub-division and the four bedroom/2 bath home cost $29,900 which was a lot of money back then.
This area had thousands of acres of orchards. In 1960 Monroe Street dead-ended at Quinn Avenue and it was all one, huge pear orchard all the way to the San Jose airport. I remember picking string beans adjacent to the airport for 2 cents a pound. It was a summer job and if I worked hard I could make $3 to $4 which was a lot of money for a 12 year old.
At 12 and 13 years old many of us boys had .22 calibre rifles that we would sling across our backs while we rode our bikes out to the bay to "ping bottles". Imagine that today, a pack of 3 or 4 young teens with real rifles loaded with real bullets pedaling about the bay area.
Teen sex was almost unheard of due to fear. Fear of having a reputation and fear of the girls dad who would kill you if you did. Seems dad's back then weren't the wimpy sort that so populates the country today. Back then boys didn't want the reputation either.
If you get the chance watch the movie The Sandlot. I love that movie, in the early 60's that was exactly how many of our days were spent.
What was it like?
Something like Heaven.
You could walk down the street at night without worrying about being mugged.
You could even leave your doors unlocked.
Kids were respectful of those older than they.
MOst of them were well behaved in school.
I had the world by the tail. I came to Florida from Wisconsin. My guardian Angel sent me to the place where I would find the job which became my career.
There were the beaches on week ends and dances on Sat. nite; & dances at MacDill AFB on Tuesday nites; and dates all week long.
Florida was listed as having the cleanest air in the nation.
Clearwater Beach was indeed Clear water and safe to swim in.
Never heard of beach closings in those days.
Gas was 23 cents a gallon. You could go 1000 miles on $20.
Motel rooms were $5. a nite.
Speed limit down most of US #19 was 70mph.
Postage on a first class letter was 3 Cents.
It usually went by air, but if you really wanted it to go by air it cost 6 cents.
The 50's spanned age 2 through 12 for me. Polio stands out. The last epidemic went through our country in 1952 and I contracted it. I was fortunate.
I remember Rosa Parks in the news and asking my mother why she got in trouble. I also remember being very confused by the answer. After that I noticed that when I sat in the local Walgreens, Kresges and soda joints, there were only white people there.
You will hear that life was simpler. What you don't hear is that alcoholic stay at home wives was a serious problem.
I know this all sounds negative, but it's just for balance. My memories of the 1950's (Polio aside) are wonderful.
Girls could not wear pants or jeans to high school, skirts or dresses only. Boys could wear jeans, but they had to wear shirts, no tee shirts only. Backpacks did not exist, you carried your books in your arms. Most high school grads did not go to college, the girls went to work, mainly to find a husband, and married young. For boys that were fit and that did not go on to higher education, military service was a virtual certainty. Boys had two choices, wait to be drafted or join the branch of the service they liked.
Girls could not wear pants or jeans to high school, skirts or dresses only..
The school I went to, girls wore jeans. They were doing chores in the barn until the bus blew the horn, then they ran and got on. Town girls mostly wore dresses, but didn't have to.
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