by Tamara Hillman
I went from a Mouseketeer to an American Bandstand groupie in that short ten-year span of the nineteen-fifties. It was a sweet ride and I cherish it now as I let my mind wander back down ‘Memory Lane.’
Is it only in my recollections, or were those really the best of times? Two bloody world wars were at an end, and men and women were united in America to raisin' families with moral values and accountability to their fellow man. They strived for their kids to make a difference in fulfilling the hopes of tomorrow by becoming upstanding citizens, and honoring a flag their dads had fought and many died to defend. Even so, I'm sure we drove our parents crazy and rebelled in our own way, but I believe to a much lesser degree than nowadays since we had serious consequences to face then that modern-day parents don't seem to avail on their children.
I can picture in my mind, boys wearing white T-shirts with low-slung Levis held up by a skinny belt and rolled pant-cuffs to show off black motorcycle boots with taps on heel and toe. Rolled in one sleeve of their shirt, some bad boys even had a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes. Hair was combed in a pompadour with two curls pulled low on their foreheads, and swept to a D.A. in back with plenty of Palm Aid.
We girls wore smooth cardigan sweaters (backwards) that were fastened neatly with tiny pearl buttons, and topped off with a little silk scarf tied at the throat. Most likely, a chain with our boyfriend's ring dangled from our necks in front. No pants were allowed in school for girls, so we wore wide belts over tight skirts, felt Poodle Skirts, or anything flaring out over tons of can-can slips starched stiff with sugar-water—when we girls went to class, we had to stuff these great piles of skirt and slips under wooden desktops, and then sit firmly on them to control the wild beasts from springing up in our faces. On a hot day, the starch would melt and stick to the backs of our legs, and bees would often chase us anytime we were outside.
Covering our feet were Bobby Socks, and either Saddle Shoes, or White Bucks with reddish-pink soles—(I think Pat Boone got that fad started.) We all carried Evening in Paris perfume and Tangerine lipstick in our purses to freshen up at the noon hour. Hair was cut short in a D.A. like the boys, or long and flipped at the bottom after sleeping uncomfortably on pink rubber Spoolies and taped bangs at night.
Our music may have seemed loud and frenzied to parents just coming from the big-band era of their generation, but to us, it was new and exciting with a rhythm we could bop and jitter-bug to, or slow dance cheek to cheek with our steady.
We never missed teen-dance on Wednesday night when we could swing and sway to our favorite singers; Elvis, The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Neil Sedaka, Ray Charles, Gene Pitney, Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline, Conway Twitty, Connie Francis, and Bobby Darin just to name a few. Afterward, we would top off the evening with a cheeseburger deluxe, fries, and a milkshake, all for under a dollar each at Boyd's Cafe.
Saturday night meant taking in a movie at the drive-in theatre thirty miles away in the next town. It was not uncommon to sneak in several friends in the huge car-trunks of that day. Flicks such as; Thunder Road, The Blob, Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden, and The Wild Ones were sure sell-outs to teens.
The cars we cruised main in were usually eight to ten years old, but many were suped-up with racing engines, rolled and pleated leather seats, and chrome wheels. They ranged from Mercurys, Hudsons, Plymouths, Buicks, Chevys, and many more. If a kid was really cool, (or had a rich daddy) he drove a new Ford Fairlane, or Thunderbird sports car. Now that was groovy!
We teens waited all year in wondrous anticipation for the big dance in May, the Junior/Senior Prom. It was the highlight of our plans and aspirations. Preparations were made weeks in advance, and the entire high school voted for a king and queen from each of the two classes. The gymnasium was decorated with wooden props suspending chicken wire that had been stuffed with toilet paper to give the illusion of a soft partition with a gate or arbor for the duly elected to waltz through as the theme song played at the allotted moment they were to be crowned. We girls wore strapless gowns with coarse, scratchy netting over taffeta, and teetered in spike heels we weren’t use to wearing. The boys looked uncomfortable dressed in sport coats and slacks, not there usual jeans and shirts. The dance was always held on a Saturday night and ended promptly at midnight since that was curfew if you were under twenty-one years of age. We were expected to return home immediately thereafter.
Every small town had what they called a ‘Town Clown’ to enforce curfew, plus any and all rules of the road or underage drinking. He was in actuality the one and only representative of the police force in a thirty-mile radius. In our town, his name was Shorty MacMillan, and though he stood only five foot four inches tall, he kept us in line. I've witnessed more than one hulk of a football player tuck his tail and slink home when Shorty sent him packing.
Not only were we taught to respect the law in the fifties, but were taught to respect authority over us in any and all forms; teachers, preachers, parents, etc. We feared our father's wrath most because the worse sin one could commit was to bring shame on the family by acting improperly or immorally—And the gossip-mongers were always watching in small towns…
Summers were filled with hard work on the farm, and in our free time on long hot days, we gathered at the lake or river to swim and lie on a beach blanket listening to portable radios that were all the rage. Then, we'd all pile into cars and meet at the local fountain to slurp root beer floats, or spoon heavenly marshmallow sundaes.
I realize those times may not have been perfect, and we have greatly advanced in technology for the good of mankind in the past fifty years, but I still say, “Those were the BEST of the 'Good Ol' Days!'
There stands a tree on the old homestead,
The house is long since gone,
it faces eastern mountains,
and greets the morning dawn
Limbs stretch forth to give us shade
from a scorching noonday sun,
we spread our picnic blanket,
and let the children run
Around us cones are scattered,
some new, some very old,
reseeding barren acres
thru' season's heat and cold
A rock, etched with the family name,
is posed there on the spot
where grandpa built the farmhouse,
may it never be forgot
Located on a mountain
with valley floor below,
why they chose to homestead here
no one will ever know
the orchard now has crumbled
leaving just the Lonesome Pine,
to remind us of our heritage,
ancestors who were mine...