|Sandra McIntyre at age 6 with her brother Gary Melvin, 7, in the front yard of their childhood home in Pontiac Ill. Gary now lives in Flagstaff. Submitted by Sandra J. McIntyre of Camp Verde.|
|The milkman – if you didn’t have one – is a guy who brought products like milk, cream, ice cream, and butter right to the front door every morning.|
If you are a Boomer, you’ll recognize nearly everything we talk about in this chapter. If you’re not, get ready to climb aboard a time machine that whisks you back into recent history.
Most of this stuff pertains to both the 1950’s and 1960’s. Since Boomers came from all ethnicities and all economic sectors, we may have experienced these things at different times.
For instance, I interviewed some Boomers who said they clearly recall when the first black-and-white television appeared in their neighborhoods. (I do not.)
Welcome back to the mid-1950’s. Our anonymous boy (let’s give him the nickname “Boomer,” OK?) is an elementary school student in a mid-sized town in the middle of America. Where? It doesn’t really matter.
Boomer’s alarm clock – non-electric, something he probably wound the night before – goes off at 7 AM. It’s a nice day in early fall. School started the day after Labor Day for him, and just about every other kid around the country.
Extra trivia: Many boys knew when school began because on Labor Day the college all-stars from the previous year played the National Football League pro champs. (This was before the Super Bowl, which began in 1967.)
Boomer’s nearsighted, so he reaches for his glasses next to his twin bed. (Contact lenses weren’t available yet.) Since it’s warm outside, he goes to the window and turns off his window fan. (Some homes now have window air conditioning units…awesome!)
Next, he goes to the front door to see what fresh treats the milkman left. The milkman – if you didn’t have one – is a guy who brought products like milk, cream, ice cream, and butter right to the front door every morning. (You could tell him what you wanted by leaving one of your empty glass milk bottles on the porch the night before.)
What’s for breakfast? If Mom’s busy in the kitchen, it could be scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hash brown potatoes, toast, maybe even biscuits and gravy. No worries about cholesterol then. What was cholesterol?
Boomer’s little sister and brother are already up, and also getting ready for school. Dad has probably already left for work.
Mom gives the kids lunch money (25 to 50 cents each), makes sure they’ve got their books, then takes them out to the front yard in time for the school bus to pick them up.
The family’s got one car, and Dad takes it to work.
Once the kids get off to school, Mom hand-washes the breakfast dishes (no dishwashers), then washes clothes. When she’s done with the clothes, she takes them outside to dry on a clothesline…which works great, if it doesn’t rain. (Sounds like ancient times, doesn’t it?)
Next, Mom started planning the evening meal. Short of time? Well, she could buy one of those new “TV dinners” that came frozen, and cook it in the oven. (This is the pre-microwave era.)
Boomer’s school is convenient, right in his neighborhood. The day begins with the principal’s announcements, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a prayer. (Separation of church and state? Huh?)
Next come grade-appropriate school courses, maybe a recess, and pretty soon it’s time for LUNCH!
Kids can bring their lunch in a sack or lunchbox from home. Many do that, and the lunchbox often contains at thermal drink bottle, too.
Boomer’s mom gave him lunch money, so he goes through the line and selects a meat, two vegetables, a roll, a dessert, and a drink for an economical price.
After lunch, the teacher reads her students a story while many half-listen and half-doze. Next come afternoon classes, and around 3:30 the school day ends.
As discussed earlier, kids generally came to school one of four ways: they walked, rode their bikes, took the bus, or rode in a carpool with neighbors. After school, Boomer’s friends invite him to walk home, and get a snack on the way.
Now, this is before the fast food days. Boomer’s friends can stop by the pharmacy (called the “drug store” then), where they can get soft drinks or desserts from the “soda fountain.” Or, there’s a family-owned burger stand nearby, a place where lots of cool kids hang out to play the jukebox…a record player than holds loads of music.
After that, Boomer and his buddies head home to watch afternoon children’s shows. They love the Mickey Mouse Club, which showcases talented kids their own age.
And speaking of talent, once a week a music teacher comes to Boomer’s house to teach him and his sister how to play piano. Boomer’s sister is good. Boomer is incredibly lousy. Maybe his mom will sign him up to try a different instrument next year.
Sports, sports, sports
Boomers grew up in a sports-hungry society. We youngsters spent a good part of our weekends watching college, Olympic, or pro sports. (Can anybody besides me remember sitting glued to the TV while watching the 1960 Summer Olympics broadcast from Rome?)
When it came to sports participation, however, the genders divided. The boys had more sports opportunities. Many suburban schools offered a “Gray-Y (grade school YMCA)” after-school sports program for guys. And, there were plenty of organized baseball, football, and basketball programs around.
Team sports for the girls, however, weren’t quite as prevalent. There were softball and basketball after-school programs, but not nearly as frequent or as varied as today’s.
Music and dance
However, Boomers of both genders and all ethic groups reported participation in – or at least awareness of – dance or music instruction in their neighborhoods.
Ballet and tap lessons were available on either an individual or group basis. And – at least for my contemporaries – 6th and 7th grade meant both genders were supposed to sign up at area dance schools for a series of “ballroom dancing” lessons. Said one guy: “I think our parents thought this might civilize us.”
Music lessons for a variety of instruments were offered everywhere. The most common instrument learned was probably piano. However, in our elementary school I heard about kids taking guitar, steel guitar, organ, flute, drum, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, French horn, tuba, and oboe instruction.
Boomer and his siblings – after a day of school, sports, music lessons, and so on – gather for the evening meal with Mom and Dad around 6 PM at home. Dad’s working a little late today, so he doesn’t get home until around 6:30. Mom’s been preparing dinner about two hours. Except for canned goods and some frozen foods, she’s cooked a lot of this meal from scratch.
After dinner, the family adjourns to the living room to watch their single black-and-white television. We’re in the middle of the decade – let’s say 1956 – so, what’s on TV?
Most nights we can choose hit shows from three networks. On Sunday, nearly everybody loves the nation’s top variety show “Ed Sullivan.” During the rest of the week, we can select from a number of comedy/musical/variety shows, hosted by stars like Perry Como, Jack Benny, Arthur Godfrey, and Red Skelton.
There are several outstanding drama programs, like “Gunsmoke,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Millionaire.” The top-rated drama program is “General Electric Theater” hosted by future governor and President Ronald Reagan.
The year’s top-rated show is one we can still see in reruns today: “I Love Lucy.” (Source for 1956-1957 movie ratings: www.fiftiesweb.com.)
Saturday often includes grocery or hardware store shopping for the entire family. Since this is the 1950’s, there’s a division of labor by gender. Mom and the daughters do household chores like cooking and cleaning, and Dad and the sons do yard work.
Shopping generally ends early, since many retailers close at 5 or 6 PM. A recent store development is “shopping centers,” a group of stores connected by covered walkways, or even a mall, which includes a number of stores under one roof.
Many Jewish families go to worship on Saturday, while most Christian families go to services on Sunday. (Most stores are closed on Sunday.)
On Friday or Saturday evenings, families or teens’ entertainment includes high school sporting events, roller rinks, bowling alleys, movies, and drive-ins (where recent films can be viewed from the car).
Drive-ins are sometimes called “passion pits,” because they offer a place young couples can sit in cars and pretend to watch movies while they smooch.
What did we learn?
1. In Boomer days most of the nation followed the same school schedule. This made it easier to schedule summer and holiday vacations.
2. Lots of Boomers told us they spent huge amounts of time in outdoor activities. That’s not the case anymore.
3. Family dining experiences have changed considerably. While most meals in Boomer days were at home, a huge number today are eaten away from the house. And, dinnertimes aren’t as formal anymore.
4. Dishwashers, clothes washers, and dryers have lightened the load for both genders. And many say the microwave is one of the top three inventions of the 20th century.
5. In my personal travel region, there are still many places to buy gas…but only one full service gas station.
6. Many high schools now allow students to eat off-campus. And in many households, everybody’s too busy to make sack lunches.
7. Children of Boomers still take music and dance lessons, but many are not allowed to walk or ride bicycles to and from school because of personal security issues.
8. A major positive difference in the last 50 years: Sports parity now exists for young ladies. They now have great opportunities in a variety of school and college sports.
9. Few Boomers talked much about sharing the evening meal as a family. Perhaps that’s related to longer parent work schedules, more student homework, or the number of recreational opportunities that exist today.
10. The TV variety show – tremendously popular in the 1950’s and 1960’s – is now an infrequent television format.
11. “I Love Lucy” was – and is – one of the greatest television shows ever written.
12. Movie drive-ins are few and far between. Many say the large real estate acreage they occupied could be more profitably used for other things. That’s sad.