Cline column: Good old days in the 1950s ring true

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 21, 2012

My childhood friend, David Miller, sent me the following. I have altered it slighty, but the original intent remains.
“Were you a child in the 1950s? Everybody makes fun of our childhood. Young comedians joke about it. The grandkids snicker about it. Twenty-somethings shudder and say “Eeew!”
“But was our childhood really all that bad?
“In 1953, the U.S. population was less than 150 million, yet we knew more people and knew them better … and that was good.
“The average annual salary was under $3,000, yet our parents could put some of it away for a rainy day, and still we had comfortable lives … and that was good.
“Mom didn’t have to work, unless she chose to … and that was good.
“A loaf of bread cost about 15 cents, and it was safe for a 5-year-old to skate to the store and buy one … and that was good.
“Prime-time TV meant ‘I Love Lucy,’ ‘Ozzie and Harriet,’ ‘Lassie’ and ‘Gunsmoke.’ The public wasn’t blasted with lewd programming, ratings, focus groups or filters … and that was good.
“TV was in black and white, but all Mother Nature was in glorious Technicolor … and that was good.
“We didn’t have air-conditioning at home or in our cars, so the windows stayed open. We walked or rode our bikes to school or to the movies, or anywhere. And we didn’t have to lock our bikes when we reached our destinations.
“We loved to climb into a fresh bed at night, because the sheets had been dried outside on the clothesline.
“Our school teacher was either Miss Hocklefinger or Mrs. Hocklefinger or Mr. Hocklefinger, and never Ms. Becky or Mr. Dan.
“Half a dozen neighborhood mothers ran outside to check on us when we fell off our bikes.
“The only hazardous material in our lives was the ‘fog machine’ spraying for mosquitos in the summertime, and we played in the deadly mist (OK, maybe not the brightest thing to do.)
“More people seemed generally to live in the same hometown with their relatives, so “child care” meant grandparents or aunts or cousins, not ‘Mother Goose’s Day Care Center.’
“Parents and teachers were respected, and their rules were law. Children did not sass and talk back without facing the consequences.
“Your dad knew how to adjust the family auto carburetor, as well as the one in every car in the neighborhood, and he wouldn’t take a nickel from anyone to do it.
“Your friend’s dad next door was the first on the block to get a riding lawn mower, and he was proud to mow every yard within visual contact, and he wouldn’t take any payment either.
“Your grandma likely grew snap beans in her backyard and had chickens behind the garage, and it didn’t break any laws … and that was good.
“And just when you were about to do something that would get you into a bad situation, chances were you’d run into your father’s best friend or the nosy old lady up the street or your sister’s piano teacher or a church member. They all knew your parents’ phone number and your first name … and even all that was good.”
I appreciate David sending this to me. I have no idea who actually wrote it, so I’ll give credit for it to that great author Anon E. Mous.
But most of what Anon wrote is true.
Radio days
I remember my parents’ stories of how life was for them growing up. Their not having television blew me away as a kid. I tried to imagine families sitting around the radio listening to the likes of “The Jack Benny Program” or “Amos ‘n’ Andy.” I was watching Amos, Andy and Jack on TV every week.
But before I knew it, my children were watching Disney’s “Pinocchio” several times a month via home video. I would then grasp the opportunity to assume my parents’ role with phrases like, “When I was your age, I could see this movie only when it played at the movies. Then I couldn’t see it again for about seven years until it came back.” They would look at me with the same amazement I expressed about listening to radio programs.
So I guess many things don’t change, perhaps only the specifics.
But some things definitely do change.
When I think back to all of my childhood friends, not any of them came from a home of divorce. By our teen years, in my circle of friends, I was the only kid not living with both parents, and that’s because my father died when I was 12.
Now more than half of all marriages fail.
Law and order
None of my friends’ parents were ever incarcerated. A speeding or parking ticket was as bad as I ever heard.
Many more moms no longer have the option not to work as they did when I was a tyke. So who watches Junior when he gets home from school?
Everything seems to have to be organized. Do kids today head for an empty lot after school, choose up sides and play baseball or football anymore? We did. No adults were present, no refs or umpires. It generally went well. OK, an occasional fight, but the other kids always broke it up.
We always seemed to know the right time to break up the fight. If a jerk had started the skirmish and was losing, the group would permit a few shots to his gut before halting the melee — the group’s way of sending a message that we don’t like jerks.
Today, if the same scenario occurred, I’d be afraid that out would come a knife or gun … BANG BANG … and dead people. We didn’t think that way. We didn’t carry weapons. We wouldn’t know how to get one if we wanted to carry one.
Weapon disclaimer: One of my buddies did have a BB rifle, but he couldn’t take it out of his bedroom unless his father was with him. He broke that rule once, and his dad disposed of the weapon. And another did sometimes carry a small pocket knife, a genuine Boy Scouts of America issue, and he used it only to spread his potted meat on crackers in the school lunchroom.
More changes
It doesn’t matter what the cost of a loaf of bread is today. It isn’t safe for a 5-year-old to skate anywhere unsupervised these days. Do kids even skate anymore? And if your bicycle doesn’t have a lock, it’s gone in 60 seconds.
There’s no doubt that technology is much better now than in the 1950s, be it computers, TV sets or refrigerators. It’s a matter of how “we the people” use them. Medical science is much better now as well, except the cost of it — $25,000 for a two-day hospital stay to have a baby today vs. $50 in the 1950s.
I have a difficult time grasping the explanation of why that is.
If I got into trouble at school or at a friend’s house, I was also disciplined when I got home. Today, some parents hire a lawyer and sue the school or the neighbor.
I can well remember when the general thinking of the majority of the society was, “What can I do for you?”
Now it seems to be, “What can you do for me?”
What happened?
Mike Cline’s website, “Mike Cline’s Then Playing,” documents every movie played in Rowan County theaters from 1920 through 1979.