Life in the 50s

To those who grew up in the 1950s, life was uncomplicated and innocent. It’s a time to remember with longing.

In the 50s, families were large and houses were small, with a kitchen that you ate in, one bathroom, and a few bedrooms filled with your brothers and sisters. Divorce was rare; almost everyone had a head-of-the-household dad and a mom who stayed home and cooked real food with real ingredients. You ate with the family morning and night, with a blessing on the food, lots of jokes and a few parental sermons for seasoning. Everybody had chores and did them; parents were strict, and nobody you knew sassed their parents.

After school, every kid headed outside to climb trees, jump rope and play hopscotch. Vacant lots were for baseball, to the detriment of nearby windows. By the 50s, every household had one telephone and a three-digit phone number, and unless you could afford more, your phone was on a party line. You could listen in on the local gossip club that tied up the line half the day, but you couldn’t butt in—it wasn’t polite. So, forget about calling your friends; just meet the gang on the corner lot. You could ride a bike—your most prized possession—to a friend’s house alone, play outside after dark, and be gone for hours without panicking your parents.

Saturday afternoons were for the movies. Almost every kid in town hit the 2:00 PM Saturday matinee. Cars discharged expectant children, each clutching the quarter that would buy a ticket and a candy bar or popcorn—your choice. No one worried about the movies. They were always innocent—a kid who got in trouble, made a mess and said he was sorry, a slapstick comedy for your funny bone, or a western with good guys in white hats who rode white horses and always won. TV was occasional: Leave it to Beaver and The Ozzie and Harriet Show, starring every girl’s heartthrob, Ricky Nelson. If his song, Travelin’Man, meant anything shady, you never suspected.

You could tell who was naughty or nice by the clothes they wore. Modesty was the norm, and if you wore tight pants it meant new ones weren’t in the family budget until fall. Hand-me-downs were expected, fashion changed every decade or so, and closets were small because space there was a waste: with five school days, who needed more than five outfits? Girls dreamed in the Sears and Roebuck catalog, then made their own dresses.

Schools taught reading, writing and arithmetic, the Pledge of Allegiance and the Constitution. America was grand—free and respected throughout the world, from all anyone could see. Everybody went to church on Sunday to learn about God, and you knew what was right and wrong because the minister told you; you had no reason to disbelieve. On Sunday night, the family played a game together—Monopoly, Fish, or Pick-Up Sticks.

Nobody had much money and kids never saw that their parents worried about it much. If your dad clerked at the local grocery store, his occupation was honorable. Policemen were universally respected and obeyed, and some little boys really did grow up to be firemen.

Sadly, times have changed. Families are small and houses are large. Closets bulge with annual fashion changes, T-shirts are the new business cards, and recreation means shopping at the mall. A game is a screen and a remote, and kids can go days without seeing the sun. (Do they even know how to play outside anymore?) We talk to each other through smart phones, rather than smart relationships. Broken homes are commonplace; dads are often missing-in-action, and too many moms are gone into the workplace. Everybody aims to be a professional, parents work long hours, and the family can maybe grab a meal together on Sundays. Dinner comes from the drive through window, home-cooked means the microwave, and you’d better read labels on your food. Friends have replaced brothers and sisters, without the unfailing loyalty a sibling brings. Kids don’t do chores, they sass their parents and teachers, and church attendance is dropping steadily. Music is raunchy and TV offends more than it entertains. Morals are in jeopardy if you go to the movies much, so don’t forget to check the ratings before you take the kids. Out of wedlock pregnancies are celebrated, rather than shameful, and people spend money they don’t have, so they borrow, and borrow some more.

Most progress is good, but some is not. Modern benefits, such as communication and transportation, with its interconnected highways, were only dreamed of in the 50s. Wouldn’t it be grand if we could bring back the simplicity of the 50s, added to the positives of the 21st century? The world would be a more stable place if we did.