by Judy Ferro
When a politician—or anyone else for that matter—says they wished we could go back to the America of 50 years ago, I’m never sure what they mean.
I have some great memories of that world.
As teens, driving was the main form of recreation. Carloads of us drove the Boulevard and dragged the Curbs night after night. Everyone chipped in on gas.
A lot of family time was spent gardening and canning. It took an assembly line of five or six to put up fruit cocktail. Fast food was a twice-a-year treat.
Fabric and patterns were cheap and saying an outfit looked store-bought was a great compliment. People saved coffee cans all year to have enough for Memorial Day.
Today, finished products are as cheap—or cheaper—than raw materials. Kids and adults work together less. “Crafting” is for those with time and money.
Yeah, there are aspects of that life I’d love to go back to. But that’s far from the whole picture.
A second cousin was beaten with a belt regularly. When he tried to run away, he was chained to his bed. School wouldn’t consider him truant as long as his dad knew where he was.
Several skinny girls at my school had “potato bellies”—stomachs distended by carbs without nourishment. One had rickets. Farmers often opened their fields for “gleaning” after the money crop was harvested.
By 7th grade our classes were large—32 and up. In spite of regular paddling (boys only) and hour-long detentions for the whole class, we behaved terribly. We gave kudos to any kid who made a teacher cry. We got much better after boys who’d been held back a couple years turned 14 and dropped out.
The book Why Johnny Can’t Read was a best-seller. Many were confident TV would make school obsolete.
There were no special education classes or accommodations for the blind or deaf. If a kid had a long-term ailment—heart, lung, whatever—parents could get help with healthcare only by signing custody over to the State. Some were allowed to visit their child once a week; others weren’t. The State decided.
Cancer was a death sentence, and many believed it was contagious. Mother died before any treatment was available in Idaho. Her dad later died of radiation poisoning.
A lot more women worked than history acknowledges. The hours and pay of those that worked in family farms or businesses were never recorded. Nor was the pay of those that worked at home baby sitting, typing, or keeping books. A lot of women, however, worked at Simplot’s, the Phone Company, and local stores.
Businesses regularly advertised jobs for men only. Often women were called upon to train inexperienced bosses who then made three times their pay. State employment agencies kept cards with jobs for men and women in different boxes. If a woman with a college degree showed up, her agent could try to beg a few cards from the boxes for men.
And that was the world of privileged whites.
My friend Carol had a black boy in her second grade class; for a few years, a Mexican girl showed up for three months. Going to town on Saturdays, I would see kids of color and wonder where they were all week. Taverns posted “No Mexicans allowed” signs and only whites worked in stores and restaurants. Television showed police with cattle prods keeping young Black kids from schools; adults were killed for helping others register to vote.
I have great memories from the ‘50s and ‘60s, but, no, I would never go back.