The 1950’s ushered in what seemed like endless time saving and luxury inventions. They made life a pleasure with leisure time to spare instead of a steady grind to survive. Tons of household items went electric–like can openers, no need to crank; clocks, no need to remember to wind; and fry pans, who needs a stove?
The Betty Crocker food company came up with an instant cake mix. American moms no longer had to slave all day to make cakes from scratch! When the box was introduced, all that was needed was to add water, stir a bit, and bake. The new, time saving mixes didn’t sell up to expectations. Why? They were tasty as all get out, but American moms thought they were cheating their families out of quality desserts–it was too easy. What was the corporate answer? Have the American moms add an egg along with the water, then stir and bake. Bingo, instant cakes started flying off the grocery shelves. With the addition of the egg, moms had a vested interest.
By 1952 the only Americans who were not having a good time were white soldiers in Korea and black people everywhere. This fact was of no consequence to a six-year old middle class boy growing up in a middle class family in the middle of America.
I’m a Baby Boomer. Not just an average run of the mill Boomer, but a Boomer leader. I was born in 1946 the first year kids started popping out of wombs after the final shot of World War II was volleyed. I wasn’t the first Boomer. That distinction goes to Kathleen Casey-Kirschiling who first saw the light of day one second after midnight on January 1, 1946. I followed in October and my math tells me that I am about number 3,000,000.
My Baby Boomer generation is like no other–rife with stories funny, poignant, logic defying, and occasionally tragic. Here’s the reason for the insatiable thirst felt by millions for any story that begins: “Back when I was a kid…”
We were left alone.
We spent our free time in the company of peers unfettered by adult supervision. The two supervised activities of my youth were Cub Scouts and Little League baseball. I think the Boomers growing up in the 50s were the last people to revel in true freedom during their pre-teenage years.
We were left alone, but had tons of rules to follow. Moms made us change our clothes after school. Their only concern about us being left to our own wits for a few hours was that upon arriving home for the evening meal, if not changed, our school clothes would have to be reclassified into a different category–play clothes–long before their time. Moms tried to make school clothes last the ten months of a school year, but their best-laid plans seldom worked out too well. A growth spurt that rendered cuffs showing an inch or so of bare leg above one’s socks and shirts stretched so tightly that buttons regularly shot off the chest at a velocity that could leave a welt sent us off to J. C. Penney’s for some new duds.
Next rule–eat something. Once an apple or bunch of grapes had been devoured and we were cleared for play, the screen door slammed behind us and we were on our own. The venue prospects were nearly boundless. Perhaps a friend’s backyard, but more often it was the empty lot, the baseball diamonds, the pump house that served as a football field, the woods a quarter mile from home, the new strip mall with the sporting goods store and drug store soda fountain, the playground at school, the streets, or the coolest place to play–under and around the viaduct that was being built to hold the newest form of American ingenuity, the Interstate Highway. Off we went and not one of our parents had any earthly idea where we were within the nearly four square miles that comprised our turf.
Streetlights were the universal curfew and rule #3. Those suckers came on just after dark and we started calculating how long we could delay the inevitable without getting in too much trouble before heading in. We could usually get away with 10 or 15 minutes with a story that we were some distance away at the time of illumination, or that a bicycle chain had fallen off.
Because of being left to our own devices, a whole lot of great stuff happened. We experimented, tested, stretched limits, tried to use adolescent logic, and apply any hearsay that came over the gossip wire to real life. A lot was funny then, much is still funny today. Some of it hurt, occasionally enough to require medical attention. The late comedian, George Carlin, created a humorous bit about the only three injuries that children could sustain. According to Carlin and supported by Mother’s caveats about my reckless behavior was that some act or another would either: put an eye out, break one’s neck, or cause pneumonia. No other malady seemed possible.
Most of our play was eye opening and a complete surprise. Those instances are how we learned to swear. For example, we’d often conduct impromptu science experiments complete with a test group and a control group–my science teachers would be so proud! We would empty an eyedropper of gasoline on a leaf and try to see how much faster that leaf would catch fire under the focused pinpoint of sun created by a magnifying glass than one not soaked in gas. The nearly instantaneous combustion of the first leaf and the magnitude of the flame that singed eyebrows elicited a wide-eyed “Oh Sh…!” That resulted in a hasty retreat to a safe distance to see if any further damage was imminent.
This great stuff is what has become the lore of kids growing up in the 50s.
Read more about growing up in the 50s at: firstyouhearthunder.blogspot.com.