Once upon a time in a place very far away, there was a land called the 1950s. When the clock struck midnight on Dec. 31, 1949, I was midway through the first grade, Daddy was in the Air Force. A decade later, Dec. 31, 1959, I was midway through the 11th grade at Theodore high school near Mobile.
So the 50s were my formative years. And today, decades later, I can still recall times and people and events that made me who I am today. I can also remember Christmas.
As I take in today’s world, it is hard to believe that I came of age in a time that now seems almost primitive.
Alabama was still a place of small towns like Red Level, McKenzie and Georgiana. Their downtowns were vibrant with grocery stores, barber shops, banks, hardware stores and probably a cotton gin. When you pulled into a gas station in a car with a clutch, someone came out to pump your gas, clean the windshield and check your oil. You paid your bill in cash, not credit or debit card.
Interstates had not sucked the life out of the countryside. Before air-conditioning people still sat on their porch as night fell and TV didn’t fill their lives with a constant babble of God knows what. Some people actually read because there were real newspapers in those faraway times. My classmates looked just like me. We were all white and mostly middle-class. Our mothers were housewives and our dads worked at shipyards and paper mills and built houses. Most had worn a military uniform and done their part in World War II.
Some guy from Tupelo, MS was about to hit teenagers like a tsunami and usher in rock ‘n roll. Preachers took to their pulpits to damn this music and teenagers kept on buying 45 RPM records, the ones with the big hole in the middle.
In 1952 the country elected General Dwight Eisenhower as president, who served until JFK came along eight years later. Eisenhower graduated from West Point and spent 38 years in the Army. He couldn’t have been more unlike today’s White House occupant.
But there was a constant during this decade for a young boy and his younger sister. That was the small house sitting on brick pillars at Rt. 2, Red Level, AL. This was the home of Grandpa and Grandma, daddy’s parents. A little house daddy said was constructed in one week in 1936. (But considering that it was built without wiring or plumbing or insulation, that doesn’t seem so odd)
This was where we celebrated most Christmas Eves of this decade. Since presents were opened the night before Christmas, the timing was all the more important. There was always a small cedar tree in the corner of the front bedroom that grandma cut on their farm. Decorations were sparse, but we knew it was a Christmas tree just the same.
We gathered in front of the fireplace in the living room (which was the only heat in the house) while presents were given out and wrapping paper frantically torn aside. I honestly do not recall a single present I ever got at grandpas. Maybe a ball glove, maybe a shirt or some underwear or a book But that matters not. It was Christmas and I was with family and knew I was loved.
Those were not necessarily better times–just different in so many ways. And one thing is undeniable. I have never forgotten many of the lessons I learned back then. They have served me well for a great many years.