I recently became engaged in a conversation with a local youngster (calm down, that's how I refer to anyone under 30 years of age) who readily admitted that she reads this column every week but was nonetheless of the opinion that she found my frequent remarks about the 1950's and ‘60s, the era I grew up in, "creepy" because that time in our history was so "plastic and make believe."
When I asked her to explain exactly what it was that she found "creepy" about the 1950's she replied, "You see it on the internet and all over TV....on one hand, you’ve got poodle skirts and soda shops and greaser guys in fast cars and leather jackets; on the other, there’s Mom pulling freshly baked cookies out of the oven just as Dad walks in the door with a big smile and a briefcase in hand. The ’50s and 60's were an era where everyone talked a good game about wholesome values and to top it all off, Elvis was King? I mean c'mon, that is so damn creepy. Why don't you write about that?"
It took me a few seconds to realize that here was a young person who just actually said that she found "wholesome values" creepy but then I realized that her "historical" view of the 1950s was possibly engendered by movies such as American Graffiti and Grease as well as television shows not unlike Happy Days, and so I agreed that I would take her suggestion and pen this column.
I'll be the first to admit that the 1950s was an era of contradictions. The Cold War, the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. (While Dad was at work and Mom stayed home cleaning, cooking and otherwise making sure us kids were provided for, we attended school and practiced "duck and cover" drills in case of an atomic attack. Most of us jokingly referred to these drills as the "bend over and kiss your butt goodbye" drills. I mean if ducking under a desk is going to save us from an atomic blast, how come Sister Alma Delourde never got down on the floor with us?
Yeah, just as I thought....someone’s idea of a practical joke thinking that it would be funny if the last thing school kids across the city saw prior to being vaporized in an almost fetal position was a view of the student's butt in front of them.
A little over a year later we were no longer "ducking and covering" but President John F. Kennedy, the guy who managed to pull everybody's butt out of the fire with the Cuban Missile thing was assassinated down in Dallas, Texas. In the late ‘60s, we also had to deal with the dual assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. Later, we also learned that justice is not always blind when a drunk U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, walked away unscathed by the so-called legal system after causing the death of Mary Jo Kopechne on Chappaquiddick Island.
The 50's and 60's were a time of stark contradiction, where ideals and morals played against darkness, and our parents, in an attempt to maintain a modicum of optimism, really focused on family-centric values—get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Be respectful of your elders. Avoid substance abuse. Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake.
We gathered around the TV as a family to watch such shows as Ed Sullivan, Gilligan's Island, I Love Lucy and the like, not because we all liked the same show (God knows I didn't) but because it afforded us the chance to gather as a family safe from those greater world terrors that surrounded us over which we had absolutely no control. It certainly wasn't a perfect world as depicted by some but it was far from being "plastic and make believe." Our parents’ dependence on a solid foundation of family values was born of necessity and not fiction as my young friend would believe, and you know what? In most cases it actually worked! I know it did for me.
Oh, and before I forget, as far as Elvis being the "King" is concerned, King George VI died back in 1952 and Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne of England where she still remains today. So who else would you expect to be King?
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