by Maria Ruiz
Every week I receive another email from a friend about the ‘Good Old Days.’ Another photo album showing happy families standing in front of a sod home or eating A&W Root Beer Floats in front of a 1950 Chevy Convertible and Norman Rockwell Paintings summed up life.
Too bad life isn’t as easy or as much fun as ‘back then.’ In my neighborhood, music wasn’t played into ear plugs and the only noise that penetrated all our play was the thump thump of the iron lung from the windows next door.
In school we were exposed to reading, writing and arithmetic along with Scarlet Fever, Measles, Mumps, Chickenpox, Red Eye and head lice. Swimming in the old water hole had to be put on hold during the “polio season.”
Mom had to walk to the grocery store every day because the Ice box was so small and the ice melted too soon. Food spoiled regularly and food poisoning was common.
The party telephone line insured that no one had any privacy. Instead of watching TV in the evening, people sat on their porches, exchanging gossip with the neighbors. Nothing was ‘personal’, all was discussed and opinions offered.
The dreaded ‘government‘ wasn’t involved in our daily lives. Instead we had ‘society’ with its rules which couldn’t be broken without dire results. Women wore white shoes after “Easter’ but changed to black or brown after Labor Day. Girls were advised to wear tape on their nipples so they wouldn’t show through blouses and girdles to hide any ‘panty lines.’ Those that didn’t were quickly known as ‘one of those.’ Good girls were forbidden to associate with ‘them.’
Girls couldn’t take shop or graphic classes. Boys couldn’t take cooking or sewing classes. Most girls got married as soon as high school was over. Those that went on to college usually found husbands and got married soon after graduation to begin a life as a wife.
Boys didn’t get much better. They had to live with the threat of being drafted into a war. They had responsibilities which only increased with the number of children and divorces had to prove one of the partners was to blame. They were taught to “never submit to bullies.’ “A man doesn’t cry.” covered all emotions. No wonder they couldn’t relate to their wives. And why, if they perceived a nagging wife, they felt entitled to hit her . That hitting also included any children around.
The dreaded ‘government’ wasn’t meddling in family affairs. Neighbors could be sued for character deformation if they reported any suspected child abuse. Fear of legal retribution kept one neighborhood from reporting on a situation which led to a poor woman hacking two of her seven children to death in the front yard on summer day.
White families lived in a three block corridor and any others, outside of this white area. The local swimming pool allowed the ‘others’ to swim on Thursday afternoon because the pool was drained Thursday night.
If we wanted to learn something new we walked to the library. Research took weeks.
One neighbor lady had cancer and no one would visit. Her daughter raced home every noon from school to help her mother. Everyone was afraid of catching the whispered “Big C.”
No one talked of sex. Young bodies that experimented soon were married for at least their 2.5 children. The idea that the number of children could be controlled fell under the ‘no talk’ umbrella. And when the wife, who budgeted everything, paid all the bills and kept the family solvent, got a divorce, Sears and Bank of America would cancel her credit cards because “Women can’t have credit cards. Only men.’ A woman was instructed to sign on the second line for a car loan but if the husband didn’t pay, she was held responsible, and if she had a job, could have her wages withheld.
The ‘Good Old Days’ didn’t have electric appliances, cable TV, computers, homosexuals in ‘good neighborhoods’, two cars, working wives or opportunities for 51% of the population. What they did have was segregation, society rules and more reasons why not then why.
The Good old days were easier if you fit into the mold. Hell for those that didn’t.