All of us at one time or another listened to our grandparents telling us how things were in the good old days. Some of us rolled our eyes heavenward silently mouthing, “Oh, no, not AGAIN!” We were NEVER going to grow old like them complaining that things these days just aren’t what they were. No siree. Not us. But nearly 60 years have gone by and I find that I LIKE remembering. So if you’re young and you’re listening in on this conversation go ahead and roll your eye balls if you must but it won’t stop me because I am finally at that point of life where I can begin to say, “I remember when...”
The richest memories are of family and neighbourhood where on weekends almost every kid could be found at the Bayview Theatre’s Saturday Matinée. The cost? 25 cents plus a dime to spend next door at the penny candy shop. We’d wander into the theatre clutching little paper bags filled with the likes of black balls, powdered sherbets with licorice ‘straws’, ‘Thrills’ gum and some tiny candy bits called ‘Sen Sens’ which burned our mouths. Theaters were designed to gracious proportions with second floor ‘smoking lodges’ and although the big MGM studio days were drawing to a close movies were still a big event. Excitement was palpable as heavy red velvet drapes would draw aside announcing the start of another feature film and a hush would fall over the crowd. We still had movie REELS in the 50's and these required changing midway through films. So intermissions were filled with draws and excited kids would check and recheck ticket stubs hoping to win something from the mountain of prizes up on stage - like the blue and black striped vinyl beach bag which I won and just adored, carrying it with me everywhere. And there were other events like YoYo demonstrations - remember ‘walk the dog’? - or hula hoop contests.
TVs were the new ‘big thing’ in the 50’s - ‘I Love Lucy’, ‘Donna Reed’, Jackie Gleason’s ‘The Honeymooners’, the iconic ‘Ed Sullivan’, Jane Meadows in ‘Our Miss Brooks’ and then the family shows - ‘Leave it to Beaver’, ‘Make Room for Daddy’ and ‘Father Knows Best’ in which Robert Young invariably DID know best each and every week. On Fridays Mom would buy a package each of peanuts and jube jubes (which USED to taste like real fruit) and mixed them all up in a bowl before we settled in to watch Raymond Burr solve his most recent case in the long-running hit, ‘Perry Mason’. Television changed the way we ate and the creation of TV frozen dinners was pretty much inevitable. We would all eat at least occasionally off of wobbly ‘TV tables’ parked in front of our Admirals or RCAs. This was a big departure for us 50’s kids who were the end of that generation which sat around the dining room table together EVERY NIGHT talking about school and work and what WERE those neighbours up to?
I remember Hallowe’en when it was spelled with an apostrophe and it was a night to go out to scare and be scared. Every kid was known by every adult on the street and no one worried. Mr. and Mrs. Gregg (we NEVER called adults by their FIRST names or the sky would fall, wouldn't it?) 3 doors down always made sponge taffy and we kids bee lined over there not wanting to miss one single sticky burnt-sugar bite. Costumes were pretty simple and home made and usually involved sheets or ballet outfits or something else we could find around the house. But there was nothing mundane or simple about how excited these costumes made us feel.
Schools were the hub of neighbourhoods in the 50's and Moms knew that’s where their kids would to be found after school - playing ball, skipping, shooting alleys. It all felt and was so safe. ALL the Moms in the neighbourhood were the boss of us back then. Telling us to go home, do up our coats, eat our bread crusts and TAKE OFF YOUR MUDDY BOOTS! No one was bussed or car pooled in and teachers remembered all our brothers and sisters - saints and sinners alike - whom they had taught in preceding years. We sat in straight little rows in class and our teachers (we each only had ONE teacher) knew us almost better than did our families. We wore uniforms back then and proudly sewed on them our badges of scholarship earned for being good students (what choice did we have in the 50’s?) and singing in the choir.
It would take another life time to remember it all. Some things I really do miss like milk deliveries- including buttermilk although Mother said it wasn’t as good as it was in HER day when the cream rose thickly to the top of the bottles. We could still brag of glass bottles in the 50’s and milk delivered directly into quirky little milk boxes built into the side of every house in the neighbourhood - long since gone or bricked up now I imagine. And Mr. Giovanni would park his truck right in the middle of our street to sell families Italian bread warm still from his ovens. Garbage was put out in paper bags and mail got delivered TWICE a day at Christmas. Loblaw’s had GREEN STAMPS and after licking thousands of these into endless books my ever-practical mother cashed in ours for a bathroom scale. How DID my young imagination survive?
Baby-boomers grew up with a collective memory of peaceful times, stability and future vision. Born after the end of WW2 and at the onset of terrific growth in technology, science and medicine, we were wrapped in a sense of security and an open ended vision of our futures. It wasn’t anything that was said to us - we just knew it. Looking forward there was nothing we couldn’t achieve. We all understood the same code of conduct - good manners, respect for elders, hard work, obey the law, go to church, save your money, don’t waste time and don’t buy ‘on time’. My mother would have insisted I add, “And, don’t spend money on Monday or you will spend it all week long!” And we looked up to adults. Every policeman was our friend. Teachers were THE LAW - there was no disrespect tolerated and none contemplated - we were all too terrified of adult authority. And if our teachers didn’t catch us you can be sure our parents would!
No one is going to put real fruit flavour back into jube jubes or reintroduce the 25 cent matinée. But the times were gentle and dear to us and for that reason we want to remember as much as we can for as long as our gray cells can manage the effort.
Thanks for travelling with me on my footpath this week...
BBPP Weekly Health Check:
Mind:Having lived in Bracebridge only 2 years, it still all feels pretty new to me here. Getting out and about with a camera and taking pictures of various places and objects makes the town feel more 'familiar'. It's like being at a party where you only know the host - and him just slightly. But once you start working your way around the room and getting to know people, you begin to relax and feel at home. Taking pictures makes me feel more at home every walk I take with places and even individual trees and birds taking on a familiar, friendly association.
Body: Another 2 pounds bit the dust this week. Over the past 2 months the systolic pressure has dropped by 30 points and the diastolic by a dozen or so. This is one time when 'nowhere to go but down' is a GOOD thing! And it all results from walking about enjoying the beautiful town of Bracebridge.
The Artist Soul:Did you hear that lonely robin singing at 3:30 a.m. the other night? Smell the lilacs? Feel the cool spray from the Falls?