One of my Christmas gifts was a novel based on growing up in my hometown of Coffeyville — “flyover country,” according to the subtitle.
I was disappointed. The story was okay, but it took place a decade after I had grown up and left. Familiar sites were described and old family names were mentioned, but it wasn’t what I remembered. I hear a lot about how we as a society have idealized the 1950s, and that may be true. It was a different time.
I was graduated from high school and college in the ’50s, and I have many memories of those times. Families were larger in those days before contraception. Most of us considered ourselves to be members of the middle class though, by modern standards, we all were poor.
Our family lived in a small, two-bedroom house, had a single family car and never went hungry. Mom was a homemaker then, and she had our lunch ready when we walked home at noon from our neighborhood school.
By the time we were old enough to attend what was then called “junior high” and later high school, we rode our bikes or rode with the neighbor children in car pools. There were no school lunches, so we carried our lunch boxes and bought a carton of milk.
Usually, we had three sets of clothing — one for church, one for school and one for play. The school sets might contain as many as three outfits and became play clothes as they showed wear. Those were washed on the wringer washing machine that stood on the back porch and then hung on the clothesline to dry.
There were rules for everything back then, including a protocol for hanging those clothes. Sheets and towels were placed on the outer lines while intimate garb — underwear and nightwear — went on the inner ones. We were not allowed to play in the yard while the clothes were drying for fear that our ball might bounce onto them and stain them once again.
We girls wore saddle shoes, bunny bucks and loafers during the week, but on weekends, especially if we were going “out,” wore flats. Hosiery had seams up the back, and Mom taught us and our friends how to put stockings on so that the seams were straight.
Pageboy haircuts, poodle skirts and can-can slips were in vogue for the girls, and the boys got ducktail haircuts to go with their jeans and button-down shirts.
The Korean conflict dominated the news, but we didn’t have television to bring it into our homes as we did later in the Vietnam era. President Truman’s sacking of General MacArthur was discussed for weeks. We knew about it and the general’s appearance before Congress through the newsreels at the movies.
Saturday afternoon movie attendance was a ritual. Admission was 14 cents under age 12; 25 cents over. We got our money’s worth — a double feature, cartoon, newsreel and previews and, occasionally, an action-packed serial.
Those double features usually consisted of a western and another “B” movie such as the Bowery Boys or Tarzan. More important films were shown the rest of the week.
Life went on at a slower pace. We had party line telephones, and radios and typewriters completed the list of communication devices for most of us. Kids played outside, riding our bicycles and perfecting our roller skating techniques.
Badminton and croquet were popular yard games and, if there were a bunch of us, we competed in Annie Over or Kick the Can.
When we tired, we slowed down to hopscotch, jump rope or jacks. One of our moms was certain to bring out cookies (always homemade) and Kool-Aid. We thought we had it all. We could relax on the front porch swing, visit with the neighbors and watch the world go by.
Life in “flyover country” seemed pretty simple, safe and most of all, memorable.