To those of you that were intrigued enough to open this post, I thank you. I am sure some (most) of you have no conception of what the fifties were, beyond what your grandmother often sat there and smiled about. She didn’t have any tattoos, and she didn’t dye her hair. She didn’t have to. That’s how your grandfather became your grandfather. And he didn’t admit that she was reeling him in, but instead, he was letting her think she was.
It really was a gentler, kinder, and I think simpler time back then. No one in any of my classes ever got shot. And there was no confusion about who we were. Boys were really boys, and girls were, you know, our obsession. Everyone knew which one you were and which bathroom to go into. We went by our names or nicknames. It wasn’t necessary to profess our gender. We already knew what it was.
I am sure that there were probably gay’s in our classes. The fact that we didn’t know it says two things. One is, if they were a friend, they would still be a friend. Second, no one would have cared. In high school, I didn’t know what a gay was because, unfortunately, the 50’s were also an imperfect time, and it was something to be hidden. I regret that.
Back then, you were not judged by skin color, ethnicity, or religious beliefs. Instead, your status was judged purely by what grade you were in. A senior would never think of befriending a sophomore (unless he/she was really cute) and your circle of friends were usually of the same grade as you. That was important. I don’t know why, but it was.
Mine was a small town and the gathering point was a bridge over the Aberjona River which ran through the heart of town. To the naked eye, and to the eyes of our parents it appeared to be a melding of the kids from the east side with the kids from the west side. However, in reality, it was simply two factions sharing a common space. The west side boys, with very few exceptions, were the ones with the cars which they would park on the bridge and their collieges would gather around, frequently taking off to cruise all of main street. The rest of the crowd kind of hung together, sitting on the bridge, envying the cars, but talking how we were going to build our own.
Some did, but many never got the chance. Options were reduced for those from the east side. College was often mostly not an option. It wasn’t for me or many of my friends. So alternatives were to get a job or join the military which, many of us did.
I chose the military, serving almost seven years, And although I was proud to have served, I have to admit that my assignments never put me in danger. I was assigned to a defense force that remained at home in the event of an attack on us. But, honestly, I joined the air force more to gain a skill that I could bring back home, and I did that, although my life ultimately moved in a different direction.
In my hometown, there is an Honor Roll in front of the Town Hall. It contains the names of many of the kids I grew up with, Those that with or without a car, shared space on the bridge with me. Today, I am proud to share space with them, in commemoration of the lives we have lived and the experiences we shared. In reality, we probably have much more in common now then we did back then.
At my senior prom, we danced to the song by Ronnie Milsap called “Lost In The Fifties Tonight”. It lingers with me still. I guess maybe I am still lost there.
Look not mournfully into the past, it comes not back again.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow