Prelude to the “Sixties!”
To say the sixties were turbulent years would certainly be an understatement on anyone’s part. But the preceeding years and decades left an ominous effect that could only lend fuel to that turbulence about to erupt! Having grown up in the post WWII shadow and then Korea, I lived with a feeling of being protected from something I didn’t understand. “It” was never talked about. And, it didn’t require much perception on my part to know that I was not to ask questions about “it.” “It” was simply never talked about under any circumstances! “It” simply existed and permeated every aspect of my/our life.
Along with “it” there were other little signs that there was something out there that I as a child should fear. Again, here too, I felt I was being shielded from that knowledge. Whatever these things were, the adults around me seemed preoccupied with them. It was the men who seemed most affected. Many of them had haunted looks in their eyes. There seemed to be a rage just below the surface in them that had to be contained at all cost. Most were quiet all the time until they got together with their “buddies.” But it wasn’t just the men. There was something about the women too. It was almost as if they all carried around a heavy burden no one discussed. Looking back, I am not sure even they could have predicted what was to come or told any of us about what had passed before.
There was also something almost like an obsession with the security of a home and with making sure there was plenty food in the house. Family and home life were very important. The men all worked at jobs and the women stayed home and took care of and ran the home when the dad was at work. But, dad’s law was final!
Besides working and providing for the home that way, many had gardens. Foods were canned and frozen that were grown in our own garden. Like my family, many had huge freezers to store bread, milk, and other food items. Waste was not allowed in any fashion. You never took more than you could eat; but, you generally always could eat as much as you wanted as long as you weren’t gluttonous.
There were six kids in my family. So that made it necessary for us to be more frugal. Mom made many of our clothes. Often they were made from the bags, “feed bags,” that were used to store feed for the animals at my grandfathers farm. Little was wasted. When one of us out grew our clothes, they were passed down or given to someone else for use. Often others gave us their “hand-me-downs.” When you came home from school, you immediately changed out of your school clothes and put on play clothes.
Then you did your homework before you were allowed to play. Supper was always around 4:30 p.m. and at about 7:00 p.m. you took your bath and prepared for bed. Bedtime was always at 8:00p.m.. Later it was changed to 9:00p.m. because we were older. In High School, it was in the house by 10:00 if on a date. Otherwise the rule, “everyone inside at dark,” was always in effect until we were old enough to be at a friends house for homework after dark. But, even then, we had to get permission from our parents and the friend’s parents. Breakfast and lunch were also at set times. You ate what was served or did without. You miss a meal or were late and depending on the circumstances, you might do without.
Though these rules might seem harsh, they weren’t. I always knew what was expected. Parents were parents and kids were kids. You did your chores. You didn’t interrupt adults. You didn’t talk back. Everything had a very defined consequence. School was the same way. You lost a privilege, got sent to your room or a spanking, depending on the severity of the offense! Having rules clearly defined with consequences removed many uncertainties from our lives. They made the “it” in the shadows seem smaller!
At his farm, my grandfather killed and smoked his own hogs. he had chickens for eggs and food. He dried fruit and hung them in cheese cloth. They hung from nails in his back room where he kept all his canned goods from his huge garden that he ployed with a push ploy if he couldn’t borrow his friend’s horse. He churned his own butter from the milk of his cow and made his own cottage cheese.
Mom and he weren’t terribly close because he drank too much. But, we brought home many of these items when we visited him. We also took him things he didn’t grow. Families looked out for each other. Mom also often made her own syrup. Fresh bread, biscuits, all home made or grown foods were served most of the time. Pastries were mostly homemade. At twelve years old, I, like most girls my age, could cook any of these things with ease.
No time was wasted. Every day there were things that were done around the house. This culminated in the “big” Saturday house cleaning. Also on Saturdays laundry was ironed and put away. Grass was cut and the yard cleaned. I always knew by the sounds emanating from the kitchen on these Saturday mornings whether or not I should get up early or fake sleep by hiding my head beneath my blanket or sheet. If there were loud sounds of pans banging and doors opening and closing in the kitchen, this was one of those days my Mom was in one of her “cleaning” frenzies. If there were the sounds of country music playing in the kitchen, it was a safe day. We weren’t doing a dirt shake down that day!
There was Church on Sunday for most people. Year round there were the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts for boys and the Brownies and Girl Scouts for girls. They all generally met at the local Church weekly. Oddly, on Saturdays nights near one of the Churches, there was an old “Oak Tree” on the corner of two roads and the Klan held rallies there. On Sunday, Brunswick stew was sold at the same old Oak tree! I often wondered why these men hid their faces. My Mom always said only “cowards” hid what they had to say behind a hood! It was even more puzzling to me because I frequently recognized the voices of the men under the hoods selling stew the next day! For some reason, I knew I was not to let on that I recognized those men. No one ever said not to tell. I just knew!
On the weekends, in the spring and summer, there were drive-in movies when we could afford them, and Little League Baseball at the diamond across the street. I spent as much time as I could steal there at that diamond. Often my mom would join us there. She would turn on the porch light and her and a bunch of us kids played ball for hours. My mom was the only mom who ever played with us. It was my escape. Sometimes my only escape. When there were no Little League games, the boys and often a bunch of young men played on their own. I played as often as a young girl could weasel her way in. My “coup d’ grass” came when I got my very own 32 inch “Louisville Slugger” baseball bat. It was so big, I had to drag it behind me sometimes! The guys wanted to use my bat. I only let them use it if they let my play. For me, baseball was my escape from the ever looming “it” that precluded and carried over into the sixties!
Every now and then, Dad took us downtown for an ice cream at Highs. We would walk around and window shop as we ate it. I always got cherry. If we were lucky and managed to save enough of our allowance we got to go to the movies for a quarter. As we did these things, I never noticed that everything was either black or white. There were separate water fountains, bathrooms, movie theaters, resturaunts, housing, everything was either black or white. Blacks rode at the back of the bus. They had to give up their seat if there were no free seats for a white person. Schools were black and white. Even Churches were black and white. It was an unwritten rule. No one questioned it. No one challenged it. It just was!
You were never allowed to be rude or mistreat a black. You especially respected elderly blacks. The only time a black entered your home was to perform a type of work or service. You could even be friends with blacks. My brother and one of his best friends, a little black boy living behind us, often ate off the same apple. They played together all the time. But, we never went into each other’s home. There was an air of something about to change here, too, just prior to the sixties. It would seem that there were many shadows besides the “big” one that were all beginning to come into focus just as the sixties began to arrive!