Growing up in the fifties
Actually, I did a lot of growing up in the forties. However, the fifties are always the years my mind goes back to when I am reminiscing, because those were the teen years. World War II shaped my earliest years, even though I don’t remember anything about the war. Pearl Harbor happened when I was just one. But it profoundly affected the entire country, just as the depression had. My parents had been through a lot of rough times. With the end of the war everyone was giddy with relief and rebuilding with optimism. However, reality soon set in, and my parents had to work very hard to survive. My father had broken his back working in the woods, logging. After that he couldn’t go back to the woods, and had to take any job he could get. He finally managed to find a job driving a road grader for the county, and that’s what he did for the rest of his working life.
My parents raised me and my five siblings, ten miles from town with no plumbing, no bathroom, no telephone, and, for the first few years, no electricity. We had a cow, which gave us all the milk we could use, and butter and cream. We raised chickens and had outdoor dogs and cats. The garden supplied us with some fresh vegetables and delicious strawberries.
I was in the fourth grade, home sick with the mumps, when we turned on our first electric light. It was magical. No more messing with oil lamps. No more doing homework by the dim, flickering light. However, we still had to use the outhouse.
I grew up with the powerful ambition to live in a house, someday, with a bathroom. That was my goal. I would get an education and earn a good living and have a house with a bathroom. I supposed that a husband would probably go with that, as every woman intended to marry in those days. At least where I grew up.
The little coastal town where I went to school, Bandon, was an insulated place where everybody knew everybody and everybody’s business. If they didn’t know everybody’s business, they would speculate or flat out make it up. It was a close-knit community, and viewed newcomers somewhat as outsiders. Since we lived ten miles from town, and were poor, we were pretty much nobodies. I had few friends in school, as I had no way of contacting any classmates once I left school for the day. The town kids stuck together. I spent all of my growing up years trying to fit in and not look poor. In junior high I made a lifelong friend, the daughter of a new teacher. We hit it off right away, and her parents were very kind to me, especially her mother.
Mary’s mother was a hoot. When I first met her, I thought she might be a little bit crazy. She had wild blue eyes and spoke in rapid-fire bursts, and had a giddy laugh that had me a little worried. She was so different from my mother. But as time went by I grew to love her and enjoy her antics.
Whenever there was a special event after school, I stayed at my friend’s house. Her mother welcomed me warmly and even installed a towel holder in the bathroom with my name on it. Our mothers were also good friends.
Mary and I helped each other through adolescence and boys and the high school years. We had many a deep discussion, puzzling out where we fit into the world and what we wanted out of life. And, always, boys.
Mary was always level-headed, studious, and practical, whereas I was dreamier and flightier. However, we made a good team and ran around with the nerdy crowd. We graduated in ’58, and went our separate ways. But we always kept in touch. We’re still friends to this day. We’re both long retired, and have very different interests, but when we get together it’s like old times. Everyone should have a lifelong friend.