Opinion Columns & Blogs

The ‘50s: Those were the days

I spend a good deal of time on a bicycle these days. It’s great exercise plus you get out of your car and experience American life in a different way — “Up close and personal” as they say, especially when riding through a small downtown area or neighborhood.

The other day, around 6 p.m., I saw the following: People strolling and holding hands, mothers pushing baby carriages, a Little League baseball game, folks sitting under carports having conversations, lawns being mowed with push mowers, toddlers playing in the yard and cars being worked on in driveways. You know, hoods up, rear end sticking out with somebody’s head buried in the motor? I remember coming home and seeing my dad in that same position back in the ‘50s when cars were simpler and easier to fix. It seems like people were like that too: Easier to fix.

The drug of choice was alcohol and when you stopped using it you usually felt better and got along with folks. The meds we’re on today make you want to kill yourself or somebody else when you stop using them. Things have gotten complicated. But I digress. The scene I saw the other day was like something out of an era. Those of us who can remember, called the ‘50s, “an era we sometimes miss.” Well, like the words in that Montgomery/Gentry song, the ‘50s are, “Gone like a freight train, gone like yesterday; gone like a ‘59 Cadillac; like all the good things that ain’t never coming back.”

I can’t recall all the differences in the ‘50s and today but we were less transient, so you got to know your neighbors and in knowing them, felt safer. We were less exposed to violence because there were fewer news outlets and maybe less of it. Children walked to school and could come home for lunch, so they weren’t as obese. Mothers were home, adding to the security we felt as children and probably increased our ability to concentrate in school. We pretty much knew which bathroom to use.

There were fewer fast food restaurants and mom was home to cook so you ate around the table and talked about the day. There was one car in the driveway so to see best friends you either had to walk to their house or they would walk to yours. You played outside a lot so you were tired when you came in and after homework, sleep came easy. On the playground there was usually only one guy with a ball so you learned how to get along. Ah, the ‘50s what a great time — or was it?

I mean, we also had polio, segregation, discrimination, Castro, the bicycles were heavier, the interstate system was not yet finished and television went off at midnight. I suppose we only remember the good stuff. Things haven’t changed all that much, just the way we look at them.

Neighborhoods are still neighborhoods and they can be whatever you make of them. Get out and get to know who you live around. Who knows, maybe you’ll get to be a pallbearer when one of us old folks checks out.

Young people, eat more with the family; maybe help with the cooking if mom’s tired from work. Who knows, you might like her after she becomes a friend. Spend less time in front of the TV, your grades will probably improve and you’ll no doubt see fewer people getting killed. Oh, and dad, don’t change your oil in the driveway, it makes a mess.

As we approach the Memorial Day weekend we need to remember that Americans are a good people. I heard an educational leader say the other day that he didn’t believe any one of us gets up in the morning intent on making someone else’s day miserable. I believe that. Things happen as we go through the day and we need to be able to forgive and treat each other with respect and love. If someone or something is dividing us as a people, it may be working because we are allowing it to happen by being ignorant of whom we are and what we all stand for, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Will the ‘50s ever come back? Truth is, they never went away. Well, polio maybe.

Sonny Harmon is a professor emeritus at Georgia Military College. Visit his blog at http://sharmon09.blogspot.com.