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WERE the 1950s so bad?

A post from my favorite time-waster, Quora — just put this up last night.

Were the 1950’s so bad? How could we stand to gain by returning to more traditional family roles, with the wife in the kitchen and the man out getting the money? Why bother having a family if you need your independence too?

I grew up in the 1950s. Here’s what I recall about it.

My mother was home all the time — that was nice, I guess. My father went to work; he was a harbor pilot who worked swing shifts, so if he wasn’t working during the day, he was sleeping, and anyone else in the house had to be verrreee quiet. Or else.

I loved science, especially astronomy. When I told my parents I wanted to be an astrophysicist, they informed me that girls didn’t do that kind of thing, but I’d make a great secretary.

We lived overseas for ten years, in a Middle Eastern country where my father wrangled tankers for an oil company. My parents took great care to teach me that…

  • America was the greatest country in the world.
  • All other countries were inferior.
  • People with dusky complexions, such as the Arabs whose country we lived in, were inferior to white people.
  • Communists were the evil enemy. So were socialists. And anyone else who didn’t agree with our way of thinking.
  • A woman’s place was in the home.
  • And a lot of other blather along those lines…

We flew Constellations back and forth, when my father got a vacation (three months every two years). They were wonderful planes. Slow and noisy, yes. But what fun sleeping in your own fold-down bunk, stopping in country after country after country, cruising through the Alps, watching the sun rise over the Atlantic as you were homeward bound from Shannon, Ireland, to New York, being served breakfast, lunch, and dinner in your seat — that was traveling!

Nuclear war was a constant threat. After we returned to the States, we lived in a San Francisco high-rise. Every Saturday at noon, air-raid sirens atop our tower went off with a BLASTING scream. If, as a young teenager, I ventured to sleep in, the howling noise of these terrifying “tests” would literally lift me out of my bed.

  • We had air raid drills at school.
  • We had to register an escape plan with the school: in the event of a nuclear attack, would I be bussed down the peninsula, or would I be picked up by my parents at the school, or would I be sent home on foot to my parents to take shelter or to evacuate?

My father raised He!! and put a block under it when he found out the school had assigned me a locker mate who was a black girl.

  • I learned from her that black people are human, when shortly after my father had roared into the principal’s office, the little girl’s things disappeared from our locker. Weeks later, though, she reappeared…with burn scars all over her body. She had been helping her family fix breakfast when her robe caught fire; in a panic, she ran across the room and, before anyone could catch her, crashed through a closed Arcadia door, thereby adding life-threatening cuts and gashes to the burns she suffered. Black people can have scars? Pain? Terror? Panic? Who’d have thunk it?

Television was relatively new — still black & white — and some of the shows were great: The Phil Silvers Show, The Jack Benny Show, As the World Turns, The Twilight Zone, Dragnet, many more. As today, some were pretty stupid, too.

My mother got a job: her salary was $75… ”Such good pay — for a woman!” my mother crowed. It wasn’t enough to cover our rent, to say nothing of feeding us and running a car. If anything had happened to my father, we would have been flung into poverty.

Part of her job as a receptionist for the large apartment development where we lived was to greet prospective renters. She would hand them an application to fill out. As they left the office, she would mark, in code at the bottom of the first page, whether the applicant was white, black, Jewish (in her estimation), or Asian. Only whites needed to apply.

Phones plugged into the wall. There were no cell phones. If you had car trouble and could not flag down another driver, you would have to walk to a gas station or a store and use a pay phone to call for help.

Cars did not have seat belts, or if they did, they had only lap belts. And in many other respects, cars truly were unsafe at any speed.

If those were the best of times, you don’t wanna know what the worst of times were about…

Image: Wikipedia, Constellation