A lot of people send out emails talking about the good old days…mostly about the 50s and 60s. After several years of reading these selective memory, partially fictionalized notes-- here is my response.
I grew up in the 50s and 60s, and I can tell you without a doubt – they were not great. Many women were slaves to their kids and husbands, many of them were physically and mentally abused with zero recourse because divorce was frowned upon and the law didn’t care. Parents could beat their kids bloody without consequence. (Save for the doctor bills and psychiatric care later.) War veterans suffered in silence because it wasn’t manly to wake up screaming from nightmares or the have the shakes every time they were in a crowd. Black people still couldn’t vote or go to the same schools as whites, and were hung for sport, and just forget about being gay—you would have to go live in Europe if you were out of the closet gay. Our president was assassinated, we lived in constant fear of war, the McCarthy Era was born and stomped all over the rights of many Americans who dared to have an opinion about anything. The Cold War, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam War ; inequality on myriad levels, all served to make the 50s and 60s a blight on America’s history. “Leave it to Beaver” was a ridiculous delusion.
|Mom, me, Bama, baby Johnny & Linda 1955 Alemany Blvd. San Francisco|
I have some warm memories. I remembering visiting my Great Grandmother, my BaMa, in Santa Rosa on Sundays, feeding the chickens and looking for their eggs, and her teaching me to sew on her Singer sewing machine, and bake the best German butter cookies in the world. Watching the birds in the aviary while sitting in the sun-drenched kitchen, the German canaries singing their glorious songs, and the homemade jams spread on the homemade breads. Papa Carl playing solitaire for hours on end and not saying much of anything but letting me sit on his lap and help. We’d sit outside in the shade under the grape vines that grew over a trellis, and sometimes pick berries to make jam.
In the fall, we would gather walnuts from the giant walnut tree and spend what felt like hours, cracking the shells, then baking chocolate chip cookies and warming her house and filling it up with the smell of fresh cookies coming from the old Wedgwood oven.
|Easter 1960ish in San Bruno @ Uncle Pete Scanlon's house|
I was lucky to have those memories. My innocence was lost long before my innocence was lost. My parents, until their divorce when I was four, had knockout, drag down fights that left my older sister and I trying to be invisible, curled up in our beds, often huddled together – a temporary peace treaty between water and oil. Still, she remembers the 50s with more kindness than me. I have a steel-trap memory—with amazing clarity, sometimes it's a curse, but for the most part I'm glad I remember what's real.
Kids were kidnapped, molested and murdered—just like today. The difference between then and now is there are more people now, and we now receive news from every city in the nation. In 1960 you read your local paper, which had local news, unless it was about the President or a war. In the early 1950s 25,000 cases of polio were reported a year, killing many people and crippling even more. If you had cancer, leukemia or heart disease—you probably died. In the 1950’s-60s, if one was born premature, they probably died or were severely brain damaged and the doctors would tell the devastated parents to put the child in state or private care. If you had any kind of mental illness, you would have been institutionalized and/ or forcibly treated with electro-shock therapy or worse, a lobotomy, which would render you semi-comatose for life. Menopause was treated as mental illness. Teenagers (some I went to school with) were forced to give up their babies or marry if they got pregnant out of wedlock. (Often ruining lives.)
We have our problems now; there is no doubt. We have been at war for well over 10 years. We have a multitude of veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI. We have gang violence, too many guns on the streets, homelessness, untreated mental illness and the economy, while improving is not quite there and many people are jobless and living far below the poverty level. We have many diseases yet to be cured; global poverty, the War on Terror. Yes, we have our problems.
But, I will take now over then anytime. We have vaccinations if not cures, for polio, chicken pox, measles, mumps, pertussis and more. We have prosthetic devices that look and feel like part of your own body. We have heart, lung, kidney and liver transplants. We have face transplants. We have medication for schizophrenia. Breast cancer is not a death warrant. People are living longer and healthier than they ever have before. Life expectancy is 10+ years more than in was in 1950.
The 50s and 60s may have had some bright spots but none that out weigh the repulsive bigotry, the disgusting lack of respect for the Constitution of the United States and the people’s right to privacy and the overall head in the sand denial of the nation.
As I age, I hope to remember the unabridged past and not the one made up for email forwards, Facebook posts and chain letters. If there was innocence in the 50s and 60s it was self induced. I don’t think we should make that mistake again. I would rather face a hard truth than live an easy lie. The truth is… drinking water from a garden hose is not a good idea.