Down the Hall on Your Left

This site is a blog about what has been coasting through my consciousness lately. The things I post will be reflections that I see of the world around me. You may not agree with me or like what I say. In either case – you’ll get over it and I can live with it if it makes you unhappy. Please feel free to leave comments if you wish . All postings are: copyright 2014 – 2021

Archive for the category “1950s”

As I Was Saying…

“Why use ten words when a hundred will do quite nicely, eh?”

Those words were spoken to me by my wife this morning. I had been trying to explain something to her. I was simply trying to make myself understood when she made the comment above. I must admit that her synopsis of my explanation, which took only twelve words, was perfectly accurate. Twelve words that clearly stated what I was halfway through page two with.

All I want is to make sure that both you and I understand fully whatever it is that I’m trying to say. I want there to be no ambiguity or confusion so I will present a complete explanation of all… OK, I’ll acknowledge that I do tend to ramble on.

I’m doing it right now aren’t I?

What can I say? I’m a fan of words. Language to me is a great and wonderful toy. On some occasions it is like a Rubik’s Cube puzzle that needs twisting and turning to find the solution. Other times the words, any words, are like a cryptic and mysterious code that makes no sense at all until you find the key, the right words to make it sing.

This is the reality whether you are writing Fiction or Nonfiction. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between them anyway. At least it is with me.

I started writing when i was just a kid. I’d started reading even earlier. At the age of six I had my own library card. Once I learned how to read the books in the “Children’s Room” I knew that I could write better ones. I found a collaborator (Marty who lived down the block) and we began cranking out Cowboy and Indian stories that we thought would take the world by storm.

We were wrong.

Like any writers, of any age, we were always looking for approval (Positive Reviews). Marty went to the public elementary school nearby. I went to St. Mary’s Catholic elementary school. What better places to find critics? Marty took our stories to his teacher. I took them to Sister Mary Butch.

Marty’s teacher thought that our stories were the best thing since School Lunch Macaroni and Cheese. She praised our efforts and encouraged us mightily.

Sister Mary Butch said that we were wasting our time and that we were both going to Hell.

Marty got support and encouragement. He grew up to be a Doctor. I was belittled and damned to eternal perdition. I’m still looking for a sympathetic critic who isn’t my wife. Thanks, Sister.

As a result of these early literary traumas I’m still writing. Behind me I have left a trail of Fiction, Nonfiction, Textbooks, Speeches, Five years worth of Blogging, Jokes for Comedians, and the odd Theatrical opus or two. All of it just because that nun didn’t recognize juvenile genius. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

And so I keep writing.

I have a number of the proverbial Works In Progress stacked up awaiting editing, a second draft, or a future as kindling. I am determined to finish these stories, but I’ll tell you one thing – I’m not taking any of them over to Sister Mary Butch.

A Little Face In The Crowd

I find that the older I get I spend more time, while sipping my coffee, thinking about my younger days. It doesn’t take much to get me wandering back to the days of my life when I lived in a narrow valley in Western Pennsylvania.

These days my time is filled with thoughts of hi-tech computers and low-tech viruses. Neither of these are the sort of things that make for lingering memories. The things that did, do, and will continue to generate memories involve the people I’ve known and the places I’ve been. Today and tomorrow interest me less than the thousands of my yesterdays.

When I woke up this morning and turned on the TV in the bedroom one of the first images I saw was of a classroom. It reminded me of one in the elementary school where I was introduced to the world outside of my family. St. Mary’s Catholic Grade School was already old when i was enrolled in 1952. The school was started in the 1870s.

I was born in 1946 smack in the middle of the first wave of the Post-War Baby Boom. The hundreds of thousands of soldiers returning home from the horror of World War Two were thankful to be alive and they celebrated by starting families. My father was too old to be taken into the military, but he  got caught up in the spirit of the day and there I was six years later sitting in a classroom alongside 59 other First Grade Boomers. I sat there with the others, all of us staring at Sister Avila standing by her desk in her black and white nun’s habit.

You read that right. There were 60 kids in my first grade classroom and there was another classroom just as full across the hall. We were packed into our rows of little wooden desks like sardines in a can.

And we learned.

We learned how to sit quietly with our hands neatly folded on the desktop. We learned to stand up every morning and say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. We learned how to read. We learned how to write in cursive. We also learned how to get along with 59 other kids.

We learned how to be the good kids everyone expected us to be.

That expanding bubble of Baby Boom kids continued all through my school years and it is still there even now. Now, however, all of us who sat in that crowded first grade classroom are hitting 75 years of age. We are the Senior Citizens who are filling up the hospitals, nursing homes, and cemeteries.

Today the desks at St. Mary’s are occupied with a new generation born in this century. The classes are smaller now. There isn’t a rush to build new schools like there was in the 1950s. The old schools that had been filled to the walls with the sons and daughters of the returning veterans are being torn down and replaced with Health Clubs and Organic Food Stores.

My generation – The Baby Boomers are now fading from the scene. The nation’s population is still growing but at a slower pace. There might never be another classroom with 60 little kids squirming in their seats and practicing their penmanship. Today’s teachers are horrified when they are faced with more than twenty curious faces staring at them.

In 1952 our stern-faced nuns in black and white struggled through the turmoil and managed to have most of those 60 youngsters turn out just fine. If there was one most important thing we learned in those crowded classrooms it was how to work together and not be afraid to ask questions. Those skills have served us well over the years.

Thank you, Sister.

 

 

 

 

My Childhood In The Distant Past

Reluctant as I am to say so I must admit something: I am an old man. My youth was in a Post-World War Two 1940s and 1950s.

I was born in 1946 in Cleveland and raised in a small town in the hills of Western Pennsylvania and, in many ways, I lived a childhood rooted in the 19th century. Whenever I tell someone of my daily life they react as if I was telling them a story about an earlier time. They find it hard to believe when I tell them that my mother bought her fruits and vegetables from a man with a horse drawn wagon, we had bearded hobos knocking on our door for a handout, and quarantine signs on our front door whenever a kid got one of the many childhood diseases.

When I moved from The Valley to go to college in The Big City people were amazed and amused when I told them about The Pony Man.

There were few times more exciting for the neighborhood kids than those days when the old wooden wagon piled high with fruits and vegetables and pulled by a pinto pony came down the street. The Pony Man’s name was Carmine and the pony was Tony. My mother would make her selections and drop her money into the basket that sat on the seat next to Carmine. Business concluded Tony would move on to their next stop. Tony knew the route by heart.

A remnant of the Great Depression were the Hobos who “Rode the rails” from coast to coast looking for work. Many of them had been wandering for decades unable to leave the life on “The Road.” Our house was just two blocks up from the river and the main railroad tracks that carried passengers and

freight up and down the Valley. It was not unusual for a Bearded Hobo to knock on our back door looking for a handout and/or an odd job. My mother was a soft touch and handed out a lot of sandwiches. I once found this symbol scrawled on a tree near the house. It meant that a nice lady lived there.

There were also “Tinkerers” who would walk through the neighborhood shouting out “Knives sharpened! Pots Fixed!” Tinkerers were itinerant repairmen, the original “Jack of all trades” workers. They would help the neighborhood Mothers by pounding out dents in their pots and pans and grinding the kitchen knives sharp again. Those were not throw-away items.

Given recent events in our world most people are seeing the word “Quarantine” for the first time. I grew up seeing that word a dozen times a year.

In the 1950s there were a number of highly contagious diseases that were often called “Childhood diseases.” Measles (3 different versions), Mumps, Chicken Pox, and others would sweep through every

year and the local Board of Health would try to control the diseases by posting “Quarantine” signs on our front door. It meant that no one got in or out of that house until the disease had run its course. My father had several bouts of staying in local motels while I and my brother were sick.

In the Summertime the Quarantine was sometimes violated on purpose. When the word got around that a kid had measles or whatever the neighborhood mothers would throw a “Measles Party” to deliberately expose their kids to the disease just to get it over with before school started again in September. It was somewhat perilous, but effective.

A child’s life in those days in my small town was certainly different. It was a much simpler time in many ways than today. However, it also had its own terrors that no longer exist. Every Summer there was the looming fear of another epidemic of Polio, a disease that is rare today thanks to two men names Salk and Sabin.

I could tell you more stories of my childhood in the time-warp Valley where the modern world collided with earlier days when everyone knew everyone else, your child’s milk came to your door in glass bottles and three cents would send a letter across the country.

Perhaps I will. Let me know what you think I should do.

At 5AM All Time Is Warped

Ever since I retired I no longer have to get up early to get to the office and solve the problems of the world. I can sleep in and start my day whenever I darn well please.

Well, that’s the theory anyway.

The reality is considerably different. I know that I’m retired. My coffee maker knows that I’m retired. The world knows that I’m retired.

My body does not know I’m retired. Or at least it is pretending to not know.

No matter what time I crawl into bed my internal alarm clock pries open my eyes at about 5 AM. Try as I might to roll over and sleep until later it just doesn’t work. Once my eyes pop open at 5 AM I am up. 

There is not a lot for me to do at 5 AM. No stores are open – not even Starbucks. The sun isn’t even up yet. So, I end up watching TV while I’m getting dressed. And there is not much of a selection at that hour even with 200 channels. That means that while I am struggling to figure out how socks work I am tuning into “The Cowboy Channel.”

At 5 AM I am treated to ancient reruns of “The Roy Rogers Show – Starring Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys!”  It’s his show so he gets top billing. Second billing goes to his horse, Trigger. After the horse comes Roy’s wife “Dale Evans – Queen of the West.” She may be the Queen, but Roy’s horse gets better placement in the credits. She must not have had a very good agent that she lost out to a horse for all those years.

Poor Dale lost out on another thing too. Roy (Real name: Leonard) had his horse named “Trigger” and a dog called “Bullet” – all rough and tough. Real macho for the “King of the Cowboys” even though dressed like a member of the Village People. Dale on the other hand, even though she is a Queen, has to ride around on a horse named “Buttermilk.”

“Buttermilk?” What kind of a name is that for a horse? I’ll bet that if she had had a dog it would have been called “Cottage Cheese” or something equally non-threatening.

That whole show was a collection of weird stuff and anachronisms. On one hand it was your classic western shoot-em-up with posses and outlaws. Their town (Mineral City) had wooden sidewalks and hitching posts. Everyone wore gunbelts and rode horses – except for one guy who drove around town in a Post-World War Two Jeep. I never could figure out that bit of business. In the confusing Old West setting of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans where did their “Comedic Sidekick”, Pat Brady,  get his gasoline? His Jeep always seemed to be possessed by evil automotive demons, driving off on its own. 

Was it a Cowboy show or was it a Sci-Fi  Western? Nothing made sense to me. I’ve been watching that show for years, since I was a kid, and I always found it to be one of the most confusing things on television. Even the Three Stooges made more sense to me. I’m hoping that there is a lost episode that might show up one morning where we might get to see Buttermilk kick Trigger’s Palomino butt.

L to R – Dale Evans, Trigger, Roy Rogers

 

Saving Time For Something

 

EVERYONE SEEMS TO BE IN SUCH A HURRY THESE DAYS – even me who is a retired geezer and has a minimum of deadlines and other important urgencies in my life. Saving that extra three minutes seems to be critical even when the time saving actions have a lowering of quality along with the few saved ticks and tocks.

I’m not saying that saving time is a bad thing. It is just one way to have more time available to, hopefully, enjoy doing something else.

Like breakfast.

When I get up in the morning one of the first things I do is put on a pot of tea for Dawn. After that I head out in search of coffee. Until I have my coffee my day has not officially begun. Before I pour that first cup or two down my gullet everything I do is strictly muscle memory.

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That Kid Looks Old To Me

 

IT WASN’T THAT LONG AGO when I had those dreams about what I wanted to be when I grew up. At least it seems that it wasn’t all that far in the past. But, now when I look at with a calendar in my hand I realize that it was the better part of a century ago.

My God, where have those years gone?

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Let’s Take Another Look At That

OH, I GET IT! You’re doing your Stevie Wonder impression. No? What happened? Tell me…if it doesn’t involve the Police.

Thus began my morning last Monday as I walked into the Chapel of St. Arbucks.

“Oh, you broke your glasses? That’s why you are wearing sunglasses at 6 AM.”

At least it wasn’t me who had the broken glasses.

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Do Not Do “The Freddie”

 

IS IT ME OR…IS IT THEM???

I admit that either possibility is, at minimum, plausible.

They (The ubiquitous “They”) say that Time is a fluid thing and that the very concept of Time Travel is no longer the property of Science Fiction writers. OK, I can accept that, but I just don’t expect it to happen while I’m quietly trying to have a cup of coffee.

Twice in the last month while I was concentrating on getting my plastic straw through the lid on my iced coffee my world was intruded upon by the 1950s and then the 1960s. I’ve been through those decades before so I recognized them immediately.

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To Boldly Go Where No Member Of My Family…

THE OTHER DAY I BUMPED INTO A LITTLE FACTOID. It was about you, me, and everyone else on Earth. Unless you know something I don’t know all of us are natives of this planet. According to that factoid you and I live here on Earth which is one planet in our Solar System, which is part of our Galaxy – The Milky Way – and that our Galaxy is off by itself in the emptiest and most remote part of the visible Universe.

To the rest of the Universe we are off in the desert.

How did that happen? Do we have B.O.?

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Elementary, My Dear Barista

WHAT POSSESSES PEOPLE TO START A CONVERSATION about one topic over another? I mention this because this morning while I was trying to inhale my coffee one of the Usual Suspects started waxing nostalgic about her years in elementary school. After an unspecified number of decades why did this come to mind? I remember my years in elementary school, but I feel no need to bring it up for discussion.

I do admit that there are worse topics for discussion at that early hour. Honestly I also do not feel like listening to someone give me the details of their latest hospitalization for that nagging parasitic problem…At least not if I am eating at the time.

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Sieg Heil, Kemosabe!

I LIKE TO START OFF MY DAY IN SLOW MOTION. I do not want or need to be jarred into actual thought before I have had my coffee. Before that first influx of caffeine into my system I am not capable of digesting information or spatial-temporal incongruities.

That is why I am in recovery today after a surprise challenge to my cranial lobes the other day.

One of my early, early, early morning rituals is to slowly crawl into consciousness with the TV lighting the way as I try to figure out how socks work. My heart is beating sporadically and my brain is clicking away at an invertebrate level. I don’t need surprises.

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Can I Offer Some Advice?

 

A few days ago I bumped into something online that snapped me back to my youth. Well, not my youth specifically, I never read the “Ladies Magazines,” but my mother did.

In 1958 McCall’s Magazine, which billed itself as “The Magazine of Togetherness,” published an article that if printed today would have activists marching in the street and people being fired at the magazine.

“129 Ways to get a Husband”

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Sure She’s Spooky, But She’s My Mom

WE ARE DOWN IN TEXAS VISITING FAMILY. We were sitting around the table last night swapping stories and sharing memories. My 97 year old Mother-in-law told us about her life during World War Two. Our Cousin from Alaska told us the best way to avoid being killed by bears, and then it became my turn.

My wife, the lovely and memory like a steel trap, Dawn, said, “John, tell them about your spooky mother.” With an introduction like that there was no way to avoid telling everyone about my “Spooky Mom.”

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Warning: Senior Citizen Nostalgia Alert!

Geezer Alert!

THIS MORNING – I WOKE UP – GOOD NEWS THAT. I flipped on the television – it worked. Then I tuned to catch my daily dose of The Lone Ranger and/or Roy Rogers – uh, oh, Snafu in progress.

Where were they, Kemo Sabe?

I had begun to count on those two old cowboy “shoot ‘em ups” to drag me into the day. Now they weren’t there. In their place was some coverage of a rodeo. God bless ‘em, but I don’t care about rodeos. I want the shaky fiction of Roy and Dale or that Masked Man dressed in Powder Blue

You know – the Real West.

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All Aboard!

 

IT’S THREE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING AND I AM WIDE AWAKE, laying in bed, and listening to the sound of a train passing through town. Its whistle is echoing, muffled in the fog. A real Woody Guthrie moment.

I’m not sleeping. My body is resting to a degree, but my mind is wandering all over the place – Planning our Texas trip, Compiling a grocery list for later today, and when I heard the train whistle I was taken back in time to my childhood. My childhood – a time of Steam Locomotives and steel ribbons of tracks disappearing around a curve. My late night wanderlust is hearing the Conductor calling out, “All Aboard!”

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Every Home Should Have One

I KNOW THAT IT IS A MATTER OF TASTE, but let’s be honest – with some people all of their taste is in their mouth. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

No, I say that, but I don’t really believe it.

What has me all a-twitter today is the subject of lawn ornaments.

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I Love Television

I LOVE TELEVISION. It entertains me. It educates me. It enrages me. It wakes me up. It puts me to sleep. It’s a lot like most people I know.

My personal memory of Television goes back to 1952 or thereabouts. That was when my father came home with our first television set. It was a Philco brand with a 12 inch screen. Everything was in black and white and we had a whopping three channels to pick from.

It didn’t matter which channel you watched they were all pretty much the same – Old movies, Cartoons, News, Kids Shows, and Wrestling. Lots of Wrestling.

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Were You There?

IT’S EASTER ALREADY? I guess that it has sort of sneaked up on me this year. I was just putting away all of the Christmas stuff when – Poof! I turn on the TV and it is filled with all of the Jesus Movies. That’s what I used to call those Biblical Epic movies when I was a kid.

The 1950s was a big decade for Jesus Movies – “Ben Hur,” “King of Kings,” “The Robe” with Richard Burton chewing the scenery like a rabid Schnauzer. We saw them all as soon as they hit the Wide Screen.

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Everything Old Is New Again

I KNOW PROGRESS WHEN I SEE IT and a thunderbolt of Progress has struck in Terre Haute (That’s French for “You three guys – into the trunk!”)

As I was sipping my coffee this morning I decided to check the local news site to see what was happening here in the Wabash Valley. My heart skipped a beat

Who cares that the local Macy’s store is closing other than the people who go there to ride the only escalator in town? Who cares that the Indiana state University basketball team is not doing very well…again? Who cares that the new Starbucks “Blonde Espresso” tastes like 10W-40 Pennzoil Motor Oil? Who cares about any of that stuff when the real news is that a brand spanking new Drive-in Theater is going to open up in town this Summer?

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May The Farce Be With You

MY WIFE, THE LOVELY AND WONDERFULLY OBSERVANT, DAWN, and I were having a discussion about our favorite movies when the “Star Wars” franchise came up. I remember seeing the first film back in 19…whatever it was. I know we had electricity, so it was sometime after World War One. It’s been a while that I know.

I enjoyed the movie, but despite all of the special effects and nifty costuming, I realized that “Star Wars” was really just a Cowboy Movie. It was a fun and rollicking Cowboy Movie to be sure, but an Oater nonetheless.

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