The bubble-head Barbie came out in the early 1960’s, her hair style influenced by Jacqueline Kennedy. When I was eight, I was overjoyed to receive a red-headed one for my birthday. Presents were simpler and fewer in those days. Most of my Barbie’s wardrobe was laboriously made by my mother, the ‘store bought’ outfits being too pricey for us. Even so, my grandmother felt we were quite spoiled. Anyone who lived through the Great Depression did. Plus she grew up in China, the daughter of missionaries. Talk about poor…that dear lady once sewed a collection of my great uncle’s old ties together to make a skirt for me. I was a teenager, so didn’t wear it. She always told me there was no room to stand on pride when you were hard up. But I took a stand on that occasion. Now I wish I’d saved that skirt.
Books were particularly special in my childhood, my collection small and continually reread. The thrill of my life was when my mom ordered a box all the way from England filled with C. S. Lewis‘s the Chronicles of Narnia, not yet available in the U.S. To say I was influenced by The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe (and the rest of the series) is an understatement. I’m still looking for Narnia. I assume everyone is, but apparently they’re not all…weird.
Given my love of reading, trips to the library were savored. With three younger children to take care of, mom let me check out as many books as I could manage myself. Thin arms laden, the pile stretched from my knobby knees up to my arched chin as I staggered to the car with my take. I devoured everything, fiction, nonfiction…even the biography of Lotta Crabtree, which I suspect most children haven’t read.
I remember dirt roads with bumps we’d beg to ride over fast, and endless highways before the age of the interstate. Traveling from one place to another in our old Chrysler was an arduous affair with warm sandwiches smashed in between wax paper and tepid, metallic sips of water from my father’s Marine Corps canteen. And that had to date back to the Korean War, unless it was his father’s and then we’re talking WWI. Air conditioning in the car was unheard of then and rarely enjoyed anywhere. Mostly public buildings. Few homes possessed such comfort. Only a fan stirred the heavy stillness of our sweltering summers. We finally got air-conditioning in our farmhouse when the older children were well into elementary school with one window unit in the family room where we all camped out together when the nights were really hot. We now have several units, the height of comfort, except for the parts of the house that don’t.
Childhood trips to the movies can be numbered on my fingers. Maybe not even using both hands. Cinderella and The Sound of Music stand out in my memory. My college English teacher father, who spent several years getting his doctorate, wasn’t overpaid. And then I married a farmer, also not overpaid. As for television, a small black and white set sufficed until I was thirty-something. Only recently did we acquire a more advanced means of obtaining channels other than the battered antenna, constantly zapped by strong winds, that required my hubby to climb up on the garage roof for adjustments and yell down at the person in the kitchen doorway below, “Can you see it now?” The answering shout was relayed from the person in the living room until better reception was achieved. I was delighted to discover Netflix.
As for clothes, refer to the long-suffering mother mentioned above and selfless grandmother at their sewing machines, and hand-me-downs. I reveled in what some would call a ‘missionary barrel’ of hand-me-downs when my father was in graduate school, my younger sister on the way, and our family as poor as church mice. I thought a pair of ‘to me’ fashionable flats made me look like a movie star and dreamed big dreams. When I reached the advanced age of thirteen I was awed by a pair of fish net stockings and my first ever lipstick, a pale pink by Bonnie Bell.
Back to fashion. When my children were small, I labored at my sewing machine and even made over some of my own clothes into little shirts, pants, and smocks for them (and embroidered the fronts). Again, mom and grandma sewed much appreciated contributions, and Grandma knitted sweaters. Children weren’t expected to be as well dressed in my day, or my children’s, as they are now. As long as we had something suitable for church, and when I was small that meant petticoats, white gloves, and a hat. Sales had to be really good for my mom to buy ‘ready made’ clothes. Ditto for my kids. They even sold sweet corn at a roadside stand in the summers to earn money for back to school clothes. But all of this built character, right? Made us more appreciative of what we have. (*Image of little Beth)
No Kleenex in my childhood. We used handkerchiefs which were washed, and if one was fastidious, ironed. Some of them were quite fancy, possibly family heirlooms. Again, I wish I’d saved some. I’d dress my Betsy McCall doll in the prettiest ones.
Furniture? In our family, with rare exceptions, you inherited it, or someone still living gave you some pieces, or you made/refinished them yourself. Food? A lot of home cooking/canning. Some less than appetizing meals when mom got into a hardcore health food phase. My sister recalls groats, but only once. Again, I can count on my fingers, maybe with both hands, how many times our family ate out as I was growing up. And eating between meals was frowned upon or we’d ‘spoil our dinner.’ An occasional snack, maybe.
Didn’t like your supper? Too bad. Probably why I have the urge as an adult to eat whatever I want, whenever I want. But we kids played outside all the time and were wiry and fast. Little danger of obesity among the youth back then. Those were the ‘Timmy and Lassie days’ of riding our bikes all over the neighborhood as long as we were back by suppertime. Now we want to know where our children are every second, and understandably so with all the pedophiles at seemingly ever corner.
Have we really come all that far? In some ways, yes, in others, not so much. When I was young, we feared the Russians, the Cold War, and Nuclear proliferation. Now, its Muslim Extremists. And they’re worse than anything I recall, and I was one of those kids who had to hide under their desk in elementary school as part of a practice drill for what to do if…as though that would have saved us from a nuclear attack. We also practiced taking alternate routes home which had me stopping off in a golf course to play–alone–at the age of eight. Great plan. (Not me in the pic, just a random child from that era doing the desk drill thing).
What are your memories? Do you lament the old days? Those Russians don’t seem so scary now, huh?