Over the years, you have probably recognized my keen interest in rhythm and blues music. In my office, you will hear vocal groups from the ’50s being played on my radio or computer; a ride in my automobile will reveal music by The Spaniels, Flamingoes, Castelles and my favorite group of all time, The Heartbeats. Some weekends, I buy, sell and trade records and music memorabilia at record conventions and shows.
I have a large selection of 45s, 78s and 33 1/3 rpm records. I often play the 45s and 78s on my jukeboxes. My Rockola jukebox, which plays 78s, can play a limited number of records. My Seeburg jukebox, however, can play a large number of 45s, on both sides. Most of the records on both jukeboxes are my favorites, and whenever I play them, they conjure up fond memories of my teen and young adult years. One in particular brings to mind certain behaviors that boys and girls shared when they started to date steadily; a song recorded by The Students in the late ’50s entitled, “I’m So Young.” The words, in part: “I have a girlfriend; she says I’m her only one…..They say our love is just a teenage affection; but no one knows, our heart’s direction….” Whenever I hear this song I reflect on those things young people did when they were recognized as boyfriend and girlfriend, back in the day.
I am sure you recall girls wearing their boyfriends’ varsity sweaters or jackets. Not only did the garment contain the name of the school and the sport the boyfriend lettered in, it also showed his name. A girl loved to go to a game wearing her boyfriend’s jacket or sweater. You had to be special for your boyfriend to give up an item that was so special to him. Did a young man give his girlfriend a scarf with his initials on it? What about the girlfriend wearing a chain or locket around her neck with her boyfriend’s initials or photograph enclosed?
As marriage was not on our minds in high school, friendship rings became a way to demonstrate a close romantic relationship. Some shared friendship rings to demonstrate their love and unconditional support for one another. Not all friendship rings indicated a dating experience; friendship rings were also given as a symbol of a close relationship with no romantic involvement. But if you saw someone in high school wearing a friendship ring on her little finger, you knew that she was in a committed relationship and wanted it known to the entire world. Quite often, friendship rings were simple and cheap. A co-worker told me her boyfriend, now her husband, gave her a friendship ring and within a couple of days her finger wearing the ring became green. He admitted it had come out of a machine at a penny arcade; perhaps the one you gave your girlfriend came out of a Crackerjack box.
Were you one of those young people who wrote the name of your boyfriend or girlfriend on the front of your notebook? Or, did you write it on the edges of a closed book? Perhaps, if you were a girl, you were bolder and used lipstick to write your boyfriend’s name on mirrors in school bathrooms. In your neighborhood, did you use a large stone to draw a heart and write your name and your girlfriend’s name or initials inside? Then again, trees, poles, doors, benches, anything made of wood became a place you could utilize to tell the world you were involved in a steady relationship. It was not uncommon for a student to risk the wrath of a teacher by carving a girlfriend’s initials on a desk. Or, it may have been something as simple as holding hands as you walked through the halls. If you had an automobile, your girlfriend’s name may have been somewhere on it; the front license plate area was a typical location.
Do you recall the popularity of love notes in the past? These letters were important in many relationships. I have heard people talk about having love letters today that were given to them in the ’50s. If you were creative, or thought you were, you wrote poems for your significant other. This was clearly more romantic and sincere than stories I hear of boys and girls “sexting” one another. Not having mobile telephones, and having a different level of morality made this aspect of boy and girl relationships unthinkable back in the day.
If you were pursuing a young lady, you just knew you had struck gold when she gave you her photograph. You would strategically place it in your wallet so it would be visible to everyone when your wallet was opened. In some cases, the girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s photograph would be on the inside door of a locker. If you did this, I know that you found the occasion to leave the looker door wide open so your friends could see the photograph. The class ring was a symbol of going steady. While it has been more than 50 years, I still have my wife’s class ring, hanging on a chain displayed with other high school and college memorabilia in my basement.
If you became a member of a Greek-letter organization, you must remember “pinning” your sweetheart. Early one Saturday morning, I heard one of my friends yelling that he had lost his fraternity pin. While it was some 40 years ago, I vividly recall hearing him moving items around in his dormitory room, looking for his pin. He yelled that someone must have stolen it. I decided to go to his room to help. Within minutes another student came in and reminded him that he had “pinned” a certain young lady the night before at a school dance. He yelled further, remembering that he had taken in more Thunderbird wine than he could handle. While this pinning was inadvertent and influenced by drinking and not love, many young ladies were clearly special, and as a result received a fraternity pin as evidence of love, back in the day.
Of all the expressions of two people caring for one another and wanting to show their love to their friends and the public, a friend shared the most corny tale I ever heard. He told me he and his girlfriend would coordinate their clothes. He proudly told me of a time they went to the old Willow Grove Amusement Park, both wearing the same type jeans, saddle shoes and white tops. I realize I must be careful about making fun of such behavior, as you will occasionally see couples dressing alike today.
So, while we did a variety of things to demonstrate our affection, how we met deserves some attention. Quite often, you were introduced by a family member, particularly, an older brother or sister. Some of you, however, recall passing a note to a classmate asking, “Will you go with me?” Do you recall notes with check-off boxes for a response of “Yes”, “Maybe” or “No”? Do you recall asking a young lady if she would go with you? If so, you must recall that we actually told someone that “I quit you.” Today, it is just a matter of going your separate ways with little or no conversation.
I know you see young people out, particularly on evenings and weekends, and you struggle to determine if they are an “item.” Quite often, there are no indicators; no hints; no symbols, nor is there the desire to make it clear that they have a special relationship. I asked a young person who is still involved in the dating game to share what I should look for. He said the stuff we did, rings, varsity sweaters and the like, are all gone, replaced by some with tattoos bearing the lover’s name. He noted that boys in my generation took a girl out on a date, took her home at a reasonable time and she went to bed. Today, he said, a boy takes a girl out, she goes to bed and then gets up and goes home. Clearly, practices in boy and girl relationships today that demonstrate going steady, if they exist at all, are significantly different from going steady back in the day.
Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146.