My column of April 1 generated considerable interest. In it I expressed a love for writing this column but knew that the day would come when that would come to an end. Coming up with new ideas had become problematic and I was becoming tired and weary. I wrote that my April 1 column would be my last about life back in the day.
Those who read that column know I was not serious, as what I shared with you was in keeping with how many of us played pranks on April Fool’s Day, back in the day. Many telephone calls, emails and letters were received following this column. An email from Luci G. Ryan read in part: “I like to think of myself as being a wise woman, on top of most things, but I must admit, you got me this time. I read your article with a bit of sadness as I thought of the three to four journalists I must read the moment I purchase the paper (you, Crawley, Malveaux and Curry). The article seemed so genuine, and I sort of understood the ‘tired’ piece. So glad you are remaining and do hope for at least ten more years, as I am one of your contemporaries and fully appreciate the remembrances about back in the day.
‘Do you recall having no air conditioners or fans and all the children sleeping on the living room floor with the front door open? My uncle actually slept on the glider (Remember them?) on the front porch. No danger of thieves or someone being murdered, just good old back-in-the-day memories. What a wonderful relief to learn at the end of the article that it was just an April Fool’s joke.”
What I found particularly interesting about this email was the list of reflections from her past; many of which you can undoubtedly relate to; and most that will leave you with fond memories and a smile on your face.
Many of you remember getting a refund on soda bottles. Sodas purchased today in plastic bottles or tin cans were sold in glass bottles back then. I can still see little boys pulling their wagons from block to block searching out empty soda bottles. While it was but a penny or two for a bottle returned to the store, we learned at an early age that pennies made nickels, nickels made dimes and dimes made quarters; all that went a long way in supplementing our allowances.
The water plug was essential for staying cool. That is, if your parents allowed you to get under it. If they were strict and doing so was prohibited, you could sit on the curb and put your feet in the water. You may remember being shipped South by your parents to your grandparents or other relatives to get you off the streets during the summer. Those my age grew up during the Jim Crow era and readily recall those car trips South with food packed in shoeboxes, since there were few roadside eating places that would serve you.
If you stayed home during the summer, I know you can relate to school playground activities or the one summer activity that many young people did not like but did attend; parents gave you no option. Can you ever forget Bible School during the summer months?
It is hard to forget school-related activities that seem to be revived whenever you pass a school building. What about milk and cookies in the first grade? For high school graduation, did you realize that your cap and gown were made of real cotton fabric? Perhaps you remember your elementary school principal as being a much older person; a grandmotherly type such as my principal at Martha Washington Elementary School. How many of you recall going home for lunch during elementary school? Can you believe that girls actually exercised in those obnoxious blue gym suits? Do you recall the school janitor taking a sick child home from school without incident? Do you wish that children were required to go straight home from school and stay in the house until parents came home from work? Were there pregnant teachers when my generation attended school? Let me remind you; pregnant teachers were not permitted to teach, back in the day.
You must recall those family-related situations basic to how many of us were reared. As to meals; everything was prepared from scratch. Families sat at the table together for dinner. Not only did everyone sit at the dinner table, they arrived on time and dressed appropriately. Everyone had a designated place to sit. No one had dessert until everyone finished the main meal. No one left the dinner table without permission to be excused. It was also the time when each child would tell how things went at school.
Sunday dinner was always served early in the day, usually immediately after returning home from church. Everyone got dressed up for church. Much of what occurred after Sunday dinner was done around the home, even if it was limited to sitting on the stoop or porch. If you went anywhere on Sunday, it was usually as a family. Blue Laws kept many businesses closed on Sundays back in the day, limiting the kinds of things one could do.
Memories of dating stay with us forever. A fundamental requirement on your first date was to go into her home to meet her parents. There was no blowing the horn of your automobile for her to come outside. Quite often this first meeting resulted in an extensive interrogation of your background and that of your parents. Girls were taught to be ladies and were not allowed to wear makeup, nail polish, stockings or high heels until age 13. Many were not permitted to date until the 12th grade. Drive-in movie dates were popular back then. One had many dates with the same person before a first kiss. Males walked on the curbside with their dates and opened the automobile door for therm. If two people were considering marriage, the boyfriend had to ask his girlfriend’s father for permission to marry. If an unplanned pregnancy occurred and the male was not interested in marriage, the “shotgun wedding” was expected, if not required. There was no avoiding rearing a child in a two-parent home. Obviously, this is not the case today, but it was the law according to Black families, back in the day.
There are many memories associated with family life that many of us will never forget. Remember when you had to complete all chores before going anywhere and there was a need to re-do them until they met your parents’ satisfaction? Allowances for small children were 25 or 50 cents. Does the term “hand-me-downs” have any meaning to those not from back in the day? You must recall that every infant wore blockbuster shoes. These were purchased only after your parents took you to the store to have your feet measured. It was not only a measurement but also an examination of your feet through an x-ray machine.
You might have had extended families living with you, as back in the day; homelessness was something limited to Skid Row. Any family shame was kept a secret. You were not permitted to use words that had a sexual connotation. What about trips to Woodside Park, Coney Island, Wildwood and Chicken Bone Beach? Did you look forward to the carnivals that came to your neighborhood and the parades on Sunday afternoons that drew the entire neighborhood? After you reached voting age, you voted the way your parents voted.
Most illnesses were treated with castor oil. Was a tablespoon of kerosene with sugar something your parents gave you for a cold? Vicks VapoRub was viewed as being so effective that many of us still use it today. Did your parents use sardine oil in a diaper for mumps? Where were the children and young adults who wore glasses? They were almost nonexistent! Neighbors reprimanding anyone’s children were acceptable; only females attended bridal and baby showers; male chauvinism was acceptable and appreciated; and, everyone attended the Christmas shows at John Wanamaker’s at 13th and Market streets.
I am certain this list represents but a small glimpse of many things you can recall from your past, that is, if you were around in the ’50s and ’60s. I would like to thank the author of the email referenced earlier for sharing her memories of life, memories that many of us undoubtedly remember from back in the day.