Growing up in the fifties was a magical time. We were all so naive and unaware of all the dangers around us. We knew about the cold war, as children we didn’t call it that but we did know that we had drills at school. If the Russians sent a nuclear bomb and hit Middletown Ct we were all going to be stashed under the stage in our auditorium. Talk about naive, what was that going to protect us from, but we all felt safe anyway.
I began walking to school when I was five years old. It was about a mile away. My older brother was supposed to walk with me. After the first day he ran away and let me walk alone, one small five year old girl with a lunch box walking along streets that had no side walks and across a busy road to our school yard. My mother had two small children and no drivers license, there wouldn’t be a school bus for 2 or three more years. I wasn’t unusual, I was the norm. I was never afraid except the one day a big dog chased me but usually it was fine.
In the winter time we could take a short cut across the pond we lived on. It saved at least a half a mile. That was a good option until the winter of 1957 when the boy next door fell through the ice and drowned. After that we thought twice about the short cut but frankly I took it many times after that.
In the summer we were up with the sun and didn’t return home until supper time. Did our mothers worry about us? No, every other mother in the neighborhood knew us and if we misbehaved or had a problem they would have called our mom’s in a heartbeat. We were all one big family. In the evenings all the kids in the neighborhood came out to play until dark, we were all called back in by our Mom’s voice. It was idyllic.
We didn’t have many toys, we played with whatever was at hand. A lawn chair and a garden hose made a great beauty salon. We climbed trees, wandered through fields and skipped stones on the pond. One year we had a big canvas tent and it was an endless source of entertainment, we had a great deal of imagination. I can still hear my best-friend’s voice as she called me to come out and play.
One year I reveived a free membership to the YMCA. I had a new bike so I rode the two miles twice a week to take swimming lessons. The YMCA was on Main Street and I had to ride a long way for a ten year old. It was wonderful and I felt like the luckiest kid in the fourth grade.
All too soon it was over. I think my childhood ended the day that John Kennedy was assassinated. It was as if we never quite felt as safe after that. What parent or grandparent today would feel safe letting their child walk to school, ride a bike alone on Main Street or play outside after dark. I am paranoid when I have my grandchildren with me, I have to be able to see them if they play in my yard. What a change, my mother didn’t see me all day. I am sad when I think about how things have changed, we have all lost our innocence.