Considering the conditions that exist in today's world for a child to be raised, I think of myself as grateful for having grown up in the '50s and '60s.
Timehop back 60+ years or so to a different time and setting, and I can see how lucky I was back then.
I am the second oldest of six children my parents had. I have a brother and four younger sisters. My brother, Billy, was born in 1946. My sisters’ names all start with the letter “D.” As for myself, I was born 20 months after my brother, in 1948.
The girls’ names are Debbie, Denise, Darlene, and Danette. Danette, being the youngest, was born in 1961. I used to think I had a fifth, invisible sister. Sometimes, when Mom would get confused hollering for one of the girls, invariably, she would call out the wrong one, then add, “Dammit, come here.”
I’ve never seen “Dammit,” I don’t know what she looks like, or how tall or old she is. I just know that Mom called her a lot! We’ve never had a birthday party for her, and she has never received any Christmas gifts either. I hope she isn’t too disappointed in us.
The Fifties and Sixties
That span of years was one of the greatest times our country has seen when it comes to raising children. Television was still in its infancy and most programming was geared toward adults more so than their kids.
We listened to the radio more than we watched TV. Elvis was extremely popular with his new brand of rock and roll, and new crooners were popping up more and more, capturing our minds and our hearts.
In those years, the ’50s and ’60s, football and basketball games weren’t as prolific on TV as they are today. That left us to listen to the play-by-play of football and basketball games on the radio.
When school was out, we were allowed to play outside until dark, when the streetlights came on. Games like red rover-red rover, and hide-and-seek were some of our favorite ways to keep ourselves entertained.
During the dogdays of the hot summer, when it was too hot to play, Mom would let us turn on the garden hose and sprinkle each other with cold water. Amusement parks were few and far between in those days, so we had to create our own version of fun.
As we grew older, my brother and I started playing baseball. You could always find us in the back yard, pitching erratically to one another. It seems our aim wasn’t too good because we always ended up running after the ball. We would occasionally throw the ball over each other’s head — most of the time, unintentionally.
One time, Billy decided to ride my bicycle, which still had training wheels on it, since I hadn’t mastered being able to balance the bike just yet. When I saw him, I was determined to make him get off so I could ride it.
I started running behind the bike, trying to catch him to make him stop. Just as I grabbed the rear fender, he started pedaling faster and ended up dragging me behind the bike, skinning both my knees. As you can imagine, it hurt so bad that I started screaming like a banshee.
Mom and Dad both bolted out of the house to see what had happened. Dad took one look at Billy, then me, and then he put two + two together and went over to where Billy was, still sitting on my bike, and picked him up off the bike, setting him down nice and easy on the sidewalk.
Meanwhile, Mom was tending to my scraped knees. She put band-aids on both of them, kissed both of them and told me to get up and go ride my bike now. Just like that, I was all better while Billy was still getting a stern look from Dad.
Suddenly, Dad turned to face both of us and gave us one command, “You two play nice together!” With that, he headed back into the house. Mom stayed outside a bit longer to make sure everything was back to normal again.
My brother and I usually got along together very well. We liked each other’s company and didn’t fight too often. To hear him tell it, I didn’t become a pest until he became a teenager. Admittedly, as we grew older, playing the same old games all the time wasn’t too appealing any more.
Once he became a teen, Billy lost interest in playing ball, or riding bikes, and turned his attention to a new attraction — girls.
In those days, there was no internet or social media to occupy our time, no video games, or Tik Tok — we had to use our imagination to generate fun. Most of the time, we failed miserably and, as a result, we would become bored.
As a matter of fact, we would often nag and complain to Mom and Dad about having nothing to do anymore.
So, when I was twelve years old, my parents thought it would be a good idea for my brother and me to become paperboys.
It would allow us to earn some spending money for candy, sodas, or a trip to the movies every now and then.
I remember the manager of the local newspaper’s circulation department coming to the house to explain to my parents where our route would be, and how much we would earn, and he also told us that we were responsible for collecting payments from my customers on Saturday of each week, along with a special condition for people who didn’t pay on time.
The manager also explained the newspaper’s incentive program and what we could win for getting more subscribers. There were all kinds of baubles and bangles we could choose from if we did really well.
Here I am, 12 years old, working for ‘The Man’ and I had just received an introduction into the business world, goal setting, and getting paid to work.
Wow, I was stoked, and I couldn’t wait to get started!
The manager left a brochure that outlined all the ‘gifts’ I could win if I met certain sales goals. My brother, Billy, didn’t seem too motivated by anything except the weekly pay we would get. He is 20 months older than me, almost 14, and had just started getting interested in girls.
A new contest had just started, and I believed I could make the number of sales needed to win the contest. I studied the brochure and found a pocketknife I wanted to try to win.
In the 1960s in Louisville, Ky, the Courier Journal, our local newspaper, ran both a morning and an afternoon edition and I had to make deliveries twice a day. The morning addition was called The Courier-Journal and the afternoon edition was called the Louisville Times.
My afternoon customers weren’t nearly as many as my morning customers, so I had plenty of time to walk door-to-door from one street to the next, asking people if I could sign them up to take a paper from me.
Evidently, not many adults can refuse a 12-year-old because I did very well. In two weeks, I had sold enough newspaper subscriptions to win the knife. I was very proud of myself, too.
After that, I did what any other kid would do. I lost my focus! There were other gifts I could have won — more expensive and more fun gifts. But I stopped selling and became a paper delivery boy. My incentive diminished because I would have to work much harder to get to the next level of gifts I could earn.
To my way of thinking that long ago, the knife wasn’t my goal, it was the carrot at the end of the stick. It was a challenge where, if I could get “X” more customers to take a paper, even for one day a week, they would give me a knife. Once I grabbed the carrot, I became satisfied.
Billy seemed to lose his focus as well. He would sometimes be late delivering his half of the paper route, or he would skip a customer, and he never liked asking anyone for money. So that became a problem real fast. The only solution was for me to collect the entire route.
Once again, I did very well, but it left very little time for me to do anything else and I also became disenchanted, especially since I had to get up at 5:30 each morning to deliver papers.
Billy and I took our concerns to Mom and Dad, who both seemed quite understanding. After reminding us we would have no spending money, they asked us if we were sure we wanted to quit delivering the papers.
We had been delivering papers for just shy of a year and it got to be more of a chore than something we both enjoyed doing, so we told them yes, we wanted to quit — and so we did. But our newfound freedom wouldn’t last very long.
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