Were the 1950s the greatest decade in American history?

cleaversAugust 18, 2011 — My father always says the 1950s were the best time in our country’s history. He’s not alone since it is a sentiment shared by many people of his generation, who also believe that life in the 1950s was simpler and more enjoyable.

I was born in December 1959, so I can’t say I remember life in the 50s, but I do remember the early 60s, which weren’t that different. Traditional roles were the norm, men were the breadwinners of the family and few women worked outside of the home after they married.

Back then we believed our politicians, didn’t question our doctors and enjoyed a booming economy. There was a sense of confidence within the business community that almost any problem could be solved quickly. The government helped boost this confidence by imposing price controls on commonly used goods to slow quickly rising costs. They also passed antitrust regulations to prevent corporate takeovers from strangling competition in the market place. Small businesses were also abundant, including mom and pop stores such as newsstands, candy stores, shoe repair shops, drug stores, and food markets. People shopped locally back then, and the small stores thrived.

So, it was a good time for many in this country, but certainly not for everyone, especially those who were discriminated against since the 50s predate the civil rights movement and women’s liberation. Still, my father is correct with his statement, but so am I when I tell my son that nothing compares to the 1970s or 80s.

It’s every parent’s prerogative to tell their children that the world is worse off today than it was yesterday. But I try to remember that even now, at a time when it seems like it couldn’t get any worse, we’re still living in someone’s best time. And in 20 or 30 years from now, someone will be telling their son or daughter that very thing.

On a side note, if you ask Google which decade was the best, there are a few interesting responses. While many noted that the 1950s were best because it was right after the war, the 1980s had a fair share of responses. Some even say that it was 1770, explaining that if that decade didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be an American history at all. 

Summer Breeze


July 17, 2019 — To the boy who lived on Claridge Street around the corner,

It was the summer of 1974. You stood near the cash register at Lou’s Candy Store and made an impression on me that will last forever.

Perhaps you were buying something, or just stopping by for a visit because you were a friend of the owner’s son. I knew who you were the way you know all the kids in the neighborhood, but it was the first time I observed you closely.

I felt smitten as I watched you sing along to Seals and Croft’s “Summer Breeze” playing on the radio. It made me realize you were a kind soul even though your little sister had threatened to turn my little sister’s nose upside down so she’d drown when she took a shower.

After I shared that moment with you, our paths ever crossed again.

“Summer Breeze” played on the oldies station today, and I smiled remembering the boy who touched my heart that day, just like I do each time I hear it. Funny, your name escapes me, but I have never forgotten how you made me feel that perfect summer day all those years ago.

No Fountain of Youth in the Real World

July 23, 2018 – Not too long ago I ran into someone I used to baby sit. Talk about feeling old. It was a huge slap into reality when she told me she had turned 47.

For the most part I don’t mind growing older, but sometimes it takes me by surprise. Still, I would never want to relive my teenage years, or even my 20s or 30s. I wouldn’t mind staying my present age for the next 10 years or so just to catch my breath. Too bad it’s only cartoon characters that get that privilege.

What if our favorite cartoon characters did age? How would that look?

• As the only female in the Smurf Village, Smurfette first appeared on the scene in 1966. Like all the other Smurfs, she was one hundred years old back then, so maybe she’s not the best example. But if she aged she’d be 152 today. Have to admit she looks mighty fine for an old broad.

• The world met Popeye the Sailor Man in 1938 when he was 34 years old. Popeye would have been collecting social security for years now had he aged, and would be a feisty 114. Something tells me he would have been content with that. After all, he was fond of saying, “I ams what I ams.”

• A teenaged Archie and his pals burst onto the scene when he was 17 in 1941. Today, Archie would be 94, and probably telling boring stories to his grandchildren about how he had to walk up hill both ways in the snow to school everyday.

• Since the Stone Age lacked accurate records, we have to estimate that Fred Flintstone was about 30 in 1960. At 89 today, he probably suffers from a similar fate like Archie, and exhausts his grandchildren with stories of his days working in the quarry.

• Loveable loser Charlie Brown was first introduced in comic strips in 1950 when he was 10 years old. Today, Brown would be 78 and probably practicing psychiatry, a profession he chose so he could deal with his depression. Hopefully, he found some happiness outside of learning the true meaning of Christmas and married that little redheaded girl.

• In 1969, when Shaggy and the rest of the Scooby Doo gang were busy solving mysteries, he was a mere teenager of 17. That would make him 66 today. Most likely he still spends a lot of time in the back of that smoke-filled Mystery Machine van munching on some of those Scooby snacks.

• The most misunderstood of the Simpson clan, Bart Simpson, would be 41 today, and yet remains at the perpetual age of 10. Simpson has a good heart even though he is a rabble-rouser, so he probably did his fair share of community service around Springfield for the trouble he caused. Most likely he became the school janitor when Groundskeeper Willie retired.

Eric Cartman was born in 1989, which would make him 29 today. Cartman probably still lives in South Park (if he’s not in jail), and most definitely spent some time in juvy during his teenage years. Chances are great that Cartman still lives at home where he waits for his mother to serve him another round of cheesy poufs and chicken potpie.

Would a Jane by any other name still be plain?

May 21, 2018 — Naming a child is one of the most important tasks parents have.

Think I’m being dramatic? Ask anyone with a name like Bernhard or Albertina, and they’ll confirm it for you. Something that sticks to you forever should not be taken lightly.

As a child, I found my given name rather dull. Not only did Jane sound boring, it only contained one syllable. What kind of impression could I make on people with a one-syllable name?

The variations of my name came from adults, who often said things like, “Me Tarzan, you Jane”, or who called me Plain Jane or Lady Jane, or referred to the children’s book characters “Dick and Jane”. I don’t recall kids teasing me about my name. There were many days I felt grateful that Jane didn’t rhyme with anything disgusting like Icky Vicky or Smelly Kelly because kids are relentless. “Jane the Pain” was the worst I got, and that came from my family.

Instead of Plain Jane or Jane the Pain, I imagined myself as an Angelique, just like the character in “Dark Shadows”, or as someone with a musical sounding name that ended with an “a” such as Melissa or Johanna. Both of my sisters’ names end with “a” and because mine did not, I believed I was destined to be a tomboy. Or a nun. Nun’s names, which were often masculine, rarely ended with an “a”.

In fifth grade, I decided to take on Angelique as my confirmation name. That would give me a little flair. My father told me if I shortened it to Ann, I might get a dollar from my grandfather, since that was my grandmother’s name. She had passed away years before, and I never knew her, so decided to go for it. The Bishop called me Ann, slapped my face as a reminder of the hardships I might face in my Christian life, and I became Jane Marie Ann McMaster. Notice none of those names end in an “a”, and I don’t recall getting that dollar.

Jane was also my mother’s name, although she confessed she never cared for it. She wanted to name me Diane and might have if my father hadn’t been persistent. The year I was born, Jane didn’t crack the top fifty for girls’ names, so my parents did not go the popular route. That privilege belonged to girls named Susan, Linda, Karen, Donna, Lisa, Patricia, Debra, Cynthia, Mary, and Diane, the top ten girls’ names that year. My sisters’ names are on that list, while Jane placed at #54.

Any baby name book will tell you that Jane is Hebrew in origin. As the feminine form of John, it means God is gracious. It’s not on the list of royal names, yet two English queens, Lady Jane Grey, who ruled for nine days before the king executed her for treason, and Jane Seymour, who died shortly after childbirth, giving Henry VIII his much-anticipated son, held it proudly.

Today, I am rather glad my parents did not name me Angelique. Jane fits me and I have grown accustomed to it. I like that it is not common, and it slides off the tongue easily when I have to introduce myself, especially in business situations. Angelique McMaster has an odd sound to it, and the six syllables it contains are a bit too much to get through.

On occasion, people still call me Lady Jane; however, gone are the days where people mention “Tarzan” or “Dick and Jane”. Sadly, they are characters from generations long gone. Just like Angelique.

The Sounds of the Season

May 14, 2018 – Once the temperature rises, it’s a sure sign that the sounds of the Mister Softee jingle will be coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

You’ll hear the familiar jingle in the distance at first, causing your heart to beat faster as it gets closer. You can’t help but smile; aside from the crack of a baseball bat, it’s one of the sweetest sounds of summer.

That simple jingle summons heartwarming childhood memories for many of us, and reminds me of our local driver who several years back rolled through the streets calling to children with such classics as “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World”. Those cherished holiday hits seem odd as they filtered through open windows with outside temperatures reaching 80 degrees.

Mr. Whippy as seen in the Beatles’ movie Help.

Instead of the Mister Softee , the driver — who wore a turban — operated a vehicle that looked like the Mr. Whippy truck from the Beatles’ movie “Help”. Not that I mind how he dressed, but his choice of headwear and music suggest that perhaps he is new to the U.S. and may not realize that although he’s playing seasonal music, it’s the wrong season.

Now that I’ve moved, I kinda miss him.

P.S. “Your famous Ringo is safe.”


The Last Maypole

April 30, 2018 — Tomorrow we welcome the month of May. That can only mean it will be May 1, and time to dance around the Maypole to celebrate May Day.

OK, so the European spring tradition isn’t widely recognized in the states, but it is a national holiday in many countries. It’s also celebrated in Russia, Cuba and many other communist countries as International Worker’s Day,  but legend says its roots are right here in the United States, before we began celebrating Labor Day in September.

I have vivid memories of dancing around the Maypole in a kindergarten in the mid 1960s. It may be my first lasting memory since I can’t recall much before then. Right after, a boy named Billy who lived one block over chased me home from that celebration trying to steal my May Day balloon. I still think about that each May 1, and I wonder what happened to Billy. In jail for theft perhaps?

So, whether May Day is a spring celebration, a pagan festival, a day of political protests, or just another day closer to summer, find a Maypole or something that can pass for one tomorrow and boogie on down.

Put Down the Duckie

AER-p0009-STpril 23, 2018 – I never watched Sesame Street as a child, but I treasure the moments I shared watching it with my son when he was a toddler.

Sesame Street was never better than it was during those years. It was the mid 80s and we sang along to such classics and C is for CookieThe Ladybug Picnic and the Peanut Butter and Jelly song, sung tenor style to the tune of the graduation march, Pomp and Circumstance.

But the best songs were the Muppet inspired music videos that imitated Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun with Kids Just Love to Brush, the Beatles’ Let it Be with Letter B, and Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell with Rebel L. The creative geniuses behind these music videos stole the heart of every parent who watched with their kids.

Thanks to YouTube.com, these oldies but goodies are still available to view. Below are my two favorites, the blues inspired Put Down the Duckie and Springsteen inspired Born to Add.

How Many Licks Does it Take to Get to the Center of a Tootsie Pop?

February 20, 2018 – If you’re a kid of a certain age, you probably remember the classic commercial from 1970 that dared to ask this important question. Most likely, you tried to figure out the answer yourself. I know I did, and I still think about it whenever I pop one of those suckers into my mouth. Unfortunately, I fail every time because the temptation to bite is too strong.

So, why I am reveling in my Tootsie Pop past? It just so happens that the Tootsie Roll is celebrating its 122nd birthday this week. America’s iconic sweet treat was first introduced in New York on February 23, 1896.

Since then, Tootsie Roll Industries has built an entire of a family of products around the Tootsie philosophy, including Andes mints, Charleston Chews, Double Bubble, Junior Mints, Razzles, Sugar Babies, and those luscious wax lips that turned into a strange sort of chewing gum. Just reviewing the content on their website is like a trip down memory lane.

And if you still want to know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop and have failed at the experiment, check out this well-researched statistical data.

Firsts and Lasts

January 16, 2018 – I’m trying to compile a list of things I’ve only done once in my life.

It might have something to do with a friend who decided to jump out of an airplane to commemorate a milestone birthday. When I told her I could never do that, she looked disappointed asked me what happened. She said I used to be fearless.

My friend loved the experience, said she’d probably never do it again, and got to cross it off her bucket list. I wouldn’t call this my bucket list since I didn’t set out to accomplish these things – they just happened. And it’s not something to prove I’m brave or fearless because I’m obviously not. Rather, it’s a set of unique experiences that I can share (rated PG, of course).

Here’s what I came up with so far:

5. Sang a duet with Steve Perry of Journey fame in Prescott, Arizona. OK, so his song was coming through the radio and I was driving from the Grand Canyon to Phoenix while harmonizing with him, but it happened. My friend and traveling companion enjoyed it, we both laughed, and I never did it again!

4. Got snowed in during summer vacation. While visiting the Yukon Territory of Northwestern Canada the bus that was driving us to our hotel had to pull over because of snow. Did I mention this was Labor Day weekend? Twenty inches of the white stuff fell on the Canadian Rockies that weekend, which is something that rarely happens during the summer. My compadres and I spent 18 hours on that bus, and most of it on the side of the road near this strange little lodge, the Hotel Caribou, which inspired the singer/songwriter in one of my friends. “Welcome to the Hotel Caribou,” she sang. “Yukon check out any time you like but Yukon never leave.” It certainly felt true, and once I did check out I never went back.

3. Drove across the Southwest by myself. I have a few business trips and a long personal weekend away to visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe to thank for this first and last. I drove from Taos, N.M. in the northern part of the state, down to Roswell, the infamous UFO landing spot near the southern border, from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City, which took me through the breathtaking Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, and from the Flagstaff, Ariz. to Nogales, Mexico by myself. That’s a lot of desert with long stretches of nothing else to make it through alone. Since then, I’ve never repeated it.

2. Walked through a rain forest. It wasn’t in the deep jungles of the Amazon, but rather in the tamer landscape of the Caribbean. Still, it was a rain forest complete with tropical sounds, plenty of humidity, rare creatures, and darkness even in the light of day. The El Yunque Rain Forest is a tiny rain forest in Puerto Rico. I haven’t stepped foot in another rain forest since that experience.

1. Witnessed a glacier calving. You know that thing that happens when a large piece of the glacier falls into the ocean and causes a huge ripple? That’s called a calving, and it happened at the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska. At the time, the tour guide told us we witnessed something relatively rare. At least for me it was, and I’ve yet to experience another calving.

It’s funny how all of these firsts and lasts occurred while away from home. I suppose I’m more adventurous when traveling.

The Day After

December 26, 2017 – Few things puzzle me more than folks rushing to the mall the day after Christmas, whether it’s to return gifts or find the best bargains. It may be a popular thing to do on December 26, but shopping is the last thing on my mind, and my wallet appreciates that.

Perhaps shopping for some is a way to avoid the post holiday blues. It’s common to feel let down when Christmas is over. You put so much time and preparation into Christmas, and the day passes much too quickly. In fact, psychologist say the more you prepare and the more exciting the holiday is for you, the more you may feel letdown the day after. Our brains need to establish equilibrium, and the higher we are, the lower we must fall to settle back into that middle space.

The let down may also be why many countries around the world celebrate Boxing Day, a day after Christmas tradition that started in England during the Victorian era when the wealthy would box up gifts they didn’t need and bring them to the poor. It’s a nice thought. As a child, my mom and dad asked us to pick one of our gifts to give to baby Jesus. On Christmas night, we had to place that gift back under the tree and it was gone the next morning. I found out when I was older that those gifts actually went to less fortunate kids.

I enjoy the day after Christmas because it’s when my entire family gets together. With some of us living in different states and others with obligations elsewhere, it’s typically the only day of the year when all 18 immediate family members are in the same room.

Oddly, my post holiday blues start on January 1, the day I should embrace the new start that lies ahead. I’m usually a glass half full kind of person, but there’s something a little sad about New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The holidays are officially over and the long winter sets in. Thankfully the feeling is short-lived.

This year I am determined to focus on the positive and feel excited for what 2018 has in store. I will treat New Year’s Day with the respect it deserves. It’s won’t just be the day the decorations come down. I’ll wait for January 2 to do that.