Valley News – Column: A brief throwback to the 1950s

Posted: 11/26/2021 22:10:27 PM

Modified: 11/26/2021 22:10:11 PM

I recently received an email from a friend, a heart cry from a beautiful gardener: “Climate change, COVID-19, conspiracy theories and now jumping snake worms!” “

I decided that a start from 2021 was in order for a short while and imagined inviting her to a restorative night and the kind of dinner we all remember from the 1950s.

Avoiding overcooked vegetables and Jell-O mussels with marshmallows – a bridge too far – I would choose a chocolate cake from a Betty Crocker mix, a meatloaf, SpaghettiOs, iceberg lettuce with an au blue cheese, drizzled with Mateus Rosé and of course preceded by cocktail shrimp, the shrimp hanging on the edge of a glass like survivors of a shipwreck.

Yes, it could be a frivolous exercise in search of relief from the daily barrage of despair. But it doesn’t hurt anyone and hopefully cheers us up to fight for the things we care about.

That said, the 1950s, of course, were not a good time at all.

We had Joseph McCarthy and other crazy people. The Manhattan Project was a recent memory, as were its results – Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Black men were hanged in the South by so-called vigilantes, and the postwar life of Holocaust survivors was a struggle. Abortion was not legal, and the physical and psychological effects of illegal abortions were legion. My own mother had an abortion around this time, an event she mentioned to me once in passing, but refused to talk about it ever again.

At a time, Father knows best and Fred Astaire offered an alternate reality in the days of Jell-O and Spam, both ubiquitous at the time. Lassie was the king of dogs, and Buster Brown shoes offered x-rays of our feet, right there in the shoe store.

However, the perceived atomic threat to the United States by the Soviet Union has cast a long shadow. The Eisenhower Interstate Highway system, launched in the 1950s, was a way of evacuating cities if we were attacked. “Duck and Blanket” was an exercise we all learned in school, but how hiding under a small wooden desk could protect you from an atomic bomb was a question no one would answer.

On the other hand, home ownership was on the rise and modest homes were readily available even from catalogs like Sears. And what about those Sears Roebuck catalogs, breadbox-sized tomes, that resulted in hours of fascinating reading and wishful thinking?

There were soda fountains, where even a kid like me, with almost no money, could sometimes afford a black and white ice cream soda, a treat I still consider supreme. And we had a Hula-Hoop, which I loved but never mastered, and on Saturdays we would go to the movies sometimes, which was sometimes – wonder of wonders – in 3D, viewed with cardboard glasses that they gave it to you for free!

On the darker side, there was the polio epidemic. In 1952, nearly 60,000 children in the United States alone contracted polio; thousands have been paralyzed and 3,000 have died.

But in 1953, a safe vaccine was developed by Dr Jonas Salk, who first gave this vaccine to his family – himself, his wife and three children. By 1955, the incidence of polio in the United States, following mass vaccinations, had fallen from 85% to 90%.

I’m not a fan of looking back except maybe to remind myself that some things have improved. Has there ever been a time without a struggle, even for the lucky ones?

For nostalgia to work, you have to choose the past.

Joan Jaffe lives in Norwich.


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