Those Were the Days!

Those Were the Days!

One of my children told me recently that they believe the government is their friend and there to help us through the current virus. This child thinks their mother (me) is selfish and stubborn because I do not believe that. It makes me feel somewhat frustrated and a little bit hopeless.

There is so much fear of “the virus”. It is pathological. Truly scary, to me, is the idea that a lot of people believe that we as humans are somehow powerless because of a “deadly” virus. (with a nearly 98.9% survival rate) The only escape is an experimental vaccine. I do NOT believe that to be true. People seem to forget about their own ability to control their health. I believe in keeping healthy. We have an immune system for this very purpose. These same people discount the natural immunity granted to those who have already had the virus.

I wish I could figure out how to make people less afraid. We all used to be more resilient. There were things to fear but we did not let them keep us from living full lives.

Back in 1958, I was a teenager living a privileged life in Washington DC. At this time the Russians were working on building an atomic bomb. I was just 16 and full of my own power and independence. I had a driver’s license and a car. The keys to freedom were in my hands. It was a marvelous time for me. Gas was about 35 cents a gallon, and my friends who wanted them all had summer jobs. All summer I dated one boy after another doling out small black and white (flattering) photos of myself. It was so much fun giving these away and writing romantic signatures on them. I gave them to young teenage boys who took me out. This was how I rewarded them if I found them attractive. It seemed so “grown-up” and a little risqué. It soon became tiresome. I longed for the end of the constant variety and lack of commitment to any one boy. I was ready to quit “The Field”.

In the newspapers, there were frightening articles about clashes between freedom riders and bigots, and battles between segregationists and ANTI-segregationists in the south. But Washington DC was calm all during June, July, August, and September. Another thing that had caused a lot of fear was Polio or “acute anterior poliomyelitis”, infantile paralysis, or poliomyelitis. This frightening disease seemed on its way out, too. What had been a huge worry for parents seemed to fade away after several earlier summers where the morning papers, daily, shouted out numbers of children dying of the disease. Life went on, without any “shut-downs” or masks.

One day on the 6th of September I walked into my best friend’s kitchen and there he was. The handsomest boy I had ever seen. I could not believe it. He looked just like the perfect image from my imagination. Perhaps I had just been waiting for him. My friend told me he was very shy and not to expect a call from him for months. But the next day he invited me to come out to his house for lunch and a swim. He came to pick me up in a brand new Edsel Station wagon. That was the strangest looking car I had ever seen but it got us where we wished to go. We drove down below Mount Vernon to their lovely country property. And then he drove me home. And he kissed me. Yes, he kissed me on our first date. He was not tooo shy, after all.

He was perfect, more or less. And because of our romance, the rest of my teenage years continued to be pretty wonderful. I never had to worry if I would have a date for some event, I never had to worry if I would be asked to dance. He made me feel special and he made me feel pretty. This confidence building was priceless at that time of our lives. It went both ways. My affection for him and my unconditional love was like a tonic for him. Both of us blossomed along with our young love.

In those days we did not sleep together. Dating did NOT mean having sex. The 1950s were like a mini-Victorian age. My mother told me I had to be careful of my reputation or I would be ruined forever. My father told me I had to remain chaste because that was what was expected, and that was what a nice boy would expect of me. What an innocent time it was. And how we wanted each other but waited instead. The anticipation was palpable. Kids and adults too, miss this today. That feeling of wanting and needing which we felt so strongly that it made us twitch with desire and kept us wired with anticipation. We were strung tight and keenly aware of not taking too many chances or being alone together too much. Though being alone together is practically all I could think about.

Instead, we went swimming, and to the movies, we went dancing, we met our friends and drank beer and coca colas, we drove around in my convertible with the radio playing. This was long before car stereos and 8-tracks or cassettes, and long, long before car radios were on satellite. So just driving around with the top down feeling the energy and health in our young bodies gave us pleasure. We thought we would always be young and handsome. You could say we were “oblivious” but we were wrapped up in our own world, and enjoying every moment. Though there was a possibility of sickness and a possibility of being obliterated by an atomic bomb we felt happy. We felt healthy. We felt hopeful for the future. There were darker forces at work, problems with integration, fears about Russia developing a bomb they could drop on us, and the normal adult litany of things wrong with the “Youth Today”. But overall that period of September 1958 through 1959 and beyond, was wonderful for us teenagers. Cuba fell to the Communists, and that was alarming. We knew some of the people fleeing Cuba so it was personal. But we were safe here. Eisenhower was president, and no one had been assassinated in years. Life was good. And it was free of that constant undercurrent of fear that I see today.

Of course, we had a working government that was not so separated as now. Most of the congress lived at least part-time in Washington with their families. We had a police force that had not yet become paramilitary. We had manners and customs (like waiting to have sex until you were married) and we had courts that sent criminals to jail. We did not have too much of a drug problem. If there was one I never saw any evidence of it. There were no beggars and no homeless people. People went to church on Sundays and wore hats and gloves when inside places of worship. In fact, we dressed appropriately for events such as weddings or funerals or when traveling in train stations or airports. Only fringe elements wore tattoos. As for body modifications, there were none at all.

We did not have “24-hour news networks”. The lack of a constant barrage of news and propaganda really stands out when I remember those times. Most TV was black and white and limited. We lived in a relatively free time. Stress was at a low point because people who had experienced the Second World War were grateful for peace. The Korean War sputtered to a halt in 1953. We were not scared all the time. There was no constant droning voice telling us we were not safe. We were expected to use our heads to keep ourselves from harm. No seatbelts. No bike helmets and very few vaccines. We drank from a hose while playing outdoors and we often went from place to place in the back of a pick-up truck. Golly! It was fun.

Copyright©. 2021 Bonnie B. Matheson

7 thoughts on “Those Were the Days!

  1. So true, Bonnie. Please take about sad or unhappy childhoods, but mine was truly blissful! You captured a lot of what was going on and how simply FUN life was. We were certainly allowed and left alone to be children/teenagers and focus on or own lives. The thrill of parties every weekend, boyfriends, music, dancing, hayrides, and friends…it was delightful!

    Thanks for reminding me, and giving me a small taste again of the America in which we grew up. It pains me to see how different our country and the world is for our children and grandchildren today.

  2. Bonnie, you mention polio and how “that frightening disease seemed on it’s way out.” You do know the reason we no longer deal w/ polio in this country, correct?

    1. Marina, shall I do the research for you? Yes, they came out with a vaccine, but the disease was already on its way out. I never had a vaccine for Polio until my own little children were given vaccine-soaked “sugar cubes” at the end of 1963. When the first vaccines came out in the 1950s, we did not take them. The fear factor was much less.Polio seemed to attack cities, rather than the entire country at once. And to be clear, Polio still exists but under different names. It is really fascinating to look further into the history of polio. I suggest you spend some time reading about it because it may make you feel calmer and more secure about what is happening now. Although, of course, this is a completely different type of virus, and has some elements (man-made?) which make it unpredictable.

  3. I take assure with your statement that this is an experimental vaccine. The vaccine has been approved by the FDA after many months of testing. This is the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. It is fully approved for adults starting at the age of 16 and up. Please don’t mistate your facts. As for immunity after having had the disease, it is still recommended that people get the vaccine as the Delta variant can easily breakthrough this so-called immunity.

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