By James Mack Adams
While I was navigating through my high school and college years a long time ago, more than one person told me those would be the best years of my life. That is somewhat true. However, I would like to amend that statement a little by saying those were some of the best years. I have been lucky enough to have had many good years during my life.
I do feel fortunate that I was born at a time when I was able to live my high school and college years during the decade of the 1950s. The decade has been referred to by some as “The Fabulous Fifties.” The economy was good after World War II ended. Crime was relatively low. Children felt safe roaming the neighborhoods and playing outdoors until dark. The only drugs we knew anything about came from the local pharmacy.
It was the era of the poodle skirt, saddle shoes, ducktail haircuts, sideburns, Elvis (Thankyouverymuch), Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, The Beatles, Marilyn Monroe (gulp!), athletic letter sweaters, sock hops, hot cars, drive-ins, soda fountains, the hula hoop, and classic (meaning real) rock and roll.
Automobiles did not have seatbelts. They had powerful motors, manual shift transmissions, tail fins, and lots of chrome. Helmets were not required for bicycle or motorcycle riders. Football helmets did not have face masks. We got our drinking water from the faucet, garden hose, or a well. There were far fewer health and safety regulations as compared to the present. It’s a wonder any of us survived.
Speaking of automobiles. In the 1950s, one could buy a new car for an average price of $2,000. For those who were more financially successful and wanted a little more luxury and show in the family buggy, the price of a Cadillac convertible was around $5,400. Regardless of the cost of the car you drove in those days, the price for a gallon of gas was 18-25 cents.
A fairly nice house could be had for around $10,000. Sounds like a good deal, but you have to keep in mind that the average yearly family income was $4,000 to $5,000.
It was the early days of television and everyone had their favorite programs. Being a longtime fan of old cowboy movies, my favorites included the TV westerns that became popular in the late 1950s and continued into the 1960s. I seldom missed episodes of “Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke,” and “Rawhide.” If you are old enough, you may recall that one of the characters in “Rawhide” was Rowdy Yates, played by a young Clint Eastwood.
I had a close friend at the time who was also an avid fan of the TV westerns. I knew never to phone him while an episode of “Bonanza” was being aired on television. That made him very angry.
For me and a lot of my fellow 1950s teenagers, one of the crowning technical achievements of the era was the transistor radio. Prior to that, radios were large, bulky and powered by vacuum tubes. When the radio was turned on, the tubes had to warm up before any sound was produced. The development of the transistor made radios smaller and more portable. Also, there was no warm up time.
Those were good years to be young, but all was not rosy with the country or the world. The civil rights movement was heating up with marches and demonstrations. The Cold War between the U.S., our Allies, and the Soviet Union raised the possibility of nuclear confrontation and mutual destruction. The more powerful hydrogen bomb was developed during this time. There was a hot war going on in Korea. The space race between the U.S. and Russia was much in the news and on the minds of the citizens of both countries.
A few years ago, my wife and I attended a musical stage production at the Savannah Theater. The show was titled “Lost in the 50s.” For a couple of hours that evening, I was able to relive my teenage years. My wife was amazed that I remembered the lyrics of most every song they performed, and that I could still dance “The Twist.” Like I said, it was several years ago.