Then and Now


I have decided to use this space as a sort of diary.  I am going to attempt to make a daily entry on one subject or another.  I have no desire to have one posting be a natural follow-on to the previous.  Mostly I expect I’ll be giving my feelings about something that is happening or that has happened.

At age 62 I can report that I’ve seen a lot of changes in my life, some good, some not so good, at least in my opinion.  I want to make this first posting to be of my observations of the 1950s when I was still quite young.

I was born in 1949 and my first memory is of my mother asking me to pray that her next child would be a girl.  As a young person I thought of my mother as being quite religious, Roman Catholic to be exact.  My father was a non-practicing Unitarian.  I think he later considered himself a member of the Church of Christian Science although I am not certain that is true.  To be certain, he was quite accepting of people as they were, a very Unitarian belief.  The difference in faith made my parents a bit of an odd couple in those days.  The Catholic Church did not have much room for interfaith marriages.  That being so, my parents had to get married in the rectory of St. Michael’s Church in North Andover, 1946.  I was the first-born and my brother followed close behind.  Two boys were almost more than she could stand so I suspect that is why she prayed for a daughter.  She got her wish.

My next memory is of 1954 when in the span of two weeks the Boston area was hit by two hurricanes, first Carol and then Edna.  They were devastating.  We lost power for weeks on end it seemed.  Fortunately, our house had “hurricane lamps,” kerosene lamps, which served us well.

I remember seeing telephone poles along Andover Street, from the corner of Osgood Street, knocked over for as far as I could see.  It was if a giant had come along and knocked each on its side, the cross arm holding the pole at an angle to the ground.

During the summer of 1959 our family took a trip to Bar Harbor Maine.  In 1959 the Interstate High System was far smaller than it is today.  It was a mere three years old at the time.  There was a link, I-95 that extended from Boston to Kittery Maine in 1959.  From there you took the Maine Turnpike.  That turnpike was built in 1947.  From Portland we had to take US Route 1 the rest of the way to Portland.  Then, as now, route 1 wound its way along the Maine seacoast.  Route 1 was like all other US highways.  It was the best way to get from one city’s center to the next.  The big difference of such highways from lesser roads is that they had been engineers to somewhat limit access, maybe only a quarter of the limited access of today’s Interstate system, but still, an engineering feat in its day.  Those engineers had never considering engineering a highway to bypass any city.  Only a few of those highways have totally disappeared from our landscape so it doesn’t take much to imagine things as they were before the Interstates, you need only remove the Interstate from your view.

The 1950s was a decade of great transformation. The television entered most homes.  The nuclear age and jet age also entered our lives.  It was not uncommon to hear a sonic boom as a military jet flew overhead a speeds exceeding the speed of sound.  An FAA law later eliminated such possibilities.  I don’t remember anyone minding the sonic boom but I guess some must have been annoyed or thought it warranting change.

But as people marveled and delighted at the grandness of the jet age, they feared the expanding nuclear age.  After the Russians exploded their first nuclear device, the US and Russia engaged in an ever escalating series of above ground nuclear tests, each side exploding a slightly larger nuclear device that the other had previously exploded.  With that happening, the US quickly engaged in dealing with what was called “civil defense.”  Nuclear bomb shelters were built, sirens erected, and planning how to survive a nuclear attack.  We school children were taught to “duck and cover” as a way to survive a nuclear attack.  If you were at school you were supposed to “duck” under your school desk and “cover” your head with your hands and arms, as if that would save you.  We were, of course, all so naive that we believed such drivel.  But I don’t think any of us children took it all very seriously.

Other things, far less earth-shaking, were also happening.  MacDonald’s opened their first restaurants around the US.  We all flocked to them.  You couldn’t buy much more than a hamburger, fries and a coke.  But since no one had ever experienced fast food prior to that, the novelty is what we were enjoying.  Shopping still largely existed on Main Street.  Shopping malls were few and very far inbetween.  Most cities were not in the business of public transit.  Most people had never flown on an airplane.  The biggest decision anyone had to make with regard to television was which of the 3 or 4 local stations to watch, there were no others.

Television too was a novelty.  We kids watch cartoons that had originally been meant to be played prior to movies.  We were captive to the Mickey Mouse Club, American Bandstand, and Pinky Lee.  Adult television was I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke, and others.  Families actually watch tv together, mostly Ed Sullivan, but other variety shows as well.  Everyone watched Walter Cronkite religiously.  There really wasn’t anything else.  We believed him, who wouldn’t?

World War 2 had forced the American government to re-identify itself as not only a world power but as the world power.  This was a position formerly held by England.  The American public, however, had not yet reached that point so our “world view” did not extend my beyond the borders of the state in which we lived.

What I like about those days, as I look back upon them, is how much slower they were, less noisy, less demanding.  Our innocence was being ripped from us but few seemed to notice.

I am certainly not wishing the “old days” would return, that is a fool’s fantasy.  I look at the contrasting parts, then and now, and wonder if it had to become as it is.  I think today’s world has a way of making the beautiful ugly.  People seem far less willing to take responsible for their actions, ever shifting blame, or even assigning blame.  Our government, and others, have allowed corporate interests to make decisions they should have no part of.

I love how science is uncovering the wonders of the universe, the secrets of life.  But I despise how people are allowing corporate interests to rule our lives, to make laws, to dictate how we will live our lives.

We have become slaves to comfort.  We have lost our way.

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