I was born in 1951. A lot can happen in sixty years and a woman can grow older in what feels like a flash. One minute you are thirty-five and have your whole life ahead of you. Then, in a New York minute, you’re sixty, and convincing yourself you still have a good twenty-five, thirty years left. Mainly you think, “how did my butt get so close to my knees?”
But the 1950’s was a great time to be a kid. My family bought a brand new home in a new development in Inglewood, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. The homes on the block were square and tiny, with little patches of yard in the front and an incinerator to burn trash in the back. Two-parent families were all the rage back then. And almost all families had at least 2.2 children. I could never figure that one out. But we knew just about everyone “on the block.” Kids were safe to run free, from dawn until dark in the summer months, ending play for the dinner bell or the bathtub.
We had milk delivery on our front porch, an ice cream man who toured the neighborhood daily, ringing his chimes and tooting his horn. A yellow Helms Bakery truck drove up the street each afternoon, the truck’s whistle signaling the arrival of fresh baked donuts, cakes, pies, and the best potato chips on the planet. We walked directly behind the truck so the driver could not see us in his side mirrors, and stole rides home by jumping up onto the back bumper.
We didn’t have video games or even a color television at first. We spent our days setting up makeshift curtains across the open garage door to hold plays for the neighborhood kids. We served saltine crackers so kids would buy our lemonade…a trick we learned on an episode of “The Little Rascals.” A favorite game for the whole neighborhood was nighttime hide-and-go seek. It seemed to be an idyllic time to raise a family if you didn’t count the air raid drills. I told myself that my bed was low enough to the ground that any atomic ray from Russia would pass right over. I was way more worried about spontaneous combustion.
I considered our family life to be just as ordinary as the next kid’s. In the early years, my mother was very involved in our elementary school activities and was secretary of the PTA. My older brother, younger sister, and I walked to school together. Our family gathered around the dinner table in the evening to share our days, eat home cooked meals, and listen to “Gunsmoke” or “The Shadow,” on the radio. Many Sundays we drove out to West Los Angeles to visit my great-grandmother. She made the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted.
Some years passed and things started to change. I kind of got a clue that our family was more normal than most when I stopped by a friend’s on the way to school. I had grabbed my usual breakfast out of the freezer…a Fudgesicle. I jumped on my skateboard and headed down the street. Halfway down the block I thought, “why not stop by my friend Andrea’s and see if she wants to walk with me.” I had never really spent much time in her house. We didn’t really hang in the same circles. I knocked on the door.
“Come on in, Linda…Andrea will be done with breakfast in a minute or two,” said her mother. I stood right inside the back door, wishing I was on my skateboard and half-way down the block. There in front of me was the weirdest scene I had ever laid eyes on. The table was spread with platters of food. Real food. There was scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes, and orange juice. And the entire family was there, eating! Together! Even the father!! I thought, “Wow, poor Andrea! I had no idea she went through this every day!”
A child miseducated is a child lost.
-John F. Kennedy