Those of us who were raised during the rebellious, high-spirited, and “anything goes” fifties and sixties still reminisce, with ardor, about the outrageous era that seemed to catch everyone off-guard, electrified by a frenzy of bold and brazen music, rockabilly, rock ‘n roll, folk songs, and eventually Beatle mania, that unleashed a suppressed freedom to “let it all hang out.”
Don’t judge me unkindly for being candid, but we got away with lots of shenanigans back then. Translation: innocent house parties that weren’t, naïve parents who didn’t believe that their trustworthy teen would pull a thing like that, and no DUIs for “dragging the gut” in loud, souped up hotrods, tipping brown bottles in full view. Certain dependable buddies, of age, bought cases of Little Joe Schlitz for the younger teens out for a rip-roaring party. Of course, we started out as smart aleck kids, still wet behind the ears, acting too big for our britches. Most of Lewiston’s small fry were raised with similar values, to live by the Golden Rule, work before play, say their prayers every night, and would really “catch it” when Dad got home!
Most mothers didn’t work outside of the home in the 1950s. Parents were our primary role models during our formative years. It’s likely that the most heinous example a mom exposed her children to was called “rubbering on the telephone party line,” often creating some not completely innocent eavesdropping. Yet, who else but Mom would think to warn a kid not to eat the yellow snow!
Neighborhood women didn’t consider themselves “desperate housewives,” but they did get together regularly for a “coffee klatch,” which was actually stove-boiled Folgers, no wine chilling on ice, cloth napkins, or imported salmon hors d’oeuvres to be seen! I remember someone would crack an egg into the pot to “down the grounds.” One of the gals would manage to hide, from her man and boys, what was left of a double batch of gingersnaps or yesterday’s date bars, and, rarely, a favorite poppy seed cake with custard topping, were smuggled into the pantry.
The mothers would strongly suggest that we kids “go out and play!” The little tykes were delighted to run from yard to yard screeching at the top of their lungs, like caged canaries set free! We older girls slithered quietly beneath the kitchen window, hoping to eavesdrop on the latest talk about town. One of the ladies had recently visited Lewiston’s only beauty shop, on Main Street, for her henna color rinse, along with an earful of shady goings on.
We knew our mothers well enough to accept that “no” meant “NO,” but if she would let out her “finally the last clothesline of laundry has been brought in and folded and the little one is taking her nap” sigh, and wanly answered us with, “we’ll check with your dad when he gets home,” we knew there was hope!
Dad loved picnics, which was an extra chore for Mom. There were always cans of Spam, pork ‘n beans, Fig Newtons, and packages of Kool-Aid in the cupboard to pack in the wicker picnic basket at a moment’s notice. The Arches was our favorite adventure. A crumbling concrete arch was hidden away deep in the farthest forest, overgrown with bull thistle, massive creeping vines, and towering bushes with sharp, groping fingernails. We had to creep under, or risk serious injury bounding over a dilapidated barbwire fence. There were the stories about a massive army of blue racer snakes that slithered through the ancient arch seeking little kids to chase out of their territory. We never made it all the way through the foreboding arch before one of us would let out a scream, and we’d high-tail it back, rolling adeptly under the fence. Spotting the familiar red and white checkered tablecloth, we raced back to our bubbly, waving, sister Jean, for a picnic supper…and to safety.
It’s amazing that we still use that checkered, cotton tablecloth! The prize possession has its place in a kitchen drawer at our camper up north. It comes out whenever there’s a potluck at Oak Grove. There isn’t a stain to be seen, and it never needs ironing!
Some things are too precious to ever let go. There are no replacements for our mothers as role models, nor passions as stirring as in bygone lighthearted years.
Janet Burns is a lifelong resident of Lewiston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org