I am from … a while ago

Several recent conversations brought to mind this item I first published in 2009. I probably should have mentioned in the first few paragraphs that all this took place in Oklahoma City between the late ’40s and the end of the ’50s. 

jukebox

The following is a year-old draft that I never got around to posting. I’m posting it now, before I edit out any more of whatever freshness it might have had or end up turning it into a novel:

“I am from … ” started as a meme that raced through the blog world sometime last year. It was supposed to be a relatively short piece, a poem of sorts. But it smacked of the kind of list-making that is a virtual compulsion for me, and my “poem” quickly got out of hand. We old ladies like to reminisce, you know.

So I put it aside, careful to save the memories and promising to get back to it someday to organize, clean up, edit, or whatever. Now, on a cold, overcast afternoon, I’m sitting here watching intermittent snow fall, hoping it doesn’t accumulate to shovel-worthy depths, and playing with my list poem again.

I am from …

The heartland, from Missouri stock, lovingly blended in Oklahoma with a little Old West spice, some Iowa sensibility, and a lot of Southern gentility

The land of Will Rogers, Boomer Sooner, wheat fields and hawks, tornadoes, Oklahoma!

A physician father, a lot like Marcus Welby, MD or Jim Anderson on Father Knows Best, in a Happy Days and Grease world

Feeling like the favorite, even with four siblings

50sstreet2Green-vaulted streets lined with sweetgum and hackberry

A white-painted two-story brick house, built in 1909, with foot-thick walls keeping heat, cold, and wind at bay

A huge old maple in the backyard that stood stoically with wood steps nailed up its trunk, a platform in its upper branches, and my plastic horses stampeding over its exposed roots

A pine outside my second-story bedroom bay window where cardinals nested every spring

Parents who permitted my long parade of pets: dogs named Bippy and Tammy, Penny and Pooch; a science fair rat named Charlie Brown; Easter bunnies, chicks, and ducklings; chameleons from the State Fair Midway; tanks of guppies and goldfish; two blue parakeets; and one white cat

I am from …

Before commercial jets, television, cordless phones, computers, transistor radios, TV dinners, garbage disposers, air conditioning, shopping malls, hair spray and hand-held blow dryers

Eating ice chips out of the back of the truck that delivered blocks of ice for our icebox (siblings argue I was too young to remember an icebox and must have just read about it somewhere; perhaps it was blocks of ice being delivered for use at parties)

50shairstyleMom’s post-Depression post-WWII mantra: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without

Simmering cicada summers in the days before air conditioning

Creaking, slamming screen doors with crescents worn into their frames by swinging latch hooks

Lazy afternoons at the pool ending with rides home in a clammy swimsuit smelling of chlorine and coconut

Movies with black-and-white Movietone newsreels, previews, and cartoons before the feature

50sshoesRiding the bus downtown to shop at the department stores, where attendants operated elevators to the upper floors, announcing each stop: “Second Floor. Housewares, dry goods, notions” and you said, “Out, please.”

“Digging to China” in the back flowerbed, carefully avoiding Mom’s clumps of purple iris and ducking under delicate white arches of bridal wreath

Running through sprinklered rainbows to beat the heat

Jumping with joy in the rare, cool sweetness of a midsummer shower and splashing in the gutters where it ran warmed by the asphalt

Scampering for coins as the bell-clanging ice cream man pedaled his cart up to our curb to sell cherry, grape, and banana Popsicles, crunchy Drumsticks, and Eskimo Pies

Searching on hands and knees for cherished four-leaf clovers in that yard up the hill, the one with the real merry-go-round in back

Listening to The Green Hornet, The Shadow, and Bobby Benson and His B-Bar-B Riders on the radio, before we got our first television

Watching Spin and Marty, The Mickey Mouse Club, Lash LaRue, The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Flash Gordon, and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet in the years after we got a TV

50smickeymouseSeeing Annette and the Mouseketeers performing — in person! — at the State Fair band shell with a dust storm in progress, depositing a deep muddy sludge at the bottom of our Coke cups before Daddy could even make his way back from the concession stand

Dressing up to fly anywhere, because flying was such a special occasion, and walking out to the plane through a chain link gate in the long chain link fence that lined the tarmac at the airport

Sunday-best Sundays, penny loafers and saddle shoes, bobbie socks and bobbie pins, spit curls and Spoolies, hair nets, sweaters with straight skirts or poodle skirts, Aqua-Net spray net, an entire drawer full of short white cotton gloves

Sitting on the front porch or broad front steps in the evening, with friends driving by and honking their identifying staccato rhythms

Mom calling us all a bunch of honyocks when we got a little rowdy

I am from …

Are-we-there-yet drives to cooler Colorado climes, with four sibs and two adults in my father’s Oldsmobile (any one of a long succession of them, including the purplish one that arrived with a black stripe on one side and a white stripe on the other)

50sphoneA brief experience trout-stalking and line-snagging with Daddy’s favorite Gray Hackle and Royal Coachman flies in Colorado’s icy St. Vrain streams, while slathered with smelly, oily 6-12 insect repellent

Mom’s breakfasts cooked on an open fire there by the stream — trout, fried potatoes, and blueberry pancakes

A green American Motors Rambler so underpowered that it slowed to a complete stop on a mountain grade

Stopping in Boulder to buy two weeks’ worth of groceries and get the carburetor adjusted before heading up into the mountains

The vacation we spent in a cabin equipped with a pump in the kitchen sink, a wood burning stove for cooking, and an outhouse

Daddy’s happy, booming (and probably very relieved) announcement, “Here we are home!” as we pulled into the driveway at the end of a 750-mile one-day push back to Oklahoma City

I am from …

50stelevisionThe time a bootlegger crashed into a tree down at the corner and spilled his cargo of moonshine into the street

An all-white public school, with Colored Town literally on the other side of the tracks

A colored maid named Pearl who was like family and made the world’s greatest biscuits

Clara Luper and one of the first black lunch counter sit-ins

“I Like Ike” politics

Mom buying 20-pound turkeys for our “just family” Thanksgivings

Noisy, puffing, chugging passenger trains arriving at Union Station, while redcaps moved luggage along the platform on huge flatbed wagons

I am from …

Paint-by-number masterpieces completed at my aunt’s farm in central Missouri

Fine red sable brushes smelling of turpentine and swirled in oil paints; crumpled tubes of colors with wondrous names like cerulean blue, alizarin crimson, viridian, ultramarine, vermilion, cadmium yellow, thalo green, burnt sienna

50soilsStrathmore sketch pads

India ink and crowquill pens

Innumerable black tins of Prang watercolors with their eight little blocks of paint and cheap camel hair brushes

I am from …

Mom’s favorite Chanel No. 5 and bright red Revlon “Cherries in the Snow” polish and lipstick

Carnation-scented bubble bath and almond-scented Jergens lotion

White Rain (“Use new White Rain Shampoo tonight, and tomorrow your hair will be sunshine bright”) and green Prell shampoos, Breck cream rinse

Floating bars of Ivory Soap, great for carving

Bucky Beaver singing about Ipana toothpaste and tooth powder

Having to wear boys’ wing-tipped Buster Brown shoes, because I always wore out the toes of my girls’ shoes

Duz detergent and Bab-O cleanser

Straight Arrow trading cards from boxes of Muffets Shredded Wheat

Making salt maps for geography class

Buying almost anything at the dime store — for a dime

50sstampCollecting stamps from all over the world, stamps in beautiful colors and interesting shapes, from countries with mysterious exotic names, when the U.S. standard was a 3-cent purple Thomas Jefferson

Drinking cherry phosphates at the Veazey’s Drug fountain

Yeasty salt-rising bread fresh from the bakery at Crescent Market

78s booming on my parents’ Victrola in the living room, my own RCA portable record player spinning 45s in my room (Elvis Presley, Bobby Darrin, Johnny Cash, The Righteous Brothers, Fabian), later upgraded to one that would play the new 33s (“Victory at Sea” was my first album)

Listening to all the latest records for hours in the record store’s listening booths without having to buy one

I am from …

Dressing up every Sunday for mandatory Sunday School at Westminster Presbyterian, and attending Bible School in the summers

50spearlsHaving to memorize the Lord’s Prayer, the Twenty-Third Psalm, the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Doxology, the Beatitudes, and the books of the Bible

The King James version of the Bible

Singing in the youth choir and being taught the pronunciation “in egg shell sis”

50gloves2Learning manners, the social graces, and ballroom dancing in classes — with boys!

Having to wear white gloves and learning to curtsy and make proper introductions, and how to set a proper table and when to use which fork, and how to make polite conversation — with boys!

All seven of us seated at the dinner table for dinner, every night

Reading incessantly: books in my lap at the dinner table; books with flashlights under the covers at night

Spending hot summer afternoons at the air-conditioned library sprawled in big leather lounge chairs, then finally checking out the maximum number of books and heading home, and eventually turning in the longest summer reading list at school each fall

Devouring all the Hardy Boys books, all the Black Stallion and Island Stallion books and every other book about horses I could find

50selvisStarting school each year with brand new fall clothes (the latest Bobbie Brooks plaid), carrying a big bunch of #3 pencils because they held a point longer than #2s, and 3-hole narrow-line paper secured in my treasured zippered leather notebook

Having my very own coveted subscription to Western Horseman

Sharing a fat-tire Schwinn bike with a sister until I was given a dark green, 3-speed Raleigh “English racer” of my own

Wanting a Daisy Red Ryder B-B gun for my 12th birthday, and instead getting a real gun — the refurbished Marlin lever-action .22 that my father had as a boy

School recesses spent playing tetherball, volley ball, dodge ball, hopscotch, and the newly introduced four square on the blacktop and wood tag, red rover, and softball on the grass and dirt

Being terribly shy because I blushed easily, blushing easily because I was terribly shy, and being teased mercilessly because of it

I am from …

Catching and collecting lightning bugs in a jar to make a “lantern” for my bedside table

Refusing to abandon my yellow wool blanket, even on breathless hot summer nights

50sfan4Keeping a glass of water and a damp wash cloth on the bedside table to cool off during the night

The welcome drone and intermittent breeze of oscillating fans in every room

Taking turns hand-cranking the salt-filled wooden churn to make fresh peach ice cream

Sitting at wooden picnic tables under yellow bug lights, eating watermelon at open-air roadside stands where the melons were kept in ice-water-filled stock tanks

Waiting impatiently at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning while Daddy set up his 16 mm movie camera and bar of hot floodlights to record our descent

Sliding down the stairs on a sheet of cardboard, or sliding down the banister

Leaf forts and leaf fights in the fall

Burning holes in paper or roasting roly polies with a magnifying glass in the sun

Lunches of Kraft Dinner, Peter Pan peanut butter and Welch’s Grape Jelly sandwiches, or Campbell’s Tomato Soup with bacon-topped grilled cheese sandwiches

50sbuickEarning money by collecting pop bottles (returned for the deposit), wire coat hangers (sold back to the cleaners), and newspapers (sold to the scrap paper company) around the neighborhood with my big red wagon

Forming a short-lived club, the Fourteenth Street Arabians, that met in the apartment/clubhouse above my parents’ garage

My first car, bought by my parents when a younger sister also became old enough to drive: a used white-over-green ’53 Buick with a rusted-out hole under the driver’s side floormat

Bixler’s Drive-In for lunch, after school and after games, and Quik’s for their 10-cent hamburgers and fries

Yes, I am from … quite a while ago.

12 comments

    1. At the time I figured if I didn’t write it down, I’d eventually forget it. So I started spewing out all the details I could remember at the time. Last night I got hung up on the Buick, since I didn’t have a picture of a white-over-green one. Looking at all the pics on Google, I began to remember, I think, that it was a 2-door model. But can’t recall for sure.

  1. Wow. You and I share remarkably similar memories, PT. I was born in 1937 and frequently visited my mother’s side of the family on their Oklahoma farm. I also have fond memories of visiting my father’s side in Tulsa. This is a vanishing part of the American dream, this swirling panoply of culture in a landscape of change and exploding technology. I marvel of late at how fortunate I am to have been born in this place and time, and to have somehow survived all the potential pitfalls, not least, war. Thanks for the trip down memory lane! Well done.

    1. Maybe we passed each other on our visits to our respective farms!? We often drove to Glasgow via Joplin. I was born in 1943, so maybe not. But those really were fun, stress-free times. I sometimes think it might have just seemed that way because we were kids, but based on the stories I hear from my grandson, growing up these days is extremely stressful for numerous reasons. I think we were indeed born in the best of times.

  2. You’ve outdone yourself this time Susan. A beautiful post that held me spell bound.

    My first and only bike was a Raleigh, but it didn’t have any speeds, just me, peddling like crazy; it was second hand and pre-war when I got it,

    Before I left England in 1951 I gave it to a young boy lived with his old aunt down the road a bit, he was a nice lad a war orphan, parents killed in an air raid; his name was Brian

    1. I’ve no memory what became of my old bike. I stopped riding it when I got past grade school and it was no longer cool to ride a bike. Maybe a younger sibling adopted it (two sisters and a brother). Thoughtful of you to give yours to someone who needed it.

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