I sang — live — on radio in 1955: “The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane” and “Make Yourself Comfortable” were performed by a few goofy teenagers following a dare at a party. “Listen to this station,” we promised. “We’ll be there on the air;” and the disc jockey laughed as hard as anyone at our pitiful efforts to imitate the Ames Brothers and Sarah Vaughan.
Early television hereabouts was unique. We had a choice of channels: One or none, always distorted when an airplane flew through the signal. Our antenna was mounted atop a tree on the hill behind our house. I’d climb it and rotate the antenna until the signal was clearest. I’d twist, while Mom would stand at the door and shout instructions from Dad as to which way to turn the confounded thing. He’d have the real responsibility, sitting in front of the 14-inch set — later 21 — and deciding which position would be best when we’d gather around to watch the night’s programming.
Eventually, we fastened a ladder to the tree. It’s still there. Early attempts at color TV included a tinted plastic film hung over the screen. Sometimes the bottom would be green, the top blue — perfect if the scene was a smooth ocean beneath a cloudless azure sky. Laugh tracks came later and the audience determined if the gag was funny.
Music? Silly songs made us smile; some titles would bring a grin, using the aforementioned imagination. “Itsy-Bitsy Teeny-Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” has the same effect today, as does “One-Eyed One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater.” Words didn’t necessarily make sense — about the same as today, though they may have been more clearly and succinctly sung. Tutti Fruiti? Ram-A-Lama-Ding-Dong? Nonsensical, but you could sing them along with your parents. Music actually brought the races closer together: Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino sang their tunes in movies.
Movie stars were larger than life. Many are remembered today simply by their first names – 60-plus years after they gained celebrity status. Recall Marilyn, Elvis and Marlon in their “hey day.” Madeline O’Hair would have been ignored, booted out of any Kiwanis or Rotary meeting, and prayed for by many. But she was thinking, awaiting the day when political correctness began to weaken us.
Individuals were encouraged to prosper; opportunities were plentiful. Henry J. Kaiser and Preston Tucker had high hopes, fresh ideas and unique methods as they entered the world of auto manufacturing. The time was right, the atmosphere wasn’t.
Parades were held at the drop of a hat. People were willing — and able — to help. Many of them remain with us, but their numbers have dwindled, affecting church bazaars, school-wide functions and community celebrations. Subsequent generations don’t seem to have the same degree of dedication and contribution. Perhaps their interests lie elsewhere.
Bottles were the vessel of choice for beverages. Words such as “church key” have disappeared from our vocabulary. Aluminum cans followed tin cans; pop tops made opening them quicker. Crunching the can against your forehead proved something or other, maybe a clue to some of our later behavior!
Central air hadn’t yet shielded us from our neighbors. Sitting on the porch was a normal pastime. We swang on the swing, chased lightning bugs and played night games — hide and seek, etc. A pitcher of lemonade or iced tea was sufficient for refreshments and ice cream socials were regular functions. Quilting bees occupied winter months, crowds skated on ponds or lit a bonfire and went sled riding.
Under the radar, a growing group of youngsters — to be known as “hot rodders” — was emerging, sharing their imaginations, talents and goals, shedding the limelight, awaiting public acceptance for their unorthodox behaviors. Life magazine, when it featured Norm Grabowski’s powerful Cadillac-engined ‘23 T on the April 29, 1957, cover, turned the tide. And here we are. We’ve come a long way and are still going strong.
Allen Haines, a resident of Cumberland, writes about street rodding for the Times-News. He is a 26-year correspondent for Street Scene Magazine, an auto-related publication from the National Street Rod Association. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.