My Childhood Happens in the 1950s

This is a hard period to write about 1958 through 1959, my memory is poor around school, where I went and how old I was. When we moved from Columbus I was in the 3rd grade and when we arrived in RI I was kept back and did the 3rd grade again. It seems RI felt they were more advanced than Ohio. I probably took some type of test but not sure. So in order to jar my memory: I wrote out dates, connected my age to them, starting with graduating from 9th grade and working my way backwards. Pictures did not help because there are no class pictures to look at till I go to St. Edward’s School.

We moved from Central Falls to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, last year, after the death of my father. Before the funeral mother told me not to cry, so I never cry in front of anyone, keeping my tears to myself. I cry alone at night in bed, quietly so no one hears me. Praying and talking to my father in the quiet of the night helps me get through feeling alone.  I am following my mother’s example who I hear cry at night while talking to my father. My mother is uncomfortable talking about feelings and has unsaid rules about what can be spoken about. The loss of my father is difficult; he always talked to me about what was going on and encourage me to express my feelings, teaching me to communicate openly and honestly. One time I approach my mother to talk about feelings and her response is “you sound just like your father”. I do not want to cause her pain, so I have decided to keep things to myself, asking God why am I still alive, why didn’t I die instead, and when I am angry with my mother I wish she had been the one to die instead of him.

Living in a yellow triple-decker with green trim, the top floor is framed by a slanted roof making the inside like cathedral ceilings where along the walls only children can stand. My sister and I share a bedroom again. Now we live closer to Aunt Lucille and Uncle Ave. My family now consists of all females. My mother started dating 2 different men before we got sent away to the convent and when we returned she had made her choice which one she would be with. My sister Joanne is born 11/12/1959, so cute with her dark brown curly locks, bringing great joy and love into our home, feeling special because I am now a godmother.

As I enter St Mary’s Catholic Church on 103 Pine Street my spirit is lifted up into the light. The church is very ornate, as I proceed down the main aisle towards the front, taking center stage is an alcove where the Alter is raised up on a platform, framed by 5 stain glass windows high above, shining rainbow light on me. The pastels hues of yellow and gold paint everywhere reflect the light high up into the ceiling.

I am awed by the 14 Stations of the Cross, seven on each side, separated by 5 stain glass windows that line the left and right walls, bringing in more light to show the way. There are side aisles within these ornate rectangular alcoves, having 6 columns along the length of the building, calling attention to the windows.

As I turn around I see a second story where the old brass organ extends the width of another alcove in the back, in front of the most amazing circular stain glass area I have ever laid eyes on. The center window has eight scalloped edges, with Jesus kneeling in prayer, which is surrounded by eight smaller windows each with 4 scalloped edges. This is the darkest area of the structure, encouraging me to go within and pray. The pews are of solid wood with no padding to comfort the knees or behinds of the parishioners.

The outside is made of red brick; the windows are framed in white smooth rock and the roof in dark, with a great steeple to help you find your way. I enjoy mass every Sunday and attend all the holy days celebrations, singing all the Latin hymns, belting them out loudly for I know them by heart. I spend many hours here in contemplation and prayer.

Sometimes I walk along the ‘under construction’ I-95 south and go to mass at St. Jean the Baptiste Church, where they sing in French, which sounds so romantic and inspiring, even though I do not understand the language. I am really involved in the Catholic religion; reading the bible and especially enjoy the illustrated book about the history of the church, one of the few books we have besides the World Book Encyclopedia.

Walking to school we have to cross where I-95 is being built through Pawtucket. My sister the adventurer walks boldly across the girders. I hesitate; she encourages me to take this short cut rather than taking the longer way around. It is scary so I sit down on the steel beams and shimmy across to the other side, not wanting to look down at the ground, so far down that if I fall I will get really hurt. I am relieved when my feet feel solid ground again, dreading the return trip home.

We go to St. Mary School on 167 George Street where I attend the 4th an 5th grades. I enjoy school especially recess with the sound of kids all around me having fun. Even though the nuns are in control and maintain discipline they are calm, gentle and caring. I am really into learning and feel very safe in this environment while making friends. There is consistency now; I am less fearful and have some stability. I remember my first crush on a boy, how I admired his fearlessness, his abilities to do what he wanted to do, a lot like my sister’s courage and initiative.

Television is very influential in my life. During the 1950s, it is the dominant mass media as more people can buy them and the number of hours we watch steadily increases. What is portrayed seemed to be the ideal; family, schools, neighborhoods, the world, but my father had ingrained in me it was not reality and they were only acting. I enjoyed many shows with my family: Lassie, Father Knows Best, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet ,I Love Lucy, Disneyland and The Ed Sullivan Show. TV also brings the real world to me: I feel like an “eyewitness” to historical events, because the newsmen have gone from simply reading the news to showing videotapes and  pictures of the events which are occurred all over the world, and there are live broadcasts happening at the time I am watching. I am fascinated by Reality vs. Fantasy being played out right before my eyes.

American Bandstand is my favorite show hosted by Dick Clark. The show featured teenagers dancing to Top 40 music; there is at least one popular musical act that appears in person to lip-sync one of their latest singles. Weekday afternoons for one hour, after school, I am allowed to go to a friend’s house, there are at least 3 of us watching and imitating all the dance steps: the Slop, the Hand Jive, the Bop, the Stroll, the Circle and the Chalypso. Dancing starts to become part of my physical activities and a great coping mechanism.

My strongest memory is of course around death! The death of my favorite singers, in 1959, rising American rock stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson are killed in plane crashes in Iowa. Holly and his band, the Crickets, had just scored a No. 1 hit with “That ‘ll Be the Day.” Holly, just 22 when he died, had hits like “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy,” “Maybe Baby” and “Early in the Morning.” Another crash victim, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, 28, most famous recording was the rockabilly “Chantilly Lace,” which made the Top 10. The third crash victim was Ritchie Valens, only 17 had already scored hits with “Come On, Let’s Go,” “Donna” and “La Bamba”. I knew their songs by heart and the dances that went with them.

My Childhood happened in the 50s, focusing on issues of security. My child’s self-archetypes are; an observer, dancer, explorer, bookworm, traveler, trekker, seeking and searching for the truth.


6 thoughts on “My Childhood Happens in the 1950s

  1. That was fun reading. Love to remember the old days. I still like all that music from Buddy Holly.
    I really don’t remember walking over the girders on 95. We took a big risk doing that. Thank God we made it.

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