Stuff About the Past

Things That Should Have Killed Us in the 1950’s

At a family reunion this weekend, sitting around with my husband Ray’s cousins who grew up together in the 50’s, I was reminded how surprising it is that we all survived our childhoods!  

Ray shared with his cousins that he used to order snakes .. including poisonous ones .. through the mail. His parents knew about it and encouraged his interest in herpetology. Unreal!   

Here’s a blog I wrote last year about some of the other things that should have killed us as kids in the 50’s.  I’m sure many of you will relate!


Those of us in our 60’s like to brag that we lived through a lot of things that parents today worry about incessantly. But some of us – including me – think our parents should have worried a little more!

We all know that cars didn’t have seat belts in the 50’s and we shake our heads remembering how dangerous that must have been – especially since today’s news stories constantly remind us that car seats have to be chosen with extreme care.

Car seats? The only car seats available in the 50’s were designed to “bolster” children so that that they could look out the window and not move around so much. A few early protective car seats began to be used in the 60’s, but it wasn’t until the 70’s that they really got on a roll.

I remember dad driving home from many family parties in the 50’s after partaking of a couple, if not several, Manhattans. We three kids, all 10 and under, would be in the back seat dozing or fighting – probably more of the latter – while mom (who didn’t drive) would hold on tight, work her feet on imaginary pedals and say, as sweetly as possible – “Joe, don’t you think you should drive a little slower, dear?”

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I also remember leaving the house early in the morning on lazy Cincinnati summer days and staying out until lunch – or sometimes even until dinner. I would be at a friend’s house on my street, riding my bike up and down neighboring streets, or going to the drugstore a few blocks away to get a Cherry Coke. There were no cell phones and no electronic trackers… in other words, no way for Mom to know where I was. I don’t remember her being all that concerned about it, either.

I asked my husband, Ray, what he remembered about the 1950’s and the dangers lurking for kids in his small town of Gaffney, SC. Riding bicycles with his friends behind the DDT spraying trucks came immediately to mind. Apparently, at that time, in areas where mosquito populations were high, the government decided that spraying a few times a week would help cut down on malaria. Parents, his included, encouraged the fun. DDT was finally banned in 1972.

Here’s a photo if you don’t believe me:

DDT spraying truck

DDT spraying truck

Another story Ray told was about accompanying his mom to Gaffney’s downtown shoe store and getting his feet x-rayed in something called a fluoroscope. The machine, operated by the shoe store salesman, had a little box on the bottom where he would put his feet through in a new pair of shoes. The x-ray would be turned on and Ray’s mom and the salesman could look through the viewing windows to see if the shoes fit well – that is, if there seemed to be enough room for all of the bones in his feet. According to articles I found on the internet, the only safety shield on the fluoroscope was a tiny layer of aluminum and the manufacturers’ brochures recommended that the stores place the fluoroscope in the middle of the store for easy access.

Sometimes, Ray and his friends would stick their hands in the hole and look at each others’ bones. The kids loved it! What fun!

Fluoroscopes were almost universally banned by the 1970’s

Fluoroscopes were almost universally banned by the 1970’s

These stories, of course, highlight only a few of the hazards we faced in the 1950’s. Toy arrows with rubber tips that could be taken off easily, a radioactive science kit called the Atomic Energy Lab, baby oil that we slathered on our skins for a great sunburn, mercury that we played with when thermostats broke, skating and biking without helmets or knee pads, drinking out of garden hoses … I could go on and on.

So, what were our parents thinking? Well, to be fair to them, they were probably not very clear about the best way to raise kids, especially when they were bombarded with ads like these …

7_up-babies

And…

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Now that I think about it, we are pretty lucky that we made it into the 1960’s, much less into our 60’s!!

Cathy Green

Remembering What My Mom Taught Me

I had a pretty amazing mother.  If I think about what people most admire about me, or what I most admire about myself, the answer is clear.  My mother taught me the good stuff that people admire and those things I admire in myself.

My mom didn’t stop moving.  My sister Wendy and I laugh that we never saw her resting or taking a nap – something we both do regularly.   So clearly she didn’t teach us every good thing we now do.  But we both believe, she taught us our central values – to be loving, to be kind, to be a giver and to be a doer.

My mom worked when others mother’s didn’t.  She modeled being self-sufficient, motivated and focused on many important things, not just being our mommy. A strong work ethic and a drive to be successful in a meaningful way was the result of that.

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Patty’s Mom in the mid 1940s

My mom was older than other peoples’ moms – she had me at 40 in 1950 (slightly younger when Wendy was born) – considered highly risky if not down right disgusting from conventional wisdom of the time.  She worked into her 70s and was very lively and fully fabulous over 60 – some of her most productive years. Ditto us Gill girls.

My mom loved great food and great clothes.  Hard to have these two passions – one tends to make wearing the other tougher.  But somehow I do love pasta and wine even as I work like hell to keep myself in shape and wear great clothes – and not the same ones – my mom was fashionable for a long time and I picked up that drive to look stylish in a current way.

“But the greatest of these is love”. From first Corinthians, the Bible and my mother said it over and over. It stuck. If I have a choice of calling a sick friend, or finishing my new book; remembering someone’s birthday or having an early cocktail – it is my mother’s words and life that made me the women who makes the call, writes the note, or tries to be helpful and useful to others.

My mother drove me insane at times.  She wanted perfection in some ways I just could not accomplish.   She wanted standards adhered to that I came to see as ridiculous.  But I wouldn’t trade my Mom for anyone else’s.  She made me who I am—the kind woman who is still a bit compulsive.  And while not a biological mother myself, I do a good deal of mothering I think.  And any good I do, I owe to her legacy of thoughtfulness that helped me create my own version of being there for those I love.

I still miss her.  Not all the time of course.  But on Mother’s Day, I have to pause and remember how lucky I was in the “mommy lottery”.  Someone once told me my grandchildren had won the grandmother lottery getting me as one of their grandmothers.  I hope that is true, and if it is, I owe most of my great grandmothering skills to Magdalina Maria Manganiello or Mrs. Gill as she loved to be called.  I realize now at 66 I didn’t always appreciate her, and in some ways I feared her.  And, I never did get her feelings of certainty about all things.  My mom was different… and special.  I feel she made me, and Wendy, the same way. Thanks to my mom and to yours – they did a very fine job.

Patty

Right On! Teenagers in the 1960’s had the Best Slang

Being a teenager in the 60’s was really groovy!

Groovy was a way cooler word than “cool” or any other word meant to describe the best of the best.  Evolving from the word “grooves” in vinyl records, we even had groovy songs like:  “We’ve Got a Groovy Kind of Love” by The Mindbenders in 1965, “We’ve Got a Groovy Thing Goin’ by Simon and Garfunkel in 1965, and Groovin’” by The Young Rascals in ’67.

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Groovy may have been the best word, but here’s a walk down memory lane for all of us 60’s teens.

  • We told our friends to be there or be square. We got bummed out if things didn’t go our way.  We claimed dibs on things we wanted.
  • We dreamed about having our own pad and bread, didn’t like anyone who was a spaz, a dip-stick, a square, a candy-ass or a fink.
  • We knew some greasers with their slicked-back hair, and knew that there were some girls who were fast and might even go all the way.
  • We weren’t above a little making out and swapping spit at the drive-in Passion Pit, however, and even got to cop a feel once in a while if we were going steady.  An occasional hickey was kind of funky too.

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  • We would talk on the horn for hours with the twisted cord pulled taut around doors for privacy, especially about hunks or skirts or the skuzzy kids or ditzes we didn’t like.
  • We tooled around town and then peeled out of parking lots in our cars and sometimes did a Chinese fire drill at a red light just for fun.
  • We told our little brothers, who were a pain in the wazoo, to flake off and quit bugging us. We told our Old Lady and Old Man not to be so uptight or go ape or freak out.
  • Some of us were hippies and flower children, or at least wanted to be. We were laid back and snuck a toke once in a while. And sometimes we even got blitzed.

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  • If we were girls, we wore thongs on our feet and covered our zits with make-up.
  • If we were guys, we wore our shades while checking out the choicest girls to hit on.
  • Everything was cool or neat. Awesome things were bad. Incredible things were far out. Disgusting things were raunchy. Strange things were kooky. And anything we didn’t like was lame.
  • We spun our vinyls to listen to I’m a Believer, I Want to Hold Your Hand, Big Girls Don’t Cry and Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In. Outta Sight, man!
  • We watched Bonanza, Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, Gunsmoke and What’s My Line on the boob tube, and were lucky enough to see the Fab Four on the Ed Sullivan Show.
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If you need a caption for this one you likely are a spaz

  • We didn’t take criticism well. Tough toenails if you didn’t like what we were doing. Go ahead and call the fuzz!
  • We greeted everyone with “what’s happenin” and waved “later” when we beat feet.
  • We bummed a smoke and told our friends to lay it on us when we wanted to hear the scoop.
  • We had a blast, we hung loose, we mellowed out, we complained about living in Nowheresville, we booked it when it was time to leave, we pigged out on fast food and we flipped the bird when we got insulted. It was a gas!

Yes, some of these great words and expressions snuck into the 60’s from the 50’s and even earlier, and some have carried on through later generations.

But in my humble 1960’s teenager opinion, we had the coolest and grooviest and hippest slang of all time.

If you agree, say Right On!

If you don’t, shut your face!

Cathy Green

P.S.   I used over 70 words/phrases in this blog. What’s really neato is that I could have used even more.  What a generation of creative wordsmiths we were! Groovy, huh?

One Last Magical Night With Santa

Last year, I wrote a blog post about Christmas Eve, 1959, when I knew for sure that Santa was real. I’m reposting it today as Christmas Eve approaches. I hope you enjoy it!

Growing up in the 50’s, I loved everything about Christmas: the chilly Cincinnati weather; the fragrant freshly-cut tree in our living room decorated with soft glowing multi-colored lights, glass ornaments, tinsel and icicles; the possibility of snow on Christmas Eve; the anticipation of school vacation; Christmas carols on the kitchen radio; sugar cookies shaped like snowmen; the Andy Williams Christmas Show and Santa. Especially Santa.

Such a wonderful, magical man who could fly through the sky with his reindeer, sneak into our homes when we weren’t looking and bring beautifully wrapped presents to us because we had been good — dolls and toys and bicycles and jewelry boxes and musical instruments and more. It was so exciting!

lighten bag

As the 50’s were coming to an end and my 10th birthday was getting closer, I began to hear rumors that Santa wasn’t real. Some of my grade school friends bragged about knowing for sure that the North Pole, the elves, the sleigh, the reindeer and Santa himself were made-up stories. I didn’t say anything. My 11 year old sister believed. My 6 year old brother believed. I believed, too. Mostly.

But I started paying closer attention.

Christmas Eve, as long as I could remember, started with three hyper-excited kids getting dressed in our Christmas outfits, coats, gloves and boots to walk next door to the neighbor’s house. Hazel, Lillian and Florence lived there – two sisters and a friend. People called them “old maids” at the time… and they were definitely old. At least 45! Hazel was the cook and back-scratcher, Lillian was the drill sergeant with the hearty laugh and Florence was the quiet knitter who made us pink, blue and yellow “booties” each year for Christmas. Because they were alone with no kids and few relatives, Mom and Dad always accepted their invitation to Christmas Eve dinner.

Although we kids were much too excited to eat, we were keen to get to their house because that was when Santa would know that he could sneak into the house and leave our presents. Every year, after dinner, carols and the exchange of presents with the ladies, we would throw on our coats, jump into our boots and run back over to our house. Every single time, Santa had snuck in during that couple of hours and eaten our cookies, finished his milk and left lots and lots of shiny packages under the tree.

Cathy in the early 50’s at Lillian’s house with a new doll and a horn

Cathy in the early 50’s at Lillian’s house with a new doll and a horn

That year, 1959, I was watching closely. Just as we were about to leave to go to Lillian’s house, Dad said he’d forgotten to check the furnace and that he would be there soon. It occurred to me that dad was always the last to leave the house. Every year there seemed to be something he had forgotten to do or a call he had to make. Before, it hadn’t been a big deal. This year, I was very, very suspicious. Checking the furnace on Christmas Eve?

I spent a lot of time with Hazel as she cooked dinner that year so that I could keep a lookout through their kitchen window. It was directly across from my living room window and I knew that Santa would have to walk by to place the presents under our tree.

Dad finally arrived and it was time to take the turkey out of the oven and sit down to eat. I decided to sneak one more peek and… there he was! A big man dressed in red in my house, bending over to place our presents under the tree. I shrieked! It’s him! There’s Santa!

My brother and sister and mom and dad came running to the window. Brother Tom saw him. Sister Chris wasn’t sure. Mom said she couldn’t see anything. But, my dad saw Santa. Yep, that’s him, he said.

I was delirious with joy. Santa was real. He was in my house. I ran outside to see if I could spot the sleigh and reindeer …I must have missed them, but it didn’t matter. I had seen Santa!

When we finally opened the door to our house that night, the presents were piled everywhere. The cookies were gone. The milk glass was empty. It was an evening full of smiles, exciting new toys and presents for everyone!

By the following Christmas, mom and dad had told me that Santa wasn’t real. They said that I should keep the secret so that baby brother Tom could still believe.

But I saw him! And so did Tom. And so did you, Dad! I protested.

Dad explained that he and mom had figured it out later that night. Apparently, Hazel – a heavyset woman who wore a bright red dress that year – had been bending over the oven to remove the turkey just as I looked out the window. The right timing, the right lighting and my 10 year-old desire to believe produced the reflection that became my miracle.

Now, so many Christmases later, I remember how clearly I saw Santa that night and how magical it was. Who knows, maybe dad and mom were wrong. Santa still seems to know where I live because gifts keep showing up under my tree every year!

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Cathy Green

In The 50’s, Crackers Were Saltines

While shopping for crackers to accompany a cheese and charcuterie* platter for guests, I was reminded just how many choices we have these days – especially compared to the 1950’s.

Crackers back then were saltines. Remember?

saltines

Not anymore. Since I knew that there would be gluten-frees and wheat-frees at our party (and some lactose-frees, too, no doubt), I thought that shopping at the local gourmet market would be my best bet.

There were 10 shelves of crackers. The choices were overwhelming. Should I buy wheat or rice or sesame or organic or whole grain vegan crackers? Should some of them be gluten-free or wheat-free or grain-free? How about multi-grain, 8-grain, 5-grain, rye, flaxseed, pepper, sea salt, almond flour, asagio cheese, cheddar cheese or parmesan cheese crackers? And, would any non-dieters eat the jalapeno macaroni and cheese crackers?

This headache-inducing exercise in choice made me realize how much easier and faster it must have been for my parents to shop for food in the 50’s. My mother was a terrible cook (see my previous blog post about this subject). My dad would do the grocery shopping using her list. He would buy what she wanted, but would always return with other things, too. In retrospect, it was probably his way of making sure there was something edible in the house at all times.

Here are some of the things I remember about eating at home in the 50’s:

  • There was no such thing as pasta. We ate spaghetti. Covered with red sauce from a jar.
  • Meatloaf and pork chops were weekly staples. Served with mashed potatoes and gravy and succotash (corn and lima beans). Mom would throw in another “healthy” starch once in a while just to jazz up the meal.
  • Pizza was from a box. Pre-made dough, red sauce and parmesan cheese in little packets. (I looked it up. Pizza Hut wasn’t around until 1958 and even then, my parents seemed to have missed it).
  • My dad didn’t like salads. End of story.
  • Yogurt wasn’t invented yet. Or, at least, we didn’t know anything about it.
  • Chicken was always fried. Actually, deep fried. (Just writing this reminds me of that greasy oil smell in the kitchen that lingered for days).

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  • Speaking of oil, there was no palm, sunflower, avocado, sesame, coconut or extra virgin olive oil in our house. Mom used Wesson.
  • Bread was white. Sliced and packaged in plastic. White bread went into everything (like turkey stuffing at Thanksgiving) and could be served with anything (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on two pieces of white bread served as my lunch in grade school and high school).
  • Breakfast was cereal and milk. Period. (Lactose intolerant? What was that?)
  • Fruit was either sliced pineapple or mixed fruit – both from cans in syrup.
  • “Pop” (sodas) all contained sugar. Coke was our favorite because it was so healthy according to the Coca-Cola Company’s ads.

coke a cola

Now that I think about it, I’m glad mom wasn’t a good cook. I would probably have weighed 400 pounds at my high school graduation.

Despite the occasional shopping frustrations, I like today’s choices – both the quantity and the quality of the food I can buy and the stores where I can buy them.

But I am trying to imagine what Dad would have done in one of today’s gourmet groceries with a list from my mom that included “crackers”.

Cathy Green

*Charcuterie … a fancy, French word for cold meats. I’m confident that this is a word no one in my family ever used in the 50’s.

 

Things That Should Have Killed Us in the 1950’s

Those of us in our 60’s like to brag that we lived through a lot of things that parents today worry about incessantly. But some of us – including me – think our parents should have worried a little more!

We all know that cars didn’t have seat belts in the 50’s and we shake our heads remembering how dangerous that must have been – especially since today’s news stories constantly remind us that car seats have to be chosen with extreme care.

Car seats? The only car seats available in the 50’s were designed to “bolster” children so that that they could look out the window and not move around so much. A few early protective car seats began to be used in the 60’s, but it wasn’t until the 70’s that they really got on a roll.

I remember dad driving home from many family parties in the 50’s after partaking of a couple, if not several, Manhattans. We three kids, all 10 and under, would be in the back seat dozing or fighting – probably more of the latter – while mom (who didn’t drive) would hold on tight, work her feet on imaginary pedals and say, as sweetly as possible – “Joe, don’t you think you should drive a little slower, dear?”

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I also remember leaving the house early in the morning on lazy Cincinnati summer days and staying out until lunch – or sometimes even until dinner. I would be at a friend’s house on my street, riding my bike up and down neighboring streets, or going to the drugstore a few blocks away to get a Cherry Coke. There were no cell phones and no electronic trackers… in other words, no way for Mom to know where I was. I don’t remember her being all that concerned about it, either.

I asked my husband, Ray, what he remembered about the 1950’s and the dangers lurking for kids in his small town of Gaffney, SC. Riding bicycles with his friends behind the DDT spraying trucks came immediately to mind. Apparently, at that time, in areas where mosquito populations were high, the government decided that spraying a few times a week would help cut down on malaria. Parents, his included, encouraged the fun. DDT was finally banned in 1972.

Here’s a photo if you don’t believe me:

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DDT spraying truck

Another story Ray told was about accompanying his mom to Gaffney’s downtown shoe store and getting his feet x-rayed in something called a fluoroscope. The machine, operated by the shoe store salesman, had a little box on the bottom where he would put his feet through in a new pair of shoes. The x-ray would be turned on and Ray’s mom and the salesman could look through the viewing windows to see if the shoes fit well – that is, if there seemed to be enough room for all of the bones in his feet. According to articles I found on the internet, the only safety shield on the fluoroscope was a tiny layer of aluminum and the manufacturers’ brochures recommended that the stores place the fluoroscope in the middle of the store for easy access.

Sometimes, Ray and his friends would stick their hands in the hole and look at each others’ bones. The kids loved it! What fun!

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Fluoroscopes were almost universally banned by the 1970’s

These stories, of course, highlight only a few of the hazards we faced in the 1950’s. Toy arrows with rubber tips that could be taken off easily, a radioactive science kit called the Atomic Energy Lab, baby oil that we slathered on our skins for a great sunburn, mercury that we played with when thermostats broke, skating and biking without helmets or knee pads, drinking out of garden hoses … I could go on and on.

So, what were our parents thinking? Well, to be fair to them, they were probably not very clear about the best way to raise kids, especially when they were bombarded with ads like these …

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And…

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Now that I think about it, we are pretty lucky that we made it into the 1960’s, much less into our 60’s!!

Cathy Green

More Great Things About Being 65

Last week Cathy started talking about what is great about being 65 — think she was trying to make me feel better turning the big 65. But the more I was thinking about what I liked about 65, the happier I got.

1.) Many of the “big calls” (go/stay/choose/reject) have been made and when new choices come up as they inevitably do, I feel I can handle them with serenity and acceptance. Most importantly, I now know what is best for me. Making major life choices as a young woman was daunting. I knew that choices of faith, values, lifestyle, education, mates, commitments, career, and health would have a great impact on my life — essentially define it. But my trust in myself was weak. Often I second-guessed myself and RE second-guessed myself, unsure if I was worth trusting. It took a long time, much introspection, and ultimately recovery from insecurities to feel confident that my choices were and are the right ones for me. tumblr_m41r62T4ZM1rvcjd7o1_500 2.)  I am no longer horrified, shocked and incredulous about bad things happening. There are some surprises, but they are happy, mysterious or silly. It seems like anything “bad”, terrifying, or threatening that could have happened has and we know about it. I am not happy but resigned to evil in the world and won’t let any evil person or event prevent me, and those I love, from moving forward and inward toward peace. viet.911 3.)  Our daughter survived 9/11. My wonderful brother in law died in 2003. I have been assaulted, fired, dumped, lost family and friends, been in accidents, had some health scares, gotten lost, trusted bad people, worked for some bad bosses, chosen poor investments and some questionable friends/partners. I have been alone for long periods of time, hung in for ages to accomplish things I have really wanted and seen people I love terribly hurt (which to me has been the worst). Believing “This too shall pass” is the best advice ever.

4.)  There is a constant wonderful stream of scientific and technical discoveries, ideas, and insights into life, eternity and all its mystery that is endlessly fascinating. AND, I get to choose whether or not to “get on board” or work to adjust. In earlier decades, external changes had to be seriously considered and dealt with – new technology? Had to learn it. Changes in business approaches or new family members? Had to get on board. A wonderful new restaurant or style? Well it seemed important to at least try it. Now, what interests me I get engaged with, otherwise I can happily sit on the sidelines because with very few exceptions my engagement is unimportant if not irrelevant. shutterstock_research-e1381241294977 5.)  My friends and family — especially those my age or older have more time for me – and I, for them. I can talk to a friend midday, shop leisurely for my grandnieces or daughters, write a longer note or letter, or just think about people and life at a deeper level. Work is not the central driver of my life nor in many people’s lives I know. Everyone in my life still works at things (a criteria for being in my life – you have to DO something – even if that is being Zen). Some for needed or ‘luxury” money, some not. But the old hardcore drive and focus on work, career, making this or that financial goal is nearly gone — and with it an openness and relaxed pace more often than not makes life much more peaceful and calm.love-suite 6.)  I am not delighted about thoughts of inevitably dying mainly because I want to have drinks with my granddaughters when they are 40 something and that isn’t likely meant to be. The other biggies – perhaps having to live without Bill, or getting really old and frail and/or losing my mind have stopped being fears. Maybe meditation, prayer or reading 1,000,000 books and thinking about it has just calmed me down. While I am not ready or willing to share all my plans, let me just say I am at reasonable levels of peace and plan to continue to work on this part of my life — mainly, by living in the present moment. That just keeps coming up doesn’t it? If you have no idea what I am talking about google “being present”.

7.)  While millenials are a bigger cohort that is reshaping the world in their own image – as we did – I enjoy sharing aging with boomer stars, celebrities, my friends and other boomers I don’t know but who write, blog, or otherwise contribute — a motley and pretty funny cohort. I can see other boomers, even the stars we thought never would, are aging, or struggling with one or another similar issue, or reinventing themselves again in some way professionally or personally. There are lots of models – good and bad. We never have to feel alone on any issue — some boomer out there is already dealing with it and ready to share. Or some boomer is doing it so badly we can easily see what bad or stupid choices to avoid.

Clockwise: Debbie Allen, Richard Branson, Cybil Shepard, Ed Harris, Stevie Wonder, Dr. Phil

Clockwise: Debbie Allen, Richard Branson, Cybil Shepard, Ed Harris, Stevie Wonder, Dr. Phil

I like myself. No, more than that, I love myself. That just wasn’t the experience of most of my earlier life — I drove myself to impossible standards and I frequently suffered from feelings of inadequacy and doubt. While I look worse than ever, make less money by far and am certainly less hot and sexy, and to top it off – often “out of it” in one or another ways, I am OK with it all. Because somehow, with the help of the universal good, critical thinking, smart people and my fabulous women and men friends, I am finally convinced, I am more than enough just the way I am — yes, at 65. Patty

One Last Magical Night with Santa

Growing up in the 50’s, I loved everything about Christmas: the chilly Cincinnati weather; the fragrant freshly-cut tree in our living room decorated with soft glowing multi-colored lights, glass ornaments, tinsel and icicles; the possibility of snow on Christmas Eve; the anticipation of school vacation; Christmas carols on the kitchen radio; sugar cookies shaped like snowmen; the Andy Williams Christmas Show and Santa. Especially Santa.

Such a wonderful, magical man who could fly through the sky with his reindeer, sneak into our homes when we weren’t looking and bring beautifully wrapped presents to us because we had been good — dolls and toys and bicycles and jewelry boxes and musical instruments and more. It was so exciting!

lighten bag

As the 50’s were coming to an end and my 10th birthday was getting closer, I began to hear rumors that Santa wasn’t real. Some of my grade school friends bragged about knowing for sure that the North Pole, the elves, the sleigh, the reindeer and Santa himself were made-up stories. I didn’t say anything. My 11 year old sister believed. My 6 year old brother believed. I believed, too. Mostly.

But I started paying closer attention.

Christmas Eve, as long as I could remember, started with three hyper-excited kids getting dressed in our Christmas outfits, coats, gloves and boots to walk next door to the neighbor’s house. Hazel, Lillian and Florence lived there – two sisters and a friend. People called them “old maids” at the time… and they were definitely old. At least 45! Hazel was the cook and back-scratcher, Lillian was the drill sergeant with the hearty laugh and Florence was the quiet knitter who made us pink, blue and yellow “booties” each year for Christmas. Because they were alone with no kids and few relatives, Mom and Dad always accepted their invitation to Christmas Eve dinner.

Although we kids were much too excited to eat, we were keen to get to their house because that was when Santa would know that he could sneak into the house and leave our presents. Every year, after dinner, carols and the exchange of presents with the ladies, we would throw on our coats, jump into our boots and run back over to our house. Every single time, Santa had snuck in during that couple of hours and eaten our cookies, finished his milk and left lots and lots of shiny packages under the tree.

Cathy in the early 50’s at Lillian’s house with a new doll and a horn.

Cathy in the early 50’s at Lillian’s house with a new doll and a horn.

That year, 1959, I was watching closely. Just as we were about to leave to go to Lillian’s house, Dad said he’d forgotten to check the furnace and that he would be there soon. It occurred to me that dad was always the last to leave the house. Every year there seemed to be something he had forgotten to do or a call he had to make. Before, it hadn’t been a big deal. This year, I was very, very suspicious. Checking the furnace on Christmas Eve?

I spent a lot of time with Hazel as she cooked dinner that year so that I could keep a lookout through their kitchen window. It was directly across from my living room window and I knew that Santa would have to walk by to place the presents under our tree.

Dad finally arrived and it was time to take the turkey out of the oven and sit down to eat. I decided to sneak one more peek and… there he was! A big man dressed in red in my house, bending over to place our presents under the tree. I shrieked! It’s him! There’s Santa!

My brother and sister and mom and dad came running to the window. Brother Tom saw him. Sister Chris wasn’t sure. Mom said she couldn’t see anything. But, my dad saw Santa. Yep, that’s him, he said.

I was delirious with joy. Santa was real. He was in my house. I ran outside to see if I could spot the sleigh and reindeer …I must have missed them, but it didn’t matter. I had seen Santa!

When we finally opened the door to our house that night, the presents were piled everywhere. The cookies were gone. The milk glass was empty. It was an evening full of smiles, exciting new toys and presents for everyone!

By the following Christmas, mom and dad had told me that Santa wasn’t real. They said that I should keep the secret so that baby brother Tom could still believe.

But I saw him! And so did Tom. And so did you, Dad! I protested.

Dad explained that he and mom had figured it out later that night. Apparently, Hazel – a heavyset woman who wore a bright red dress that year – had been bending over the oven to remove the turkey just as I looked out the window. The right timing, the right lighting and my 10 year-old desire to believe produced the reflection that became my miracle.

Now, so many Christmases later, I remember how clearly I saw Santa that night and how magical it was. Who knows, maybe dad and mom were wrong. Santa still seems to know where I live because gifts keep showing up under my tree every year!

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Cathy Green

50th Reunions: To Go or Not to Go? That is the Question!

Two weeks ago, I attended a 50th grade school reunion. Our Lady of Lourdes was part of a Catholic parish in a small Cincinnati, Ohio neighborhood. About 100 of us – boys and girls – spent Grades 1 through 8 together and about half of us attended the reunion.

The last time I saw most of these classmates was at a 20th reunion when we were in our early 30’s. Now, thirty years later, we were all 64 years old.

Despite the fact that I told everyone I was “coerced” into attending by a girlfriend on the planning committee who I’ve stayed close to over the years, I was actually looking forward to it … and ended up having a good time.

50th

Here are a few snapshots: The party was held in the school cafeteria where it felt weird to be drinking wine and beer; familiar late 50’s and early 60’s music played in the background; I told one of the guys that I had had a crush on him in 8th grade (it made his night, he said); another guy told me I was “hot” back then (who knew?); a girl I sang with in a quartet reminded me about a road trip with our choir director and his wife to a boy’s college when we were in the 8th grade; another one told me a funny story about my dad; one of the twin brothers who drove the teachers crazy with their pranks told us about a nun “clocking” him while he was running in the hallway; a life-size poster of the pastor of our church at the time – a much-disliked curmudgeon – was dressed up in hats and boas throughout the evening; and our favorite nun, Sister Mary Myra, now nearly 80 years old, shocked us by admitting that the nuns didn’t like him either! We also walked up two flights of marble steps (slowly, to accommodate arthritic knees) and toured a tiny 1st grade classroom, marveling at how we could have been so young and small.

In retrospect, there are several things I decided about 50th reunions:

  1. A 50th reunion is different. If you’re going to go to any reunion, this is probably the one to attend. By this time of our lives, posturing about jobs, financial success and our wonderful children is pretty much over. Instead, we’ve all made it this far in life, we know what we’ve become, it is what it is, we feel OK about it, and we’re at the reunion for reasons other than showing off or bragging. (Well, except for the grandkids.)
  2. We are at a more reflective and nostalgic time of our lives. Those of us who attend a 50th reunion either have stories to share or want to revisit some of the stories we’ve forgotten. Most of us have lost our parents – some many, many years ago – and no longer have the connection to the past that they provided. We’re curious about what went on in our lives in those early days and have an interest – unlike in our younger years – in remembering what we did and how we felt back then.
  3. We share a connection with these classmates that is different from the one we share with later-life friends. We are all the same age (how weird is that?), we spent many years together in a small space, we dealt with the same authority figures, we all learned to get under our desks in case of a nuclear war, we shared the same childhood insecurities … and in the case of our class, we ate the same delicious jellyrolls from the bakery across the street. (The bakery is long gone, but someone found a source and brought jellyrolls to the reunion. How great is that?)
  4. Everyone thinks they look 10 years younger than everyone else. 50th reunion attendees are grateful to be healthy enough to attend an evening reunion, although most of us want to be in bed by 11:30pm. And, we feel that we’ve done OK in the aging department. In fact, better than most, if we have to say so ourselves! Actually, we don’t see 64 year olds anyway when we look at other attendees — we see the kids we used to be!
  5. It’s all about the good memories. Yes, we had things happen to us in school that we’d rather forget. But, those things aren’t what anyone wants to talk about at this age. 50th reunion attendees are more interested in remembering fun stuff and sharing a laugh or two or three.

So, go ahead and attend your 50th reunion – grade school or high school. And, if you do, here are some suggestions based on my recent experience:

  • Look at the eyes! You’ll be more likely to “see” the kid you knew.
  • Don’t say “Do you know who I am?” while hiding your name tag. Introduce yourself. You might be pleasantly surprised if people remember you before your self-introduction, but if not, at least you won’t get blank stares. (Ladies … Use your maiden name. It’s the only one your classmates will know or care about!)

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  • Spend some time in advance of the reunion coming up with a story you can share. If you have photos or school albums, they’ll jog your memory.
  • Use the time you spend with classmates asking them to share stories and memories. You could find a few gems among them.
  • Don’t talk about your health problems. We all have them and we don’t want to talk about them. (And … if someone isn’t there, don’t speculate about whether they died. Assume they had another commitment or, better yet, that they are on a luxury cruise to Tahiti!)
  • Tell everyone they look great … why the hell not!
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Cathy (center) with two grade school friends at our 50th reunion

My 50th reunion didn’t change my life – and it probably won’t change yours either. But with the right attitude and approach, it can be a pleasant way to take a little stroll back in time and uncover some of the things that made you the person you are today.

And … you might even get to savor some jellyrolls or other goodies from the past!

Cathy

Behind the Wheel: Oh, How Times Have Changed!

Admit it. You used to chuckle at your aging parents about their driving habits, didn’t you?

Like when they started avoiding highways. (“People drive too fast and we’re not in that much of a hurry anyway.”

Or, when they stopped making left turns. (“It’s easier to make a lot of right turns to get to the same place, so why not?”)

Or, when you noticed that they were going out to dinner well before the sun went down. (“There are early bird specials, anyway, so why drive in the dark?”)

I certainly remember snickering at my parents – especially my mom. At that time, I traveled highways every day, knew how to make flawless left turns, and wouldn’t think about having dinner at a restaurant before 8:00pm.

And now? I have become my mother.

I try to justify my growing aversion to highways, left turns and night driving to anyone who will listen. Here are a few of my best excuses:

Speed limits have been raised over the years. People drive way too fast, don’t they?

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Cell phones – especially when they are used for texting – make highway driving much scarier, right?

Left turns are trickier around my new Asheville, NC home because of the many one-lane mountain roads and impatient drivers here, don’t you think?

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It’s a lot easier to park before 6:30pm and restaurants aren’t as crowded and noisy earlier in the evening, right?

I even tell myself that my new behind-the-wheel behavior has to do with the fact that I’m driving a lot less in my 60’s than I used to drive in my hard-charging business days and am therefore out of practice.

All of these things may be true, but it’s also true that over the past few years, I’m just more afraid than I used to be, less confident and probably less agile – and my eyes don’t work as well. There. I admitted it. If I had kids, they’d be snickering!

The good news about “seniors” on the road – I really hate that word – is that compared to other age groups, we’re more likely to wear seat belts and observe speed limits, and are less likely to drink and drive. At least that’s what the CDC says in its Older Adult Drivers: Get the Facts fact sheet.

The bad news is that we’re more likely to be injured in traffic crashes due to age-related problems like fragile bones. We are also more likely to have reduced flexibility and range of motion and worse eyesight, and we use more medications – not all of them conducive to safe driving!

(Backing into the tree a couple of months ago wasn’t due to any of these things, however. There was a lot of fog that morning. It wasn’t my fault.)

And check out this comment on the CDC’s website: “Americans are healthier and living longer than ever before, so seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of 7 to 10 years”.

Add to this the fact that there are more and more of us baby boomers on the road every day. In about 15 more years, it is estimated there will be 70 million Americans over the age of 65 behind the wheel compared to 33 million in 2009.

So, all of you “younger” drivers out there … you might want to stop laughing and start driving more defensively!

Cathy Green April 29, 2014

 

P.S. Just as I was about to post this blog, I read a headline in the Tampa Bay Times … my “other” home … titled House OK’s 75 mph Speeds. Here’s the first sentence: “Florida would become the first state east of the Mississippi where drivers could travel 75 mph on major highways under a bill that squeaked past the House and is headed to the governor…”. Florida! The state where baby boomers are retiring in droves!

 

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