Nelda Cockman, one of several Pilot readers who responded to my Feb. 22 column about the 1950s, will never forget the day she decided to run away from home at age 8 or 10.
Like me, she grew up in a town called Carthage — though mine was back in Missouri and hers was right here in Moore County. The reasons for her departure plan are long forgotten.
“I had walked the distance of about four or five houses when a car pulled up,” wrote Cockman, who now lives in Southern Pines. “The man — Judd Rea the TV repairman — asked me where I was going, and I explained I was running away. He invited me to take a ride with him and he would take me home. He did. …
“The story speaks to the small-town community spirit of the time — first, that there was a TV repairman! And that he was familiar with everyone, knew where the children belonged and assumed responsibility. ‘Happy Days’ for sure. …
“As I read back over this, I also think how readers will cringe that a car stopped and a man asked a child where she was going. Different times, huh?”
Those times, most of a lifetime ago, were different indeed — as the late David Halberstam made clear in his lengthy and engrossing 1996 book “The Fifties.” The reading of it prompted my earlier column, and I recommend it highly.
Reader Tom Little, of Pinehurst, was born in the mid-1950s and identifies more with the ’60s. But as the youngest of seven children and the son of a World War II veteran, he feels that the ’50s are in his DNA.
“If I had to choose one word to describe it,” he wrote, “the word would be ‘classic.’ The ’50s are hard to talk about without mentioning classic rock ’n’ roll, classic cars and classic shoes. It was mankind’s first venture into outer space and the beginning of today’s Interstate highway system. It was a classic period in our history.”
Eric Christenson, who now lives in Southern Pines, grew up in the 1950s, near Bethesda, Maryland, and remembers it well.
“I remember the discipline learned during my seventh through ninth grades delivering The Washington Evening Star on my Sears bike — a 4-mile, hilly route,” he wrote. “I cherish the homeowner skills I learned as my dad suffered from ALS.”
Like me, Eric has many memories of farm life in those days. And he shares my regret that so few youths get to share any such experiences these days.
“I was lucky during high school summers to work winter wheat harvests near the farming village of Gaithersburg,” he said, “walking behind the binder to shock up bundles of wheat and then, a week later, tossing them high up onto a farm wagon that hauled the bundles to the thrasher. Bucking the hundred-pound straw bales over my head back onto a flatbed truck tested my athletic ability — and the $10 a day was good money. …
“Also in the 1950s, I spent time with my Uncle Henry, who lived in a house 35 rough and rutted miles from the nearest town, Las Animas. As a 13-year-old, I could tell Cap, the ranch dog, to fetch a hobbled horse grazing in the pasture. I would put on the bridle, take off the halter, cinch up the girth, and ride. As I look back, I’m pretty sure that Henry’s horse knew that I was a suburban kid: He didn’t try to throw me.”
Then there was reader John McClain. He now lives in Pinehurst, but he grew up in Anderson, South Carolina, where his grandparents were farmers and his father was the county sheriff. In 1954, at age 11, he participated in a raid on a large moonshine still.
“The circumstance was that when the Sheriff’s Office got a tip late one afternoon, my mother was away and my dad was in charge of me,” he recalled. “There were four cars with two deputies in each — and I was in the back seat of the last car. … Headlights were dark as we drove through the woods on a dirt road, came out into a clearing, and heard a shrill horn a bit away.
“It was the lookout. He was captured, but all the others at the facility escaped. And it was a very large enterprise — stacks and stacks of crates of Mason jars. The still was destroyed with TNT, but two crates of moonshine were taken back to town and poured down the drain outside the courthouse.”
Like me and the other readers who responded, John will always value growing up in the 1950s — when, despite wars and racial strife and polio epidemics, life somehow seemed so much simpler and humbler and down-to-earth.
“Those were great times in my memory,” he concluded. “In looking back, those times were wonderful and innocent — the world was our playground.”
Steve Bouser is the retired editor and Opinion editor of The Pilot. Contact him at email@example.com.
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