My husband and I have often talked about our childhoods and about our years growing up and we both have come to the same conclusion. We had, in our opinions, the ‘luck of the draw’ to be born and live through the best years so far in our American history. Who knew?!
The wings of Capitol Airlines were carrying me far away from the mundane existence in the steel town where I grew up. I was eighteen and I was never coming back. I was free. At last! Free to live my own dreams, on my own terms. I never wanted to think of those fourteen wasted years of my life in Ohio again.
Youth. Oh my. Youth! Such hubris. How could I have known then that those early formative years on my grandfather’s farm in Bloomingdale and later, the good fortune to live and be educated among an ethnically diversified community like the steel town of Steubenville, Ohio during the 40’s and 50’s would, in hindsight, be the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
I grew up having no fears. I can’t remember ever being afraid of anything, except maybe disobeying my parents. We never locked our shiny new blue Plymouth in the garage out back. Not even when good times brought a powder blue Cadillac convertible in its place. I knew the front door would always be unlocked when I arrived home from the YMCA Swing Haven at night and I easily traveled by myself everywhere on the bus at all hours and walked the two blocks from the bus stop to my home. I felt safe. I was safe.
Our neighbor’s doors were always open to all and it seemed we were always either delivering or on the receiving end of casserole and cake exchanges from one to the other. We genuinely cared about one another. Neighbors were extended family in our blue collar neighborhood. If ever needed, help was just next door at the neighbors house.
High school jobs were easily found for us. My first was in Denmark’s, a family owned department store, where the owner knew my name. I started at Christmas as a wrapper and worked my way up to sales in lingerie. Customers didn’t seem to be agitated during the long wait for the canister carrying their money being sucked up the vacuum tube to accounting and back again with their receipt and correct change. People had patience. We all seemed to take life in stride.
Our high school had our great football team and marching band that gave our town additional purpose and pride beyond the fact that we produced steel that was helping rebuild the country.
We didn’t have to worry about drugs back then. The worst worry for us girls was not having a date to the prom because we had to wait to be asked. The worst whispers were about the boys and ‘wild girls’ who would go to the coal pits outside of town to smoke cigarettes, drink beer and fool around or the girls that would go to “visit” their out-of-town relatives for nine months.
We studied, jitterbugged, ate square pizza and Coke, went to the drive-in and necked and had swirled ice cream with the curl on top at the local Dairy Queen and watched Ed Sullivan on our RCA televisions Sunday nights with our families.
Our parents earned a good living and were prosperous. They had hopes for the future. We as teenagers never had any doubts that we could reach and achieve our dreams. The world was ours if we were willing to work for it.
And the reality of it is, it was all true. Our generation was afforded the best environment for achieving and witnessing the greatness of the American people and their dreams. We were a town of all nationalities, all colors and I never thought or was taught there were any differences between us.
I do believe, though, that our diverse community along the Ohio River was not unique. It was a softer and more gentle time of hope for the future in America. No one thought that it would disappear. Not here.
How were any of us to know we were so very fortunate living in those special times and that this recipe for living would never be duplicated ever again.