sixtiestosixties

I was something in the 60s but now I'm just sixty something.

Heat Wave

The weather this summer has been misbehaving! Rain, floods, fires, rain, tornadoes, rain and then, after some more rain, straight into the annual heatwave. This year’s heat wave is a bad one. It just seems wrong when summer temperatures are higher in the northeast than they are in Florida. This can really confuse the snowbirds and affect their migration pattern. A FB friend of mine posted a picture of some neighbors having cocktails up in her summer lakeside community. In the bedroom. No, it wasn’t one of those kinds of parties. (Much too hot for anything like that.) It’s just the bedroom has an air conditioner and it’s been in the 90s.

Hot! Hot! Hot!

Hot! Hot! Hot!

I grew up in upstate New York in the 1950s and 60s. Not what you would think of as a warm climate but at least once every summer we would get a stretch of killer hot, muggy, weather. And we really weren’t equipped to handle it. My mother always complained about the humidity in Schenectady in the summer. As a point of reference, she moved there from Houston. We lived in a Levittown-esque, Cape Cod style home with an “expanded” second floor. Translation…my brother and I essentially slept in our separate halves of an attic. Big rooms with tiny windows. The only air movement we got upstairs was the heat rising from the first floor. We had one floor fan in the small hallway between our rooms. Since my brother was older and more manipulative  wiser than me, the fan was usually pointed toward his room. The theory was that the intake on the fan would pull the air from my room across to his room to create a breeze for us both. Bullshit. The fan blew on him. My side stayed a stagnant attic. All I got from the fan was the fun of talking through it when it was too hot to sleep.

Occasionally, when it got really oppressive, we were allowed to drag our bedding downstairs and make a pallet on the living room floor. This was like being released from the gates of hell. We had a screen on the front door and my parents would let us sleep with the door open. My parents had their own fan in their bedroom. As long as they kept their bedroom door opened for cross ventilation it kept them just cool enough to get hot with each other. At the time we didn’t realize why we weren’t allowed do that every night in the summer.

Turning on an oven or stove to cook in those little houses would bring the temperature in the house up at least another 5 degrees.(Probably 10 upstairs.) Consequently dinner was whatever didn’t need to be actually cooked. My mother would spoil us in the heat wave with a fun meal of huge bowls of vanilla ice cream loaded with fresh sliced peaches, plums, and nectarines. She first tried this light meal with cottage cheese but since as a child I equated cottage cheese to bleached out vomit she gave up and allowed my brother and me to have our fruit with ice cream. I’m convinced this was in part to ease her guilt for making us sleep upstairs and not buying one more frickin’ fan. Really, how much could it have cost?

At some point in the early 60s my parents bought a window unit air conditioner and put it in the tiny room in the back of the house where we all crammed in to watch TV. My mother went into that room in mid June and came out around Labor Day. From there she issued orders and ran the family. The room was meant to be a bedroom but my dad removed the door because it opened inward and hit the huddle of furniture surrounding the TV altar. This was counterproductive for air-conditioning so in the summer we tacked a sheet up over the door frame. I can still see my dad batting wildly at that sheet and moving it aside on his way to the kitchen to refresh those ice-cold martinis my parents used to keep cool. He was a master at cracking ice against the palm of his hand. Then, if I was lucky enough to be around, he’d grab the back of my neck with that icy, cold hand. I’d squeal with a mixture of annoyance and delight. After that first shock, it felt good on those hot, sticky, summer evenings.

How did you beat the heat?

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Roadtrips in Unairconditioned Chevys

Family vacations today are over the top. Parents now travel with their children to the Caribbean, ski in Aspen, tour Europe, cruise the world and fly toddlers in first class. Back in the 50s and early 60s we rarely had what people today would classify as a vacation. My family spent the better part of a week driving from New York to West Texas in an unairconditioned Chevy to visit my grandparents. My parents called it “going home”. This was real adventurous compared to the experiences of most of my peers in the northeast. At least I got to see herds of cattle and oil rigs pumping. My husband’s family drove fifty miles and pitched a tent.

Westward Ho!

I actually looked forward to these trips although it is hard to fathom why. The ride itself was tortuous for a child who could never sit still. My older brother got car sick so my mother pumped him full of Dramamine and he slept most of the way. I don’t know why she just didn’t dose me too. It would have been an act of compassion.

We took different routes over the years. None of them were actually good or fast but they did provide the chance to see a great deal of the country. As a child I plugged my nose at the stockyards of Chicago and oil refineries of Louisiana and Texas, crossed the mighty (yucky and muddy) Mississippi peppered with barges, and endured endless amber waves of grain. I got an early introduction to regional dialects and customs. (To my childish surprise colored drinking fountains did not contain colored water.) In the years that followed I would read about the places we passed through and was able to vividly recall how they looked and smelled.

We would start driving before daybreak and with any luck I would doze a little before we stopped later for breakfast. I always ordered pancakes and drowned them in syrup. I took advantage of this treat because we rarely had them at home. After stuffing myself to the point of sickness we would pile back in the car. My brother got more Dramamine and I bounced around and tried not to go crazy after my sugar overload.

There wasn’t much entertainment in the car. No video games or DVD player. Every once in awhile my brother would wake up and we would fight. Occasionally we could pick up a radio station. Rock and Roll was young but my parents preferred their generation’s big bands and crooners. Funny how much I hated it at the time but today I’ll hunt for Sinatra on Sirius in a rental car. Daddy liked country but it was really whiney in those days and thankfully Mother wouldn’t have it. She was a bit sensitive about her rural upbringing. She was fine revealing she was born in Dallas but never said much about those little Texas Electric substations in (almost but not quite) towns she grew up in.

We played the old license plate game. It was a lot more challenging in those days since people didn’t travel as much. For a real thrill there were the Burma Shave signs. We’d actually wake my brother up for those. Do you remember them?  Clever advertising since we can still remember the product. “Many a forest/Used to stand/Where a /Lighted match/Got out of hand./Burma Shave.”

You did say clean rooms didn’t you?

Most days on the road we would stop traveling around three or four in the afternoon. Hopefully, we could find a Holiday Inn close to the interstate. (Yes, there were some interstates in those days but nothing like today.) A Holiday Inn in those days was like the Waldorf-Astoria of the road. They advertised clean rooms (not necessarily a given), a swimming pool and TV. A pool and TV after hours in a hot car with nothing to do was heaven. My brother would wake up since his Dramamine would be wearing off. My parents, who always  traveled with a flask, poured a by then much-needed martini and I would race to the pool and dive in. Somewhere we’d find some dinner then we’d sleep and repeat. Finally after four days or so we’d at long last pull up to my grandparents house. We’d see both sets of grandparents and aunts and uncles. We’d play “Kick the Can” and “Red Rover” with my cousins. For some real excitement we’d swipe a watermelon from the neighbor’s patch and hide until he came running out waving a shotgun. After a few days of this we’d pile back in the Chevy, say our tearful goodbyes, and go back to pancakes and Dramamine until we got back home.

Did you have this much fun on your childhood vacations?

Destination resort.

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Father’s Day

Captain Johnnie Miller

My father was a very special man. He smelled of Old Spice and tobacco and sometimes martinis. He had a way of making anyone in his presence feel important. I came to see this was his greatest gift in life and the key to all his success. I wish I could spend Father’s Day with my dad. If your dad is still alive make sure you tell him one more time, while you still can, the things you love about him.

While many dads of the fifties and sixties could be strict and sometimes even harsh, my dad was just funny. Even so, when you were in trouble his jokes could send a clear message and sting as much as a slap. He was actually funniest when he was angry, but he was a patient man and was more likely to be angry at something rather than at somebody. You had to be careful though and not laugh at him when he was mad or you might find yourself the butt of his next joke.

My dad had an endless repertoire of stories. He did not take himself too seriously so in many of his stories he cast himself the fool. It was through his stories that he taught us about life. It was also how we came to know him. Little did we realize they would become his legacy.

Dad grew up during the depression in a dusty little town in West Texas. He went barefoot in the summer and put cardboard in the worn through soles of his shoes when it cooled down. I remember being bored and moping around one day and I asked him what in the world he could find to do in Big Spring, Texas when he was a kid.  He told me, “We’d hang out at the courthouse, chew tobacco and see who could spit the farthest. Or, I’d fight with Raymond Lee until Mama turned the hose on us. Now stop whining and go find something to do.”

My father flew the “hump” (over the Himalayas) during WWII. These pilots were little more than boys, a bit wild, and certainly daring. They traded eggs for extra gasoline and flew their beer around at high altitudes to chill it. One night a group of them were rounded up by the police in China and handcuffed to a flag pole for being drunk and disorderly. Their commanding officer was called in and after reaming them out told them to all report to his office the next morning at 0900. The pilots all just looked at each other until finally one piped up asking, “Sir, what about those of us who are scheduled to fly at 0700?”

When dad got out of the service he went to college on the GI bill. He was a graduate of the University of Texas and told “Aggie ” (Texas A&M) jokes all his life. He surprised me a few years ago when we were driving through Texas together and he told me he would have preferred to go to A&M. “Why didn’t you,” I asked?  Good old realistic Dad answered “Because I could get a ride to Austin with a buddy and I didn’t have any way to get to A&M.”

Dad traveled all over the world for his job and as the years went on he found it harder and harder to sleep on the plane. On one especially grueling trip he was determined to get some sleep , as he put it,”come hell or high water”. His solution was to hit the airport bar. It worked. He drank two Black Russians, fell asleep in the terminal and missed his plane.

After my father was widowed for the second time, he decided to finalize the plans for his own funeral. He went down to the funeral parlor, picked out his coffin, and made a dinner date with the elderly receptionist on the way out. She became his regular date until he died.

I miss my dad. In his last years he would drive his big, red cadillac up from Florida to visit me in South Carolina and we would sit on the screened in porch where I would let him smoke.  We’d have coffee in the morning and cocktails in the evening and he would tell me his tales for hours. I finally got to hear the ones he couldn’t tell us when we were kids.

Most all dads are special in their own way and they all have a story. For Father’s Day, how about sharing a memory of your Dad. Post it under “comments”.  Let’s all celebrate our dads together.

telling stories

Telling stories.

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