One of my Register essays of a couple of years ago was about the “good old days” — the days of my adolescence, teens and young adulthood in Napa — and how I missed them. Many of my seasoned citizen readers agreed with me.
I recently re-read that piece and it caused me to reflect on what family life, in general, was like back in the 1940s and ’50s. After some serious thought, it is apparent that the lifestyle of the average American family has changed dramatically over the past six or seven decades.
To begin with, back then, families consisted of a mother and father who were married and their children. What we now refer to as “living together” was not only frowned upon, it was, in some communities, illegal. Today, cohabitating adults only consider marriage as an option.
During the 1940s, the family probably rented their home and, if they owned a car, it was of pre-World War II vintage. In the 1950s, the economy had improved from that of the war years and, thanks to the GI Bill for military veterans, more families were able to buy a home.
Back then, most mothers of the day did not work outside the home. Life for most or many of the families went something like this: Mom cooked breakfast, made lunches, cooked dinner, did laundry, cleaned the house, did the shopping, attended PTA meetings and did a lot of other things. For Mom, keeping busy was not a problem.
After Mom fixed breakfast for the family, she saw Dad off to work and the kids off to school. She was there when the kids came home from school and made them go outside and play. When Dad came home, the whole family sat down for dinner — which Mom fixed.
After dinner, if the kids were old enough, they did the dishes while the parents went to the living room to finish their coffee and listen to the news on the radio. Later, the whole family gathered and listened to Kay Kyser and his College of Musical Knowledge, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Fibber McGee and Molly and other popular weekday radio programs of the day. A favorite on Saturday night was “Your Hit Parade,” which presented the top 10 songs of the week and, for a period of time, featured Frank Sinatra as the lead singer.
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TV did not actually play a role in the lives of most families until the 1950s. Once a family could afford a television, they substituted watching TV shows like “I Love Lucy,” “Texaco Star Theater with Milton Berle” or “What’s My Line” for their radio programs.
The social life, such as it was, was simple and probably took place on Saturday night. An occasional family movie or friends and neighbors dropping by was normal. Calling ahead of an intended visit was not required. Folks just dropped by.
If friends and relatives came calling, the adults would gather around the kitchen table and discuss the issues of the day or play cards while the kids played games like kick-the-can outside or board games inside.
For most people, alcohol was expensive and, during World War II, it was rationed, so, instead of cocktails, they drank coffee. There was always a pot of coffee on the stove.
Compared to today’s family life, life in the old days was simple. It was a lot like that of the Cleavers, as depicted on TV’s “Leave It to Beaver” or the Nelsons in “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.”
For me, my assessment from the prior piece is still valid. Those were the “good old days” — and I still miss them.
Email Jim Ford at email@example.com.