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Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

At Random

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Back in 1950

More than half a century ago? Wow!

I was 10 years old back then, and living with my parents and new baby sister Beverly in the outskirts of New York City. The Second World War was over, and I think I can still remember neighbors honking their auto horns to celebrate VJ Day. For the next five years, a practically palpable feeling of self-congratulation and contentment (neither of which I could then put into words) settled over the land like a warm bath,

In spring and summer weekends, young married couples were outside learning to barbecue, or inside making babies, and diaper delivery trucks were busy delivering or picking up white--or white-and-brown -- cloth diapers. Dads and their male children played catch with softballs and leather mitts that cost $5 each. Young females whiled away their time playing with dolls.

There was a village that lay some mile-and-a-half from my house on Normandy Lane, and on Sunday morning I walked after the New York Times (30 cents) and Daily News (20 cents).On weekdays, after school at Henry Barnard school, I'd walk down to Lindens' Stationery Store to load up on Fleers Bubble Gum, because each nickel pack of waxy, incredibly flavorless gum came with five colorful cards of major league baseball players, and since my mother's college roommate was the niece of baseball manager extraordinaire Branch Rickey, my mother was an ardent Brooklyn Dodger fan. And, so, I became one, too. My favorite player was Carl Furillo, Dodger right fielder, followed closely by Duke Snider, center fielder, lightnin'-fast second baseman Jackie Robinson and Gil Hodges, first baseman. And I traded and flipped for them all. I walked to the village untended except by a friend or two who also wanted to buy some Fleers Gum or a Monogram model plane for 85 cents. Were my parents unbelievably innocent or ignorant? I don't think so. For, in those days, newspaper headlines did not dwell on the crimes of black people, who, after all, did not live among white Americans, but all by themselves in ghettoes like Harlem, a different and irrelevant sub-society. In our community, I'm not sure there were even many Catholics. What helps racial tension today is the inevitable headline featuring the black crime played up so that it seems as if there are no blacks beside the black criminal. It wasn't so back then.

My father had helped pay his way through college by playing the piano, and when he married, the Crawford Steinway grand came with the bride. He loved music, and when the development of "high fidelity" occurred, he was one of the first to buy a set of tuner/receiver/ turntable, amplifier, preamp, and a whole bushel basket ful of the new long-playing (LP) records.

And so when I began getting a weekly allowance ($5) for emptying wastebaskets and such, I bought my own records, such as Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and others of their ilk. My father tended to look down on them as sheer noise -- oh boy, if he only knew what was coming around the bend in the way of pop music! My parents had bought a big Magnavox console radio/phonograph for the living room, and I played my records on that, changing needles ($2.50) when needed. I have those records to this day. High fidelity was an aural miracle when it first appeared. It was so much more realistic than the radio, most stations of which didn't have it.

Was it really an age of ignorance / innocence? I don't know. I do know that in my very early teenage years I had perfect trust in government, whether local or national. Harry Truman, followed by Ike, was an honorable man who never told a lie. When word came over the radio that Truman had fired America's darling Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur over his performance and plans for Korea, I assumed (as I still do) that MacArthur was wrong in going beyond his professional bounds, and that Truman was right to call him down for it. My whole 6th grade class at Henry Barnard School sat on the floor of the Nash diningroom to watch the New York parade for MacArthur down Fifth Avenue.

It was all a different, less ambiguous world than we live in today. Or was it a simpler world because we were so young we couldn't yet recognize the underlying complexity?