My earliest memories are of life in the early Detroit suburbs, a time when families were moving out of the city into the country. So it was with our family. My Aunt and Uncle and their sons had bought some land and built a home in the country, about twenty miles or so from downtown Detroit. My uncle, who was a carpenter, built the home himself, and it was small. My aunt said that their first winter, there were no walls; they partitioned rooms for privacy by hanging blankets from the rafters.
When my parents decided to move to the country too, I was a baby. It was
1947, just after WWII. I was a “surprise” result of a second marriage for both of them, and they wanted me to grow up in a carefree environment. My uncle and my dad converted a garage behind my uncle’s small house into an even smaller house for our family. There was a compact living room, kitchen, teeny bathroom with a stall shower, a decent sized bedroom, and a teeny bedroom (no windows) off the kitchen that was mine after I was old enough to move out of my crib. We lived in that house until I was five years old, then my uncles and my dad built another small house for us next to my uncle’s house.
It was a funny neighborhood. Just a few years before we moved there, it was just farms, but the post-war building boom had begun. Next to our property was a street that was lined with houses built after the war. On the other side of us was a farm, with chickens, cows, and pigs. We were friendly with the farmers, and I played with their children. Their mom churned butter and made the most delicious homemade donuts. Their older brother trapped muskrats and hung the skins in the basement, where there was a giant coal furnace, and a big coal bin. We played in the corn crib and the barn. It was fun. When the pigs got loose, we chased them down (my mom helped) in the neighborhood of suburban houses. I’ll bet that was quite a surprise to those homeowners!
Mostly we played outside. That is what kids did back then – built forts, climbed trees, played on the swing set, had water fights, rode our bikes, played tag. There was a small corner store with a candy counter and a water bath cooler filled with bottles of pop. My favorites were grape and orange. Those were for special treats only, though.
The one inside activity I remember from the summer was gathering at 5:00 pm to watch Mickey Mouse Club on television. TV was pretty new, and when we got our first one, the only thing on during the day was reruns of the fights, and old cartoons from before the war. The one I remember is Mickey Mouse as Steamboat Willie!
Eventually, every Saturday night, Mom and Dad and I watched Uncle Miltie – the Milton Berle show.
By the time I was six or seven, I would come home from school for lunch and have “Lunch with Soupy”, Soupy being Soupy Sales, and his pals White Fang and Black Tooth. We all learned to do the Soupy Shuffle.
The big one, though, was Mickey Mouse. The first Mickey Mouse Club show began in 1955, when I was eight years old, and ran until 1960. It was the days of Jimmy, Darlene, Annette, Doreen, Cubby, Bobby, Karen and the rest of the gang. Every day they would have the roll call, they would sing the Mouseketeers’ song, and there was a special theme for each day. Monday was Fun With Music, and Tuesday, was Guest Star Day, for example.
Then there were the serials – Spin and Marty, The Hardy Boys and a wonderful one in which Annette Funicello played a young Italian immigrant. I don’t remember the name, but it was quite romantic for the times!
There were so many great shows for kids in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Fury (about the black horse), Captain Kangaroo (starting in 1955), Romper Room for the littles (beginning in 1953), Rin Tin Tin, Howdy Doody, Lassie, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, and Sky King are just a few examples.
The Top Ten TV Shows in 1955 were:
The $64,000 Question (CBS)
I Love Lucy (CBS)
The Ed Sullivan Show (CBS)
The Jack Benny Show (CBS)
December Bride (CBS)
You Bet Your Life (NBC)
The Millionaire (CBS)
I’ve Got a Secret (CBS)
What were your favorites?
I have only good memories of those times. We weren’t rich, but there was love, and good friends, fellowship and good clean fun. I’m sure I remember those times through the lens of a child’s eye, but I can’t help but believe that those were better times. We knew what was right, and what was wrong. There was no ambiguity about that. Children were treated like children, and we knew what our place was in our families.