So who’s up for a surf and turf dinner at the Elk’s lodge next Friday evening? Aw come on, you know want to. It’s $3.00 all-you-can-eat. But there is a catch, so to speak: you have to find a portal back to 1965. Lucky for you, I’ve recently found one. So, men, shine up those penny loafers. And ladies, get those “Cuddle Curls” set the night before. Let’s hop into our Pontiac Tempest and head back in time…
This is me of late. My head is completely into the rhythms and realities of mid-sixties suburban Detroit. For the last several weeks I have been time-traveling back to my hometown, courtesy of its public library’s website. The library is offering full access to the local newspapers of my childhood via scanned images of the “original” microfilm. So no black newsprint on my fingers, nor having to use one of those clunky reels of microfilm. Our portal is simply my laptop.
My mission is a personal research project that I have been wanting to attempt for a long time now. I had always assumed that I’d literally have to travel back there to find the information. But thankfully, the years of coverage I need are available online and also freely accessible at no charge.
I am trying to locate information about a parent of mine who briefly served on a local city commission during the 1960’s. The minimal facts told to us as children were that our parent made a principled stand over an issue, and it unfortunately descended into a bit of finger-pointing during some contentious public meetings. We were also told of anonymous phone calls made to our home, the tone of which were apparently alarming. My parents made a quick decision that it would be best if a resignation was tendered to the commission. Public service had it limits.
The events were only ever brought up in passing a handful of times in my family; it was understood that neither mom or dad ever wished to discuss it. Even my sibs and I rarely whispered anything about it to one another. It was considered off limits.
Eventually it faded from our collective memories, though not completely for me. At some point in my late twenties and early thirties, I made a mental point to someday try to find out on my own what transpired. It’s never been a burning issue, but to the extent that our family had any great secrets this one was it.
Recently while looking for something completely unrelated, I came upon my hometown’s public library page. I took note that they offer full-text archival access to the two local papers which were published back then. Bells began ringing in my head that this might be the key to learning more about that hush-hush family matter of ours. It took a few days, but I eventually stumbled into the right time period. The search functionality on the site is so limited, though, that the library recommends not using it; so I am going through every single issue of both newspapers over a three year period. It is time-consuming.
Both papers thankfully kept to a reasonably consistent format. But in that era of manual page editing and formatting, stories could jump much further into the paper with related stories not necessarily placed nearby. So other than the classified ad sections (which are a joy to peruse), I’m looking over each page of the paper in order to be complete.
And that, dear reader, is the real purpose of this post. While looking for information pertaining to my own mission, I am constantly distracted by other things that were happening during that period. “This stuff must be shared on the blog!,” a voice inside my head said (yes, I know: bells and voices in my head — I promise to have this looked at soon).
For instance, I see references to families that I knew personally, places my family visited, restaurants we patronized, schools my sibs and I attended, fashions, movies, music, etc., etc. Perusing each page ends up being a virtual visit down memory lane. Day after day of this, it can feel like it’s all happening in real time. An event gets reported one day, a follow-up on it is printed a day or two later, and then the very next week there’s usually an editorial or columnist weighing in on the matter. It all happened over a series of days and weeks, of course, but I’m reading everything at once. What should take perhaps ten minutes at most to go over one issue, I sometimes end up studying for 20, 30, even 40 minutes at a time. When I leave the computer for the rest of the day, my head remains back in the 1960’s.
Another thing I’m noticing are the many service organizations that were active at the time. Many of them are still with us today, but some seem less visible than they once were. Local communities in the sixties benefited from the work of the Jaycees, the Elks, the American Association of University Women (AAUW), and the National Council of Catholic Women, to name just four. They were invaluable in helping to raise money for local institutions such as public libraries, animal shelters, amateur sports leagues, etc.
A different kind of organization also caught my eye (see below). A quick Google search told me that this “Belles” organization is no longer active. Weight loss got much more sophisticated once Jean Nidetch started Weight Watchers.
Still, I do admire Mr. Fisher here. He didn’t let gender get in the way of pursuing a healthier life. It’s just a pity he received the consolation prize, don’t you think? I’d have wanted that Teflon fryer!
And then there are the ads. I’ve been finding them wonderfully distracting, so I can’t help but share a few of them with you. Each below are set to open in a new tab, so enjoy to your heart’s content if you wish to take a closer look.
We’ve all occasionally looked at old ads for grocery stores from the fifties and sixties, and so I didn’t bother including any of them. But it has been interesting to look at items such as Saltines in a one pound box for 19¢, a dozen grade A eggs for 49¢, or whole chicken fryers at 23¢ a pound. I see lots of grocery ads and can get engrossed in them for too long.
Or how about movie theater prices? Matinees were generally 50¢, feature shows $1.25 on Mondays – Thursdays, and shows on weekends and holidays were $1.50. I can recall in later years how alarmed we all were when features went up to $5.00 a show. The nerve!
Home appliances also get my attention. For instance, we currently need to replace our dishwasher, and so I was curious how much they were back then. I didn’t bother capturing the ad to show you, but a 1964 GE “Mobil Maid” was $188. Of course, the ad also stated at the bottom that there are only three at that price. I always miss out.
Some ads are quaint and definitely throwbacks for the time period. I never heard of Scotch Doubles. Well, I have, but just not for bowling…
It seems there must have been a beauty shop literally on every corner. I’m not sure what I like more in this one: the idea of “cuddle curls” or Jean herself. Love those sixties-era glasses on her…
Back to prices for a moment: how about the cost of a meal at the Hitching Post? How can you pass up a $1.00 all-you-can-eat fish fry? Probably my mom come to think of it. But that’s another post entirely.
And speaking of restaurants, check out this early incarnation of KFC. Or as it was known back then, Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was apparently licensed to be sold in this privately owned, unrelated restaurant. I bet it actually tasted back then like, you know, chicken.
Who among us didn’t have an aunt or grandmother (or maybe even our own mother) that didn’t put plastic on the living room furniture? Good G-d that stuff was uncomfortable, especially on a hot day. I want to know is who out there is still covering furniture with this today? Don’t be shy, speak up! I promise we won’t mock. Well, not publicly anyway.
As long as we’re on the topic of discomfort, this was also the era for all those weird polyester creations in clothes, particularly for men. Remember Dacron? Ah yes, sold at only the finest places. Who can argue with a button-down for only $1.97? I’m sure I’d have been especially handsome in one while playing in the father-son bowling league. Or maybe a Scotch Double match. Or having a scotch double. Oh, never mind…
A couple of bank ads caught my attention. Look at that savings rate back then! This is when having a savings account actually gave you a fairly decent return. Yo, Fed Chairman Powell: Ahem!
And look that they actually had “vacation loans” back then too. If I tried asking for one at my Wells Fargo branch now, they’d smirk at me until I slithered out the door in total embarrassment.
There’s a whole generation that has no idea just how hard it was to watch TV before cable, isn’t there? In our 1960’s house, I was always tasked to just stand there and hold the antenna for 30 minutes if it meant the reception could be improved. And, of course, there were those people who put foil on their antennas thinking it would help. It didn’t.
Just one more, sorry. I saw this ad and immediately was taken back to how everyone once used the phone. We dialed.
These are just the ads, of course. I’m far more distracted by the articles and the topical narrative of the time period, and they only take me further and further from my stated mission. At this rate I don’t expect to find my answers until late spring.
Eventually I assume I’ll at least partly resolve the great mystery of my family. The conundrum I’ll have at that point is whether to share any of it my siblings, or just keep it to myself. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. For now, though, I’m blissfully happy in my time machine.
Until next time…