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Good Old Days of Growing Up in the 1950s

Some songs can zap one back in time. Memories of the fun we had because of Chubby Checker's song, The Twist, in the 1960s are nostalgic.

One of my parent's wedding photos, 1946

One of my parent's wedding photos, 1946

Childhood Days

My mind flew back to the carefree days of my childhood in the countryside of Wisconsin during the 1950s when I read the following question posed by a fellow writer on another writing site. What moments of your life do you call your "good old days" and why?

When I read the stories of other people who suffered during their childhood years due to neglect, circumstances, or blatant abuse, my heart saddens.

A child does not have any choice in the manner of his birth, his parentage and most other things, and cannot effect many changes until he or she is much older.

Looking back upon my childhood, I know how fortunate I was to be surrounded by a loving family who taught me and my younger brothers the important things in life, and at the same time were able to provide a great setting.

Summer Cottage

I was too young to remember the first home that my parents owned. It was one of the cottages next door to my paternal grandmother's house on Okauchee Lake.

My dad worked on winterizing it while they stayed there. It was a summer cottage rented out during the warm months of the year. It was one of many cottages my grandfather had built as income property after building the home for his bride, who became my grandmother.

I remember my mother telling me that she sometimes had to wear what she called her stadium boots inside of the house in the winter to keep warm in the beginning.

There was a steep hill down to the lake and a busy road out in front of the house.

Looking up at my paternal grandmother's home from the yard next door that once belonged to my parents.

Looking up at my paternal grandmother's home from the yard next door that once belonged to my parents.

Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

My parents next purchased 3 acres of land from my maternal grandparents who owned quite a few acres in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. My mother and dad hand-built the first home that I truly remember. About the only thing my dad hired to be done was the electrical work. They did all of the rest of the construction.

I remember the additions to the home as my mother and dad added the garage and later the breezeway between the garage and house. In subsequent years, a sunroom was added to the back of the house. The last major thing accomplished was the building out of the basement into three sections.

One part of the basement was my mother's laundry area. Two sides of that room had built-in cabinets that held all of the home-canned fruits and vegetables harvested from my grandfather's garden, plus a big freezer. My mother and grandmother worked together when it came to the canning of fruits and vegetables. When it came to making sauerkraut, both my parents and grandparents worked together on that project. How I loved sampling the sauerkraut as it was fermented!

My dad had his workroom down in the basement with all kinds of carpentry tools, table saws, and the like. Not only did he build our home, but also some of our furniture as well.

A recreation room complete with tables and booths, our ping pong table, a small root cellar off of this room, and a sectioned-off furnace pretty well describes the rest of our basement.

The main floor held a big family-sized kitchen where we ate most of our meals. It also had a dining room with corner cabinets, a living room with a large picture window facing the backyard, three bedrooms, and one bathroom, plus the eventual sunroom added to the back of the house.

My brothers shared a bedroom. Along one wall, my dad had built a long surface meant as a desk with two cubicles cut out for their chairs and shelving alongside those cut-outs, which took the place of needing a dresser. Above it was shelving for books and other things that boys collect, such as the model airplanes they built. Some of those airplanes were also suspended on strings hanging down from the ceiling.

Countryside

Much of this land in the countryside consisted of fields surrounded by wooded areas. My parents mowed and maintained 1 1/2 acres as a lawn area, and the rest was left as the field.

In a portion of the adjacent field still belonging to my grandparents, they mowed an area into a baseball diamond in the summertime each year. It was there, when we were old enough, we were taught how to play the game of baseball and had many good times doing just that with not only our family but our visiting relatives as well.

We did not have regulation-sized teams, but we had fun pitching, swinging bats, and running to the bases when we hit a ball. There was lots of laughter and some good old-fashioned fun.

There were few kids in the area until later on when my grandfather started selling off some parcels of land.

The home of my maternal grandparents

The home of my maternal grandparents

We had a path in the field between my parent's and grandparent's homes. There was no need to keep it mowed due to our frequent visits back and forth accompanied by our dogs which were our constant companions.

I loved my grandparents with all of my heart. They always took time out of their day to talk to us, explain and teach us things with love and respect. I know that I can speak for my brothers (who are now gone) in that they never made us feel childish or that any of our questions were silly. You know how inquisitive children can be!

I took this photo of my maternal grandparents when they lived next door to us with my first Brownie camera.

I took this photo of my maternal grandparents when they lived next door to us with my first Brownie camera.

Eventually they sold the big house and purchased one right next door to us that had been built.

Getting to have sleep-overs at their house was always done one child at a time. We felt so honored and special during that one on one time!

Of course we saw them every day except during the winters after Christmas when they headed south for extended vacations. We could hardly wait until they returned in the Spring! They were truly like a second set of parents to my brothers and me!

Growing up in the country...1950s

Left to right...my cousin Tom, my brothers John, Jim and me.

Left to right...my cousin Tom, my brothers John, Jim and me.

Pets

My parents always had pets which included dogs and cats.

In the photo above, my cousin and I are holding Archie and Willie, the cats that we quite often dressed up in doll cloths. It was Willie that escaped to the top of a telephone poll in our backyard one day attired with a child's bonnet and dress. It took some effort to get him back down the pole, poor guy! Haha!

My grandparent's dog Mamie is to the front in that photo (named after Mamie Eisenhower).

My mother also had a yellow canary in a cage in our kitchen that she named Pancho. I can still hear Pancho, followed by Pancho number two and then three, each singing their hearts out in that kitchen in my memory. It was a cheerful sound and accompanied my mother's humming and singing as she baked her homemade loaves of bread and prepared all the meals for our growing family.

Playhouse

My dad also built a playhouse in the backyard for us.

My aunt and uncle and their three boys often came on weekends, especially during the summer months for visits. They lived in Madison, Wisconsin. Quite often they would spend the night at my grandparent's home and we kids eagerly looked forward to those frequent visits.

We had trees to climb, bikes to ride, pets to play with, a sandbox and swing-set in the backyard in which to play...and the playhouse. If the weather was bad we had other things to do like roller skating in the basement, playing with hula hoops, playing jacks and a myriad of other things.

Cousins

I had some other cousins in Milwaukee and some that lived way out in New Jersey. We did not get to see and play with the ones in New Jersey often because of the distance between us.

We saw my cousins who lived in Milwaukee most often at my grandmother's home on Okauchee Lake when they would come out in the summertime for some swimming fun. We had the lake at my grandmother's to swim and ice skate in the winter months. Life was great in the country!

Catholic Faith

We were raised in the Catholic faith, and after my dad helped build the parochial school next to the church in which my parents and my aunt and uncle (from Madison) had their double wedding, we three kids attended that school. I loved it!

Sister Lucas was the principal and was just about as big as a minute. The playground was separated into the girls' and boys' sections, and Sister Lucas would roll up her sleeves and, with her habit flowing in the breeze, play ball and other games with us during recess.

She also had her "board of education," which was a paddle for misbehaving kids. A well-aimed swat on the behind was occasionally administered to kids in front of the class. If and when that ever happened (which was rare), the kids got more punishment at home from their parents for the reported school infractions.

Those were the days of corporal punishment, which was deemed appropriate. Dr. Spock had not yet influenced an entire generation of parents who decided that reasoning with a child was better than an occasional swat on the behind to get their attention.

Each school day was started by attending Mass and then moving next door to the school.

Father Whelan was beloved by the entire town whether they belonged to the Catholic faith or not. Those were the days of Mass being conducted in Latin, and only the sermon was in English. Our prayer books had Latin on one side and English on the other, so it was easy to follow along.

Every Sunday without fail, we attended Mass as a family. Occasionally if we were in a real hurry, we would attend a Mass at a nearby monastery where they did not preach a sermon. At that monastery, they made the best cheese which helped to make them self-supporting.

Picnics

All summer long, we had many picnics in the backyard with extended family members in attendance.

My dad generally did the grilling of hot dogs, bratwurst, and hamburgers. My mother and grandmother made all of the accompanying dishes like potato salad, coleslaw, homemade pickles, applesauce, and spiced peaches. Sometimes my aunt would bring things from Madison to add to the assortment of edibles.

I remember the fun we had for dessert when we had watermelons in season. We had contests to see how far we could spit the watermelon seeds! It was kind of like learning how to skip rocks along the water to see how far they could go before sinking to the bottom. There was an art to spitting the watermelon seeds the furthest. Ha-ha!

Stay-At-Home Mom

My brothers and I had the pleasure and advantages of having a stay-at-home mom. That was much more the norm back in the 1950s compared to today.

She did all of the household chores (with some help from us when we got older) and had the time and interest to be a scout leader for the Brownies and Girl Scouts, and she also led Cub Scout and Boy Scout troops.

She was an active participant in school and church activities and was always ready and willing to lend a helping hand to relatives, friends, and neighbors. My mother was a terrific role model and taught us so much about the value of volunteerism.

The 1950s

Where we grew up in the countryside of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, during the 1950s, we kids had such a feeling of safety. We assumed at our young ages that everybody lived that way.

Few people ever locked their doors and windows. If the doors would be locked, most often, the key was under the mat or in a nearby flowerpot, and everyone pretty much did the same.

We could play outside until dark, and there were no worries about being kidnapped or molested. Never did such a thing even cross our minds!

Bumps and scrapes were tended with Mercurochrome or Campho-Phenique as well as a hug and a kiss.

Our dinner plates were filled with fresh vegetables out of the garden, along with a source of protein. Until we moved to Texas for the start of the school year in 1960, my brothers and I had never tasted store-bought bread. My mother baked a set number of loaves each week to keep our family lunch boxes filled with sandwiches made with her loving hands.

I remember laying down on the grass in the summer with my mother and brothers and looking up at the drifting clouds in the sky. We took turns guessing what we thought the shapes of the clouds resembled.

Sometimes we would hunt to see how many four-leafed clovers leaves we could find in our lawn.

Trying to catch fireflies at night was a challenge we seldom won. Ah, but the stars were bright in the night sky out in the country, and the air was fresh.

At night after a busy day at school or summer days filled with activities, we would kneel by our bedsides, say our prayers alongside our parents, and crawl into laundered sheets that were hung out to dry and had that wonderful fresh air smell. Sweet dreams ensued!

Good Old Days

I could go on and on relating all the fun times we had with our family togetherness, the childhood games we played, the peace and security that we felt, the time for daydreaming that we had, and all of the family fun that we experienced living in the countryside of Wisconsin during the 1950s.

Is it any wonder that I think of those times as the "good old days"?

In The Good Old Summertime...one of the many songs we used to sing together as a family.

Locations in Wisconsin where my family lived during the time-frame of this hub.

References for Further Reading:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Peggy Woods

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