“Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone, and lets pretend that we’re together all alone . . . ”
Even now, I can still hear Dad’s voice while he washed dishes. He sang a lot of Jim Reeves’ songs when I was a kid.
If you like, walk a while with me as we saunter back to a reunion with the early 1960s. I could touch, smell, hear, see, and breathe that world as a kid. It was the world I felt my way around as I first sensed myself as a person, separate from my parents, but still bound to them. Still seeing things through their beliefs and their dreams, I trusted my mother and father absolutely. There were certainties then. Now as I remember, that world is so far away; only fragments remain.
I’m about to run my fingers through the sand of the long ago world of my parents, and see what turns up. The world when they were a young couple and I was a little boy, is a foreign country now. I wonder if my travel visa is still valid.
The amazing world of my parents, or at least, what I saw of it, entranced me. Standards of living would always keep rising, pandemic diseases were, or very soon would be, things of the past. The promises of science and technology tantalised and seduced my parents and that rubbed off on me. There were good guys and bad guys whom everyone could easily identify. There were publicly shared values that people ignored at risk of social exclusion. The early 1960s.
Times change. Alas that predictable world with its publicly shared values, assurances of inevitable progress, and never ending faith in consumerism, exists only in the living memories of ageing baby boomers, of whom I am one. Now all that is left to see are watery ciphers of my parents’ certainties, values, and dreams, swirling and diffusing, as they gurgle down into the plumbing of history.
I guess we did. The baby boomers.
(My first year at school. I was the inattentive one 3rd from the left in the back row)
Don’t take it the wrong way reader, but frankly I don’t mind much whether you come along with me or not. You’re very welcome, but equally, you have your own stories and you might prefer to flick through them while I’m busy with mine. God’s blessings anyway. Tag along, or amuse yourself as you will.
My parent’s world seemed to me to be based on a lot of trust. A lot more trust than I see around me today. Us kids were trusted to go off exploring away from the house without supervision. I do remember being warned about strangers, but more as an after thought than with any conviction, and certainly without the implicit anxiety and imprecations I see from parents today. We walked to school barefoot and home again every day, and on rainy days stopped several times to sail seed pod boats down water filled gutters. I don’t see that sort of thing any more.
The car park is the busiest place now in any school at the start and end of the day. Chauffeur service – lucky kids! Or are they? Fewer still today make the school journey on bicycles. Suburban traffic is a lot heavier than it was 50 years ago. Maybe that’s the reason.
I remember pedalling right across town through traffic on adventures with my friends after the age of 10 when I was given my big beautiful red and green bike for Christmas. And don’t think I have forgotten, Johnny Franks, the time you ripped one of the red plastic streamers off my handle bars and ran off with it taunting me. Streamers on only one side of the handle bars kind of took the shine off my bike for me. I think somehow I may have missed the window of opportunity for retribution.
Sue talks about her childhood holidays at the beach when she and her sisters would be gone from home the entire day, free agents undertaking whatever adventures suggested themselves. Unthinkable today. We were given plenty of freedom then, us kids. Most of us knew that this freedom was qualified by the fact that a good proportion of the adults whom we passed on the street wouldn’t have hesitated to give us verbal correction when needed. That’s utterly different now of course. The world has changed and adults who know what is good for them think plenty but say nothing to wayward kids – if they see them at all that is, because kids are usually now kept at heel at all times by their parents.
In the early 1960s we tagged along to adult parties with our parents and quickly joined up with the other kids, raising hell, running around outside the venue, chasing each other and experiencing sweet adventure on the empty night time streets. I remember the sounds of the party music from inside and the excitement I felt as we walked, trotted and ran beneath the street lights. None of us was ever hurt, or lost, or abducted. This would never happen now. Child Safety officials would be looking very carefully at parents who allowed such things.
I suspect that today kids have paid the price for their parents fear. They are under surveillance 24/7. Maybe adults have taken that freedom from them and given it to themselves? Interesting thought.
Which brings me to another sign of the times in the early 60s: it seemed to me, a kid, that certainty and stability were important things to my parents and their friends. Shared values were woven through the culture. At school my teachers, Miss Andrews, Mr Dillon, Mrs Carpenter, taught with authority and assumed my parents would support that authority. They surely did. Our parents did not argue the point with our teachers or demand exceptions be made for their children. I cannot imagine, and certainly can’t remember, any child ever standing up to a teacher.
As I started high school in 1966 though the world was already beginning to change. The first long haired ‘subversives’ had begun standing outside our school gates handing out copies of Chairman Mao’s ‘Little Red School Book’. Our parents mumbled and grumbled. The storms of cultural upheaval were forming but had not yet broken. My parent’s generation, who had ridden the post war prosperity boom, embraced materialism and consumerism, believed that modern meant ‘good’, and who had left their religion behind, had no authoritative voice with which to resist what was about to fall on them.
Dad owned an auto and marine upholstery business but even as a child I could see that it wasn’t his passion. It was what he did during the day so that he could play on weekends. Sundays were usually spent racing his boat at meetings of the South East Queensland Power Boat Club. I learned a lot about speedboats and ‘boy’s toys’ in those days, but not much about religion.
Dad was a good singer, with a deep resonant voice and a wistful mood. Jim Reeves must have been an inspiration to him as he would sing his songs in the kitchen and in the car. I have total recall of the lyrics even now:
Up in the mornin’, out on the job
Work like the devil for my pay
While that lucky old sun has nothin’ to do
But roll around heaven all day
Had a fuss with my woman, I toil for my kids
An’ I sweat till I’m wrinkled and gray
While that lucky old sun got nothin’ to do
But roll around heaven all day
For some reason as a kid I heard ‘son’ instead of ‘sun’. So I complained to him once, when his voice pumped these lyrics through the house: Dad! I don’t roll around doing nothing all day! He smiled at me and then resumed singing.
At the kitchen sink he often sang another Jim Reeves song that, had I had adult insight, would have told me a lot more about my father than I knew at the time:
Please release me let me go
for I don’t love you anymore
To waste our lives would be a sin
Release me and let me love again
Public religion was much more evident then with church attendance the norm, and public ceremonies always containing some link to religion. The church had a voice that was listened to with respect, even if that voice was not followed in practice. At least then the church was still allowed to approach the microphone. Today secularists have pretty much snatched it away from them.
Divorce was frowned on in the early 1960s and was an embarassment for those involved. Public morality was more formal and prescriptive than it is now. Obscenities were not worn on t-shirts in the early 60s. Public condemnation would have been swift. Police were listened to and obeyed, not challenged, suspected and derided. However the seeds of change were germinating even then.
Religion? Not for my parents and many of their friends. They had bought into the whole secular package – the good life! They embraced through word and deed the philosophy that life was there to enjoy. I don’t mean they were anti-religion. It was more that I didn’t see any evidence that there was any other dimension to their lives than that of the everyday. But I guess a kid may not have noticed it even if it was there. Interesting then that they sent my brother and sister and I to the local Sunday school. They didn’t attend themselves.
This was the start of the long march away from widespread regular church attendance in society. Today Christendom is no more. The Christian remnant has little influence on our wider culture, and is more often mocked than admired. Maybe that is not such a bad thing in the long run. Maybe Christians were never meant to get too comfortable in the midst of plenty? Maybe too, I think too much.
Another difference. The world of the early 1960s seemed to this kid to work well. Everyone I knew knew the rules and they mostly stayed within them. Those rules weren’t claustrophobic. My parents didn’t seem to be smothered by them. Rules and norms were just the way things were; part of the furniture. We’ve thrown most of those old ‘repressive’ rules and norms out now. It is no longer an offence to use four letter words in public. Unmarried couples can co-habit without censure. Women no longer need to resign from their employment when they marry. The times have changed . . . a lot since then . . . and it seems to this grown up kid we’ve replaced those old rules and norms with a whole lot more new ones that intrude further into our lives than our parents would have imagined.
Even though there were sanctions in those days for people who defied public morality codes, in at least one way I remember life for my parents was not as tightly controlled by bureaucrats as my life is now. In 2014 can you imagine a car driving flat out along a public beach while it was towing water skiers in the water? It was a crazy experiment my father tried with a couple of his friends while we were on holiday at Hervey Bay in 1962. Crazy certainly, but great fun, and no one got hurt and no one complained. A different story today where a posse of local enforcement officers without a sense of humour could be expected to descend very quickly.
A third difference I notice about how culture has changed since the 1960s is that growth and development was a given and uncontestable good then. Heady days for land and property developers! One night in 1961 our family visited former neighbours who had moved up in the world to a brand new house across town. I remember we had the grand tour of all the rooms and how the house smelled of fresh paint and newly surfaced concrete; the sort of smell that you still find in newly completed buildings even now. The house was on a hill and looked out over hundreds of other newly constructed houses. The night lights of a newly built suburb seemed to a little boy to underline all that was new and advanced in 1961. New subdivisions were everywhere. Green activists were as yet mostly unborn.
And then we began to hear about space travel. Even as a child I sensed that a whole lot had changed and the world was going somewhere it had not been before. Maybe we didn’t need God after all.
My parents’ generation were proud of who they were. They believed in prosperity and that society would continue to move forward. They were also about to be mugged by reality as the 1960s passed.
Yes, the world was once was that way. It is no longer. The world is less safe and less predictable than people thought it was in the early 1960s. People dream different dreams now.