Curtis Dahlgren
The Iceman Cometh: tales from the bright side of the 1950s
By Curtis Dahlgren
November 16, 2020

"The poet says, 'The saddest thing about current things is remembering happier things.'" – forgot who said it (paraphrased)

THE BARN SWALLOWS ARE LONG GONE. Winter is officially on the way because I wore boots instead of tennis shoes yesterday (I played a little bit of tennis but try not to be a "sneaker"). I go back a ways. When I was a kid, the ice box literally was a box with ice in it, and the kitchen range burned wood. We had running water. If it was cold out you ran with the bucket back to the house from the artesian well. We lived cheap (which hasn't changed). We didn't have Walmart but we had Five-and-Dimes. A "Dollar store" would have been considered hoity-toity. We had corner grocery stores, corner bars, and the Republic still had a cornerstone. Drive-by shootings hadn't been invented yet. Kool-aid was cool.

We had the smartest phone when I was a kid; you never lost it because it was attached to the dining room wall. Close to the wood stove. We had central air. Warm air in the center of the house. The barn was warmer than some rooms in the farm house. Barn temperature depended on how many cows you milked, which may be why farmers kept milking more and more of them. Without cows to milk in the morning, l broke down and bought a pair of winter gloves yesterday. You do know why farmers had big hands don't you? And during the last half of the 1950s, long distance phone calls, not endless wars, cost an arm and a leg, PTL. The show was called "Happy Days," and not without reason.

Life was good, Hillary. You'll never know how much (I was referring to Sir Edmund). We had the four-minute mile, but plenty of minutes for rest, relaxation, and reflection. Are we old-timers smarter than a fifth grader? We've had a "Head Start" on them for 70 years. Today's fifth graders aren't much to write home about. In the 50s the Farm Short Course covered 15 subjects; these days some kids go to college for four years and study one subject, gender studies or something. In my day we had gender studies but we didn't call it that. On the farm, tuition for sex education was free. My grandpa Greenberg raised 13 good citizens without it. Father knew best, even if his name was Ozzie.

In 1964 we moved to a smaller farm and a better neighborhood. The house had a wood/coal furnace in the cellar ("basement" to those of you college grads who are living in one). The old house actually had a cellar door kids could slide down. That house has been torn down, but the log cabin part of it has been reconstructed. That part housed the pantry and, eventually, a bathroom (indoor outhouse). Don't get me started about that.

My mother would get a shock when she sat on the new toilet. She was sensitive to electricity and there was a short somewhere. My dad was complementary to her, not sensitive to shock at all. One day a neighbor stopped when he saw my dad working on the electric fence. He asked my dad how it was going and he says "l don't think the fencer is working. The neighbor grabbed the wire and almost got knocked on his hinder (the most daring word we knew). We majored in citizenship, religion, and manners.

P.S. I went north for retirement because the Yoopers don't know that the fifties have ended. Strangers wave at you. They don't give you the finger and honk as soon as the light turns green, but don't start with me about that. Next door neighbors now don't even look at you when you drive by.

PPS: The smartest advice I ever heard for old-timers is never pass up a chance to go to the bathroom (my stupid phone suggested "gym" – like that'll ever happen).

© Curtis Dahlgren


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Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in southern Wisconsin, and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)


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