THE "FIFTIES" IN AMERICA    



The coal truck backed gingerly into the narrow  city driveway. It  had a clearance of only a few inches on either side. The coal  chute was lowered through the open basement window, so that it came to rest inside of the wooden coal bin. With a roar of rock on metal, and a cloud of black dust, the monthly fuel for the furnace was delivered. The chute was retracted and the coal truck pulled carefully out into the dead end street. Scatterings of small children dodged in and out of the alley,  curious at anything out of the ordinary.


Next, we had to shovel  the coal  back into the bin from where it lay strewn about the floor. Then,  a quick application of the broom tidied up the black dust. Later, Dad would come down and feed the ebony nuggets into the waiting maw of the old cast iron furnace. The metal door, to the hungry monster, was streaked with rust. It had raised letter castings on it, depicting the  now forgotten name of the manufacturer. Large, hollow, cylindrical arms, like branches of a mighty tree, fed hot air into the open registers in the floors above. The open grates, in the floors, seemed to swallow objects large and small. Every evening, the fire would be carefully banked so that it would last until morning. The ashes had to be cleaned out weekly, from the grate below the fire. We put them  out at the curb, in metal baskets, awaiting the open, fan tailed  trucks that hauled the powdery white residue away to the dump on  Squaw Island.


It only seems cumbersome in retrospect, now that we have modern gas furnaces. Technology freed us from the drudgery of feeding and caring for the  glowing iron monster. No more coal bins and no more coal dust. It seems so long  ago.


The "rag man ", the " fruit & vegetable man,” the "ice man,” the "milk man,”  and other assorted peddlers, were weekly visitors to Seneca Parkside, our small dead end street, in South Buffalo. Some of the wagons were still drawn by horses, others by lumbering, box-shaped trucks. " Mister Softy" Ice Cream  is  the only one who comes by now. The red, Niagara Frontier and yellow, Buffalo Transit buses ran regularly by the corner of Seneca & Cazenovia, carrying people "downtown" and back. The radio jingle, of a Sattler's Department Store  Ad, seemed to crowd the airwaves. Who did not know Sattler’s address at 998 Broadway?


It is a bygone era. Shea's Seneca Theater, at the corner of Seneca & Cazenovia, offered two features on Saturdays, for the $.25  admission. Another dime for popcorn or candy and we were ready for an afternoon of adventure. The Lone Ranger, Superman and a whole posse of western heroes, rode across that magic screen. The occasional "Hoola Hoop" contest, drawing or  promotional event,  was greeted with hoots of noisy laughter from the crowds of neighborhood urchins, who populated the many rows of red fabric seats. It was a magical place, that elaborate palace built by Mike Shea, in era before us.


Monster Movies and 3-D glasses, to watch the "13 Ghosts,”  were standard fare. We cried, in the dark of course, when " Old Yeller"  was shot. We cringed when the "creature from the black lagoon"  swam eerily through the dark waters, after the unsuspecting heroine. " Rodan " and "Godzilla" weekly terrorized all of Japan and the " Blob " scared most of us silly.


Outside, "Chevies,” with big engines and noisy mufflers, were the teenage chariots of choice. Boys had funny hair styles modeled after a "duck's behind" and girls wore checkered skirts, with bobby socks and saddle shoes. The music, something called "rock & roll,” was alien to our parents. Some outraged seniors saw it as morally degenerate. It was thought as salacious as the "B" movies posted in the rear of the church, by the Bishop.


Quiz shows and live theater dominated the new fangled television set. We saw the occasional Flash Gordon and Superman shows. "Milton Berle,”  Ed Sullivan, Arthur Godfrey  and Lawrence Welk were the adults show of choice. "I remember Mama " was something that we all watched. "Mr.Wizard,” "The Mousketeers " and "Captain Kangaroo" were also favorites. "Navy Log " & "The Silent Service" were Saturday night fixtures.


James Dean was whiny and troublesome, and motor cycles became the emblem of a rebellious generation. Nothing as outlandish and bizarre as the  coming 60's was in anyone's imagination.


Malt shops and soda fountains were all the rage. Cherry cokes  and " Soldier Boy " or " Johnny Angel,” on the jukebox, were something  that everybody understood. Weekly  dances, at Bishop Timon High School, insured that boys and girls would stand on opposite sides of the Gym. We were all a little jealous of those few boys who could actually dance.


The Space age was starting, with something called  "Sputnik." A minor league baseball player, named Fidel Castro, surprised everyone in Cuba. Who would have thought that baseball players read up on dialectical materialism? Eisenhower and an era of good feeling permeated the decade. People were beginning to move to someplace called " suburbia ."  Dick Van Dyke introduced us to it, with Rob and Laura Petrie, on television.


It was an original decade, a transitional bridge from a rural, bucolic America, to the crowded urban centers that we now  populate.  The innocense of Andy of Mayberry and Gomer Pyle would not long survive.


     J. X. M

                             1/19/95

           933 words