Sock hops and dancing the slow dances. The fast ones were beyond the capabilities of both of us. We didn’t dance as much as hold each other and move in time to the music in the darkened gymnasium, oblivious to the other couples around us. I was so in love with her then, I didn’t think it possible to love her anymore than I did at that moment. I was wrong. Approaching 50 years of marriage, I now realize that what I felt then pales in comparison to the love I hold for her now.
Even as I consider this, I realize the difference between the mores of our generation and those of our children and am astounded at the gulf that exists between us and the present generation. We went steady in those days and double dated on occasion and believed to one degree or another that the logical outcome dating and going steady was to eventually marry and spend the rest of our lives together, living happily ever after. It is in the ever after that we differ little from our children’s generation or that of the present generation. Attending a 50th class reunion of a year ago revealed that the percentage of our generation which divorced and remarried is remarkably like that of that of succeeding generations. In only one area has our particular group diverged from the general population, fewer of us have died than the national average.
Change was in the air and a shift in attitude became apparent in the latter years of the 1950s, a shift which came into full blossom by the end of the 1960s and the world turned upside down for a time. This shift in attitude changed personal relationships, how we viewed each other, how we dealt with the world at large. It is doubtful that we will see a return to exchanging class rings and going steady, of double dating to the drive in, of falling in love and marrying at an early age. The changes we face today occur at a breathtaking pace.
My great-grandmother, who was born at the end of the Civil War, raised a family in the turbulent years of the 1880s and 1890s, saw the expansion of this country from 38 to 48 states, lived through the Depression and saw friends and relatives march off to two world wars. She accommodated herself to electricity, the telephone and the automobile. She never flew and I suspect never wanted to. She fed hobos who would do odd jobs for her and shot the hat off one who wouldn’t. An independent sort, she married at least four times, the family records on that are sketchy, but kept the name of her first husband through her succeeding marriages. In the years before the Second World War she would tell the daughter with whom she was living, my great-aunt, that she was going to the store and then head off to parts unknown, she explored a good part of the American West during her jaunts, before coming home. Needless to say her unannounced disappearances caused a lot of consternation in the family and were the subject of some discussion, even after her death. To some she was a daunting figure but she was always quite kind to me. I remember her stopping a young woman on the street who was freshly manicured with bright red finger nail polish and ask her if she had cut her fingers. “Oh no ma’am,” was the reply, “that’s finger nail polish.” “You don’t have to paint yourself up for any man,” was her stern reply as she pulled me down the sidewalk away from the rather nonplussed woman.
The changes my great-grandmother experienced came slowly, at decent intervals, allowing her and the remainder of the population to get used to them. Today’s changes come exponentially and, to paraphrase an old joke, many things we purchase today are old technology before we get them out of the box. The first telephone I remember was a wall-mounted crank telephone. Our number was 707, two long rings and a short. Being on a party line, you had to listen for your ring before answering the phone although to some the ringing phone was an open invitation to eavesdrop. Although the telephones took on a more modern guise, the party line was part of our dating life and the operator would always ask me to “please limit your call to 5 minutes” as she put the call through, an enjoinder rarely obeyed. The party line could be fraught with problems, eavesdropping or thoughtless love-struck teenagers talking longer than 5 minutes, a combination that once got me dressed down by an irate, albeit eavesdropping neighbor. She asked if she could have the line and I asked her to hang up so that I could tell my steady good bye, but she came back twice with the comment “are you still on the line?” Repeating my request, we thought that she had hung up and I was asked “who was that?” “Our neighbor,” I explained, “she’s drunk again.” That response was barely finished when a voice hissed “you’re a vicious, vicious boy and I am going to tell your parents.” There was more, but you get the general idea of her invective. Future wife and I said goodbye at that point. My parents were never informed of my gaffe; a saving grace of alcoholism is that the individual rarely remembers the events of the night before.
The party line is long gone and the landline telephone has evolved into the cell phone; a powerhouse of information, telling us where we are, the closest restaurant, passing text messages and photographs all the while allowing the user to play games or listen to music. My cell phone is several generations in the past, allowing rudimentary services, like placing a call and taking a picture, but little else. Quite frankly, the technology might be lost on this user. My iPod Touch, which I dearly love, for example, is used to play radio programs of the 40s and 50s, to great effect, I might add. An anachronism, I suppose, and a capability not anticipated by those listening to those programs live on the old Crosley in the living room.
When we dance, my wife and I, we still dance in the same old way, but I still thrill to the closeness of her as the Platters repeat my own fervent wish “That you’ll always be there at the end of my prayer.”