Those Were the Days
A tale of simpler times
Baby Boomer Rodney A. Battles recalls the simpler times of growing up in the suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s. Perhaps you can relate!
Along with a younger brother and a younger sister, I grew up on the east side of Fort Worth, Texas, in a suburban community called Stop Six. The community got its name because it was the sixth and the last stop in Fort Worth on the Northern Texas Traction Company’s interurban streetcar system that ran between Fort Worth and Dallas from 1902 to 1934.
With the explosive growth of the suburbs in the 1950s, we had plenty of neighbors, friends, schoolmates, siblings, and other relatives with whom to interact. Our mother operated a home laundry business in a 225-square-foot building that was built in our backyard. The building housed a sink, two Maytag wringer washing machines, two tumble dryers, and an ironing board. Customers would drop off their laundry at our house and pick it up. Our mother’s favorite laundry detergents were Fab and Oxydol.
Our paternal grandfather was a minister, a pastor, and an entrepreneur. In 1947, he started Battles & Son’s Cement Contractors in Fort Worth. Our father was also a minister and a janitor at Southwestern Bell Telephone Company for over 20 years. He and his older brother were the ‘Sons’ in Battles & Son’s Cement Contractors. Our parents divorced in 1955, and although we didn’t live with our father, he exercised his visitation rights and picked us up almost every other weekend. During our visits, he took us to church on Sundays and let us spend some time with our grandparents. Our father was an excellent cook, and he always had great toys for us to play with indoors and outdoors.
Our mother cleaned houses and received $50 a month in court-ordered child support. She supplemented her modest income by accepting government food stamps and welfare from the county. She made sure we had a roof over our heads, food on the table, shoes on our feet, and clean, starched, and ironed clothes on our backs — even if they were hand-me-downs from some of her affluent laundry customers who lived on the other side of the tracks.
More of the simpler time: Memories of Baseball in My Youth, by R. G. Begora
All of the houses on our street originally were built with two bedrooms and a single bathroom. The bathroom didn’t have an overhead shower. My siblings and I usually bathed every Saturday night. During the week, we washed off by using a washcloth with lots of soap and water and a little rubbing alcohol. When we actually bathed, we loved using Ivory bar soap because the bars floated in the water.
Almost every house in our neighborhood had a big old evaporative water cooler installed in a window. Our parents often called them swamp coolers.
Our neighbors included an aunt, an uncle, two cousins, a plumber, a barber, a beautician, two school teachers, the principal of our local elementary school, a painter, a bald-headed deacon who had a bad leg and a penchant for whiskey, a family with 11 children, and a woman we called the cuss lady. None of us knew her real name. We just called her the cuss lady because she would come outside and spew curse words with machine gun-like precision when any kid set foot on her property.
Life was so different, so safe, and uncomplicated for us in the 1950s and early 1960s. We had lots of freedom, and we made the most of it. We were active. We could entertain ourselves for hours with common items found around the house and the yard. We had a hunger to learn new things other than schoolwork. We were problem solvers. We were competitive. We laughed a lot.
Simpler times from Julia Nunnally Duncan: Special Dolls from Childhood
There were no shopping malls or big-box retailers when we were kids. A five-and-dime store located in our community sold a wide variety of inexpensive household items, notions, gadgets, hardware, candy, and toys. We spent a lot of time outdoors, and we were in good physical shape. We didn’t get sick or hurt very often, but when we did our mothers usually tried home remedies before taking us to the doctor’s office.
We had good manners and a respectful fear of our parents, God, our teachers, and the law. We watched our mouths around our elders and our neighbors. We were corrected and reprimanded by our neighbors if they caught us acting up.
One incident that occurred when I was a child may have been a harbinger for my life as an adult. While playing with the telephone at home in 1951 when I was two, I accidentally dialed the phone number of the Hotel Texas in downtown Fort Worth. After taking the handset away from me, my mother talked to the hotel receptionist for a few minutes. Shortly after my call the hotel’s management arranged for the Fort Worth Press (one of two newspapers in the city at that time) to send a photographer and a reporter to our house.
Fifty-six years later, I retired after enjoying a 35-year career in telecommunications.
Note: The Hotel Texas is where President John F. Kennedy gave what would be his last speech before being assassinated in Dallas.
Rodney Battles graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Fort Worth, Texas in 1967. While working full-time during the day and taking college classes at night, he earned a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree from the University of Texas at Arlington. During his career in the field of telecommunications, Rodney held positions in engineering, manufacturing, operations, marketing, and sales.
Read more childhood memories of simpler times and other contributions from Boomer readers in our From the Reader department.
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