Radio music was a part of our lives. Mom enjoyed the soothing tones of the crooners—Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Pat Boone, Johnny Mathis, and Nat King Cole. But she didn’t sing much herself. Dad sang to the radio in the car or truck, and of course in the barn. Hank Williams and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Bill Haley and “Rock Around the Clock.” The Platters and “The Great Pretender.” Jerry Lee Lewis and “Great Balls of Fire.” Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” and “Big John.” The Kingston Trio and “Tom Dooley.”
And of course, Elvis, who went along from the fifties to the sixties. I saw him on the Ed Sullivan show, only from the waist up, at the time he scandalized the nation. I turned down the opportunity to see Mr. Swivel Hips perform in Lincoln, in one of his last concerts, in 1977. But I opted to decline my friend’s offer. The next thing I knew, Elvis was dead.
We developed quite the family vocabulary. Body parts and body functions were not called by appropriate names. We “stinkered” and “grunted” and “psh-sh-shed.” Our names for objects and each other included “Thingababob,” “Thingamajig,” “pipsqueak,” “butthead,” “ninkumpoop,” “numbskull,” and “knothead.” We often said “Holy macherel,” “see ya later alligator, after while crocodile.” “For cripe’s sake,” “Swell,” “Crabby Appleton” (from Tom Terrific on Captain Kangaroo), “Bawl baby,” and “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” often echoed as we played.
My brothers sat with their elbows on the table and made rumbling noises by moving their forearms in a rapid drumbeat. Later, they learned, and over used, the hand-slapped-in-the-armpit noise as well. They had their own language, especially Gaylen and Bruce, of “savvy savvy” and they referred to things as “units.” The time came when Mom pretty much quit baking bread. The boys rolled up a slice of Wonderbread and stuck the whole thing in their mouths during eating contests. One of our favorite contests was pancakes. Once I ate nine.
When I contemplate my growing-up years I wonder if other generations of women have pondered the same thoughts. Such as, was that the last stretch of real innocence? Our world has progressed so fast—is it progress if we bypass the enjoyment of the little things in life? My daughters were innocent for a handful of years. At age eight they knew what I had known of the world at age 18.
My parents raised us the best way they could at the time (isn’t that how most of us do it?), with knowledge from watching their own parents and flying by the seat of instinct. Each generation has grown up with more material items than the previous one. I was not helped with homework. Dad’s family was educated and stressed higher education. In Mom’s family, only two graduated from high school as seniors. There is some college, technical, and trade occupations among my siblings. Bruce is the only one who holds college degrees. But Mom emphasized reading. Mom and Dad did believe in, and stressed, the importance of higher education in order to be financially sound. Yet farming was their desired way to live.
Did you have special words you only used with certain people?