Morning. I am seated on a bench in downtown Thomasville with the ghost of someone’s granny beside me. I can feel her spirit, whoever she is. This is her town, where life still ambles slowly. Being here is like taking a trip into the 1950s.
“Not a bad town, huh?” says the ghost.
She wears a bell hat, and a floral dress. Nobody can see her but me.
“It’s nice,” I say.
“City of Roses,” she tells me.
“How about that.”
“It’s changed some,” she says.
The flawless storefronts catch the morning sunlight, the birds are making noise, markets and cafés are opening. And the ghost is right, it’s perfect. All that’s missing is Opie Taylor.
“You from around here?” I ask the ghost.
She doesn’t answer.
It’s as though time has overlooked the City of Roses and its elderly patron saint. I look around and immediately travel backward into an earlier age. Her era.
An era when Americans were a little more innocent, and the highest technology we possessed was the KitchenAid mixer. A period before 5G wireless networks, before Netflix, and before the advent of thong underwear.
On cue, a restored Chevy Bel Air passes us, rolling by slowly. Baby blue. White-walled tires. And I’m three quarters of a century away.
Truman is in office. Flags still wing from every post, pole, and porch. Ninety-seven percent of Americans still read a physical newspaper (whereas today it’s only 4 percent). Hitler’s War is long since over, our boys are home from hell. There are new possibilities in the wind.
The old woman is smiling now. We are back in her heyday.
This is the generation that features both the birth of rock and roll and the “Grand Ole Opry.” A time when mankind will begin producing Fords and Chevys with tail fins tall enough to slice low hanging telephone wires.
This historical period will also include the Cold War. American schoolkids will practice atomic-bomb drills in classrooms, simulating Soviet attacks, huddling beneath their desks for protection because these desks are, apparently, nuclear-proof.
I glance across the street and I see several TVs in a shop window. These are early television consoles, the size of chifforobes, with screens no bigger than a slice of Wonderbread.
Jackie Robinson is a household name. Chuck Yeager has just broken the sound barrier. And over in Paris, a little swimsuit nicknamed the “bikini” debuts at a fashion show, and will shake the very core foundations of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Speaking of fundamentalists. This is an age when people’s moms will start using a new kitchen product called Tupperware. Mom loves this stuff. She even sells it.
She holds Tupperware parties in her den where many other neighborhood ladies sit together and chain-smoke Chesterfields, partaking in gossip, eating teeny sandwiches that aren’t big enough to satisfy the appetites of hamsters.
Tupperware is rarely discussed.
Meantime, the theaters of the day are playing movies like, “Red River” with John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. “Monkey Business,” with Marilyn Monroe. And “On the Town,” starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, tapping their shoes alongside the title holder for America’s tiniest waist, Vera-Ellen.
In this era the average price of a new house is $8,450. A Chevy Bel Air costs $1,800. Cost of a gallon of gasoline: 18 cents. A gallon of milk: 82 cents. A cup of coffee will run you a nickel.
And since we’re on the subject of cash, this is also the decade when a guy named Frank McNamara will be eating in a New York City restaurant and realize he has forgotten his wallet.
This will be such an embarrassing experience that Frank will come up with an idea for something he calls the “credit card.” Which is a novel concept, but it will probably never catch on.
Other things that will happen in this period:
Mother Teresa will enter the mission field.
Lucille Ball will have an idea for a new show many executives don’t think will work.
Swanson introduces the TV dinner, and an entire generation of Americans permanently scar the roofs of their mouths on mutant mashed potatoes.
Here comes the kid from Spavinaw, Oklahoma. Mickey Mantle.
Liz Taylor will snag husband number three, four, five, and thirty-seven.
Rosa Parks will change the world.
Young people are easier to please, too. These are the olden days, when teens still get deeply excited over simple things like outer space, Sandra Dee, and conical brassiers.
There are no cell phones, except in prisons. Text messages are something the preacher reads aloud on Sundays. Technology has not stunted children’s social abilities yet, therefore young people are unafraid of making eye contact with adults.
Celebrities are nothing like today’s lewd variety. Sure, Elvis might have shaken his pelvis a little, but at least he never took it out and showed it to anyone.
“No, it wasn’t a perfect time to be alive,” the old woman tells me. “We had problems just like you. Big problems. But life was much simpler.”
Eighty-nine percent of American families ate supper together. Nearly 20 percent of Americans got married in their teens and yet, somehow, the national divorce rate was 18 percent. Nobody knew what gluten was. There were no ridiculous social media rants like the one you’re reading now.
“Oh, there you are,” says my wife.
I am interrupted from my daze. My wife is walking downtown, carrying shopping bags and a paper cup of coffee.
“I wondered where you were,” she says. “What’re you doing on this bench? And why are you talking to yourself?”
“No reason,” says I.