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James R. Stout

The Way We Were

            In 1965 things were sure different. I suppose you could write several books about that subject, but I wanted to only mention a couple of things from those days that I believe highlight the differences between the way we were then compared to now. Please understand that I can only reflect on the way things were in the world that I lived. I will say that I am a historian and have done considerable research on American history. Both of my college degrees are history related including a degree in history. Still, I know that there were Americans my age who lived completely different types of lives than what I did. Some of that was because of where a person lived (a person living in a small Texas town had a different life than a person raised in an urban area such as Detroit or Chicago), religious background, and economic situations. But I do believe that there were some fundamental similarities across the nation and the citizens therein.

            On Sunday mornings circa 1965 a firm majority of people attended church. In our neighborhood there were two Catholic families who attended church on Saturday, but the vast majority of the families were primarily Baptist, Methodist, and Assembly of God affiliated. On any given Sunday morning you would see little girls and little boys dressed in their best with Mom’s wearing dresses, gloves, and fashionable hats while Dad’s wore a suit, tie, and well-polished shoes all piling into the family sedan to go to church. EVERYONE was carrying their Bible. Our church did not have a nursery. Yes, that meant that sometimes a crying baby had to be tolerated and often would require its mother to step outside to calm the baby down. My mother used to say that she thought a church nursery was nice for things like choir practice and during Sunday School, but she believed that the only way for a child to learn how to act properly in church (and in public for that matter) was to learn via “on the job” training. There were plenty of thumps on the head with a forefinger required to make us quit fidgeting and occasionally there was “the look” that meant you were only one teeny tiny step from crossing a line that you never wanted to cross. In short, we were learning how to behave and to respect other people. Even at a young age I liked listening to the preacher. Sometimes he would talk about things that I didn’t understand, but I usually could follow along. I had favorite hymns and we all sang them with gusto. I got a lot of info from those hymns too. I was able to picture Jesus on the cross when singing “The Old-Rugged Cross” or “At The Cross”. There were songs about depending on Jesus when you were weak. “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms” and “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” come to mind. There were songs that were perfect for setting the tone for worship. “How Great Thou Art” was a favorite. We were good ole Southern Baptists and in those days that meant that we also went to church on Sunday evening. There was an evening Sunday school known as “Training Union”. Sunday was a day of rest. The only businesses open on a Sunday were a handful of pharmacies, grocery stores (but only from 1-5 p.m.), gas stations (but only for gas and no mechanic on duty), and a few restaurants. People expected to worship God on Sunday instead of the almighty dollar.

            During the school year we had a bedtime of 9 p.m. The only nights that were exempt was Friday night. We could stay up later on Friday’s because there was no school or church the following day. Speaking of school, there was rarely a discipline problem. The worst things that kids did then was to talk in class, sneak a piece of chewing gum, or forget to raise their hand to be called on. It wasn’t until I was in 6th grade and we had moved back to Houston that I saw someone get swats. Usually those were in gym.

            Dirty words. I didn’t know what they were until we moved back to Houston. I never heard a four-letter word in 1965. Things were starting to get a little looser, but that usually entailed the usage of the word “damn” at worst. I never heard anyone use crude language in those days. Heck, gay still meant “to be happy” and for that matter we never heard about sex in any way. I knew men and women kissed, I saw it in the movies and on T.V., but for the most part the bedroom door was closed and when you did see inside a bedroom the bed was always made. I could learn from that today!

            We slept with our windows open at night when it was warm because there was never a thought of someone trying to harm us or steal from us by gaining access through a screen only. The only thing we were wanting to keep out was bugs. There was also something about the night sounds that made you feel a synchronicity with life. The distant train sounds, the occasional car driving by and the crackling sound of gravel as it moved along, the sound of night birds, crickets, frogs, and a bark or two from Fido down the street, all lulled me to sleep in those days. You didn’t worry about someone breaking into your car or stealing your bike that was leaning up against the side of the house.

            Music was still for the most part rated “G”. We would learn later that some of the hidden meanings of some songs were dubious, but at the time we didn’t know that “Norwegian Wood” by The Beatles was about an extra-marital affair by John Lennon. All kinds of music were in the Top 40 in those days too. Even some religious songs were popular. The Top 40 of a given week in 1965 might include a country crossover such as “King of The Road”, rock and roll such as “She’s Not There”, a beautiful ballad such as “Yesterday”, an instrumental such as “Whipped Cream”, a song in the big band sound such as “Strangers In The Night”, and a jazz version of “The In Crowd”. There were no songs with dirty words. Had there been, they would have been banned from the airwaves.

            Movies were mostly “G” rated too. Disney was still big. An acclaimed movie about Jesus even was a top movie. Sure, we had some movies that were starting to push the limits, but it was the year of “The Sound of Music” and “Shenandoah”. There were some movies made for teen audiences in which bikini clad girls danced on the beach, but even those had no explicit scenes and were decidedly tame compared to today.

            I guess the main difference between 1965 and today is that America was a more innocent and decent place to live than it is today. I for one miss those days, but then I don’t want to relive the last 55 years exactly the way that I did. But we could definitely stand to return to some of the ways that we once were. I mean, is there really anybody out there that thinks it would be a bad idea if we went to church, stopped cussing, respected each other, didn’t steal something just because we want it, and dressed more appropriately? Yea, I guess there are people who would think it’s a bad idea and that’s part of the problem.



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