Growing up in the ’50’s was all about doing it “right”. It was re enforced by watching Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans. We identified right and wrong in the black and white of the TV Western and the good guy always won in the end. For some, it was a good time to grow up in this world.
Of course, I don’t remember my mother wearing high heels and doing housework like June Cleaver, but I do remember some of the magazine articles that were printed for instructions in how to have a “Happy Home”.
Women were encouraged to change into nicer clothes just before their husbands arrived home from work. (That didn’t work in my home because we never knew when my dad would be home. He was always gone before I woke up and I was in bed many times when he came home)
They were instructed to cook good meals including making the table setting appealing. There were many magazines that instructed how to “entertain” in the home. The fifties were the hay days of Emily Post and proper etiquette. The late ’60’s were the years of Lady Bird Johnson’s “Great Society”.
For the most part, my husband’s family was like everyone else. A father, a stay at home mother, well behaved children, a house, a car and a lawn to mow. All was perfection and everyone expected the pastor to have the highest reflection of a good home. Everything looked perfect to the outside world.
Growing up in a pastor’s home brought many pressures that were unique. My husband learned at an early age to not get attached to the house that he called home or to the people in the congregations. The church provided the roof over his head and it was tied to a “vote” of the congregation that was taken every so often. If the congregation voted yes, they could stay, if not, they would have to leave and find another “home” and leave all that he had known behind.
At an very early age, my husband learned to set in a church pew by himself or with his younger brother while his mother played piano and his father was in the pulpit. He also recognized that “look” from his mother that said if he didn’t behave there would be consequences when they got home. These were the days before churches had nurseries or children’s church.
It wasn’t all that much different for all of us who were born into “church” families. We all had to learn to “sit still and be quiet”. We all learned that there were high expectations for us. In the light of today’s lack of discipline in young children, I think we learned things that prepared us for when we entered school. The teacher didn’t have to spend weeks to get us to listen or follow instructions, we already knew how to sit for endless hours because of sitting quietly in church. It wasn’t all bad, in fact, I think it was a good thing. We learned to respect a place of worship and we also didn’t fight against authority as much as some.
For my husband, it was in these early preschool years that he welcomed a brother. He was about 4 1/2 when he became a “Big Brother” and he soon took his position as his brother’s protector very seriously. He was no longer alone in this world.
The difficulties for my husband’s journey through his school years began with the incident with the Kindergarten teacher and proceeded after a particular incident that took place between my husband and the neighborhood bully.
Around the age of 8 years old, the neighborhood bully enjoyed backing my husband up and he would walk backwards all the way home. I am sure that he believed that he shouldn’t fight with this kid because he was a preacher’s son. But, after so many times of turning away from the fight, a different lesson was learned.
On this day, my husband’s mother watched as this kid backed my husband up to the steps on the house. Neither he or this bully knew that his mother was watching as this scene unfolded. As my husband was about to walk up the porch steps, his mother told him that he didn’t need to back up anymore. She told my husband to let this bully have it.
Whether she understood what she did by giving my husband permission to fight with this kid or not, we will never know, but it was a permission that my husband took seriously. And, yes, he whipped up on the neighborhood bully. That kid never bothered my husband or his brother again. But, this incident set the stage for the trouble my husband had in his grade school years.
Growing up in the ’50’s wasn’t easy for a preacher’s kid. Every kid seemed to test the child of a pastor by trying to get them to do something “wrong” or “testing” them so that they could go home and tell their parents what this preacher kid, who was held up to them as an example, wasn’t all that “good”. Recess time was not pleasant for my husband. He was “called out” and he never failed to answer that call.
My husband refused to be bullied by any one in his neighborhood or on the playgroud. Of course, the school called his parents and they would “talk” about his fighting problem. But being bullied by anyone was not acceptible to my husband especially after his mother instructed him to settle things with the neighborhood bully.
Unfortuantely, the incidents of fighting only esculated and as the years passed, and my husband’s brother began school. My husband became his brother’s playground protector particularly after a terrible playground accident.
My husband’s brother was playing on the “see/saw” when a kid pulled him off and the fall fractured one of the vertebre in his neck. Of course, my husband believed that he should teach this kid a lesson about pulling his brother off of anything. He fought the kid who was picking on his little brother.
It seemed that once this reputation for fighting was established, every kid big or small wanted a “shot” at him.
In those days, corporal punishment was meeted out for sassing the teacher, chewing gum after warnings and fighting on the playground. After it was all said and done, school was a microcosium that seemed to foretell my husband’s future. He would not be bullied, he would not be “paddled”, and he would not bow to school authority.
Due to my husband’s fighting, the grade school years resulted in three different schools within the same small town and the last one was the worst. It was a “Christian School” with a dress code and more church. More sitting quietly for long periods of time. It was enough to drive any kid to distraction.
Moving from house to house and school to school insured that my husband had little if any security and it also insured his inability to make attachments to people and places. My husband’s young heart was wounded and confused at a very young age.
When my husband told me about his early school years, I wondered how many times we give our kids “implied permission” to do things that we scold or reprimand them for later. It seemed that my husband lived with a lifetime of mixed messages.
I believe these early school days impacted my husband by hardening his heart. He was going to be noticed, if not by his academic achievement then by his ability to hold his own in a fight. School was a hard place for this son of a preacher man and there were changes on the horizon.
There was to be another house, another school and other bullies with which to deal and he would be enduring all of these changes as a pre teen in a big city….