The 1950s were a wonderful decade

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In a Nov. 4 BDN OpEd, Bloomberg columnist Noah Smith asserts that the 1950s are greatly overrated and those of us who harbor ”wistful” recollections of that era are engaging in “rose-tinted sentimentality.”

Smith either wasn’t living in the 1950s, or, if he was, certainly wasn’t living in rural or small-town America. Some of his points are historical fact, that pollution was a problem and there was a lack of equal economic opportunity for minorities.

However, his other listed shortcomings of the era and his obvious antipathy for “conservative mores and nationalist attitudes” of the era, miss so much of why the 1950s really were a wonderful decade, especially for a teenager growing toward adulthood and the turbulent 1960s.

In the aftermath of a terrible world war, teenagers and their parents had reasons to be proud of their country, their flag and the freedoms hard won. In those days families had dinner together, and there was conversation. No iPhones. For youngsters there was creative play outside all day, and parents didn’t worry about sex offenders in the neighborhood or mass school shootings. Public education worked. Child obesity was not an American problem. Most children were raised by their mothers and fathers, not by day care providers and teachers.

Health care was a family physician, Dr. Wagner, who would make house calls and remove a needle from your cat’s throat if need be. The charge was five bucks! If somebody was out of work, which was rare, and in hard times, the town looked after you.

In Milo, there were five very active churches, and as many restaurants and a mill that employed townspeople. Gas was cheap. If you looked under the hood of your car you didn’t have to be a mechanic or an electronic wonk to identify the moving parts.

There were dances on Friday night and you could understand the lyrics of a song. Yes, some folks drank too much, but nobody died from drug overdoses. People got married and had children. Abortion was a rarity.

Smith laments the small houses and big families. That was not a bad thing. Smith should visit the diminutive two-story childhood home of Dwight David Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States, in Abilene, Kansas. Ike always credited his mom and his modest family background for the values that shaped his character. Conservative mores, indeed.

Best of all, the 1950s were an era of economic growth, prosperity and upward mobility for those willing to work hard and persevere. An era before mega-government and mega-corporations, in the 1950s you could call a government office or a business and reach a human being rather than a recorded voice. And you could understand them.

To his credit, Smith, in his parting paragraph, acknowledges that the 1950s were “a time of huge progress and hope.” As one who matriculated during that era, I may have been shielded from or simply unaware of the struggles of minorities living in urban America. But I am not sure that those of us of my generation who look back fondly on the 1950s can buy into Smith’s overall theme that things “are much better now than they were then.”

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the “Northwoods Sporting Journal.” He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors.”

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