Life in the Sixties
Southernmost City in the USA
We grew up in Key West, a small tropical island at the southernmost tip of Florida where we could ride our bikes to the Atlantic Ocean, only minutes away from our house. There we enjoyed fishing, picnics and ideal weather nearly every day of the year. Weekends, we often launched our 14 foot fiberglass boat from a nearby island, Islamorada, to spend the day on the water with the wind and sun on our faces.
After a storm, we would hunt for conch shells washed to shore by the turbulence of the water that washed footprints and sand castles out to sea. Having a sunburn on Monday was a badge that spoke of adventure. There were few worries about skin damage with TV commercials boasting that Solarcaine stops sunburn pain. The smell of Coppertone suntan lotion always brings back fond memories.
The Florida Keys in the sixties was a great place to grow up. We walked to school or rode our bikes down the quiet, tree-lined streets of Key West. Most afternoons were spent scouting the neighborhood for discarded glass bottles. After a good scrubbing with a bottle brush and the garden hose, we'd pedal off to the general store and turn in the bottles for a two penny refund each.
Coke in a Real Glass
With the proceeds from a good day of sleuthing, we could buy a comic book for just ten cents. If our bounty was good we might splurge a nickel on a fountain soda in the store.
If we wanted a soda to go, we used the ten-cent vending machine that held bottled drinks and paid the deposit. There was nothing finer than an ice cold grape soda sliding out of the chute on a hot summer's day. A quick tip of the cap into the bottle opener and psfshew, it was ready to drink. Later, we'd return the bottle for a refund.
Transistor radios were the tech toy of the day. Mine had a black leather cover and a loose connection on the battery wire, making reception a little sketchy at times. When it did play, it had a clear and crisp sound that was even cooler when you held the little box right next to your ear. Much like the early cell phones, transistor radios put off heat that made your ear turn red, but it was cool to own one.
Afternoon hours were spent outside, playing to the crisp beat of a bouncing ball. We played box ball or four square on the street next to our house. The square was drawn in chalk on the pavement and divided into four equal sections large enough to house one player. Any kind of bouncing ball could used to play the game. Of course, we moved aside for any traffic that passed through.
Those times were filled with good food from A & W Root Beer with car hops who wore roller skates to deliver meals to their drive-in customers. Burger King was still the Home of the Whopper, Dairy Queen, the best place for a vanilla cone and Royal Castle for a Birch Beer in a frosted mug.
Dollar night at the drive-in movies featured movies with Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy and The Three Stooges. The Key West Conch Train, filled with tourists, made its way around the city then returned to its station next to the church we attended on Sundays.
On rare occasions when relatives came into town, and our family went out for dinner at the A & B Lobster House next to the fishing docks. Fresh lobster salad cost less than four dollars and the Key Lime pie was the highlight of the meal.
The Day JFK Was Shot
Our daily ritual included reciting the Pledge of Allegiance everyday while facing the flag with our hand over our heart. We sang, "My Country 'Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty, of Thee I sing". Then my sixth grade teacher would pick someone to read a short passage from the Bible to start the day. Yes, it was a public school and no one complained a bit about this little exercise of freedom.
When rockets were scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, our elementary school Principal, Mr. Carey, would roll an Audio Visual cart into the cafeteria so we could watch the launch in real time. Was that just a Florida thing? Sometimes we could see the arc of the rocket in the sky as it rose across the state.
In one of his last appearances in the Florida Keys, President Kennedy, traveling down A1A in his white Lincoln Continental convertible, turned to wave to our little group standing by the roadway. Not long after that, I was sitting by the window in science class when the announcement came over the PA that JFK had been shot. I could hear a few of my classmates crying and an immediate tone of sadness prevailed, before we were dismissed from school early.
My Dad came straight from the Key West Navy Base in his khaki uniform to pick me up from school. Our family spent the evening in a state of shock glued to the news brought to us by Chet Huntley and David Brinkley reporting.
The Race for Space
Cosmetics and Products
Hair products were different, too. There was Prell shampoo, a green product that sometimes turned blond hair an odd color. Girls used Dippity Doo styling gel to set their hair on spongy pink rollers. Their slogan on the TV commercials sang about once-a-week hair styling.
Some who had long hair used empty orange juice containers for a smooth look, sleeping while wearing those cans on our head. Get Straight was a hair straightening product intended to remove curls and waves. Curl Free was a chemical process to straighten hair at home. In between using straighteners, girls ironed their hair on an ironing board.
Yardley Good Morning Slicker lipstick, a nearly white shade of pink, was fashionable to wear along with exaggerated eyeliner drawn with a black kohl pencil. For special effects, we painted white eyeliner around the black and some painted pretend eyelashes on the lower lid, like Twiggy, a famous model of the era.
My first car was a used 1959 Chevrolet Impala convertible that was a joint purchase with my older brother. Being a senior, he got more street time, than I did as a lowly sophomore. That was until he left for college then it was mine alone. At lunch time in high school, we'd pile as many of us as would fit into the car; and with the convertible top down and the radio blaring we'd cruise over to 7 Eleven where we would get freshly made French fries for a quarter. Or we might stop at Royal Castle for a hamburger and a Birch beer.
At Arby's, they hand-carved sandwich slices from a real roast beef on their slicing machine right before your eyes at the counter. They also made the best Jamocha milkshakes, a combination of chocolate ice cream, milk and a dash of coffee. Other times it would be off to Burger King where we'd order a whopper cut in half with no onions, just in case of a close encounter.
There was no super sizing back then.
Train Trip to Washington DC
My senior year, our ninety-voice Concert Choir rode the train from Miami, Florida to Washington, D.C. accompanied by the high school performing band and a few parents who served as chaperones. It was a twenty-five hour ride jostling along in standard cars with no sleeping quarters, not that we did much sleeping.
Soon after we arrived at the nation's capital, we performed the Battle Hymn of the Republic in the Rotunda building. Those incredible acoustics enhanced our A Capella voices ringing out young and strong and true. Later, we took a tour bus to the National Archives to see the original documents that forged the basis of our freedom. In Arlington, Virginia we competed in the Cherry Blossom Festival of Performing Concert Choirs. Afterward, we took the much quieter train ride back home.
For our final performance of the year, the Mixed Concert Chorus performed Lerner and Lowe's 1954 musical "Brigadoon" for which we rehearsed endlessly. Naturally, we sold tickets trying to raise money for a recording system needed in our music room.
That last year of the nineteen sixties, graduation day sneaked up far too soon, setting off major changes in our lives and the way things had always been. It was the end of an era and a commencement of a new world in the seventies.
"Come to Me" from Brigadoon
Into the Sunset
The Florida Keys
© 2011 Peg Cole