Coming of Age in the Sixties
Southernmost City in the USA
Living in Key West as a child was ideal. A small tropical island at the southern tip of Florida, the climate is nearly perfect every day with temps rarely falling below 60 degrees. My brother and I often rode our bikes to the ocean only blocks away from our house. After a storm, we'd collect shells washed ashore by waves that washed our sand castles out to sea.
Early Saturday mornings, Dad would hitch the boat to the family car and drive to our favorite boat launch place. He'd back the boat down the ramp while we watched the car inch dangerously close to the point of no return. Once the boat was afloat, my brother would park the car and trailer and we'd head out for a day of fishing.
In those days, kids walked to school or rode a bicycle, along the way keeping an eye out for empty soda bottles. Gathered in our bike baskets, they'd clink out a merry tune as we carted them home. Then, we'd scrub them clean with water from the hose and enjoy cool sip from the hose while we worked.
After our homework was done, we'd head to the store and cash in our bottles in for two-cents apiece. Our refunds paid for the latest ten-cent comic book or a candy bar. Or, if business was good, we'd put a dime in the Coke machine at the back of the store.
When the store put a canned drink vending machine out front, our return and refund business faltered. Worse yet, the aluminum canned drinks were fifteen cents. Our first encounter with inflation.
Transistor radios became the latest thing and came with snug leather covers. We pressed them against our ears and rocked out to the latest hits on AM radio stations. FM stations mostly played classical music.
After school we played in the side street by our house. Four-square was played with a plastic bouncing ball sold in most stores for under a dollar. We'd draw four boxes in a larger square on the asphalt and write numbers in each square. Whenever a car came along, we'd holler out, "CAR!" and move out of the way while they drove through.
Food, Entertainment and Guests
At the local A&W, we ordered root beer from car hops wearing roller skates. They'd attach a tray to the driver's side window and skate around delivering orders. To make change, they wore a metal change-maker on their belts filled with coins. There was only one Burger King in the small town, a Dairy Queen with the best soft-serve cones and a Royal Castle that served Birch Beer in a frosted mug for a nickel.
Families enjoyed dollar-a-carload night at the drive-in movies. Cartoons aired before the main feature, usually a Western or a comedy.
The Conch Train, took tourists around the city on connected cars behind an engine car with a tour guide announcing all the historical data.1
When relatives came to town, our family ate at the A & B Lobster House near the docks with the best lobster salad and Key Lime pie in town.
Pledges, Songs, and The Race For Space
Our school day started with the Pledge of Allegiance, our hands held solemnly over our hearts. Afterward, we sang, "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Then, sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Price, would pick someone to read a short passage from the Bible. Yes, it was a public school and we exercised this religious freedom.
When Cape Canaveral, now Cape Kennedy, had a scheduled launch, our Principal, Mr. Carey, would roll an AV cart into the cafeteria/auditorium for the students to watch it live. Other times, we watched the launch from outside. On a clear day, we could see the trail of the rocket's arc from miles away.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
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 group beside the road. Not long after that visit, the announcement came over the PA that JFK had been shot. Classmates cried and a tone of sadness prevailed, before we were dismissed from Junior High School early that day.
My Dad drove straight from the Navy Base in his uniform to pick me up from school. Our family spent the evening in a state of shock watching as newscasters Chet Huntley and David Brinkley played and replayed the events.
Old School Brands
Hair products of the era included Prell shampoo, Dippity-Doo hair gel for roller-set hair. Some girls rolled their hair in empty orange juice cans to get the smooth-hair look. Some ironed their hair on an ironing board. Get Straight hair liquid helped remove waves and curls and Curl Free involved a chemical process for home-hair straightening.
Nearly every purse held a compact like Cover Girl powder with a puff. In the late 60s, we wore pale lipsticks like Good Morning Slicker by Yardley. Heavy black eyeliner rimmed eyes with drawn-on eyelashes on the lower lid, like Twiggy, a pop model of the era.
Fast Food and Hot Cars
My first car in high school was a 1959 Chevrolet Impala convertible. At lunch time, we'd pile in as many students as would fit in the car, convertible top down and the radio blaring, we'd cruise to 7-Eleven where French fries were a quarter. Some days it was off to Arby's for hand-sliced roast beef cut to order on their slicing machine at the counter with a Jamocha milkshake: 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.
Train Trip to Washington DC
Train Trip to Washington DC
Senior year, our concert chorus class traveled by train to Washington, D.C. from Miami, Florida accompanied by the high school band and parents serving as chaperones. It was a twenty-five-hour ride jostling along in standard cars with no sleeping berths. Not that we did much sleeping on the trip.
We performed the Battle Hymn of the Republic in the Rotunda with its magnificent acoustics and our young A Capella voices. Later, we rode a tour bus to the National Archives and saw original documents on display like the Declaration of Independence.
In Arlington, Virginia we competed in the Cherry Blossom Festival of Performing Concert Choirs. Afterward, we headed home on a much-subdued train ride home.
End of an Era
For our final performance of the year, the Mixed Concert Chorus performed Lerner and Lowe's 1954 musical "Brigadoon" for which we rehearsed endlessly. Tickets were sold to raise money for a new recording system needed in our music room.
That last year of the nineteen sixties, graduation day sneaked upon us 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 the commencement of a new one: the seventies.
Adam Lambert - Come to Me Bend to Me
Conch Train History
- History of The Conch Tour Train in Key West
The train tour business started with one train #97. Bill drove the train and Olive sold the tickets from the sidewalk on Front Street.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Peg Cole