Coming of Age in the Sixties
Southernmost City in the USA
Growing up in Key West, a small tropical island at the southern tip of Florida we could ride our bikes to the ocean just minutes away from our home two story house on Flagler Avenue. Saturday mornings we'd hitch up the trailer and drive to a nearby island where we would launch the family boat and enjoy a day on the water with the sun on our faces. The tropical climate was a blessing nearly every day of the year, rarely dipping below sixty degrees.
After a storm, we would scour the beach looking for conch shells washed to shore by waves that erased footprints and washed sand castles out to sea. Sporting a sunburn on at school on Monday spoke of an adventurous weekend. No one worried about UV rays. TV jingles sang about Solarcaine eliminating sunburn pain. The aroma of Coppertone lotion evokes fond memories of sand and summer.
In the sixties kids walked to school or rode their bikes home, keeping an eye out for soda bottles discarded along the road. Gathering them up in our bike baskets they'd play a merry tune as we took them home for a good scrubbing with water from the hose. Once our homework was finished, we'd pedal up to the corner store and return the empties for a two-cent refund. Five bottles would pay for the latest Marvel comic book or a couple of nickel candy bars.
If we wanted to take a soda with us, we headed to the back of the store where the glass front vending machine dispensed bottled drinks. Gently tipping the bottle cap into the opener kept the fizz to a minimum without wasting a drop. There was nothing finer than an ice cold Nehi grape on a hot summer day. We even got a refund if we returned the bottle or two Bazooka bubble gum pieces.
Music and Games
Transistor radios had leather covers and a wire with one end that plugged into the box, the other with an ear bud. Unplugged, they produced a clear, crisp sound that was even cooler holding the little box against your ear with a gentle heat that turned your ear red.
Afternoons were spent running after a bouncing ball in a square chalk design drawn on the pavement with four equal squares. Any kind of bouncing ball could used to play four-square. The game was halted for the occasional car coming through.
Food, Entertainment and Guests
We drank root beer from the local A & W with car hops on roller skates. The only Burger King in town was still the Home of the Whopper. Dairy Queen had the best vanilla cones and Royal Castle served Birch Beer in a frosted mug for a nickel.
Families enjoyed dollar night at the drive-in movies with Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy and Three Stooges movies. 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 to town, our family splurged for dinner at the A & B Lobster House near the docks for fresh lobster salad and Key Lime pie for dessert.
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, Sweet Land of Liberty, of Thee I sing." Then, elementary school teacher, Mrs. Price, would call on someone to read from the Bible. Yes, it was a public school and no one dared complain about this exercise of religious freedom.
When space launches were scheduled at Cape Canaveral, our Principal, Mr. Carey, would roll an AV cart into the cafeteria and we watched the launch as it happened. Sometimes we could see the arc of the rocket as it rose in the sky.
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.
Cosmetics and Hair Products
Hair products included Prell shampoo, a green product that sometimes turned hair an odd color. Dippity Doo hair gel held hair roller-styled fresh for weekly hair styling. In the late sixties, girls used empty orange juice containers for a smoother look, sleeping with cans bobby-pinned to our heads. Some girls ironed their hair on an ironing board. Get Straight hair straighter liquid held curls and waves at bay between using Curl Free, a chemical process to straighten hair at home.
Girls carried compacts like Cover Girl powder and wore pale shades of nearly white lipstick. Heavy black eyeliner rimmed young eyes, outlined with white and painted pretend 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
Washington District of Columbia Train Trip
Our senior class made the obligatory visit to Washington, D.C. traveling by train from Miami accompanied by the high school band and 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.
At the nation's capital, we performed the Battle Hymn of the Republic in the Rotunda with its acoustics enhancing our young A Capella voices. Later, we rode a tour bus to the National Archives and viewed original documents that forged the basis of our freedom. In Arlington, Virginia we competed in the Cherry Blossom Festival of Performing Concert Choirs. Afterward came the much subdued train ride back 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 a commencement of a new world launched in the seventies.
"Come to Me" from Brigadoon
© 2011 Peg Cole