The Land that Made Me Me

Submitted by Ken Watts on Thu, 02/26/2009 - 21:42

I RECEIVED A POEM in my email yesterday—a sort of nostalgic look at the fifties: the time when I was growing up.

I thought it might be nice to share, with comments. So I'll do that, a stanza or so at a time...

Long ago and far away, in a land that time forgot,
Before the days of Dylan, or the dawn of Camelot.
There lived a race of innocents, and they were you and me,

It's quite true. We were innocents, and the older generation were, as well. There was a difference though. My generation were innocents because we weren't even twelve yet, and we lived pretty protected lives.

My parent's generation, who have been called the greatest generation, were innocent in a different way—they were innocents by choice. Their parents had lived through the first world war, and they had lived through a depression and the second world war.

By the time the fifties came around they wanted peace and prosperity more than anything. They had seen the invention of the atomic bomb and the beginning of the cold war. They wanted things to be normal. And they worked hard to provide that for my generation.

They had seen the United States move from a peace-loving nation which had been forced to war in Europe twice, to a nation that was on a permanent war basis, with government policy being dictated by the military-industrial complex, which Eisenhower warned us against.

For Ike was in the White House in that land where we were born,
Where navels were for oranges, and Peyton Place was porn.

Eisenhower was quite a man. A military type himself, he warned us that the military and the industry that lived off it were getting out of hand. A Republican, he oversaw the cease-fire of the Korean War, enlarged the Social Security program, and began the interstate highway system—investing tax-payer money in the country's infrastructure. He warned us of the growing power of corporations, and argued that consideration and co-operation, not force, was the road to peace.

By today's standards he would be probably be considered a liberal, but he was the old-fashioned kind of conservative, before the Nixons and Reagans and Bushes started changing what that meant.

And it's true. We didn't have navels in those days. At least we didn't admit it. This wasn't so much a matter of innocence (we all knew about navels) as it was a matter of repression and denial. Sort of the way it is today about things like Janet Jackson's breast.

Peyton place, of course, was porn. Anyone who read it got the same kind of thrill they would get out of much more explicit stuff today. In fact, they probably got a greater thrill. Imagination is a wonderful thing. Repression and denial have their points...

We learned to gut a muffler, we washed our hair at dawn,
We spread our crinolines to dry in circles on the lawn.

I'm not sure this stanza belongs. Gutting mufflers I get—I can remember all those teenagers working on cars. I even did it myself a little, although that was in the sixties. I can't answer for hair washing at dawn. I had a crew cut, to go with my Davy Crockett cap.

But crinolines? I had to look them up. I don't remember anyone in the fifties wearing anything like that, much less drying them in circles on the lawn.

Poodle skirts I remember.

We longed for love and romance, and waited for our Prince,
And Eddie Fisher married Liz, and no one's seen him since.

I'm tempted to say that Prince was in a different era, but I guess it's just a capitalization error.

We danced to 'Little Darlin,' and sang to 'Stagger Lee'
And cried for Buddy Holly in the Land That Made Me, Me.

Only girls wore earrings then, and 3 was one too many,
And only boys wore flat-top cuts, except for Jean McKinney.

And only in our wildest dreams did we expect to see
A boy named George with Lipstick, in the Land That Made Me, Me.

I have no idea who Jean McKinney was. Pirates wore earrings in the fifties, as well, but I guess they didn't count (though there was a lot less global warming, then).

But the point about the earrings, and boys wearing lipstick, is important. We just knew that two earrings were moral, upright, and stylish. But three were wrong. And boys never wore lipstick, except, of course, if they were in the school play and it was part of a performance. (Wait a minute...)

To be continued...