My grandmother, Dr. Claudette Wilson, was born on March 17, 1941 in Shelbyville, Tennessee. She was only seven years old when the Berlin Airlift began and at nine the beginning of the Korean War. During the 50’s and 60’s life was very different from what it’s like today. That period was known as the Boom Years. I am now going to tell you about the 50’s and 60’s from my grandmother’s perspective.
She grew up with her two sisters, her mother, and grandparents, because her father was a travelling salesman and wasn’t home very often. She remembers him to be “gone for three or four weeks at a time and just home on a weekend before he would have to leave again”. She said they ate wonderfully at home, and wonders what keep them from being “huge”! They mostly ate beans, cornbread, fried pork chops, collard greens, fried okra, sweet potatoes, and anything that would be described as a “soul food”. They ate these “soul foods” because they had an African American woman who cleaned and cooked for them.
Her grandfather owned a Chevrolet with what was called running boards on the sides. This made it easier to get in and out of the car. Her father always had newer cars because he needed them for his travels. She remembers they had “washing machines with ringer washers that we had to be careful about our fingers”. Her family had a television set and her favorite show was called the “Ed Sullivan Show”. They watched it every Sunday night after church.
Not only was home life different in the 50’s and 60’s, but there were many historical events that happened. After the Korean War, when my grandmother was nineteen, she took a chorus trip to the Far East. She went to Korea, Japan, Okinawa, Guam, and Hawaii to sing for the troops. In Korea, not only did they sing for the troops, but they sang for the president of South Korea at the presidential palace. They also went to the 38th parallel to see a discussion between Communist and Non-Communist diplomats. The Communist soldiers to the North had their guns aimed on them, so they were instructed not to make any sudden movements. After that experience they couldn’t wait to get on the bus back to Seoul were their hotel was.
The Kennedy assassination was another historical event that my grandmother remembers clearly. “I was teaching Kindergarten in Springfield, Missouri and my assistant and I had taken a lunch break between the two Kindergarten sessions when both our husbands called us to tell the terrible news of our president being shot in the cavalcade in Texas. Later, we were told of his death on the news, then the terrible double shock of Bobby Kennedy being shot when he walked through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel here in Los Angeles. None of us could bear to see how their mother, Rose Kennedy, could remain upright when her two sons had been shot while serving our country. And their brave widows were so strong for the rest of us who felt our country was sinking.”
This is the life of my grandmother who was a teenager and young woman during the 50’s and 60’s. These were just a few of the experiences she has told me about. It was really exciting to hear about all of these wonderful stories. I also had fun looking through all of her pictures for these times. Next time she comes to visit I can’t wait to hear some of her stories.