Category Archives: Memories

GROWING UP

Family life in the 50’s was far different from any decade over the past 100 years. By understanding the distinctiveness of the 50’s, we can avoid bemoaning the changes in the family that have occurred since then.

In the late 1950’s, about three-fourths of all women between the ages of 20 and 24 had already married; currently, only 13% of all women in that group have married. These statistics sometimes are used as evidence that, increasingly, young adults are rejecting marriage, but such a conclusion is unfounded. Today, the ages at which young people marry are very similar to the ages at which they married between 1890 and 1940. In the unusual 50’s, young adults married earlier than in any generation in the past 100 years.

The nation’s birth rate has been declining steadily since the early 19th century; the sole exception was the postwar baby boom. Most of the women who reached peak childbearing years in the 50’s had at least two children, and they spaced them closer than either their mothers’ or their daughters’ generations. Beaver’s family was typical of most Americans.

Moreover, there were fewer divorces among couples married in the 50’s than the historic rate. The incidence of divorce has been on the rise at least since the Civil War, but the increases in the 50’s were comparatively modest.

There was a general shift in attitudes toward marriage and childbearing as considerable stress was placed on the importance of home, family, and children. Many popular commentators ascribed this shift to a great national exhaustion: Emotionally drained from their battle against a monstrous enemy, Americans shunned the great issues of the day and retreated into their personal lives.

In addition, the young adults of the 50’s carried the lasting effects of growing up during the Great Depression. As children, many had seen their fathers lose their jobs and their families struggle to make ends meet. My father was determined to never let his family suffer the deprivations he had encountered as a child. It may be that some children of the Depression came to view strong families as especially important because hard times had weakened theirs. Then came the war, which again disrupted families. Finally, the postwar economic boom brought a change in luck. It provided the prosperity that allowed people to satisfy their desire for stability at work and at home.  Folks in their 80s still talk about the war and its aftermath as if it were yesterday

Though often portrayed as a boring decade that served as an uneventful lead-in to the tumultuous 1960s, the ’50s laid the groundwork for trends that would change the world. Stability was a major goal.  

During the 1950s, games, including checkers, marbles and chess as well as card games, such as go fish or old maid, kept children amused during long winter evenings and rainy days. In addition, hot new games such as Scrabble had just been introduced in the late 1940s, and by 1952, its makers were selling 400 sets a day.  Yo-yo’s became popular.  I learned a lot of cool yo-yo tricks from the Filipino guys that would stop by the Dairy Fountain.  Those guys were yo-yo masters.  I preferred the Duncan yo-yo to all others which started my obsession with brand names at age 9.

Although today, graphic novels are a standard feature in language arts classes, comic books were viewed with suspicion in the 1950s. Some critics boldly claimed they led to “juvenile delinquency,” but these criticisms may have fueled kids’ enthusiasm as an estimated 90 percent of children read comic books during this period. I was a huge fan of MAD Magazine and Alfred E. Neuman. Superman, Batman, and Captain Courageous were always hidden away under my bed. I was supposed to be reading some book.

Parental discipline tended to be more authoritarian in the 50s, but children generally enjoyed a greater amount of personal freedom during leisure time than they do today. There were fewer cars on the road, so many children roamed freely on foot. My Mom used to tell me to stay in the neighborhood. Her concept of the “neighborhood” and mine differed considerably. I rode my bicycle to the Dairy Fountain, got muddy exploring neighborhood gullies and played pick-up baseball on Shrine Hill. In our games, there were no adults involved which made them terrific and then came Little League. Parents who trust their children to play and explore on their own, to make their own decisions, and to make and learn from their own mistakes are not as common today.  My Mom did so by mistake.

In 1952, Dwight Eisenhower became President.  I was in the third grade at Virginia Heights elementary.  Because my family had a television set, six of my friends and I were allowed to go to my house to watch the inauguration.  It was a sight to behold even for 9-year boys.  We had a television because my father was such a good salesman and Red Hippert of Hippert Appliance and TV fame, struck a deal with him over a beer at Sherm’s Place beside the library (now called Spike’s and POP’S, respectively.)  The erection of the 40-foot antenna drew everyone in the neighborhood.  It was cool, but my dad acted like an idiot with his beer in hand explaining the merits of a tall antenna.  By the time the day was over, the thing was at least 100 feet high in his mind.  Everyone was so excited about the antenna no one seemed to care about the TV.  Red stood there with his order book open and sold sets galore with every guy seeking a slightly higher antenna.  My Dad did not have to buy a beer for all of 1952.

In 1956, IKE signed an act to build a system of interstate highways crisscrossing the United States. He did it as a matter of national interest and defense — to improve the transportation of goods and people in ordinary times and the ability to get emergency services to areas of crisis quickly. Interstate highways made it possible to set up warehouses for products that could easily be shipped anywhere in the country. Roanoke is a hub for such activity.  It also made travel over long distances quick and cheap. The average family was able to take vacations by car to spots that previously had been too distant and inaccessible. Car manufacturers began to promote adventurous family vacations in their ads. For me, it provided a future: life-long lessons about hard work, and money for a college education.  I worked for Wily N. Jackson Construction Company doing the rough grading for the segment of I-81 from Christiansburg to Lexington.  Thank you, IKE!!

Although television was in its very early stages, some children’s programming did exist, and among the most popular shows was “Howdy Doody.” “Howdy Doody” was the brainchild of radio announcer Bob Smith, a.k.a. Buffalo Bob, who hosted the show on NBC from 1947 to 1960. The freckled Howdy Doody marionette was beloved by children in the 1950s and soon became the inspiration for best-selling toys as well as

future puppet-based children’s shows. I loved Clarabelle the clown. Television went from being a rich man’s toy in the 1940s to a household necessity in the 1950s. In the process, it became a sort of national gathering place. Regional cultures and ways of speaking began to fade as people from across the country watched the same programs. With only three big networks, viewers’ choices were limited, but all were familiar with the same few shows — and these created things everyone could talk about with each other. Everyone loved Lucy. This set the stage for a truly national experience and conversation when big news stories happened.

Rock and roll music burst onto the scene in the mid-1950s. Although the older generation did not fully approve of the rhythms and emotional intensity, young people loved it.  Elvis was the main man, but Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Didley and Buddy Holly were part of the rock and roll movement.  My Dad said on several occasions that rock and roll would never last.  HAH!

Rock music merged black rhythm and blues with country music to create an American style — which hinted at big changes to come in race relations and the sexual revolution. Once baby-boomers — the largest generation in American history– fully embraced it, rock and roll was here to stay. I lived the American dream with my odd parents and my girlfriend, Peggy Sue. Peggy and I danced the night away at the Candlelight Club with the “Rythmmakers” or the “Chevies and Premiers with Little Earl.” Then along came Jackie with plaid skirts and bobby sox. She was beautiful. Colonial Hills Club we have arrived.  Did the Big Bopper really die? What a time to be alive.

The space race began on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union stunned the world by successfully launching an unmanned satellite, Sputnik I, into low-Earth orbit. It shocked and energized the United States, which launched its own successful satellite within a few months.  I was sitting on the ground at 5 am folding morning newspapers for my route thinking that those Russians just could not beat us!! I was 14 and I loved my country. Within a year, the United States created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. Manned orbits followed within a few years, and the first man landed on the moon less than 12 years later. The space race launched an explosion in technology and dramatically altered military technology, ushering in the age of missiles.

The Truman Doctrine, announced in a speech by President Harry Truman in 1947, committed the United States to offer military assistance to any nation threatened by communism. In the 1950s, this began a period of fierce, but muffled, competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. Called the Cold War because the two major powers never came into direct armed conflict, it sparked several decades of battles in which the Soviet Union backed one side and the United States the other, called proxy battles. The first such battle came in Korea, beginning in 1950. The proxy battles of the Cold War defined American-Soviet relations for the next four decades until the Soviet Union collapsed. I was opposed to communism and railed against to all of my classmates in the third and fourth grade.   I was with IKE all the way.

My Grandfather Hager exclaimed on many an occasion, mostly after he had run into something, “You just cain’t beat ah Ford!”  On the other hand, my Dad loved Buick automobiles and he was overjoyed with the new styles of the 50s. He had a 1956 Buick just like the one below, color and all.

Despite the Russians, it was a great time to be an American. I loved the 50s.



WEAVER1888.com

BILTMORE

Christmas at Biltmore

BILTMORE

A visit to Biltmore is a feast for the senses. Wrap yourself in the scent of fresh evergreens as you admire holiday décor featuring wreaths, garlands, and the sparkle of thousands of ornaments on more than 55 glorious Christmas trees. The celebration continues across the estate, including colorful holiday blooms in the Conservatory, commemorative Christmas wine at the Winery, special menus in restaurants, and Antler Hill Village’s must-see evening illumination display.

A short visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains with his mother immediately sparked George Vanderbilt’s imagination in 1888. He found the perfect location for his country home. Vanderbilt’s 250-room French Renaissance chateau is a true marvel, the largest undertaking in residential architecture. Over a six-year period, an entire community of craftsmen came together to create America’s premier home and the environmental wonderland that surrounds it.

On Christmas Eve 1895, the country retreat George Vanderbilt had spent so long planning was marvelously decorated and full of festivity. The finished home contains over four acres of floor space, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces.

George Vanderbilt married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in Paris in 1898. Edith is a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant, the first governor of Dutch colonial New York. After honeymooning in Italy, Edith and George returned to live at Biltmore. George and Edith’s only child, Cornelia, was born on the evening of August 22, 1900, in the Louis XV Room. It was a celebrity birth, even by modern standards.

George Vanderbilt passed away at the age of 51. Vanderbilt is buried in the Vanderbilt family mausoleum on Staten Island. He left an enormous philanthropic legacy. Edith sold approximately 87,000 acres of the estate to the United States Forest Service in 1914 for less than $5 an acre.

Cornelia and her husband, John Cecil, opened Biltmore House to the public in 1930. Leaders in Asheville hoped the celebrated house would increase tourism during the Depression. During WWII, the house stored priceless works from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

To avoid a faux pas, always refer to the estate as BILTMORE.  THE Biltmore is a hotel in New York.  Enjoy a trip to Biltmore and enjoy the festivities.

BLOG SITE:

http://www.weaver1888.com

The Shopping Mall (Part 2)

Clothes

Sometime in the years 2016-2017, my granddaughter became a full-blown teenager. I got the first glimmer of this change when I went clothes shopping with her last August.  This year there was no doubt the transformation had occurred. Accordingly, and with some trepidation, I set out for the mall with both my granddaughters: 9 and 15.

The car conversation went something like this:

“Mom said we should shop for Hattie (9) at Old Navy. Since she doesn’t like jeans, they have a good selection of the leggings she likes. They also have shirts for her as well,” says Emma (15).

“Great. We can just shop there for you too,” I respond.

“Granddad, you have to be kidding, I hope?”

“YES.”

“Sometimes, Granddad, you can be cruel.”

The selections at Old Navy were very good as far as Hattie was concerned.  Of course, Emma took charge and began pulling things from the racks hoping that her sister would make fast decisions.  But Hattie has her own notions when it comes to fashion.  She has graduated from wearing a pink tutu with everything, but she knows what she likes. It took a while, but finally, we had some choices for the leggings and three tops or shirts or whatever.

Off to the dressing room, they went.  I noticed how careful Emma was with Hattie and how protective.  It was good to see the love these two girls have for each other.  The fitting lasted 20 minutes.  There were a lot of men and boys milling around waiting for mom, girlfriends or daughters to emerge.  One guy picked out two shirts from a sale rack for himself and another picked some Birkenstock knockoffs. Old Navy has some good merchandising techniques.  Total time including checkout, 51 minutes. And the receipt was only one GASP.

Hollister

Somehow, I knew Hollister would be different. This store positions itself as a cool SoCal beach shack as you can tell from the picture. You expect to see surfer dudes and gals talking about waves and boards.  What you see is a bunch of teens looking for something awesome to wear for the new school year. By the way, Hollister is a division of Abercrombie and Fitch and was established in Ohio in 2000.

One Mom was holding a pair of jean cut-offs.  Back in the day, you would simply take an old pair of jeans and cut the legs off. Today you pay $45 for the same thing.  I assumed the Mom was holding them for a daughter.  She held the cutoffs up to her waist.  I wanted to say something, but sanity prevailed since I didn’t want to be arrested for harassment.  Luckily, her daughter came to the rescue.

“You have got to be kidding Mom. Put those back! They are not for you!”

Emma was in action. First the jeans. Last year I was opposed to ripped jeans, but I have seen the light. I am not in control.  A pair of white ripped jeans and a pair of skinny jeans came out of the pile.  Then on to the shirts.  This took some time, so I found a nice chair.

There was a dad with a worried look on his face as his daughter had at least 6 pairs of jeans and as many shirts over her arm.  She headed for the dressing room.  He stood beside my chair and looked to be in pain.

“She can’t possibly wear all those clothes,” he said.

“She doesn’t know that!” I responded.

Since this was my second year of back to school shopping I was a veteran and I sounded like I knew something.  He sighed and looked resigned to facing a very large bill. That could easily be 5 gasps.

All of Emma’s stuff fit, but she told me to stay seated while she shopped for a few more things. The girl with all the clothes came out with a big smile and announced that all but one pair of jeans fit There was a big sigh of resignation from her dad. We are hopeless!

Well, we were next in line at the checkout.   The girl at the counter took all the stuff and began to sort it out.  She held up a purplish, lacy something or other and said, “I just love this color in a bra.” I froze, turned scarlet and made some sort of gurgling sound. Emma looked at me and turned scarlet.  The sales girl looked at me, “Granddaughter?” and smiled. I shook my head yes. The item disappeared into the bag. I was still recovering my breathing when the receipt came. I failed to look or gasp.

Chick

I was in need of sustenance–I was a little dizzy and in need of a real lift.  The chicken store was just down the hall.  I made a dash for it as the girls lugged their bags down the corridor after me.  A diet DP was just the thing along with a spicy chicken sandwich all the way with waffle fries with plenty of ketchup.  No need to gasp at this place. I will deal with the calories and fat later!

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RETRO sneakers!  Are you kidding me?  History does, in fact, repeat itself.  Last year, it was high-top gumboots from LL BEAN and this year it is white sneakers with no strings and elastic on the side. This was a three gasp item–how much can a little canvas and some rubber be. Of course, it’s the label–I get it!

Next stop Claire’s–the junk store of all junk stores.  Hattie needed some new fake nails.  This time they were purple with blue stripes.  Her mother does not let her out of the house with them on.

I love my girls and am already looking forward to next year.  I hope Emma will still go with me.

PERDUE HOLLOW REVISITED!

I have this cousin named Mary.  She came into my life when I was four or five and she remained there for eleven years or so.  Then my favorite Aunt Edith married Walt and Mary disappeared into Walt’s family.  She was no longer a part of my life and I missed her.  She was the sibling I never had and she got a brother and sister in the new arrangement. When there were opportunities to see her at my grandmother’s house, I stayed away because I didn’t want the pain of missing her all over again. I was seventeen and didn’t know what I was losing.

The year 2017 has brought a massive change and Mary has come back into my life with a bang. She is on a mission of reuniting those of us that have been lost and I am grateful to her.  She has been to my place in Roanoke, I have been to visit her and her husband Steve in Louisville, and recently we had lunch with our cousin John and his wife Kay at the Valley Country Restaurant in Green Valley, West Virginia.  After lunch, we drove to Brush Fork, West Virginia to our grandparents’ homestead in Perdue Hollow.  Our cousin Don owns the place today and he has done a terrific job refurbishing the house.

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As a youngster,  my bedroom was in the left back corner on the second floor of the house.  Mary slept in the front room across the hall from Weaver and Dora, our grandparents.  For the longest time, this house was about a mile off the Perdue Hollow Road.  It was also the home of our great-grandparents Will and Mary Perdue.  We were all part of the long line of Perdue’s that inhabited this large Valley or “Holler” as we preferred.  Then they built the airport road right through the middle of the farm.  It’s still a two-lane road–the airport is not very busy. I never liked that road.

Donnie, Mike(me) and Johnny new every inch of the mountains and plateaus around the place. Plus we knew a lot about the Whitt Hollow which was on the other side of our mountains.  This “Holler” was mysterious and a little scary, but we were brave lads looking for adventure.  Soon enough we had Mary tagging after us to the Whitt Hollow.  The memories of this wondrous place are much grander than the actual events in the fifties. But, I cherish every moment I was there.

Mary, John and I were waiting for Don in the drive where the old gate used to stand,  looking up the valley.  It all looked closer together–the big hill with the road to the plateau was somehow closer than it seemed in 1950 or even 1957.  I haven’t seen the place for 39 years and haven’t seen my cousin Don or his new wife, Connie, in that time.  I was upset by the way Don had manipulated my Grandmother to let him have the property.  She was a difficult person to deal with most of the time (actually she had a mean streak), so he probably deserved it for his efforts to help her.  I am not upset anymore.

Don finally arrived.  Connie was in the house and he took me in to meet her.  She was not feeling well but was very lovely and nice.  The house was beautiful on the inside and Don showed me a picture of Will, Mary and their ten children, including Dora Belle.  My grandmom hated the name Belle.  I knew all the children in that picture–my aunts, and uncles.

The fourValley Country of us stood in the yard and talked about old times.  It hit me like a punch in the stomach.  I love Mary.  I love Don. I love John.  I love Steve, Connie, and Kay.  Standing in that place we were one and always will be.

DOUBLEWIDE ON A HILL

DOUBLE-WIDE ON A HILL

My grandparents had a farm in Mercer County, West Virginia.  They had a nice little valley surrounded by very tall hills, some would even say mountains.  From about five on, I climbed those hills with regularity in the summertime.  I spent at least two months each year on that farm until I was 16.  The discovery of girls changed my attitude about quiet country living.

When I was 15 or so, I was standing on one of the hills on the western side of the valley.  The day was clear, it was hot on the mountain top, and the sky was high and blue.  You could see all the way to the Virginia line on the east side and at least to Welch on the west.

After sliding down the hillside, I met my grandfather on his way to the barn.

“Hey, granddaddy!”
“Hey, Boy. You been up on the ridge?”

“Yep, you can see forever up there.  Man, I would love to have a double-wide up on that hill with a nice big front porch and some rockers.”

“Listen, you got bigger fish to fry than a double wide on a hill.  You need to get on with that book learning your momma says you’re so good at.  You are going to work with your mind, not your hands and your back.”

“But Bud’s got a really nice double-wide and that pretty wife of his.  Looks pretty good.  Mine would be even better cause of the view.”

“Boy, you are just 15; what do you know about a view. Besides, Bud is an idiot—dumb as they come.  His momma didn’t have very good taste in men. That whole Maddox clan over by Bluewell is dumb as posts and she married the dumbest of the lot.  I know you think Bud is cool because he is your cousin and been in the Navy and he can’t help being dumb—it’s just part of who he is–just dumb.”

“But, granddaddy!”

“Listen, Boy, no more talk of a double-wide. Make yourself useful and milk Betsy.”

I listened to my grandfather.  But on particularly rough days in my calling as a financial advisor, I day dreamed about a simpler life on that hill.  I could have married my third cousin, Bobbi, a really pretty blonde girl I was chasing after that summer.  We could have had three or six kids and I could have worked on the railroad.  What a view.

As things turned out, when she was in an alcoholic haze, Bobbi killed her husband with a long-barrel .357 magnum.  My life is truly wonderful after all, market cycles included.

http://www.tmichaelsmith.com

 

The POWHATAN ARROW

Recently, a friend was visiting me from Maryland and wanted to go to the Virginia Museum of Transportation.  I was keen on doing that since I had heard Bev Fitzpatrick speak of the museum a few months earlier.  We went for our visit on a cloudy Saturday afternoon.  There were a fair number of folks wandering through the exhibits, but not so many that it seemed crowded.

The O-gauge model trains brought back some memories—I sold my Lionel train to buy a baseball glove I had admired at Jennings Shepherd.  The bus and car collection was terrific and I imagined the street car was the one I used to ride with my mother.  The story about the Claytor bothers was fascinating.

But the memories came flooding back when I saw the refurbished 611 engine.  I was standing in the old train station looking east toward The Shops, hoping for an early view of the Powhatan Arrow.  The train would take me to the farm of my beloved grandparents, John Weaver and Dora Perdue Hager.  It was in Brush Fork, West Virginia, a little spot between Bluefield and Princeton.  I loved it there and I rode The Powhatan Arrow every summer to Bluefield, where my grandfather would pick me up and “carry” me to the farm.  “Here it comes! I see it!  It is great! Look how big it si!”

Can you imagine that my Mother felt comfortable putting me on that train and sending me by myself at age 7?  She did—it was a different time, a truly lovely time.  She put her trust in the Conductor, who promised to faithfully watch over me, a promise he kept. I made the trip for 6 summers and a few time at Christmas, although my parents went along on those trips. Those gave me an opportunity to display my knowledge of train conducting.

My mother often came for the last two weeks of my summertime on the farm.  I was always a little disappointed because it meant summer was coming to an end and, more importantly, I would not get to ride home on that wonderful train. Somehow my father’s Buick was not that much fun.

 

  1. Michael Smith