The first family car I remember was our 1956 four door, two-tone green Chevrolet Bel Air. We had it in the '50s to the '60s and it served us well. My dad was the only driver for years and he wanted a big car that could pull a boat - almost a necessity for Florida families.
We only took one long distance family vacation in this car, driving from Florida to St. Louis, MO to see my dad's family. We were adhering to Dinah Shore's signature song, "See the USA, in your Chev-ro-let, America is asking you to call." The trip was in the summer and we made stops along the way to get Georgia peaches, SEE ROCK CITY, TN (a famous advertising scheme to paint these words on the roofs of barns and buildings all over the South), and other sites. Without air conditioning, our windows were open most of the time to try to stay cool without being blown away. We pulled over at rest stops and had picnics, and I can still see Daddy pulling the supplies out of the big trunk, and cutting up a juicy watermelon for us. With our family of four, my brother and I were in the back seat and had room to spread out and nap. No seat belts at this time, so we were not restricted to a position, which on a long trip turned into occasional disputes of "he's/she's on my side."
When family came to visit us, we had to all pile into the Chevy for outings to the beach or sightseeing. We put at least eight people in the car at times: our four and my grandparents, a great aunt, and a cousin. Since I was the youngest, I was chosen to sit on the floor of the backseat, squeezing between everyone's feet. No wonder I got car sick all the time.
We enjoyed driving to the beach sometimes on a Saturday or after church on Sundays. Back then we could drive right onto the beach, before several large hurricanes destroyed the shoreline. We parked about half way between the boardwalk and the water's edge, and if we stayed long enough we would have to move the car back as the tide came in. There were always people who forgot to move their car and it would get swallowed up in the quickening sand. Tow trucks were constantly going back and forth on the beach looking for business. Our favorite spot was only about 11 miles away, but the drive coming home seemed to take forever. We couldn't wait to call dibs for first in the shower to wash off the salt and sand. Daddy would hose down the car to clean it up, too.
Daddy liked to hunt, fish, and haul things so he eventually sold the Chevy and went through a variety of trucks, jeeps, and vans. About that time my mother had to learn to drive for a new job as an itinerant Spanish teacher for the County. She was thrilled to buy her first car, a white Corvair, making us a two car family. The Corvair turned out to be a dangerous model. With the engine in the rear, it was prone to spin and flip, which it did for us one day. Mom was passing someone on a two lane road and the person suddenly turned left in front of us. When she hit the brakes, the car spun around and flipped completely upside down, leaving us hanging by our 'across the lap' seat belts. Injuries were minor, thankfully. Ralph Nader labeled the Corvair as "unsafe at any speed." The only great thing about this car was that it had air conditioning. We didn't even have that luxury in our house.
Making a long distance call required Operator assistance. You could call station-to-station which meant whoever answered the phone had to pay, even if it wasn't the household member you wanted. Asking for person-to-person was safer to reach the right person, but was more expensive. Our parents who had lived through the Depression and WWII were quite cognizant of saving every penny, so long distance calls were short and sweet. If you were the tricky sort, you could call person-to-person and not pay, but still gather a bit of information from the recipient. There would be three people on the line at one time, all able to hear each other: you the caller, the Operator, and the recipient. The Operator would be trying to ask permission of the recipient to pay for the call, and you could cleverly slip in some information to your intended without ever completing the whole call. Such as, the party on the other end might hesitate to understand who was calling or agree to the call, and you as the caller could relay some information to the Operator which was also heard by the recipient. "Operator, I'm trying to reach my Aunt Betty and tell her we got home okay," etc.
Growing up, we had only one phone like this black desk model. It was in our living room. There was very little privacy with any call, and since we watched television in this room, a call during a favorite show was considered an interruption. Receiving calls during supper were not allowed - another interruption.
Another privacy issue was the party line. When we picked up our receiver, there could be one of four other families talking. We would have to wait our turn to make a call, after their call concluded. If you were in a hurry, or had an urgent need, you could ask the party to hang up and let you dial. There was no guarantee they would, and hogging the line was not unusual. Eavesdropping was common and you had to listen carefully for clicks or breathing or background noises that didn't belong in your conversation. It was several years before we got our own private line, and no longer had to wait or be interrupted.
Our phone number began with letters, RA for RAymond. There were other prefixes, depending on which neighborhood you lived. A popular radio song of the day was "BEechwood 4-5789" by the Marvelettes and everyone understood that dialed B was 2, and E was 3. Those letters on the dial were important for calling, as opposed to all the texting done with them nowadays. In the '60s our phone numbers were converted to all numerals.
We had a little sand timer, like an hour glass, by the phone to time our long distance calls. Three minutes was about the limit. There were no speaker phones, so when we called family for Christmas, we would have to quickly pass the phone around to each person, or just have everyone yell a greeting all at once. If you received a collect call, you pretty much expected it to be bad news.
Rotary phone styles changed in the late '50s with the Princess phone geared towards women and teenage girls. The dial lighted up when you picked up the receiver and it came in almost every color except black: pink, white, beige, turquoise, and blue at first, adding yellow, moss green, gray and red.
The next big change in phones was push buttons rather than a dial. It seemed so futuristic at the time.
Since there were no cell phones, making a call when you were not home was a challenge. First, you had to find a booth. If you were lucky, you could find one at a gas station, train station, bus station, or city corner. Next, it helped to know the number. The booth might have a local phone book attached by a metal cord filled with white pages for residences and yellow pages for businesses. Sometimes the pages were torn out, or the whole book could be missing. Your last resort was to ask the Operator for assistance. Lastly, you had to have the right coins to insert into the phone. I remember dimes for local, later escalating to 25 cents. Long distance calls that were not collect required pre-payment before the Operator put your call through. The call would be terminated when the money ran out if you could not add more coins, sometimes in mid-sentence.
I was never one to stay on the phone for hours at a time. Guess that's why I'm content now with my old Nokia flip-phone which works just fine. We're threatening to cancel our land line, but haven't cut the cord, yet.
"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt,
so that you may know how to answer everyone." Colossians 4:6
Visiting the public library for our family involved an hour bus ride from the suburbs, across the St. John's River, to downtown. There were no branch libraries at the time. Our only other libraries were at the public school and a few religious books at church. The library was our first stop in a whole Saturday's activities of shopping, hair appointments, lunch, and maybe a movie.
The Jacksonville, FL library was a Neo-Classic Revival design of Henry John Klutho built in 1905 and partially funded by Andrew Carnegie. It is now on the National Register of Historical Places and is used as law offices. The limestone and copper structure is said to be almost fireproof, an important consideration at the time after a massive fire in 1901 destroyed over 2,300 downtown buildings.
Three things stand out in my memory about the library. One was my own, personal library card. The small square of manila-folder type paper had a metal strip inbedded in the corner with my number, used for impressing at check out.
(this is NOT my card, but similar.)
Secondly, there was a special collection of rare books, mostly about Florida, in an upstairs section that could be seen from the main floor. When I say seen, I mean that literally. The floor was of wire mesh, like the wall of this interior photo. I recall thinking the area was like a jail, with a special latched and guarded door. You could walk on the level underneath the wire room and look up to see the people browsing above. It was a puzzle as to why the floor was see-through, when at this era women wore skirts or dresses, not slacks, making it possible to look up and get an eyeful of embarrassing views. Women also wore spiked heels that would get caught in the mesh holes, so they usually tip-toed. This supplemented the "all quiet" library atmosphere.
The third memory is of the children's section with fascinating miniature displays and dioramas in a large glass hutch. If we were able to arrive early on Saturday mornings I could attend the children's story time led by the Librarian. I wasn't a fanatical reader, but at this spacious library I was allowed to explore on my own and check out my own books. The Borrowers was a favorite. My mother was an elementary school teacher and an avid reader, so we went to the library rather often.
Finding a specific book was more difficult back then. We had to search for the shelf location using the old card catalog system. A series of drawers full of hand typed cards, one for each book, was filed in the wooden cabinets. Often you had to wait your turn to get to the right drawer - a challenge for a little kid.
You had to hope no one had removed a card...because maybe they were too lazy to copy down the call numbers? If the card wasn't in the catalog drawer, you had no way of knowing if the library had a copy, or where to find it. And, just because there was a card in there didn't mean the book was really on the shelf. Without computers, it must have been terrifically difficult to keep up with the inventory.
There were fines for being late, but I don't recall ever receiving letters or phone calls to tell us about a late or missing book.
Our suburban library branch was not built until 1973, well after I had graduated from high school. Speaking of branches, my current city recently opened the first all digital public library in the United States - NO books at all, just full of computers. My, how things have changed!
I grew up in northern Florida during the 1950s and 1960s. I'm attracted to vintage and antique goods and become nostalgic recalling "the good old days."