My Granddaughter returns to Phoenix today after her first two weeks away from home living the campus dormitory life at the University of Arizona south of here in Tucson. As she begins the next exciting part of her life, she is the typical optimistic, energized teen. You have to have a heart brimming with life at that age. And you think you have all the answers and know how the world works. I was struck when I heard a statement yesterday about incoming freshmen at college: “Bill Clinton is an elder statesman. Richard Nixon has always been dead and the secretary of state has almost always been a woman.” Wow.
It made me wonder how many other myths are out there rambling around in the heads of people my age. When I started writing my Patsy story I accepted premises that later research proved faulty. I thought that Prohibition, 1920-1933, turned a relatively few responsible citizens into bootleggers, when actually the majority of American households had someone distilling spirits for “home use.” Many of these law-breakers, including Patsy’s father, were incarcerated in Federal Prisons doing their “year and a day” to pay their debt to society. Yes, the Great Depression, which started with the stock market crash in 1929, left many destitute and forced to roam the countryside, looking for work. But, when I interviewed Patsy asking the reason for her sojourn across the country in 1939, she shrugged and said she and Virgie wanted to have a good time and see the world outside Stillwater, Minnesota. By the time Patsy’s journey began, the Second World War was rolling in Europe and our wartime economy was calling people, especially Rosie-the-Riveter types, into full-time employment. She said living through the Depression wasn’t nearly as demoralizing as I thought. Apparently they didn’t realize how bad they had it. Living on a farm, they never went hungry and, as kids, she and her siblings and pals learned to “make their own fun.” They did the chores, played stickball in the cow pasture, swam at the swimming hole, sat in the shade on a hot summer day and sipped lemonade.
Reminds me of youngsters today who romanticise the 1950’s. When I was a teen, rock-n-roll was bursting across the air waves, movies were shown in only theaters and had intermissions so we could go to the lobby for snacks, snow shovels and tire chains were in everyone’s car trunk. Air conditioning was a luxury only the richest enjoyed, as was color TV. That was life as it was then. Not romantic. Just life.
The plot thickens.