Growing Up in the ‘40s and ‘50s

This week was the beginning of my spring cleaning. I worked on the game cupboard and the toys upstairs. I also dug into the coats as well making decisions as to what I will keep and what I will give away. The seasonal cleaning always yields donations for charitable organizations. That is a good thing. If I no longer use something someone else can make use of it.

That whole process got me to thinking about what was normal to me when I was growing up. We played differently than the children of today play. We gathered at each other’s houses to play with whatever we could find.

Life was not an endless accumulation of toys and it certainly did not include electronics. We did not even have toys with batteries in those days. We got toys for Christmas, but not as much as the children of today get. There were few affluent parents who could afford to “spoil” their children in those days. Life was much simpler.

Since I was a little girl with dolls to play with I often played house. My friends and I were the mothers. We played for hours on my grandparents’ front porch. I did have a doll bed (vintage from my mother’s childhood), a wooden cradle, a small rocking chair, and a wooden high chair. We took turns with those.

My mother knitted doll-sized sweaters and blankets. My grandmother made clothes for the dolls out of her dress scraps.

I remember that I sent for an airline stewardess set. After that arrived, I frequently played I was a stewardess serving food to the passengers. I remember adopting a lamp in the living room as my microphone to talk to the passengers. It had a base that resembled a microphone. I announced if there was turbulence or if the passengers were to fasten their seat belts. I learned all of this from watching airplanes on television.

My doll dishes were fun to eat out of. I had some red plastic ice cream dishes that I served real ice cream in from time to time. I also had a teapot that grandma filled with hot chocolate so that we could drink that in the little china cups.

That was the kind of fun we had. During the summer we played outside. If we played house we used leaves and berries to be the food that we put on our plates. Sometimes they were edible, other times they were just for pretend.

I think imagination had a greater place in the children of my day. We did not have the actual thing so we pretended. It did not seem to hurt our psyche at all. We all developed as normal adults and went on to become parents ourselves.

My children also knew the wonderful world of make believe. I remember making tri-cornered hats for a re-enactment of colonial days on one fourth of July when we were busy at home and could not attend the parade. The children had a scavenger hunt. They were small enough that they could not yet read so I had to draw pictures for the clues. They played in their hats while mother got the game ready. What fun they had running from spot to spot seeking clues. The reward was part of the final clue. They received homemade root beer popsicles from the freezer.

We watched a segment on television one day about pet rocks. They were popular during the time when my children were growing up. The children took the activity a step further. They found rocks in the ditch and in the road and painted them. I remember some very cute things that they made. They looked at the rocks, and then made them into whatever they reminded them of.

As young entrepreneurs they offered their decorated rocks for sale along with hickory nuts, homemade potholders, and berries at a roadside stand. Now, if you realize where Hickory Heights is you know that there is not a lot of traffic on our road. In spite of that the children sold their wares as they tended their stand and had a lot of innocent fun.

I remember my niece and nephew running a lemonade stand up the road by their house. They lived at the very end of the road so they had even less traffic than we did. The mail man and the milk man were about the only customers yet they sat by their stand faithfully. If the men were working up there they might have sold some to them as well.

I suppose lemonade stands are against the law at this point so that is not an option for children. In our haste we have legislated things out of existence. How many people do you suppose got sick because of food they purchased at a small stand? I think the impact was probably a lot smaller than the outbreaks of illness from large commercial producers that we have these days in spite of the inspections that are being done.

We went outdoors in all sorts of weather. It was never too cold or too warm to play outside. We rode bikes, played hopscotch, or played ball. A piece of chalk and a stone kept us busy for hours.

One activity we all loved was hide-and-seek especially late in the evening. You could hide almost anywhere when it was dark. Our parents did not worry about us because we stayed near home. All of the neighborhood children played together. It did not matter if you were a boy or a girl. We were into our teens before we became more sophisticated.

These were good times. We had a lot of fun and were also safe. We played with whatever happened to be around. Why, we even played a game called kick the can that was similar to a ball game.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at