This item was first published in 2010. It reappears with minor editing, including an update about the 50th wedding anniversary Gwen and I enjoyed in 2019.
In happy days of the sixties, I was transitioning from the learner to the novice stage of being a teenager. But, I still knew everything there was to know, or at least the parts I thought worth knowing.
I could list every WW2 fighter ace, name the dambuster pilots of No. 617 Squadron RAF and engage my army veteran uncle for hours about the Battle of Britain. He had been a lowly tank driving private, an original member of the Kangaroo Squadron.
He wouldn’t talk a word about the ground war. That death and destruction was too real, too personal. Instead, he gloried in air to air combat that he only watched. It was warfare where men might give a respectful wave to the persons they aimed to kill.
I could instantly identify the make, model and engine option of any car on the road and recite, had anyone bothered to ask, up-to-date Vancouver Mounties baseball stats like Chuck Oertel’s batting average, Howie Goss’ Strikeout/Home Run ratio or George Bamberger’s ERA.
School was important mostly to visit friends and homework was for nerds, to be done only under duress and at the last possible moment. Getting a good laugh in class was always worth more than getting an A.
I remember triumphant participation in a high school quiz-bowl on stage during a school assembly. Afterward, a kid came up to me in the hall and said, “I. . . , I didn’t know you knew anything!“
Should I have been honoured or insulted. Still not sure.
For kids in those days, radio was king. We were pals with the swinging men at 1410: Al Jordan, Brian Lord, Frosty Forst, Dave McCormick and Jerry Landa. At CKWX, Buddy Clyde did both morning and afternoon drive times and Jim Robson was the indefatigable sports guy, calling real or imagined baseball play by play until late in the evening but still at the microphone for scores and happy talk on the early morning show.
No Vancouver radio station today can measure up to the powerhouse legends of the sixties. And, they spoke directly to us; no adults needed.
Rockabilly Queen Wanda Jackson was number one on the CFUN*Tastic 50 and number two on The Sensational Sixty at CKWX.
In the week of September 1960, when my pioneer grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, I wondered how people could get to be that old. I repeated the thought to a ten year-old grandson recently at a family dinner marking 50 years since Gwen and I married.
Reminiscences are fun, but in reality, the good old days depend mostly on faulty memory.
Most pop music was utter crap, junk that today’s golden oldies lists don’t include. ‘Running Bear‘ by Johnny Preston, for example. Or, Seven Little Girls. And, who today would listen to a wave of teenage death songs. Maybe, Ray Peterson who was still singing ‘Tell Laura I Love Her‘ on the oldies circuit a few years ago. Or, Marilyn Michaels, artist responsible for the sensational Laura sequel: ‘Tell Tommy I Miss Him‘.
That kind of music is torture. Happily, one trait of human nature is to dismiss painful experiences and focus memories on happy times. We recall trepidation preceding the first kiss and grope sessions but those joyful terrors are worth remembering.
Real suffering, we put away in private places, and mostly just keep them there, to ourselves.
Indeed, Canadian society in the sixties was much different than today.
In my town, there were few visible minorities, apart from little-known people on the reserve a few miles beyond the last bus stop north of town.
There were no gay people and we had few ‘subnormals’ in our community. Handicapped or ‘retarded’ youngsters were mostly sent off to institutions, somewhere, where they could be better cared for while their families got on with life. A few lived at home but were strictly excluded from regular schools. Who knows, maybe Cerebral Palsy was contagious in those days.
Juvenile delinquents were occasional problems but they too got shipped out of town. There were dungeons for some at the Industrial School for Girls on Cassiar Street in East Vancouver. I walked past this place regularly near my childhood home, wondering how evil had been those children behind the barred windows. It housed female miscreants as young as ten and was called the House of Horror by the Vancouver Sun.
The City Fire Chief repeatedly condemned unsafe conditions at the 1914 jail and officials were also persuaded by a riot involving 70 pre-teen and teen girls. At the start of the sixties, it was replaced by the slightly less oppressive Willingdon School for Girls.
Misbehaving boys, including one of my neighbors, could be deemed incorrigible and jailed at Brannan Lake ‘reform school’ near Nanaimo. Again, pre-teens mixed with older inmates. Children suffered all kinds of abuses: emotional, physical and sexual. Additionally, the lawbreaking skills that apprentice criminals lacked beforehand were quickly learned from more experienced offenders.
Places like this were “not a reformatory but a deformatory.”
In truth, the good old days were good for already comfortable people, the folks well clear of society’s margins. For those who didn’t or couldn’t conform with the ordinary, life was tough.
In youth, and for years after, I never thought much about these issues. With age, I’ve lost a portion of my ignorance, at least, I hope, that willful disregard I used to avoid subjects that made me uncomfortable or allowed me to pretend I was not indifferent to others.
If you only remember classic songs of the sixties, follow the links above or listen to the ones below. See if you agree that most old pop music was crap and only the good ones live on.
Friend Gary thought this was a great song for some reason or another.
And girlfriend Gwen’s mom thought this one was nice. I hated it with a passion.