1961 - The Year I Turned 13

1961. I turned 13 in June of that year and I was in the eighth grade. Our little country school covered from first through eighth grade.  High school started with the ninth grade.   I was so familiar with our elementary school.  I knew all the ins and outs, all the nooks and crannies of every building on the school property.   Going to high school was so scary but at the same time something to look forward to.

My life consisted of home, school, church and family gatherings.  Summers were spent picking, processing and canning (or freezing) vegetables from our farm.  We had two large upright freezers that were filled to capacity with meat and vegetables.  Our canned vegetables were kept in a separate outdoor building in the backyard.  We were so blessed to always have healthy food available to eat.

The only time the kids were allowed to go to town was when it was time to buy school clothes.  Mama and Daddy would take us to the clothing store to try on clothes that we would need for the upcoming school year.  The boys got shirts, jeans, socks, underwear and shoes.  The girls got dresses, skirts, blouses slips, socks, underwear and shoes.  Girls were not allowed to wear jeans or shorts to school.  It was such a treat for us to go shopping and have new clothes to wear.

Eighth grade was not an eventful year for me.  I was very shy, overweight and didn’t feel that I had anything to offer.  I was friendly and knew everyone in my classes but I had no close friends.

At Christmas time, the teacher would put all the students' names in a hat.  Each child would draw a name from the hat and buy a present for that person.  Most of the kids got jewelry, pretty scarves, the latest games or comic books.  I got chocolate covered cherries.  This was considered the most unwanted present by a lot of the kids but I loved chocolate covered cherries.  I always smiled and thanked the person that gave them to me.  Not out of obligation but because I was truly appreciative of the gift.  Others that received the cherries were very disappointed but not me.  I was happy.  To this day I still love them.

My favorite class was physical education.  Even though I hated doing regular exercises, I loved the special times when we were allowed to listen to music and dance.  The teacher would designate a student to choose the records and operate the record player.  Everyone else either sat on the bleachers and listened to the music or got out on the gym floor and danced.

The popular singers of 1961 were Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Patsy Cline, Connie Francis, Ben E. King, Paul Anka, Brenda Lee and Chubby Checker. My favorite was Chubby Checker.  He was known for “The Twist” and had lots of dance type songs.  I loved “Pony Time” and “Let’s Twist Again”.  When his songs were playing, you just had to get up and dance.

Our mode of transportation to school was the school bus.  The bus driver was very kind and friendly but also very stern when he needed to be.  If you caused trouble on his bus, he would give you a couple of warnings, hoping you would straighten up.  If all else failed, he would send you to the principal’s office for disciplinary action.  The principal would sometimes just give a warning or call the parents.  If the problem was bad enough, the student would be banned from the bus for a few weeks. 

Usually, the worst offense was fighting.  Fighting back then was more like wrestling and hardly ever came to blows.  Very seldom did anyone ever really get hurt.  It was unheard of to talk back to or hit a teacher, bring guns to school or cause real harm to a student.

It was a different world back then. Stamps were .04 each, the cost of a house was $12,500, the average income was $5,315 and gas was .27 a gallon.  In the news, Alan Shepard accomplished the first U. S. space flight and the first disposable diapers went on sale.

Times were less stressful and neighbors helped each other.  I remember one neighbor that lived just down the road from us.  He was the most helpful, kind and gentle person that I knew.  He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.  You didn't even have to ask, if he knew you needed something, he was there to help.  He was so big and strong and had the whitest teeth that I had ever seen.  Leroy was his name.  He was always laughing and had such a wonderful personality.  Everybody in our community loved him and his family.  It didn't matter that he was black.  Leroy was a friend.  The only problem was that he couldn't read or write. 

One day Leroy came to the house to see my daddy.  He had gotten some kind of a legal document and didn't know what it was all about. Leroy was scared.  Daddy read the document, explained it to him and assured him that everything would be o.k.   According to the county tax office,  Leroy had more acreage than he was paying taxes on.  Daddy took time off from his work, helped to find an appraiser to reappraise the land, went to the lawyer's office with Leroy and made sure that his interests were protected.  As it turned out, the county had made a mistake in their calculations and had to correct their records to show that Leroy was indeed paying the right amount of taxes.

In our community, this was nothing unusual for a neighbor to do.  Sometimes I think we would be much better off if we could return to those earlier days.






Linda Smith
Writer and Avid Crafter