Kids: Jill, Jay and Jennifer (and grand kids, if interested):
Harry Truman was the man who ran the show
The bad Korean War was just beginning
And I was just three years too young to go
Country music hadn’t gone to New York City yet
And a service man was proud of what he’d done
And Hank and Lefty crowded every jukebox
That’s the way it was in ’51
There’s so much about the good old days I’d love to tell
And there’s folks around I know, still remembered well
Slow dancin’ close together when a ballad played
‘Cause a thing called, Rock and Roll was yet to come
It was a big year for drive-in restaurants, Carhop
And that’s the way it was in ’51
Hank and Lefty crowded every jukebox
Oh Lord, that’s the way it was in ’51
Harry Truman was our President. Just to the left of where I am currently sitting is one of my favorite family relics. It is a picture of my Uncle Byron, your great uncle, taken with President Truman in the oval office. In my personal opinion, Truman was one of the best president’s we ever had. Oh, how this country could use that kind of integrity and leadership in the oval office today. During the time of the Korean War, your Uncle Daren wasn’t too young, as the song says, to go to war. He was just eighteen and was in the Air Force stationed in Pusan, Korea for a year. Daily I walked to our rural mailbox, and almost every day there would be a letter from him, and I’d also place one in the box for the carrier to pick up to be mailed to him. There were no emails, texting, or tweeting back then. I will never forget the day your grandparents and I drove in an old 1954 Chevy panel truck to meet him on his return from Korea at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. That’s a story of its own and maybe another time.
Country music had not gone Hollywood yet, so there wasn’t any smoke or rope swinging, folks as we see today. The Hank and Lefty referred to are Hank Williams, Sr. and Lefty Frizzell. They did crowd most jukeboxes, or at least the one that I remember at Bert and Finn’s Truck Stop, south on Highway 41 a few miles in between Farmersburg and Shelburn. Sadly Williams died at age twenty-nine. He died in the back seat of a Cadillac on New Year’s Eve in 1953 on the way to do a show in Canton, Ohio.
The first time I heard Hank Williams sing I was sitting in my grandpa’s driveway. Sometimes late on hot summer nights Uncle Harold would go out to his car and turn the car radio on and he would let me sit and listen with him. Sometimes he would listen to KMOX out of St.Louis broadcasting the Cardinal games. Other times he would dial in WSM out of Nashville, Tennessee and we would listen to a late night DJ. What I remember most about Uncle Harold is he had tattoos on both arms, a wooden leg as he had lost part of a leg in the war. He liked to smoke. I can still see that red circle on the pack of cigarettes that said Lucky Strikes. Sometimes he “rolled his own.” He would take out a tin of Prince Albert tobacco and roll his own cigarette. He could do the whole procedure with one hand. He had my complete attention when doing such. Quite fascinating to a small boy.
Uncle Harold was my dad’s youngest sister’s husband. To be honest I am not sure what number husband he was. Years later I would learn there was a count and learn much more family history as Uncle Harold and Aunt Boots got considerable billing. But at the time I was too young to know or note much. I did like those radio times and Harold still remains somewhat of a mystery to me even all these years later. As for Lefty Frizzell he lived on many more years, but each year he lived more problems came his way. I often see his brother David perform around town now.
Yes, there are still some folks around I know that remember those days well, but they, like me, are aging and leaving us much too soon. Rock-n’-roll had yet to really come in full form. For most of us rock-n’- roll came on about 1954-55. Many of us from that time associate that music with Sun Records out of Memphis and folks like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. And to think, the other night as I was sitting in a Nashville honky tonk, Cash’s son, John, was sitting next to me.
One of the first drive-in restaurants I can remember was what we called a root-beer stand. It was located on the north side of Sullivan, Indiana and called The Pine Mug. Yes, there were car-hops, and the jukebox was always playing loud. You could get a chilled mug of cold root beer for a nickel, yes five cents. Along with the root beer you often saw some neat cars and pretty girls. Interestingly enough, it was at a drive-in restaurant in 1962 where your mother and I first met. That’s another story for another time. There was a lot good about those days, and it was a special time to be a kid growing up in Indiana. Even at my young age, the basketball and the music bug had already bitten me, and it has never left.
What will you tell your kids about your “1951?” Sometime share with them what it was like for you when you were a kid. They might even have a bit of trouble believing you were ever once a kid. If that’s the case, then send them my way, I can certainly attest to that fact, because I do remember when you were kids.
To others, if you remember what it was like in your ’51, have you told your kids about that time?
December 6, 2013