The Dreamy 1950s
© Millie Hinkle
How simple the past becomes through the eyes of time, like a handed-down religion. Details are smudged by the unconscious emotions we carry. A frayed favorite dress is remembered as silk, a harsh reprimand is recalled as unfair, and an alcoholic uncle has become a sentimental favorite.
So it is with this old love. The kisses, the laughter, the pranks are easily brought to mind, and they all seem pure, good. That is, through the filter of fifty years, it is remembered ideal:
Anticipation of her first date with a college man caused a change in Emily’s usually plain face. Her hazel eyes sparkled with green highlights, and her complexion took on a rosy glow. A smile graced her face the entire week. Every moment she was home her family complained of the constant sound of Mario Lanza’s songs playing on Emily’s Philco portable record player. She loved her 78 rpm record album and especially Mario’s “Loveliest Time of the Year.” She had days to plan what she would wear; she scheduled exactly when she would wash her hair, so that the finger curls, held in place by bobby pins, would be air dried and brushed out in time for her date. Her pink angora sweater and plaid, almost ankle-length skirt was nice, but too sporty for a party. She continued to look through her closet. She wanted everything to be perfect.
It was Emily’s first semester out of high school. Her parents had expected her to go right to work so she could save money before a possible marriage. But Emily knew that she was not trained to do anything except work in a restaurant or store. Her pride wouldn’t let her admit to such (seemingly) menial work to define her.
Although she didn’t know what, she wanted more out of life. Besides, she didn’t even have a boyfriend, much less a fiancé!
For the first time in her life she challenged her parents; City College was the battleground.
“I don’t want to work full time! I want to work part time and go to Pasadena City College. It won’t cost you anything; I’ll live here and take the city bus to school and work. I’ll take care of myself,” Emily stated. It was a bombshell to her parents. Her heart was beating double-time as she watched them trying to make sense out of this unexpected outburst. Emily had never spoken so defiantly, or so assuredly, in her life. Her parents finally agreed to try it her way.
Emily was giddy with her success in standing up to her parents. For the first time in her life, she was able to express thoughts about her own future. She hoped to find a career while in college. She felt ignorant and was ready to learn in earnest.
Besides attending classes, she wanted to experience the whole college scene. An ad in the school paper caught her eye:
Tutors needed for international students. Have fun meeting new people. Second language not required.
What a way to expand her horizons! Emily showed up at the appointed time; the room was abuzz with the laughter of students. She liked it right away.
A teacher paired her with an attractive young man from Venezuela. Paolo, a sophomore, was in the United States on a student’s visa. The visa would be extended as long as his grades remained above average. He was a serious student and his work was very advanced. Knowing no Spanish or biology, there was little Emily could do to help him with his assignment.
Looking around the room she noticed a young man edging closer to her and trying to catch her eye; he threw a few Spanish phrases at her, to no avail. Finally he struck up a conversation in English. Emily was flattered by his attention and liked Bill immediately. Bill had been a tutor for over a year, and he knew most of the international students. After talking for awhile, he invited her to the International Club party the next weekend; she accepted.
Bill was a lanky six-foot tall fellow with blond hair and friendly blue eyes. She couldn’t wait to get to know him better. She was later to find that Bill was an extremely serious student who had the grades that would entitle him to all the higher education he wanted. There were no boundaries on his future.
He arrived at Emily’s house dressed in slacks, a sports jacket and tie; she was dressed in a stylish cotton dress of black and white checks. The full skirt was supported with a crinoline, a series of full slips that made the edge of the skirt stand out wider than the hips (This accentuated a girl’s waist and made a flattering silhouette). He was introduced to her parents, and they were on their way. They made an attractive couple.
The party was held in the back yard of a typical southern California bungalow in Pasadena. They walked around to the back of the stucco house where the party was in full swing. Brightly colored paper lanterns were hung overhead from the edges of the roof to the orange trees. Spanish music was blaring from a mounted speaker. They greeted many people: Paolo was dancing close to a beautiful young woman. Bill introduced two good friends, Robert and Juan, who introduced their dates. Bill then sought out the hosts, a very sophisticated couple from Brazil. They were urged to have some fruit punch, but a bottle was passed among the guys in the shadows. Bill turned to Emily and slipped an arm around her waist; his touch was firm and she let him guide her to the dance area.
After dancing for hours to the Spanish tunes they decided that the Perez Prado band was by far their favorite. The band had a new fresh sound that was sweeping America in the 1950’s. The Latin music was both exciting, as well as, romantic.
Eventually, the party began to break up. Goodbyes were called out with promises to meet another day. Bill led Emily to his car, but before they got there, he pulled her close and kissed her tentatively. That kiss turned into another before they walked hand-in-hand to his car. This single moment of mutual affection carried the affirmation of being lovable, being able to make independent decisions, and to be even more, than her family could see for her.
That night began the romance that lasted a year. They met between classes, dated on weekends, and went to each other’s homes for dinner. But on this first date, they thought it would never end.