If you’re a Baby Boomer, you know the feeling. You try and tell your kids or someone else from the younger generation what it was like to grow up in America in the 50s. Usually they just roll their eyes and give one of those “C’mon old man, get with it” looks.
Hey, if you could pre-determine your fate, you’d be hard pressed to pick a better time and place to be born and raised than the 50s in the suburbs of New York. Our parents had lived through the Great Depression, our fathers had fought in World War II. The pace was picking up in the 50s, and the USA was on the rise. And New York was right smack dab in the heart of it all.
The 50s were a time of optimism and prosperity, at least in Westchester County, where every family it seemed had a house, a car and lots of kids. Growing up in White Plains, the oldest of four, with my grandparents and 11 cousins all living within three, tree-lined blocks, was an amazing experience.
As kids, we felt safe and secure. We rode bikes around the neighborhood, caught frogs and turtles in nearby ponds, and played sports. Lots of sports. Baseball, stickball and Whiffle ball. Football and basketball. On fields, in vacant lots, in driveways, even in the streets.
New York was the center of the baseball universe in the 50s. For 10 straight seasons, from 1949 through 1958, New York had at least one and oftentimes two teams in the World Series. The Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants left for California after 1957, but they Yankee dynasty remained in the Bronx. Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra were household words, their baseball cards prized treasures.
Early Years of Television
We followed the Yankees and other favorite teams on the radio or through the newspapers, but we didn’t watch a whole lot of sports on television. SportsCenter was still decades away.
Television took off in the 50s, and it had an immediate, powerful impact on America. The picture was black and white, at least in the beginning, and there were seven channels available in New York. We watched the “Ed Sullivan Show” and “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Leave it to Beaver.”
As the late David Halberstam wrote in his marvelous book “The Fifties” — “One reason that Americans as a people became nostalgic about the fifties…..was not so much that life was better in fifties, (though in some ways it was), but because at the time it had been portrayed so idyllically on television.”
I still remember the first time I ever watched color TV. One of our neighbors on the dead-end street where I grew up hosted a party during the 1957 World Series. The Braves played the Yankees in living color, with the NBC peacock as the backdrop.
A year later, my Dad took me to my first baseball game, at Yankee Stadium. Talk about love at first sight. Pinstripe fever. A SportsLifer for life.
The 50s were a time of change and set the stage for the turbulent 60s.in America.