Growing Up With A 50’s Mom

Sunny Frazier 2Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today with her thoughts on her own mom of the 50’s.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.   //

My house is a mess. Writers have a nasty habit of blocking out their environment when they’re writing. The same with reading. We attract paper, all of it important, notes scribbled on every scrap and post-it. If it can be written on, we do. Our friends are not invited over, we meet at neutral places like restaurants. Let someone else do the dishes.

I didn’t grow up like this. I was raised by a mother who was a product of her time. She devoted her life to cleaning the house, cooking great meals, taking care of her husband and seeing her daughters were immaculate when we left the house. She tried to instill these attributes into me. It obviously didn’t take.

To keep her house clean, we were kept out. We were ordered to “Go out and get some fresh air.” If it was raining, we played in the garage. You never went into other people’s homes and kids didn’t come play in yours. And you’d better be in shouting distance for dinnertime.

My mom was like all the other moms in the neighborhood. She didn’t work outside of the home. The only woman I knew that did was a teacher who was divorced. That in itself was unusual. Few women I knew drove because nobody had two cars. My mother didn’t get her license until she was in her late 50’s, and then only to drive to the bank three blocks away. I sometimes feel sorry for her that she had to beg for rides to go shopping and never felt the luxury of an afternoon shopping on her own.

I never went to kindergarten because my mother thought it was a Communist plot. She didn’t trust penicillin, so I was told I was allergic to it (I was 62 when I found out I wasn’t). She didn’t trust anyone to take care of her children so I never had a babysitter. But, she thought nothing of letting us ride the city bus to school or enrolling ourselves. And, because she didn’t drive, she never attended a teachers’ conference or open house.

Back then, nearly everyone’s parents smoked and drank gallons of coffee. I’m sure we all came to school reeking of tobacco. Second hand smoke wasn’t a worry. Neither was cancer. I remember my mother putting out a cigarette in a supermarket by dropping it on the floor and grounding her shoe on it. Hard to picture that today.

The 50’s mom always did her hair and makeup and dressed for the day in a duster or housedress (no pearIs like they show in old TV programs). I also remember something called “Come As You Are” parties. After the men went to work, one of the women would call everyone else and they had to leave the house in bathrobes and curlers to join the rest for coffee and pastries. I was dragged along and remember being shocked to see the neighbor ladies with curlers under headscarves, cold cream on their faces, bathrobes and slippers. All of her life my mother stayed at home dressed in a girdle and hose under her muu muus. I’m lucky if I make the effort to get out of my pajamas on a given day.

The house was always ready for anyone who dropped by. When my parents had company, they all sat in chairs, set coffee cups on coasters, were offered refreshments. In college, my friends sat on beanbag chairs or the floor, brought snacks to be shared and drank cheap wine. Bookcases were bricks and boards, the coffee table was a large wooden spool. Or, if you could steal them, milk crates. A mattress on the floor was fine for a bed—or a couch. Totally acceptable in the 70’s.

Female friendships were limited for my mother. Socializing was done by being a couple. A single woman was suspect, someone to guard your husband from. I have plenty of single women friends and my married friends are comfortable with my single status. They enjoy shedding their husbands to do things with girlfriends. I have friendships that go back to grade school, high school, college, the military, law enforcement and my writing life. These are women I value and who will be with me until death do us part.

A Snitch in TimeMy mother wanted my sister and I to have good marriages and give her grandchildren. Unfortunately, she raised strong, independent daughters who failed on both counts. We worked all our lives, bought our own houses and cars and didn’t look for a man for financial support. We were contented with cats (lots of cats!) and settled for a life of cat hair and shredded furniture.

My untidy lifestyle would have made me a pariah in the ‘50’s. Conformity wouldn’t have worked for me. Maybe I would still be a writer, but probably not a mystery writer because I wouldn’t have much experience outside the home. I never would have traveled all over the world on my own. I’m a product of my time, just as my mother was symbolic of hers. So, let the dust settle on every surface, the bed go unmade because the cats are comfy, meals cooked only when necessary. From what I can tell, there are many messy, busy women out there like me. And I can live with that.


17 thoughts on “Growing Up With A 50’s Mom

  1. I’m with you, Sunny. I grew up in the fifties, too, and much of what you wrote was familiar. Where I used to keep an immaculate house like the way I was raised, now I only have have time to write. Thank you for bringing back memories.


  2. You sum it up well. I grew up in the late fifties, early sixties in the south. It wasn’t much different. One thing you omitted from your description: those white gloves that had to be immaculate on Sundays . I remember being relieved when they were finally phased out…


  3. Count me in, Sunny, Laura and Linda; this sounds so much like my mother, too. I was, however, and only child, and we always had dogs and never cats. My mother always dressed up, wore lovely coral lipstick, and cleaned the house constantly ( waxed floors, etc) and cooked everything from scratch.


  4. I think your life sounds perfect. Plus the cats are always up for a “come as you are” party. Just make sure there’s catnip for everyone.


  5. Another 50s kid here but only some of what you said rang true for me. Yes, the house was immaculate. But mom was up, dressed and made up for the day bright and early-no pearls, but certainly no bathrobe or curlers in public-not even to the neighbors and no shorts or pants for her either. She also had a lot of friends of her own and was better connected with them than many of us are today because they actually saw and talked to each other regularly at weekly bridge, committee meetings, garden club etc. Yes they drank gallons of coffee (but so do I) but neither my mom nor any of her friends smoked. It was considered “low class.” But you are right in that virtually every man smoked. I had plenty of babysitters as my parents had a life that did not include me. They went out to dinner (yes! in the 50’s people did NOT drag their kids in to fancy restaurants in the evening!), Eastern Star and Masons, parties and what not else. And both parents were at all the school functions plus PTA etc. What I remember most is that we had the run of the town and everyone’s parents were sort of our parents by extension. If we were doing something wrong, any adult could nail us for it-and also save us from our own recklessness. We played in the rain and snow, fell out of trees, wrecked our bikes, lost control of our roller skates and any number of adults would and could come to our rescue. But we were allowed the time and space to do these things-in fact encouraged to (ie “it’s a beautiful day-outside you go” or “I need to wax the floors so you and your friends need to go outside now for the morning”), something today’s kids don’t have.


  6. I was a ’50s Mom and very different than Sunny’s mom. I smoked and drank coffee, as did all my friends, always got dressed first thing, wore Capris, sometimes shorts, worked when we needed money (telephone co. had to wear skirts and stockings), hubby was career Navy and gone a lot, when he was home we hosted lots of parties. I raised five kids, often alone, was active in PTA, held nearly every position including President 4 years, had a Camp Fire Girls group for 10 years, drove when I had a car, when I didn’t and had to go somewhere, rode a bike, Had many female friends, never visited anyone in my p.j’s. except when the sorority I belonged to had a surprise breakfast in a restaurant. Kids played at our house which was clean, I worked hard to keep it that way. Other mothers did lock there kids out, I never did. I wrote then too. I still write, house is clean but I pay my daughter to do it for me.


  7. I too was a child of the 1950s but a lot of your experiences are different from mine. My parents didn’t smoke but many of their friends did, and my parents kept extra packs of cigarettes available for them. I remember just before Christmas driving through our small town to deliver gifts to the police, fire station, and others–they all got cartons of cigarettes. And yes, I remember white gloves for church and hats, of course. I never saw my mother with her hair in curlers because she had her hair done every week. My mother did a lot of serious volunteer work, drafting proposals and working on state and federal legislation for education, so she was gone much of the time as we got older. But i remember her “office/library,” which was filled with books and papers. She filed on the floor, and I too have stacks of books and papers everywhere. I cringe when I think we might have guests because then I notice how neglected the house is. Fortunately my friends understand. But the biggest difference, I think, is the ease with which women can choose their lives now. My grandmother drove her car well into her seventies, which was considered unusual and an achievement, but she had no choice because she was divorced as a young mother and had to work. My mother drove all over the northeast until she was 89 (and was stopped for speeding). I plan to drive well into my nineties.


  8. I was definitely a child of the early 50s, quite different from the late 50s. My mom didn’t smoke or drink, but my dad did. Being a housewife was her thing, and a clean house and laundry (comparing lines in the neighborhood for whiteness) was a local
    thing. She didn’t drive, and walked everywhere. Local grocery shops with their ‘tick’ books was not for her. She made my dad drive her to the big grocery stores.
    I made my escape from that expectation as soon as I was able, early 60s.


  9. I can sooo relate. My grandmother raised me in the 50’s. She was always busy cleaning, sewing, cooking, etc. I’m just not that way. Don’t know what happened, but I sure would like to have some of her ambition when it comes to the house. 🙂


    • I was also raised by my grandparents in the 50’s. Grandmother was always busy cleaning, cooking, sewing, knitting, and crocheting. I think that was her favorite past time. She even made all my clothes. The only time we went anywhere was to church on Sunday and she always wore white gloves and a hat.


  10. Sounds like the story of my life too! What is amazing is all of the strong women who emerged full blown from the chrysalis of the 1950s parenting style. Were we rebels? Or were we secretly encouraged?


  11. So much of this rings true for my childhood, though I was never shooed out of the house to keep it neat and clean. Even if she was staying home for the day, my mother was always well-dressed, her hair coifed, her makeup perfect. She often despaired of me because I didn’t care as much about my appearance.


  12. Great post, Sunny! My mom’s house is always spotless, and mine is…not. When I’m writing very little laundry gets done in a timely manner, the dishes from all day long may wait until after dinner to be cleaned, and the bathroom, well, let’s just say the bathroom doesn’t get the attention it deserves. You made me smile today. Thanks!


  13. This is such a wonderful thread, dear Sunny, and all the many posters who have commented—now that my Mom has been gone since 2007, I have been slowly evolving into her ( 😦 ) in ways I never thought possible; the need to have my sheets tight ( and they never are); constantly doing this, that and the other that she always reminded me about ( that would annoy the daylights out of me).. I wish she were still here.


  14. I was a child in the 50s (and the 40s) and consider myself lucky, I guess, that my mom worked outside the home (she was a nurse) as soon as my baby brother was in school. She was president of the local PTA and active in the community, crusading against censorship of a local bookstore and other things. So I’m lucky we didn’t have enough money for my mom to stay home! Neither my mom nor I have ever been spotless housekeepers, but we had friends over (usually in the yard, but sometimes in the house) and my kids always had a bunch playing inside and outside. My parents didn’t smoke and didn’t drink much, but I remember my mom liked a cold beer on a hot day after she’d mopped the kitchen floor. You’ve brought back some good memories! Thanks.


  15. Interesting story. I grew up in the same period. Some big differences though. My mom hated to clean house and ours was always a mess. She drank hot tea instead of coffee. My father was the smoker. Boy, did I recall the women who wore curlers all day when you mentioned them. Honestly, in hindsight, that was the most ridiculous thing. They went grocery shopping in curlers. Curlers are to fix your hair so you can go out in public, but so many back then thought they needed to wear them all day for a night event or something. It was a different time. I think it was so much safer back then for children to go out and about.


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