Yep, if you ever watched “Happy Days,” you knew there were at least two major groups in any high school, in the 50’s and 60’s—the Mondos with their slicked back hair, motorcycles, and basic indifference or outright contempt of education (think of Fonzy as lead player) and the Colleeges, that other group slated for college.
And then, too, were the kids that didn’t fit into any category.
When I was in John F. Deering High School (now called West Warwick High School), from 1960-63, we girls who were even offered a college education considered the two fields that were open to us—nursing and teaching. It probably explains why I was a member of both extra-curricular groups in high school “Future Nurses” and “Future Teachers.”
I’d go on to become a teacher, a career I continued for 30 years.
I don’t even know if they have those same clubs today. I do know one thing: They wouldn’t be the only offerings for young women who consider their futures. Today, there’d be ramped up efforts to get girls into the fields of mathematics and science, a decided difference from my day, when it was thought only boys had a penchant—and ability– for the ‘more serious’ subjects.
My father was actually a proponent of that belief, frequently saying: “Girls can’t do math.” I resented his thinking that told me I was expected to fail in this arena.
Yes, girls in my era were supposed to be in training for their real jobs, as wives and mothers. If married women worked, their employment was supposed to last until the kids came along. My mother was of this group. She involved herself in PTA, church functions, and charitable collections, while she did all the domestic duties of raising four kids, keeping the household clean, and providing dinners nightly.
But as older daughter, I was expected to help with those domestic tasks. Each Saturday I accompanied her to the Phenix Laundromat where we pumped quarters into the washing machines, enabling us to do endless loads of wash. Considering there were 6 of us in the household, with two boys in all sorts of sports, there was a ton of dirty clothes. As a result, Mom and I spent hours in this weekly enterprise—all because my father refused to buy a washing machine.
My older brothers never had to help in laundry…dinner preparation…setting or clearing the table…or even cleaning their room. That was my job, too.
Ours was a household of the belief that boys and men were designed for loftier pursuits, while women were to facilitate men’s goals.
We went on only one family vacation in our entire growing-up years (which deserves its own column.) Disney and family cruise vacations were not yet the American way.
We kids all brought our lunches to school, in paper bags. If Mom ran out of bags and she thought to use a clear plastic bread bag, we balked. It wasn’t ‘cool’ to appear with see-through temporary lunch enclosure that told everyone what we were to eat—tho’ it was no different from theirs: tuna, peanut butter and jelly, ham, on white bread, with fruit.
Drinks were always individual cartons of white…chocolate…and coffee, the only item we bought in the lunch line, usually.
In our day, it was considered a decided treat to buy hot lunch at school.
In future times, buying hot lunch at school would become anything but “cool,” as the trend reversed.
Then, the “cool kids” brought their lunch…
But never, still, in a bag designed for something else.
Are these your memories? Did you grow up in a family that assigned separate roles for girls and boys? How did that affect later decisions?
West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (email@example.com), is a motivational speaker, freelance writer, and author to children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com). She is also a regular commentator in the Providence Journal. She currently completes “The Asheville Experiment,” about her husband’s and her nine years in the retirement town of Asheville, NC. She’ll also tell why they returned to Rhode Island. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com.