For as long as I can remember, my mom would affectionately call me an “old soul,” half sighing, half laughing. It’s a bittersweet thing to be in this world—gentle, old fashioned, tender.
To be an old soul is to entertain a lovely paradox: your beliefs make you vulnerable, but gift you with gritty courage. You have something to stand for. You are conventional and bland (“Abstinence? Why...? That’s so… old-fashioned.”), but also eccentric, whimsical and unorthodox (“Uh... nice record player...”). To be an old soul is to be wedged in a different reality. A lovelier one. It’s sort of a daydream; I imagine a time when people were kinder, with patient, pre-internet brains poring over books in the public library. I pine for the days when the neighborhood kids could go outside and play in the street together, climbing over white fences to drink lemonade at Bobby’s house and eat cookies a few homes down at Hannah’s, without fretful parents hovering nearby, and the now-palpable fear of kidnappers or other scary things.
For fiction class, I wrote a story called Every Inch a Lady. Set in the 1950s, the story follows two girls, Beverly and George. Beverly is “every inch a lady,” just as her mother taught her. “Bev” wears skirts and petticoats, frets over dirt smudges on the hem of her dress, and is careful not to spoil her appetite. She is polished and proper, purses her lips when she is unhappy and covers her mouth while she laughs. George is the inverse, with a sharp and hip vocabulary (“lingo”), knowledge of the seediest gossip, and a dangerous desire to wear pants. Seriously—even in the 50s, seeing a woman wear pants in public was like seeing a man in a dress (P.S.: Read the story here.)
As any half-decent author must, I spent hours researching the slang, politics, fashion, cars, music, and gender roles of the time in order to make the story feel authentic. Although the era wasn’t all perfect—extreme gender roles, horrible racism, and recovering from World War II—I fell head over (blue suede) heels once again for all of the positives.
The sincerity and simplicity melts my heart. I’m captivated by the music—it wasn’t about sex or drugs, sleazy lust or being Rich As _____ (oh, Lil’ Wayne... what an elegant fellow). If a song in the 50s was about lust, it was still clean and innocent: Young and Foolish by Dean Martin, Let’s Fall in Love by Eddie Fisher and Tony Williams.
The lingo preserved the same purity; “backseat bingo” referred to kissing in the car during a drive-in movie. Calling someone a “nosebleed” or a “wet rag” was a total insult, and yelling “heya, dolly!” at a girl was the innocuous equivalent to modern-day cat calling. People dressed modestly and tastefully. Women wore sweet swing dresses and pencil skirts, often paired with low heels or simple flats. None of the tiny shorts I grew up wearing, and definitely no baggy t-shirts, yoga pants, or running shoes. Being classy and looking put-together at all times was of the utmost importance.
I miss this, and I wasn’t even alive to experience it! At roughly 20, I’ve never known a world without television, internet, iPhones, and laptops. Admittedly, it leaves me a bit jaded. On the other hand, my adoration of the drive-in, soda-fountain, ice-cream-parlor, sock-hop era endows me with a lot of special joy and a little sliver of hope. Maybe society will become so trashy and broken that some of the antiquated values will be reestablished. I was ecstatic when sweet vintage dresses came back “in,” with higher necklines, longer hems, and a whole lot more class. That’s a start, right?
I suppose it’s almost a challenge for myself, especially after penning Every Inch a Lady. I think it’s a wonderful goal for girls—gals—to keep their “heads, heels, and standards high,” as the saying goes, and for boys to challenge themselves to be total gentlemen. It’s innocent, and I think very positive reversion. No 2a.m. “hey what’s up,” half misspelled and followed closely by a winky face. No “let’s hangout,” or “I’ll text you later.” No “I’m here,” message, sent as he sits in his car in the driveway rather than knocking on the front door.
Instead, it’s sweet regression to when a boy would verbally ask a girl, “When can I call you?” (Yes, friends, verbally—that means face-to-face! What a concept!) And she gave him a time. And then he called. On the telephone. It’s real dates that are simple but creative, where the boy only hopes she’ll hold his hand. Nancy Drew was a role model, not Miley or Beyonce or Justin.
I leave you with a lot to mull over, and some of my favorite 50s lingo:
- Cat: A hip person
- Cruisin’ for a bruisin’: Looking for trouble
- Daddy-O: Cute boy
- Greaser: Guy with lots of grease in his hair
- Jelly roll: Men’s hair combed up
- Kookie: A nicer way to say “crazy”
- Nosebleed: Stupid (hey, nosebleed)
- Paper shaker: Cheerleader
- Passion pit: Drive-in movies (because of backseat bingo!)
- Razz my berries: To be excited or impressed
- Right-o: Okay
- Shuckster: A liar/cheat
- “What’s your tale, nightingale? What’s buzzin, cuzzin?: What’s up?
- Germsville: Gross (that's totally germsville)
P.S.: The title comes from Elvis' Jailhouse Rock