Most of us think of the Fifties with nostalgia, as a simpler time defined by “I Love Lucy” fun and “Leave it to Beaver” innocence. The air was clearer; the sky was bluer; the cities, smaller. Crime was nothing like it is now, though the oldsters still thought the world was going to the dogs back in those days.
Coming out of World War II, many US residents were high on prosperity and hope. Charles M. Schulz began his comic strip, Peanuts. The Tournament of Roses Parade was televised in color. The first credit card was introduced, changing the financial lives of Americans for generations to come.
Movies, though leaning toward Westerns, were all over the map, from Sunset Boulevard to Cinderella.
Women still wore dresses and men wore suits, with hats! The teenage fashion of peddle-pushers for girls was just beginning, but skirts were more common, and the famous “poodle skirt” came into being. (Not all poodle skirts displayed dogs! Yay to the kitty skirt!)
When Lynley attends the opening of the newly remodeled Blue Cat café, she discovers a vintage photo from that era hanging in the foyer, starkly at odds with the ultramodern decor:
…The foyer, which currently housed a lavish buffet and open bar, was packed full. As we worked our way through, holding to the wall opposite the food and drink, I paused to look at a framed vintage photograph hung in a small alcove evidently designed with it in mind. The faded sepia tones seemed out of place in Arthur’s ultra-modern chrome and Plexiglas environs—he must have deemed it significant to have given it such a prominent spot.
The eight-by-ten matte-finish photo showed a group of youths gathered around an old pickup truck, six teens and a child, circa 1950. I peered closer, and from out of the unfocused monotone, a familiar face began to emerge. The teens had autographed the sky above their heads, and I had to check that I wasn’t seeing things, but sure enough, the name in the faded scrawl read Carol MacKay.
“That’s my mother!” I exclaimed to Frannie, pointing at a wavy-haired girl in bobby socks and a poodle skirt.
She leaned in to study the photograph. “But isn’t MacKay her married name? She wasn’t married at that age, was she?”
“No. She couldn’t be much more than sixteen here. It’s a funny story. Carol MacKay married Collin Mackey and became Carol MacKay Mackey. A double clan whammy. That’s one reason she’s so obsessed with her Scottish ancestry.”
“And she passed that torch on to you.”
“Yes, but it’s a good torch. I’ve traced our family back to the fourteen-hundreds.”
I scanned the other names and gave a little start when I picked out a girl in a ponytail and pedal pushers. “There’s Bea, Bea White back then.”
“Oh, just look at her sweater!” Frannie ogled the cardigan with a big sequined cat on the front. “She was a cat lady even then. Do you recognize anyone else?”
The signatures were hard to decipher, but above a lanky boy who slumped against the truck with cigarette hanging from full, youthful lips, was the moniker James John Melvin. “I can’t be sure, but that might be Melv, the FCC volunteer who helps with the TNR work. He’s the right age, and he mentioned he and Bea had been old friends.”
“This would certainly qualify as old,” Frannie agreed.
I gave one last glance at the photograph and noticed a detail about the truck that I’d missed before. The Dodge must have been a company vehicle because on the door was a big disk with the name ‘Copeland Lumber’ curving across the top. I remembered the logo from when I was a kid. I’d loved it because within that bright orange circle was a depiction of a cat. A black cat.
Cat Café, chapter 16
Rag Mop by the Ames Brothers, White Christmas by Bing Crosby, and All My Love (Bolero) by Patti Page were on the top ten charts, along with Vaughn Monroe’s original incarnation of (Ghost) Riders in the Sky. Lynley’s mom Carol is reminded of that song as she studies the old photo, which has a much darker meaning to her than to her daughter:
“The day that picture was taken, something terrible happened,” Carol began softly, as if, even after all this time, she was afraid someone might overhear. “It hadn’t happened yet when a friend snapped that shot. We had no idea, couldn’t have guessed. You’d think a thing so awful would be foreshadowed, wouldn’t you? But that’s not how it works. We were blissfully ignorant, terribly naive. We didn’t have the slightest clue that our lives were about to be changed forever.”
I squirmed in my chair, wishing she would get on with it, get to the good part, but it was her saga and she needed to tell it in her own time.
“I mentioned before about the black cat emblem, how we chose it because we considered ourselves to be rebels. It was really the boys’ idea. We girls, Bea, Olivia, and I, couldn’t care less about anarchy or rebellion, but like anyone else that age, we enjoyed breaking a few rules. And we fancied the boys—she had a crush on Melv and I rather liked Terrance, though it never came to anything. None of us were nearly as fractious as we pretended to be. For the most part, we had fun driving around listening to music on the truck radio.” She hummed a few tuneless bars of Vaughn Monroe’s Riders in the Sky. “Not all that much different from teenagers these days, I suspect.”
“How old were you then?”
“Seventeen. Nearly eighteen. We were all around that age. Rorie was twenty, Olivia only sixteen.”
“And the child?”
Cat Café, chapter 22
Yikes! What child? Find out in Cat Café.
Launch date for Cat Café, the 5th Crazy Cat Lady cozy mystery is October 29th, National Cat Day. Pre-order your copy now!
I grew up in the fifties, before they were fabulous, and so did Lynley Cannon. Let’s just say, there is both good and bad in any time. Carol remembers…
Yes, and I thought about including some of the down-sides to that period, but since it’s more about nostalgia than history, I stuck to the happy stuff.
With the outbreak now of a polio-like illness, there have been some reminders lately. Hope they can find a vaccine for that too. I enjoy your books, by the way !
Thanks. Part of why I write cozies is because the real world is scary crazy.
That is a strange spooky coincidence that Miss Lynley found a photo of her furr-iends in that cafe! Grandma made Mom one of those skirts for Halloween one year, but she made it with a poodle on it and not a pussycat. Mom remembers trying on some of the dresses Grandma, born in 1945, saved from when she was back in high school. Hugs.
I love vintage fashions! Of course, black and furry is always in style!