By John J. Duncan Jr.
A few Sundays ago, I was invited to eat lunch after church at the home of Bob and Gail Winter in East Knox County.
We had a wonderful lunch of pot roast, potatoes, carrots, onions, coleslaw, rolls and brownies with hot fudge and vanilla ice cream.
Their son, Joe, was very surprised when I told him the first time our family went to Daytona Beach in the mid-50s, we stayed in a motel across the street from the ocean with no pool, no air conditioning and rooms cooled by fans.
It was the late 50s when most of the Daytona motels got air conditioning, and they bragged about it on their signs to encourage people to stay there.
Some motels had the words “air cooled” on their signs with fake icicles coming down from the letters. Air cooled, rather than air conditioned, generally meant fans.
This led to a discussion about how most cars in the 50s did not come with air conditioning and most homes were not air conditioned.
We lived in a housing project called Veterans Village, where the Austin-East football field is now, until I was about 4 ½ when we moved to a 1,400 square foot house in Holston Hills in early 1952.
In 1957, we added on a large den which we called the “new room” until Mama moved away probably in the early 90s after Daddy died in 1988.
We got the first air conditioner for our house shortly after the “new room” was added on. It was a window unit that we all loved to stand in front of on a very hot day.
I think Joe and his wife, Julie, were surprised too, when we started talking about kids sleeping in the back windows of cars on long trips or on the floor of the back seat.
Then we talked about how kids used to ride in the back of pickup trucks and how cars did not have seat belts.
I told the group that when I was on the safety patrol in my sixth-grade year, 11 years old, and how I and my fellow safety patrollers were allowed to stop cars with our flags so kids could cross the street without any adult supervision. That certainly wouldn’t happen in our sissified society today.
Thinking of other memories, I told them about when we got our first television set. It was placed at one end of our living room, the largest room in the house. Then we got back at the other end, because we were told not to sit too close.
All the televisions were black and white, and the motels in Daytona Beach bragged on their signs later on when they got color TVs.
I even remember a brief time when the first “color” TVs were nothing but paper-thin plastic sheets with lines of different colors pressed on to the black and white screens, they didn’t last long.
When I was practicing law, I represented the company that got the first cable franchise for Knox County. The owner was Alton Blakely, a Somerset, KY, car dealer who had grown up in Scott County with my uncle Joe.
Mr. Blakely started the company, Tennessee-Kentucky Cablevision, by going around Scott and Campbell counties to offer to hook people up for free and then take them off at no charge after one month. He said after you got them on, they would never get off.
Now, everyone is addicted, and young couples could retire comfortably if they would save each month what they spend on cable TV.
My favorite comic strip is “Pickles,” about an old couple, Earl and Opal. Their grandson Nelson, who is about six, in one strip has one of his young friends who is bragging about the friend’s father who works on space ships for some other very impressive tasks. Nelson says: “That’s nothing. My grandfather can change the TV channels with his butt without leaving the couch.” The young friend says “Wow!”
There have been many changes since the 1950s, most for the better.