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Historically Speaking: These were the days

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Before school devotional at Roswell High School, circa 1955.

Looking back to a time of innocence when Roswell was booming.

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

In anticipation of my upcoming high school reunion next weekend, I decided to write about growing up in Roswell in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

These were the days of the “Howdy Doody” show on TV, the days of hopscotch, jacks, dodgeball, foursquare, red light-green light and red rover. Oh, and we can’t forget jump rope and yo-yos. These were the days of Roy Rogers (who met his first wife in Roswell) and playing cowboys and indians. These were the days of pogo sticks, hula hoops and playing croquet.

These were the days of running through sprinklers and going barefoot in the summer, the days of playing outside until your mom called you in, and if you got thirsty you took a drink out of the water hose.

Because of Walker Air Force Base being here and the Cold War, these were also the days of bomb drills in school, and the days of big bombers flying over our houses and bomb shelters in some back yards. These were the days of missile sites being built around Roswell and overcrowding in schools because of all the people who moved here. Big booms echoed through the streets from the sound barrier being broken, often so loud it shook the walls. Roswell was booming … in every way.

These were the days of polio and the cure was a vaccine you took in a sugar cube.

These were the days of telephones with party lines; televisions were black and white with only one or two channels, which signed off at midnight. These were the days of bagged lunches with sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, and — if you were lucky enough to have a nickel or a dime — you could walk to the corner grocery and get a candy or soda. Oh, and family vacations always consisted of a picnic basket in the back of the car.

The school year always began after Labor Day with a new Roi-Tan or Swisher Sweet cigar box filled with fat pencils, crayons, glue, erasers and scissors with a blunt end. We had our new Big Chief tablets, with marked lines to learn to write on. We would go to school in anticipation of the next story in our “Dick and Jane” books. Painting with watercolors and working with papier-mâché was always exciting.

Then there were the school holidays … First came the Eastern New Mexico State Fair and parade. Parade day was our first school holiday. In those days we’d go to Todes downtown, for a new western hat, or pair of boots to wear to the fair.

Halloween consisted of school carnivals and trick or treat in masks you couldn’t breathe in or see out of.

On Thanksgiving, we colored papers with Indians, pilgrims, turkeys and pumpkins. We also learned about sharing and to be thankful.

On Christmas, we sang carols, drew names for gift exchanges and colored green Christmas trees with different colored lights. We made chains of red and green strips of paper, to decorate the tree.

On Valentine’s Day, we made pretty bags and spent much time choosing and addressing each Valentine card for our classmates.

Easter always included an egg hunt on the school grounds or in a local park, plus new Sunday clothes and shoes.

Our moms collected stamps in stamp books from our grocery store and you couldn’t buy sodas without first returning the empty bottles to trade in, unless you wanted to pay extra.

At the gas station, you got your windows washed, tires and oil checked, in addition to getting your gas tank filled. The gas station owners and attendants would wash down the drives every night.

Then came junior high and high school … there were bonfires and ball games, dances and dragging (cruising) Main Street, impromptu gatherings at the Bottomless Lakes and dating. We went to concerts at the YMCA and The Crater — Yes, the band ZZ Top played here at the YMCA.

Remember souped up hot rods with hood ornaments, pick up trucks in the school parking lot with gun racks that actually had guns in them, because the guys would go hunting before or after school?

These were the days of fundraising through bake sales and helping to decorate for banquets, balls at the Institute (New Mexico Military Institute) and studying at the Carnegie Library.

There were no computers in those days. We had to do our research through a card catalog and books. We had to type our papers on a real typewriter, and if we made a mistake, we had to erase it and type over.

We would drag Main Street from Greers to Wylie’s (stores); sometimes we’d stop at A&W Root Beer for a cold frosted mug. These were the days when downtown was the place to be, the days before malls and big box stores. It was special and almost magical to drag Main Street during Christmas, driving under a tunnel of brightly lit angels hanging over the downtown area and store windows all decorated for the season. For the girls, our favorite stores were Knadle’s and Sweetbriar’s. Downtown also consisted of dime stores and drugstores, each with soda fountains and table-side juke boxes.

Sewing and making our own clothes was often the trend in those days, so we shopped for patterns and fabrics at Carribelles.

Our favorite music in those days ranged from Elvis Presley to The Doors, Beach Boys and the Beatles. We, of course, listened to this music on our record players with stacks of favorite albums sitting close by.

Our lives were planned around homecomings, holidays, term papers, final exams, first dates and final balls.

Yes, those were the days …

Janice Dunnahoo is an archive volunteer at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.