Jack Manning/The New York Times
Debbie Reynolds in 1964.
Jack Manning/The New York Times

Debbie Reynolds in 1964.


A friend dating to grade school days sent me a birthday card one year that pushed the reset button on memory lane. The card was devoted to the old game of “Remember When?”

The greeting on the card went like this: “Remember when grown-ups seemed glamorous?” When people said “thank you” and “please.” When moms called their kids in for supper at dusk? When you played hide-and-seek and climbed trees? Remember when “downtown” seemed so far away? When drugstores had fountains, most kids had a bike, and you had a wish for each star?

Remember when no one had pedigreed dogs? You read comic books by the ton? You bought penny candy? You drank chocolate milk? Expected each day to be fun?

“If these simple things bring a smile to your face whenever they’re heard or they’re told, it means you were lucky to have such good times. It also means you’re kinda old,” the Hallmark card noted.

I’m sure every senior citizen who received a birthday card like the one I’m describing here will attest to the “good times” of yesteryear. They likely could add a lot more in a game of “Remember When?”

There’s an old saying that “lost time is never found again.” That may be true, but it doesn’t mean that lost time can’t be fun again when you take a trip down memory lane with a game of “Remember When?”

Many of us who were born in the 1930s — the decade of the Great Depression — were in high school in the 1940s and 1950s. World War II came along in the 1940s and the Korean War in the 1950s, meaning a slew of seniors experienced three consecutive decades of hardship and sacrifice.

The year 1959 is an arbitrary choice for a review of the mood and the happenings on the homefront and across America. This is where newspaper files from the Menominee Herald-Leader and Marinette Eagle-Star come in handy for a replay.

Americans were mesmerized with astronaut activities. The U.S. was in a race with the Soviet Union for world dominance. Americans bursted with pride when the notable “Mercury Seven” were chosen — John Glenn, Gordon Cooper, Scot Carpenter, Virgil Grissom, Walter Schirra, Donald Slayton and Alan Shepard. They instantly became American idols. There wasn’t a youngster in school who couldn’t herald the names of the famous seven astronauts and their related military and personal lives.

M&M area dance floors were filled with dancers — young and old — who were lured by the music of three-man, five-man and even seven-man orchestras long before the arrival of DJs. If a band or orchestra wasn’t available, the two-steppers plugged a quarter into a juke box for three songs and joined their partners at one of the favorite night spots.

Some of the favorite tunes of the time were “The Sound of Music,” “Franky” and “Put Your Head on My Shoulder.”

Local theaters were in retreat as black-and-white television shows were taking over, but film stars like Debbie Reynolds, Susan Hayward, Doris Day, James Stewart, John Wayne and Glenn Ford were still major attractions on the screen like they were in the school years of the 1940s.

Scores of people, however, remained home and were glued to their television sets to watch “Gunsmoke,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “Perry Mason,” “Bonanza,” “Rawhide,” “The Danny Thomas Show,” “Father Knows Best” and the “Untouchables.” Those and many others offered on television would be welcome in contemporary life for our grandchildren to see.

The sports freak of ‘59 had plenty to cheer about. They remember the introduction of 7-foot Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain to the NBA. Professional basketball was beginning its rise in popularity with players like Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Bob Cousey, Bill Sherman, Elgin Baylor and Bob Pettit. Cousey was one of the first players to make playmaking from his guard position a fan favorite. He was a skillful dribbler and passer for the potent Boston Celtics.

Baseball devotees had the Milwaukee Braves of the National League to cheer. Their lineup included such standouts as Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, Johnny Logan and Joe Adcock. Present-day youngsters would have enjoyed visiting old County Stadium to observe the skills of players mentioned above besides the skill sets of players from visiting teams.

Players from the Milwaukee roster were frequent visitors to the Menominee and Marinette area to deliver banquet speeches or for other promotional events. Local business owners and civic organizations sponsored the players because they were affordable and accommodating with their appearance fees. Good luck getting a superstar in today’s world for a reasonable appearance fee.

How about this from the memory bank? A crafty pitcher by the name of Harvey Haddix had a perfect game going for the Pittsburgh Pirates-for 12 innings against the Milwaukee Braves. Haddix retired 36 batters in a row before serving up a home run ball to Joe Adcock in the 13th inning and lose the game 1-0. Even Milwaukee fans felt the pain for Haddix.

Newspapers come in handy when it comes to refreshing the past. A major music scandal rocked the industry in ‘59 when radio disc jockeys were charged with accepting money in exchange for playing specific songs.

The food industry had its woes, too. Reports of cranberries being contaminated spread like wildfire and caused extensive damage to the cranberry industry. Wisconsin was a leader in producing cranberries and state newspapers played the buzz on Page One headlines across the state. The scare prompted thousands of families to change their dinner menu on Thanksgiving Day.

The “Remember When” stories abound for seniors. Sometimes it’s fun to recycle them, but never allow yesteryear to use up too much of today.