Chester Martin Remembers How You Couldn't See Maggie Alone

Monday, April 4, 2016 - by Chester Martin

That title is based on yet another title - of an old song, probably dating from Vaudevillean times, called, "I Never See Maggie Alone"! It tells you more about my parents' generation than a ton of scholarly books could do. Poor guy (in the song): he tells about how every time he thinks he is going to have a moment of privacy with Maggie, why, suddenly up pops her, "father, her mother, her sister and her brother", so he never gets to see Maggie alone. (Go search for it on YouTube!)  Oh, WOW!   Have those times ever changed in my long life! I was really surprised when a respected member of the community recently asked me about that matter - just exactly how  young people met and fraternized before the days of mass media and social networking via the Internet....

There was no Internet or Facebook, or even radio stations which catered specifically to the younger population, and, in thinking back to those days I actually scratch my head in an effort to reconstruct just how we actually DID communicate! Some of it happened at school, of course, or through good places like the Y-Teen club which held regular dances and other city-wide events.

I suppose that bulletin boards served as one means for passing information, or simply by word of mouth. You can't imagine the impact that record departments in stores like Miller's and Loveman's had on the local teen population. Congregating in those places was an every-afternoon ritual where information and gossip could be exchanged while listening to "Frankee Boy's" (Sinatra's) latest 78 RPM record. Boys felt a bit out-of-place in the record departments, understandably,  as those were largely a girls' domain.

I remember being invited to a girl's house one afternoon after school in about 1947. Her mother and the maid were there - and it was washday. "Loafing with Luther" (Luther Masingill worked both "mornings" and "afternoons" in those days) was on the radio and I remember the maid getting all giggly over the music of "TD" - Tommy Dorsey. (She told us all about the differences between the music of "TD" and brother, "JD", Jimmy Dorsey). So we cannot under-rate the power of the radio in keeping teens aware of the overall national Entertainment scene. It was the era of the "Big Bands" and everyone responded to their music. Ahhh...Glenn Miller, Bob Crosby, Harry James, Gene Krupa, etc. Even Guy Lombardo!

Boys looked forward all winter to membership in Joe Engel's "Knothole Gang", or to Glenn Ellis's YMCA camps at Ocoee. We lived more of our lives out-of-doors in those days than today, as home air-conditioning was very uncommon back then, and it was usually cooler OUTside than IN during the summer months. We had no "devices" to occupy our hands and brains. Boys let off steam by playing pranks sometimes. In fact, a friend, several years older than me (!) sat in my living room recently and told me about a lot of the things he used to do while growing up here in Brainerd. Once, he and some friends were up on "watertank hill" not far from where we all lived. It was well populated except for one area of vacant lots - and some large boulders well embedded in the ground. They took it as a personal challenge to see if they could get one of the huge rocks free and let it roll downhill. This took some "doing" but they did it! Much to their consternation they did it! Their jovial spirits rapidly evaporated as they watched the mighty stone increase in speed as it rolled directly toward a newly-built house - then miraculously stop, doing no damage. Lucky boys! They were just about to scatter and think up stories to tell if they were ever caught. So that is one little glimpse of how boys behaved "back then". (In my Uncle Chester Dean Young's lifetime, around 1900, there had been a famous book, called "Peck's Bad Boy" which delighted his generation of  around 1900 - and somewhat like our more recent Harry Potter series).

Since those days, the entire world has gone through many "revolutions" - some good and some bad. Dating is much freer and less restricted today than in my young days. I remember the painful embarrassment of using the tiny, very open, dating booths at Pfeiffer Hall Womens' Dormitory at the University of Chattanooga and wonder if that arrangement has been changed through the years? (You could see the boy's knees on one side of the opening, and the girl's knees on the other. Gratefully, you could not see either's faces!)

Our era (of the 1940's and '50's) got a lot of moralizing talks and sermons - more than today, I believe. I have absolutely no idea how young people go about dating today, really. Parking in some romantic spot was considered an ideal In my day, and marriage was always the supposed objective. There was a scramble to get your fiancee's picture in the paper - on page one of  Sunday's "Society" page, if it could be arranged....and then the same after the wedding. The Hippie era began to break those old traditions and the "Society" column is not nearly so important today as in the past. (I once heard of a Hippie wedding where the couple simply exchanged some small "found" rocks - NOT the diamond sort of rocks!)

My mother, who graduated from Central HS in 1913, used to tell me how they shared friends in those days before radio - and before cars were in general use. THIS mother and daughter would walk a few blocks over to THAT mother's and daughter's house for a social hour or two. Everyone knew the other's problems, concerns, and secrets. Young girls would go together to visit a much older lady - a respected widow of the community, perhaps. There was not nearly so much "age" discrimination then as came later. Cars, however, made it possible for you to meet your young friends at some "cool" place, leaving mom at home. But wait! "Cool" wasn't even in the Urban Dictionary of that day, and another word, like "keen", might have been used instead. (Some things were even, "tip-top"). Old letters I have from the early twentieth century frequently close with, "TTFN", standing for, "Ta ta for now". WW2 brought a lot of new jargon and slang used by the GI's. We almost forget that "G.I." is short for "Government Issue", and the word "Jeep" actually came from the letters, "GP" being painted on the fenders of every "General Purpose" vehicle. An amusing  saying of WW2, was, "Yours, till Germany gets Hungary and fries Turkey in Greece". Zany band leader, Spike Jones, introduced (or popularized) the now-famous "Bronx Cheer" in his much played recording of, "Der Fuehrer's Face". (Check that one on YouTube also!). The loud "wolf whistle", ("Whee Whew"), whistled by returning servicemen of WW2 made a great contribution to the American Scene for many years, but I don't hear it at all anymore...sadly. Holy Moly, folks! This is getting so old-school I think it's time to get in my old jalopy and leave! (Or should I have said, "Leapin' Lizards" instead of Holy Moly?)

But poor "Maggie" of Victorian St. Elmo times got left at home and totally out of the dating  pool. She had little freedom and few options. I could make you a long list of "perfect" young ladies from my mom's day who never found a mate. The young men got tired of never being able to see her alone and went on to seek greener fields. No "smooching" was allowed, folks! Strict old Victorian papas frightened away any chances that Maggie might have had.

I am also glad for many of the changes I have seen - and sorry for others, though definitely glad that I live in the modern age. Nothing ever stands still,  or to your own personal liking, and we must all learn to live with change. There is no "Golden Age", folks, except in your own mind.   :-)

 TTFN!  Hope you thought this was a "swell" story!

(P.S. - KILROY WAS HERE!)

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at cymppm@comcast.net )

 

 


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