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The Best Years of Their Lives

Image by Jo-B / Pixabay

I’m currently reading a collection of short stories published in 1949. It’s not the stories themselves that I’m finding memorable, it’s the vivid period details. I’m imagining the author, sitting at her typewriter, keystrokes finding a rhythm as the plot unspools from the reel-to-reel inside her head. She’s fleshing out her stories with details that to her, are present day in postwar America, but are rich and nostalgic to us seventy years later. No doubt she was making a carbon copy for herself as she typed.

In one story, her female protagonist has breakfast at a lunch counter (remember those heavy white ceramic cups and plates?) and later rides an elevator to the third floor. Was this an old iron birdcage elevator with an operator?

Dialogue in these stories is reflective of this film-noir era as well. Phrases like “Don’t get sore about it” and “Let’s meet at the burger joint” call up Bogart’s voice in my head.

Settings like diners and seedy apartment buildings give these stories a black-and-white cinematic feel. Cigarettes are ever present as are fedoras, gray flannel suits and tubes of red lipstick. I can almost hear Sinatra’s voice on a record player in the background.

My recent foray into some vintage family photos (see previous post) brought back memories of things like baby shoes that needed polishing (that was my job as the eldest child), pin curls, percolators, cloth diapers and rubber pants. In response to a recent writing prompt of “grocery list” I found myself drawn to compiling a list of things my mother used to shop for such as Ovaltine, Wonder bread, bologna, American cheese, fruit cocktail, Hostess cupcakes, frozen peas and carrots, Uncle Ben’s converted rice, a whole fryer chicken and Prell shampoo. At home, she would give me the S&H green stamps to stick in our redemption booklet.

Maybe this post jogged some memories for you as well. If not, it might be fun to read a book or watch a film set in that era—a time when cookies were something your mother baked, not insidious micro spybots that track every move on your computer.

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