what paradise?

I snipped this article out of a magazine back when Maeve was just two-years-old. If I remember correctly, I think at the time I was getting fed up with the talk around me about the 'good ol days'. I've kept it all these years and come across it every once in a while. Afterwards I'm re-energized in believing in humanity's yearning to make this a better world for the next generation.

I love a bit of nostalgia as much as the next person. I just wish we had a more balanced retelling of history, personal or otherwise.

I thought the piece was worth including here:

What Paradise?
It's fashionable nowadays to hark back to the optimistic 1950s as the paradise and golden age of the Canadian family. Mom's meals, Dad's job, innocent children. But were the '50s such a Utopia?

In that decade, family planning was in its infancy. Many mothers had larger families than they could handle, some juggling births little more than a year apart. Some moms did daily loads of cloth diapers using wringer washers and outdoor clotheslines. And at mid-decade in 1956, 278 Canadian women died in childbirth; by 1990 maternal mortality had dropped to 10 deaths.

The divorces of the '50s were costly, hard to get (private eyes and in flagrante delicto) and devastating economically for both parties. And in those days an out-of-wedlock pregnancy "ruined a girl's life." One 40-something widowed friend of ours who had a baby on her own had to pretend she was babysitting 24-7 for her married daughter's newborn.

Despite postwar prosperity, the long arm of World War II had claimed several young fathers in our neighbourhood, including my own, who died by his own hand in 1950, a casualty of mental trauma suffered in combat. Another local dad "went" very suddenly in his mid-40s with a massive heart attack, a not so uncommon fate of middle-aged men in that tobacco-loving, steak-and-eggs era.

And if the goal was to have a new Chevy in the garage every other year, families drove without the net of no-fault auto insurance (often with no car insurance at all). And they lived without government health plans and comprehensive employee benefits.

While a lucky few had private coverage, for many, a child's illness, a mother's pregnancies, a grandparent's surgery could cripple family finances. When my half-sister needed costly anticonvulsants and weekly nursing visits for her epilepsy, the whole family was held hostage to the bills. My stepfather, a senior company accountant, spent his princely one week's vacation working an extra job to pay her costs.

Most primary school teachers had only a Grade 12 education, plus a year or two of normal school, and were generally ill-equipped to simulate children's intellectual curiosity. Once my Grade 4 teacher went through a proud little essay about the Shriners' Circus and red-pencilled "crimson fez" and "scintillating scimitar" into "red face" and "shiny sword." And, of course, teachers were free to humiliate, ruler-slap and manhandle kids with impunity.

On the streets, lax animal control let roaming packs of dogs, often chasing an unspayed female, terrorize us. The bullying of girls and especially little kids ("Kindy-garden baby, stick your head in gravy") was accepted as normal behaviour. No conflict-resolution and minority-tolerance programs then.

So let's not glorify as a paradise lost what in many ways was a rough, materialistic and frontier-like time.

Diana Swift, Editor
Canadian Family Magazine
April 2001

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