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Memories of the 1960's
Rita Wax Kelly
302 16th Street Southwest
Rochester, Minnesota 55902

Rolfe High School class of 1964

A warm summer night with a little breeze and clear sky fills my senses as I return home. The sights and sounds don’t change much despite the years. I recall the clatter of the rock train on the south edge of town on its way to and from the Gilmore City quarry. With no air-conditioning at our home, located on the west side of town near Thompson’s pond not far from the tracks, the sounds were extra clear when I would lie close to the window hoping for a bit of breeze to cool my room.

I walk the same sidewalks that knew the miles of my footsteps to school and the "half-way point" between my home and my friend Linda’s. We’d climb Clara Dawson’s tree and bury "treasures." Whenever I hear the mourning doves, my thoughts turn to Rolfe, my green swing, and riding my bicycle all over town for hours on a warm evening. A neighborhood game of softball or kick-the-can with the Rickards and Beckords usually ended in a trip to get ice cream.

Life was incredibly simple, and the rules were fairly clear. At any hour, Mom’s advice and presence were part of my life . . . "No good goes on after midnight" . . . and the light was left on over the kitchen sink awaiting my return. She was awake until the house was dark and the creak was heard on the third stair step.

Greater Rolfe Days was a huge event in my mind, and parents worried about the carnival workers coming to town. Dad was very protective of his daughters and involved himself in school activities, rarely missing a football or basketball game, and never tired of attending class plays and band concerts in the gym. The "tarp" was rolled across the floor to protect its finish, and everyone took care not to trip over the strings along the sides.

It was the 60's. Musical groups were "in." Visions of Nashville or "The Hit Parade" I’m sure filled our parents’ minds as the Polka Dots debuted on KRNT and performed at the state fair. Three girls from a little Iowa town . . . Linda Robinson, Phyllis Pedersen, and me. We had a good blend and enjoyed singing 40's and 50's show tunes and some "classics" like "Lollipop" and "Muskrat Ramble." We practiced at Mary Jo Lehman’s place (she played piano) or one of our homes, and our moms sewed polka dot skirts and dresses with can-cans underneath. Our career was dampened only slightly when we nearly poked each other in the eye while crowded around a single microphone and opening our umbrellas before a large crowd at the state fair. The sound wasn’t good either, but we laughed and still do today. Our friendship and laughter made the whole experience a wonderful memory.

Summer band concerts, complete with clothes pins on fragile music stands, entertained the towns people as cars parked by the bandstand north of Lehman’s Produce and honked their horns in appreciation. In the summer of our junior year, we celebrated the centennial of the Methodist Church and our town. I theorized the dual events were held in the same year so the wives had to put up with their bearded husbands only once. Summer was my favorite, with swimming in the Poky pool, but the smells and climate of each season remind me of some facet of growing up.

Fall meant a trip to Ft. Dodge or maybe Des Moines where I could spend my "bean" or detassling money on school clothes. I could buy one special thing from The Boston Store or Gates. As farmers harvested corn (Dekalb, of course) from the fields, leaf-raking was the order of the day in town. The EPA didn’t interfere as we burned leaves after playing in the pile of rakings. Homecoming was for everyone as children thumb-tacked crepe paper streamers onto the erasers of their pencils and marched behind the band as it played the "Loyalty." My cheerleading days were the best, although I knew nothing of the game of football. Our PE teacher, Mrs. Hodoway, coached us from the sidelines, "OK, girls . . . first and ten, do it again," or "Push ‘em back, push ‘em back, way back." Toward the end of the second quarter, we’d race to the bus to change into our band uniforms for the half-time show. Ah, small towns.

The fall of our senior year was a time of excitement mixed with tragic reality. We watched the World Series on a TV set up in the auditorium. We met at noon in Mrs. Boyd’s music room and danced to the music from the Beatles album, shortly after their appearance on Ed Sullivan. Elvis was still "King," but this new group with "long" hair captured our fascination. Then our carefree life was interrupted one noon in November when Superintendent Underwood faced the assembly just before lunch to announce that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. Our reaction was one of confusion, or at least questioning. What did that mean to the country? Would we be in danger of war? How should we respond? We didn’t know about Viet Nam. We were young and for the most part only involved in government from our American problems course and government class. But we mourned with the rest of the country and hoped we’d make a difference in our democracy.

Winter meant a cold walk home at noon if I decided not to get my lunch ticket punched, preferring Mom’s warm soup and canned peaches. Before Dutch elm disease swept through Elm Street where I lived, the snow and ice would form a spectacular canopy for several blocks and we’d always take a picture. When the blizzards came and there was no school or electricity, two or three families would join us since we had the gas stove and plenty of kerosene lamps. One such winter blizzard during the district basketball tournaments forced all the players and fans to spend the weekend in Rolfe. With no committee and very little organization, meals were prepared by moms in the home economics room, while the gym and homes were opened to whoever needed shelter.

Spring meant Easter Sunrise Service. My sons still listen patiently as I recount the Boy Scouts’ building the walk bridge and hauling an upright piano across the creek for the community choir who would raise their voices in song. The Lions Club gave each person a daffodil as cars filed into the field at 4:30 a.m. and worshipers bundled up to sit on the wooden benches. The Olympics and Super Bowl opening ceremonies are no match for the timing and choreography in this one event. We marveled at the beauty of the sun rising in the east as we sang "Christ the Lord is Risen Today."

Our life choices have sent us in many directions, but the legacy we leave could not and will not be complete, I’m proud to say, without those 18 years spent growing up in what now seems almost idyllic Americana. There were no computer games, and we were thrilled when Miss Blewett introduced the electric typewriter to her class. The miniature golf course in the 60's and the 25 cent movies on Saturday and Sunday nights brought plenty of entertainment for us. There was no moral relativism or situational ethics. Problems were handled the best way the experiences of our parents and theirs before them had taught them. Though not always perfect we actually turned out with a strong work ethic and sense of fairness and logic. We learned how to laugh at ourselves and keep perspective on the challenges of the day.

There were few books or support groups and little professional advice on raising children in a small town. Long before a politician said it takes a village, the caring families of Rolfe raised us and held us accountable. Small towns do have a reputation of judging and gossiping and pretty much knowing everything about everybody, but it "goes with the territory." On the other hand, nowhere else would the businesses and schools close for the funeral of one of its beloved citizens. For that my sister and I will be forever grateful.

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