Memories of Benson: What Do You Mean, Isolated?

Second of Four
By Bill Guerra
(wmguerra@mindspring.com)

The author is a Benson native and was a member of BUHS class of ’63. He resides in suburban Atlanta.

By the 1940’s and 50’s, we were no longer one of the many small towns that dotted the West during the last years of the 19th century and early years of the 20th century; we were not a “community island” – bounded by land, not by sea – that made us a world unto ourselves. Thanks in large part to New Deal programs like the REA, RFD, and the WPA, Benson was the beneficiary affordable electricity, regular mail delivery, even to semi-remote areas, and worker programs that sustained us through hard times and helped open our eyes to the world.

In the 1950’s, when crooners like Pat Boone and Elvis Presley (actually, Carl Perkins) made white bucks and blue suede shoes popular, young boys in Benson were quick to adopt and acquire the fashion fad of the day! This included – at one time or another – skinny belts, skinny ties, pink pants, madras shirts, white Levis, etc. For the girls, the same could be said for Mary Jane shoes with white socks, poodle skirts, short shorts – and even that most horrible of girls dress outerwear, the Sack! (As the lyrics to a popular song of the day went: “No chemise, please! You can take back the sack, leave it hanging on the rack, and bring the sweater back!”) Of course, our school dress code imposed limits on what was or wasn’t acceptable, a concept that seems nearly improbable in today’s (almost) ‘anything goes’ world! Oddly enough, at least for a boy, was the tolerance, even acceptability, of our ‘traditional uniform’: blue jeans (Levis, of course) and a white, T-style undershirt!

Actually, we were very tuned in – and susceptible – to fads like the hula hoop, Davey Crockett coonskin hats, and Marlon Brando inspired black motorcycle jackets. We drank cherry cokes in conical paper cups at Hamilton’s Drug store or at Joe’s Confectionary and we danced in the auditorium (the school’s basketball court for an older generation) at post-game record hops to the music of Patti Page, Fats Domino, Patsy Cline, The Platters, Bill Haley, Richie Valens, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Chubby Checker, and The Lettermen. We were also entertained by catchy (but not necessarily dance music) recordings like the Purple People Eater, Witch Doctor, Running Bear, and Wolverton Mountain, to name a few. We boogied away to the jitterbug, cha-cha-cha, the swing, the twist, the stroll, the jerk and, of course, slow dancing! In short, we felt we were ‘in tune’ with mainstream America.