We’re excited to share this guest post from Lois Ruby, with a peek at what it was like to grow up in the 1950s and how it influenced her new book!
What a time to be alive as a kid! We had no TV, computers, Youtube, Fitbits or Fidgets. What on earth did we do with our time? We rode bikes, played dodge ball, and sat on our front steps watching the world drive by in long, ugly cars that were turquoise or yellow. We roller-skated, had slumber parties, danced to music on our record-players, and read books – for me, five or ten a week between my walks to the library every Saturday morning. Anticipating a brilliant career as a surgeon, I spent a lot of after-school time dissecting anything that died in our yard or a nearby pond. Fish eyes were my specialty. Obviously, I did not become a surgeon, though I now dissect stories to see what’s going on inside them. Saturday afternoons, I went to the movies. For a quarter you got a double-feature, two cartoons, a newsreel, and a candy bar. (My favorite was Licorice Twist.) And we had Elvis, king of Rock’n’Roll.
However, all was not ideal growing up in the ‘50’s. We were just coming off World War II, the disabling disease of polio scared us out of swimming pools and fishing holes, and the possibility of “the bomb” attacking our school drove us to practice Duck and Cover under our desks. Though I grew up in San Francisco and went to fully integrated schools, in other parts of the country schools, movie theaters, restaurants, and drinking fountains, bore signs that said “Whites Only.” Racial segregation and abuses of African-Americans (then called Negroes) were often brutal. We owe a huge debt to courageous people who risked their freedom, even their lives, to protest injustice.
Meanwhile, the growing threat of communist influence in America plunged people of all races into terror and panic. My family were not communists, yet the hysteria permeated our lives, especially as the date for the Rosenbergs’ execution drew ever closer. The American ideal of racial equality, such as my peacefully integrated school, was branded as a communist danger, which confused us all. I had a frightening brush with a radio personality who was called up to testify at one of those dreaded Congressional committees. These experiences, and the atmosphere of the times, lingered with me through the years and directly inspired Red Menace. I’ve written it a dozen times, in as many ways, whenever my heart reminded me that the story needed to be told.
So, the ‘50s were a time of startling contrasts for children: Elvis, roller skating, and exploration, in conjunction with fear, injustice, and harsh realities, all of which molded me into the person, the writer, I am today.