Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

Sept. 13, 2004

Golden anniversary time

This summer, I was invited to two different golden anniversaries, and my wife, Jeanne, attended a 50th reunion, all of which put me in mind of 1954.

Although that was a half century ago, it increasingly feels like yesterday.

In 1954, Grace Kelly won an academy award for best actress in "The Country Girl." She co-starred with Bing Crosby, who played an alcoholic singer trying to make a comeback. His first step in making that comeback was to admit he had a problem from drink and that there was nothing that "drove him to drink." The movie ends in triumph when Bing looks into the mirror above the bottles in a saloon and sees the First Step of AA in that mirror, along with his sad face.

Denial was then, back in 1954, the first symptom of alcoholism and still is to this day. Alcoholism is the only illness which actually tells the afflicted person that he or she really isn't sick at all. After all the rationalizations, deceptions, and evasions, when an alcoholic sees himself in the mirror as he really is, the first step of the 12 steps is made and the healing begins: "I am powerless over alcohol."

The 10 most popular movies for 1954 were: "White Christmas" (Bing again), "The Caine Mutiny", "The Glenn Miller Story", "The Egyptian", "Rear Window", "The High and the Mighty", "Magnificent Obsession", "Three Coins in the Fountain", "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", and "Desiree".

The 10 most popular TV shows were: "I Love Lucy", "The Jackie Gleason Show", "Dragnet", "You Bet Your Life", "The Toast of the Town", "Disneyland", "The Jack Benny Show", "The George Gobel Show", "Ford Theatre", and the first Miss America TV broadcast.

For the first time, revenue for television broadcasters surpassed that of radio and the Corporations such as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing which were smart enough to advertise on prime time TV started to grow and grow.

The most requested pop hits were: "Shake, Rattle and Roll" by Bill Haley and the Comets, "Young at Heart" by Frank Sinatra, "Sh-Boom" by the Crew Cuts, "Mamboo Italiano" by Rosemary Clooney, "Mr. Sandman" by the Chordettes, "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" by the Spaniels, "Stranger in Paradise" by Tony Martin, "Three Coins in the Fountain" by Al Alberts and the Four Aces, "Oh! My Papa" by Eddie Fishe, and "Naughty Lady of Shady Lane" by the Ames Brothers.

In Arts and Letters, William Golding won a prize for "Lord of the Flies," and J.R.R. Tolkien won for "The Fellowship of the Ring."

The economy in 1954 had a new automobile going for $1,950. Gas was 25 cents a gallon. You could buy a house for $17,500. Bread was 17 cents, milk was 92 cents for a gallon. We had three-cent stamps. The hourly minimum wage was 75 cents, and the median annual salary was $4,700. Unemployment was at 2.9 percent.

Eisenhower was president and Nixon was vice-president. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that year that racial segregation in schools was wrong.

And don't forget about the Korean War, which is being called "The Forgotten War."


I always snoop at pictures on the wall in people's homes. I did that when I visited the Sonderns.

Al Sondern and his wife, Lu, befriended Jeanne and me a few years back and since then, we visited them at their home in Kansas City this summer.

Al, a German immigrant, never told me this, but I saw it on the wall in his home. There were three military discharges framed. I think it may be a record of some kind. Al was discharged from the U.S. Navy, after WW II, on Jan. 8, 1946. He was discharged from the U.S. Army on July 21, 1950, and he was discharged from the U.S. Air Force on Nov. 6, 1962.

How all this came about is too complicated to explain in the space of this column. Al is a unique and wonderful man in more ways than one. At the age of 79, he enjoys going out to the Gulf of Mexico and flinging himself into the surf. I have joined him a few times in this near suicidal endeavor. I even got him to wear a life jacket, something I am never without myself after a scary encounter with an undertow.

I have nothing to boast about on my wall, in case you were wondering.

* * *

WWJB stands for "Who Would Jesus Bomb?" and "JWAL" stands for "Jesus Was a Liberal." I don't think this is funny. Jesus is the name that "is above all names" and not to be used except in awe and reverence.

I think it is fair, though, to think about what Jesus would tell us in the current political climate. "Love your enemies" for sure. After that, I think His example, itself, tells us more even than His sayings.

He ate with sinners. He never judged. He never took sides. He rejected nobody.

I have just read a wonderful book called "Father Joe," a true story about an English Benedictine monk. Father Joe's whole life revolved around the teaching and example of Jesus.

Here is Father Joe's take on our present times. He is in dialogue with a young modern who is trying to explain our present day humor to him:

Father Joe: "Your humor always divides people up into two groups?"

Young man: "That's often its dynamic, yes."

Father Joe: "Is that a good thing?"

Young man: "That's the way the world works, Father. ‘We're good, you're evil, we're smart, you're dumb . . .' The English tell Irish jokes. In America, they tell Polish jokes because Poles have been stereo-typed as stupid."

Father Joe: "Tell me a Polish joke."

Young man: "Okay. What has an IQ of 212?"

Father Joe: "I don't know."

Young man: "Warsaw."

Father Joe gazed expectantly. "Is there a joke coming?"

"That's it. The entire city of Warsaw has a combined IQ of 212."

Father Joe: "But the Poles are a rather sensitive people, aren't they? Tragic and poetic and long-suffering. Look at Chopin. Or even the Holy Father."

"Okay, so it's not a joke. But blondes - or the French."

"Tell me a joke about blondes. I like blondes."

("I told him a dumb blonde joke and he still looked puzzled. He didn't get it.")

Father Joe: "To say people are stupid when they're not, isn't that a little cruel? . . . You see, I think there are two types of people in the world. Those who divide the world up into two kinds of people . . . and those who don't."

I made a few resolutions after reading this book. One is that I will never tell or laugh at another joke which even remotely makes fun of other people. No more "Pat and Mike" jokes for me!

Number two is, I will keep my mouth shut and learn to listen. I have already lost some good friends during this campaign year and I don't want to lose any more.


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