Archives For 1950’s

P.P.E.* Mania

October 8, 2013 — Leave a comment

Kindergarten was a delightful experience back in the late 50’s. It didn’t have much of an academic focus, but was more a means of socializing us to formal schooling, as reflected by my kindergarten report card, with its list of “Citizenship” categories. I earned check marks in such things as courtesy, initiative, good health habits, sense of fair play, and working well with others. Nowhere on the card is there anything pertaining to reading, writing or arithmetic. Yes, kindergarten was a series of halcyon half-days reserved for high priorities: dress-up, story time, singing, graham crackers and milk, recess, and creative expression through the medium of manila paper and Crayolas.

On this particular afternoon, Mrs. Mendoza handed out fresh sheets of paper and instructed everyone to draw our very CRAYONS-JUMBObest “purple people eater.” I could hardly believe my ears. You see, the songPurple People Eater” was wildly popular at the time and on its way to Number One on the Billboard pop charts. DJ’s had been asking listeners to send in their pictures of purple people eaters, and our very hip teacher was catching the wave. I was loving it.

I recall that she first played the song through for the class — as if she even needed to do that! Didn’t everybody know the lyrics by heart?! — and then she turned us loose with our crayons. I got busy outlining a sort of blobby, winged dragon-like creature with my purple crayon. I was about to fill in the one eye and one horn features when I became hugely distracted.

Some of the other kids were drawing green, blue and even red creatures. What was that about?! Didn’t they just hear Sheb Wooley sing that this creature was one-eyed, one-horned and purple?! I tried to persuade my classmates that their pictures needed to follow the specs, but to no avail. They kept right on coloring their creatures in way they had planned, my protests notwithstanding, and were as pleased as punch with their finished products. I got more and more frustrated with my inability to single-handedly sway public opinion and behavior.

In an effort to force things conform to my sensibilities, I approached Mrs. Mendoza’s desk. “The children aren’t drawing their purple people eaters right,” I informed her. “They’re putting two eyes on them and some don’t even have horns.” I wouldn’t be able to tell you the exact words she used to inform me that their pictures were just fine and I should go ahead and take my seat now and just worry about my own drawing.

Sigh. I tried. A brief chapter from that Big Book of Life Lessons entitled: “No, Linda, You Are Not the Boss of the World.”

And now, for your listening pleasure, may I usher you into a former era of song, beginning with the one that started the Great Kindergarten Classroom Controversy in the first place (lyrics thrown in at no extra charge). And while we’re at it, I present several other hits that were soaring at the top of the charts in 1958, either shortly before or after Purple People Eater:

[* Okay, so you figured out the acronym. Please proceed to the head of the class.] 

“I don’t like my name.”

“How come?”

“It’s just so ordinary.”

“But you do know what it means, right?”

“Huh?”

For whatever reason, I’d never been told what my name meant. But then, I’d never been remotely curious about it either. Until that very moment, that is. The look on my face must have told my brother I was completely in the dark. So, as I stood in the doorway to his bedroom, my big brother proceeded to enlighten me.

Linda,” he continued, “is the Spanish word for pretty.” He had recently started beginning Spanish in school.

You could have knocked me over with a feather. Pretty? Are you kidding? I tried my hardest to act nonchalant in the face of his revelation, but my insides were doing back flips. He’s telling me that this name I don’t really like actually means PRETTY?!! Why didn’t I know this before?!!

“Oh,” I replied. “That’s kinda cool.” Wow. I really needed to process this new info.

Parents (generally) do not intend to saddle their children with dull, out-moded, homely or otherwise dorky names. But it can happen. For reasons utterly impossible to discern before the nurse hands a blank birth certificate application to the new parents, some names are destined to become a ball and chain. An angelic, lovely, dashing, or even regal sounding name (in the ears of the parents) stands a chance of one day being considered the kiss of death by the child bearing the name, crushing his or her hopes of ever being cool.

I’ll share one unfortunate, yet unavoidable, way this can come about. Expectant parents of the 1950’s would have conscientiously picked out a boy’s name and a girl’s name, in anticipation of the blessed event. They would have likely paired these names with suitable middle names, and then repeated those names in succession, over and over, along with the family name, so as to be sure both the boy’s name and the girl’s name sounded very, well… nice. Whether they were going for names that were distinctive, or maybe that honored a family member, or fit some other noble criterion, they would have been sure to select the finest names possible to bestow on their new arrival.

For the sake of illustration, let’s just say that the girl’s name they had chosen with such care was Linda. And that they coupled Linda with the middle name Kay. The joyously expectant couple would not suspect, nor could they foreknow, that thousands upon thousands of other expectant parents were at the very same moment selecting and pairing those exact names for their unique, one-of-a-kind little princesses-to-be.

For centuries, Mary had reigned as the most popular girl’s name. (Apparently, being the mother of Jesus will catapult your name to the heights of extreme popularity for generations and generations to come.) Until the 1950’s, when it was eclipsed by the name…. (drumroll)Linda. In fact, so many people caught this wave that the popularity of the name played itself out within about a decade, after which it was retired to the morgue. I’ve only ever met one person named Linda who was born after the 1950’s. But among those close to my age, well that’s another story, and the main reason I didn’t like my name. (The other reason was that each of my siblings had a name that could be shortened to a nice, crisp nickname. Lin just didn’t have a ring to it.)

Every classroom I was ever in, from kindergarten through college, had multiple Lindas. I was never the only one. There were always two others, and occasionally three. This meant that when other kids were allowed to sign their school papers with just a first name, we Lindas had to add our last initials. I was never afforded the luxury of being just Linda; I was always, always Linda B. Maybe it shouldn’t have, but it messed with my identity. It didn’t seem singular or special to be one of a bunch of girls with the same name. For years I coveted an uncommon name like Charlotte, or, be still my heart, Veronica. (Remember the Archies?) After all, I had a penchant for glam, and common simply did not translate into glam.

And then my brother dropped the Spanish bomb on me. With his one simple statement, my resistance to having been given such an ordinary name was dissolving. So, it means pretty. That seemed rather special to me. So Mom and Dad hadn’t saddled me with such a boring name after all. As I was rethinking my entire paradigm, my brother pulled out one more ploy in his attempt to change my attitude about having a lackluster name: he informed me that a song had been written about Linda.

“Whu?…” Once again, I found myself standing drop-jawed in the face of another one of his pronouncements.

“Yeah, it goes like this,” he said, at which point he pulled out his trombone and began playing the melody. It was very, well… pretty. I liked it a lot. And from that point on I loved my name. Whenever I found myself among other Lindas, I viewed us as members of an exclusive club, inducted by parents who just might have fallen in love with this song… or maybe even fell in love to the song.

Linda Buddy Clark

Popular crooner, Buddy Clark, singing “Linda.” Clark’s successful career was cut short in an airplane crash, but his song lives on in my heart.