By David J. Griffin, Times Reporter
Dating in the late 50’s and early 60’s usually involved more than one couple. It was almost a necessity because not every teenager had access to a vehicle. I was blessed to have my own “set of wheels” because of the generous nature of my grandfather, Eugene Stokes (Pop).
I learned to drive using the family’s 1954 Chevrolet and occasionally drove that vehicle when I first got my drivers license. Pop quickly determined it would be less trouble if I could use my own car and he assisted me in the purchase of my 1958 Chevrolet.
Living in Mt. Vernon during that era made driving almost a requirement because most of the attractions for teenagers were a considerable distance apart. The September 1959 issue of Seventeen magazine listed the following places as those that attracted teens: movies, drive-in theaters, drive-in restaurants, bowling alleys, skating rinks, pizza parlors, and amusement parks. How many of those sites were actually locally available depended on the size of the town.
Only three places on the list (Vernon Theater – Dinner Bell Restaurant – Kelsey’s Cafe) were within walking distance of Main Street, so most of the young people piled into someone’s automobile in order to frequent the other places of entertainment. I can remember one night having 13 friends in my car driving to Berea to visit the skating rink. It is not hard to imagine the fun we were having driving that 18 miles up US25 with rock and roll music playing as loudly as possible – and all the while we were singing along to the tops of our voices to the likes of Buddy Holly, Ray Charles, Dion, Elvis, and Roy Orbison.
In those days Mt. Vernon did not yet have a pizza parlor, requiring us to drive to Mama Mia’s in Berea to sample her Italian delights. Mama’s restaurant was my first experience with a pizza, and I will never forget that night. Six or seven of my friends accompanied me when we decided that pizza might be a fun experience. Bobby Joe Sweeney, Gary Coffee, Carla Baker, Dorcas Woodall, Marion Whitehouse, Sam Baker, and several others rode with me to Berea.
When dating, there were several reasons why we often doubled. Many of the girl’s parents felt more comfortable if their daughters were in the company of another couple, so it was easier to find a date if four teens were in the automobile. I can still hear the girl’s mother asking, “Who else will be going with you?” For obvious reasons, parents felt safer if two couples were in the car together.
From the standpoint of finances, the guys liked double dating because they could share the expense of gasoline, food, and tickets to events such as the bowling alley and the skating rink. Of course, in the 50’s it was pretty much understood that the boys would pay for the all expenses of the date. Most of us had jobs to facilitate the cost of driving our cars and for taking out the girls.
I suppose that the Valley Drive-In Theatre was the most popular place to take dates in the early 60’s. Almost everything a teenager desired was to be found at the Renfro Valley outdoor theater: the most up-to-date movies with our favorite movie stars were always shown; the food was delicious, even though there might have been a limited selection; the popcorn was fresh; and most importantly (from a boy’s perspective) once it got dark it was a great place to “park.” The Drifters reflected the correct perspective about that popular pastime.
Well Saturday night at 8 o’clock
I know where I’m gonna go
I’m gonna pick my baby up
And take her to the picture show
Saturday night at the movies
Who cares what picture you see
When you’re hugging with your baby in the last row of the balcony (Or the back row of the drive-in theater!)
Most of my friends and I double dated when we were in high school. Saturday nights found me and many of the following guys doubling up in my black ‘58 Chevy: Jim Barton Nunnelley, Lloyd Fain, Bud Cox, Gary Coffey, Sam Barnes, Marion Whitehouse, Penny Nunnelley, Jerry Hansel, Paul Daily, Gary Foster, and many others. It was the cool thing to do.
It was a time of great fun – simple maybe but it was a way of life for teens. We drove our cars and had some money to spend. We were seeking independence from our parents, and we were unstoppable in our pursuit of happiness. You can’t get more American than that.
(You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can drop me a line at P.O. Box 927 – Stanton, KY 40380. I love to hear from you and listen to your suggestions for this column.)