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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

The Weekly Reader & Chocolate Milk

I don't know about you, but the highlight of my week in elementary school --well, besides sitting next to Robert Amadori--was the arrival of The Weekly Reader and the chance to drink a small carton of chocolate milk as a mid-morning snack. (If you didn't grow up in the fifties, you most likely didn't get the chocolate milk but still read the Reader.)

Being chosen to deliver the milk was a privilege bestowed upon a student who had either shown improvement from one week to the next or who had received more gold stars than could fit on the top margin of her spelling or reading or math workbook. I got chosen a lot.

So, it was with great sadness that I learned on last week's edition of "CBS Sunday Morning" that The Weekly Reader had been shut down in 2012 (Okay, so I'm a little late) after 110 years in publication. The "magazine" had been purchased by Scholastic and dumped after six lousy months because--you guessed it--it wasn't making enough money, and there was pressure to convert to digital.

Hearing about the closure of the Reader brought back so many memories of a carefree life that we kids (now classified as the elderly) enjoyed. We rode our bikes up and down around the neighborhood without any parents in sight. We threw those bikes on our friends' front lawns without worrying that they might be stolen. We left our front doors open, too. We didn't spend hours solo in front of computers but in a friend's house playing Monopoly or Spin The Bottle. If after the spinning bottle pointed at you, the spinner got to dare you to, say, take off a shoe or hop around the room on one leg or, at its most daring, kiss a boy or girl, depending on your gender. We didn't know from gays or lesbians or gender-fluid kids. We were so damn innocent.

We weren't beholden to cell phones or texts, social media, or 52" color TVs. They didn't exist. My favorite TV shows in black and white (Imagine that!) were "Spin and Marty," "Soupy Sales (a fixture in Detroit) and "The Micky Mouse Club." Oh, Annette, I loved you. There was no nudity, no swearing, no weapons, no death. If our parents were at all political, we delivered flyers door to door. On Halloween, we didn't have to worry about candy that might be laced with drugs. We collected money for UNICEF or to help our Girl or Boy Scout troop raise money for kids who couldn't afford their uniforms.

I often say that I feel blessed that my fellow Baby Boomers grew up in the sixties--that we lived at a time when anything seemed possible. But now as I rethink my life and its various stages, I've come to believe that coming of age during the fifties was also a gift--a gift of freedom, of uncomplicated lives, a time when Americans prospered and the American Dream seemed possible for so many. Of course, I know all about the prejudice and inequality bubbling just beneath the surface. But as an innocent kid, I was sheltered from the coming storm. I had a chance to catch my breath and to learn about myself without unending pressure from the media, adults, society as a whole.

I could watch Justine and Bob on "American Bandstand" and daydream about the time when I, too, would slow dance cheek to cheek.


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