Courting 65 Years Ago

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A couple of well-dressed young ladies in 1950. (June, 1950 Farm Journal magazine)

Spent a couple of hours the other afternoon on my lawn tractor which is time that I always enjoy because it gives my mind, never really prone to concentration, time to range far and wide. Today it chanced upon some half-forgotten memories of my experiences with members of the fairer sex back in those days when to be properly attired, a girl had to wear hose, hat, gloves, and a dress. Then too, a girdle must always be worn, as no part of the female anatomy was permitted to display even the slightest jiggle for busy male eyes to devour.

Did any of the folks out there in Readerville ever go to a Box Social?  Box socials were usually held in the evening at a church, grange hall or community building, and although anyone could and did attend (after all, there had to be chaperones), and they were primarily meant to raise money for a worthy cause, the event was great for bringing young, unmarried people together in what was considered a wholesome setting.

On the day of the event each girl would hunt up a shoebox (other types of boxes or even picnic baskets were sometimes used but a shoebox was more or less standard) and decorate it with colored paper, ribbons, lace, whatever suited her creative fancy. Then she’d fill the box with food enough for two, sandwiches, pickles, cake or pie, again subject to her idea of what would please a hungry guy.

At the hall, the gaily decorated boxes were arrayed on a table and the males in attendance were given an opportunity to look them over—no peeking inside permitted—to decide which of the bunch looked especially attractive. The auctioneer, usually one of the older gentlemen who had volunteered for the task, would take his place beside the table, pick up one of the boxes and, while holding it aloft for all to see, would begin his spiel.

As the bidding, usually in five, ten or fifteen cent increments, progressed, there were a lot of good-natured teasing comments from the guys in the crowd and giggling from the girls. When bidding lagged, the auctioneer cried, “Going, going, gone!”, the lucky winner paid what he owed, gathered up his prize and retired to a nearby table where the gal who had prepared the box joined him and they, presumably, shared not only the meal but some interesting conversation that (who knows?) might lead to future dates and eventually marriage and children, things that were quite important to parents in those days—and most girls, and even some guys, as well.

Of course there was often a good deal of skullduggery that went on before a box social; guys whose special girl was bringing a box knew ahead of time which one would be hers, and woe to him if he allowed another man to outbid him. Then too, if there was a certain guy that a girl was attracted to, she’d find some way to let him know how her box was decorated. Then, if he bid enthusiastically, she’d know he was interested too, or on the other hand if he didn’t bid at all—well, you get the picture.

I went to only one box social that I can recall and it was the summer I turned sixteen. I didn’t yet have a driver’s license, but I had a good friend who was a couple of years older, had a job as a milk tester and had his own car. He also had a more or less steady girl who was planning to take a box to a social at her church and he was expected to be there to buy it and to dine on the contents with his sweetie.

Well his sweetie had a girl friend that would be there as well, so I was asked to come with him, bid on her box, and turn the thing into a double-date, a practice that was looked upon with favor by parents, especially those of girls, in those long ago and very inhibited days. I guess the idea was that we’d chaperone each other and it probably worked because, while a girl might conceivably lose her head and be persuaded to “go too far” if she was alone with a guy, she’d never do such a thing with a girlfriend present.

Anyway, I was thoroughly coached as to how the girlfriend’s (I don’t recall her name, or what she looked like) box would be decorated and I won the bidding—probably three or four dollars, surely no more than five. The four of us then proceeded to eat the lunches, although the conversation between the young lady and me was something less than sparkling.

Did I mention that I was painfully shy, and virtually tongue tied around anyone I didn’t know well? The young lady was my first blind date—I’d never laid eyes on her before—and thinking back she was probably just as shy as me. Anyway, we got through the evening somehow and when we took the girls home I walked her to her door, just as I was expected to do. No peck on the cheek though, as was to be expected—nice girls didn’t kiss on the first date—and I never saw her again.

“Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end.” (Lyrics from a song recorded in 1968 by Mary Hopkins)

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