My brother Larry was a soc – that’s short for social, not sock—at Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, upon which the book The Outsiders was based. Author S. E. Hinton was a classmate of his.
One Friday night during our family “supper” as we called it, Larry announced that he was going to a “rumble” that night. Rumbles figured heavily in The Outsiders era; it was always the Greasers versus the Socs (pronounced sosh with a long o). My parents told him he would not be going. He repeated that he was. I don’t remember the outcome of that evening. Did he go? Was he forbidden to leave the house? Did the rumble happen? I think it did but I remember nothing about injuries to the participating teenagers.
Larry tells me he did go to that rumble and many others. He does not remember any guns or knives at the rumbles, and adds that he always went as an observer—he announced to his fellow socs that he would be going to law school (which he later did) and could not afford an arrest record.
He once made the mistake of speaking to the girlfriend of a fellow soc, and was rewarded with four stitches on his chin. But the other guy came out worse—his back teeth were loosened. The fight took place in history class, which is ironic since my brother majored in history for his undergraduate degree.
Speaking of actual socks, not the socs, I don’t remember much about guys’ clothing from that era, but I do remember that while in high school Larry wore wheat jeans, madras shirts, penny loafers without the pennies, and no socks. I remember my father laughing as he said, “Larry just told me that nobody wears socks.”
It was a time of teased hair for the girls, curled into a “flip.” Skirts became shorter and shorter, finally arriving at what we now call miniskirts. Teenagers constantly cruised Peoria Avenue in Tulsa using the long-gone Pennington’s Drive-in as their base. Drivers were absolutely forbidden to honk their school honk at Pennington’s, but everyone did. Each school had a honk. Mine was 123,123,12345 for K-E-L, L-E-Y, Bishop Kelley High!
These were the early years of the Vietnam War, before my brother drew a low number in the draft lottery and postponed law school to serve. The years before acquaintances of mine went to Vietnam and left their worried parents, sisters, and sweethearts behind. The years before the war ended, when some of my college friends celebrated by “streaking,” or running naked en masse through campus.
It’s difficult to think of the Vietnam era as being innocent, which of course it was not—it was WAR—but it was a time before social media, a time before personal computers, a time before cell phones. Partisan politics did not loom as large as they do now, but social issues certainly did. Racial integration, hippies, the counter culture, drugs, the role of the military, and the war—always the war—were on everyone’s mind. I grew up in a turbulent time, but then, who doesn’t?
S. E. Hinton wrote powerfully of class divisions, of life, and of death, at a time when teenagers were supposed to be innocent and free of all cares. I am fortunate to have been a witness to that era, and to have seen so many changes in our society. We are not the country we used to be; we are more tolerant of differences among us, and personally, I celebrate those differences. Life is so much more interesting if we don’t look alike, behave alike, and think alike. Our country will never be perfect, but please God, let us continue to try to make it so.
If you haven’t read The Outsiders, or seen the movie, you might want to. And if you can, visit the Outsiders Museum here in Tulsa, lovingly restored by Danny Boy O’Connor, the rapper from House of Pain. It’s the house used in the movie where the young Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze and others hung out. The Outsiders still carries a powerful message: that life can be difficult but family is family, even if not traditional. And as the character Johnny dies, he reminds Ponyboy, “Stay gold.” That’s good advice even now. Stay gold, my friends. Stay gold.