As I have advanced through the decades living the fabled American Dream, like you I’ve noticed quite a few changes with respect to a number of life’s aspects including children’s activities, sports, home life, social life, and technology to name a few. Some changes have improved our lot, some have worsened it, and others are too soon to call. Change, beneficial and otherwise, is the only universal constant; nothing remains static. |
Me, I attempt to learn from the past, not necessarily to predict the future, but mainly to avoid repeating the same screw-ups. Sometimes I’m successful. My record would be better were it not for defective DNA, which mandates a three-second attention span. My wife tells me that condition is common for males to which I reply, “What is?” Mainly, I live a carpe diem present knowing I cannot change what has happened, and with a what-me-worry attitude toward events yet to come. Happy is he who forgets that which he cannot control, right? Besides, life has taught me this: most of what one fears never happens. Another reason for my cavalier attitude about the future is that, like a cockroach, I seem to be pretty good at adapting to whatever is thrown my way.
In comparing childhoods from past to present relative to quality I’ll let you decide which is preferable. For example, would you rather play daylong sandlot baseball games, only interrupted by lunch, or sit in front of a monitor all day playing video games? Being the physical type, the choice is easy for me.
We were hard on baseballs. We played on any surface including cement, and also in the rain. Balls didn’t stay white very long. Soon they were discolored, scuffed, and doubled in weight due to soaking up so much moisture. It was like throwing a shot put. Eventually the stitches unraveled and the cover came off, but no biggie. (See we usually played with the same ball all summer.) We wrapped the ball with friction tape and continued. As the seasons changed the game morphed into football and basketball. We weren’t allowed in gyms so our basketball games were outside, usually in someone’s drive-way, with us fully clothed in winter gear. What freedom we had! Spirited arguing, cussing, and fighting were commonplace. It was great! (I can hear today’s oh-so-sensitive parents nasally saying, “Oh, my goodness. That’s just terrible.”) Kids still play sports, but always under careful adult supervision and interference. The majority receive one hour of practice a week and a game. That’s it. After supper (called dinner today) we re-gathered outside for hide-and-seek or kick-the-can. For the latter the kicker was required to yell, “Tin can copper!”
I must agree that keeping today’s children inside during evening hours is a change for the better, but only because society has changed for the worse in the name of respecting the rights of lawbreakers. For example, I live in an affluent neighborhood that includes a dozen or so registered sex offenders within several miles. Our permissive society has developed (as an unwanted byproduct) irreversible chaos. Sinister preying creeps abound.
Another change for the better resulting from tighter parental supervision is overall safety, but at the penalty of virtually eliminating boyhood adventure. We swam in the river, crossed rivers using railroad bridges, scaled trees and water towers, played with matches, ice skated on frozen (we hoped) rivers, ponds, and lakes, had unlimited access to tools, materials, paint and paint thinners; and made gun powder. Then there were BB-gun fights, knife throwing, firecrackers, cherry bombs, sling shots, and shooting arrows straight up running for cover. And that was all before age 10. I can only think of one serious accident, which doesn’t include falling through the ice—a minor mishap by our standards. One boy lost his eye to some kind of missile after which he became known as Popeye. (His brothers gave him the nickname.) Truth to tell, I’m glad my kids didn’t enjoy my adventures although having survived I wouldn’t trade the tomfoolery for anything.
I enjoyed either riding my bike or walking to school; the latter mainly during rain and snow. Walking also gave us the opportunity to throw rocks along the way. Everything was a target. Because of molesters and kidnappers, unchaperoned travel is no longer a sensible option.
Some “neat” gifts for boys have disappeared these days; gifts like cap guns, BB-guns, wood-burning kits, pocket knives, chemistry sets, and bow-and-arrows. However, today kids do have Super-Soakers, which are much better than our squirt guns. Super-Soakers are the next best thing to having a hose. I notice boys play with dolls now. They’re called action figures. Men call them collectibles.
The things I miss most about yesteryear are Sunday doubleheaders at the ballpark, macadamia nuts on United Airlines flights, American Songbook television shows (Perry Como, Pat Boone, Lawrence Welk), and mainly my grandmother’s red current pie made from berries grown on bushes behind her house. However, I have found a satisfying substitute; a pie made from olallieberries, a hybrid developed in Oregon in the 1930s and grown mostly along the Northern California coast. Delicious! But wait; there’s one more thing. I’ve saved the best for last. Nothing can compare to seeing a small life you and your wife created. You can’t wait to get home from work. The feeling a father gets when the little one squeals with delight and runs to him is indescribably warm and fulfilling. I miss it every day, and feel sorry for those who will never know the experience.
I cannot begin to list all of the beneficial technological changes that have occurred so far during my life, but I’ll mention a few simply because younger readers may have no knowledge of them as follows:
1) Coal furnaces were replaced as heating units for homes, schools, churches, theaters, and businesses. Talk about a carbon footprint. As a result I’m guessing life spans increased 12 to 15 years.
2) Fluoroscopes were removed from shoe stores. As kids we never passed one without x-raying our feet, marveling at wiggling our toe bones about, somehow amazed that we too had a skeleton. We nuked our lower digits at least two to three times a week.
3) Telephone party lines were replaced by private lines that are being displaced by mobile phones / computers. When we were tweeners a friend and I had some adolescent fun with party lines. Here’s how it worked: My friend would call a number on my line and ask for me. Before the party could stammer “wrong number”, I’d pick-up and start a conversation. Normally the third party was confused enough to stay on-line for awhile trying to figure out what was going on. At this point I must mention we lived in a small, Midwestern town, the kind where everyone minded everybody else’s business. Therefore, my friend and I would start an outrageous false rumor; something like, “Hey, you know the school library monitor, Mr. Babb? Well, I heard that he got caught playing with himself in the Strand Theater. Yeah, his ecstatic moaning gave him away and an usher spotted him. Hit him with a flashlight and old Babbsy was really rubbing one out.” We’d hear the line click off, laugh like hyenas, and do it again until we went through the numbers on both party lines. Next week; new made-up rumor. Stay tuned.
Recently I had a thought about our new smart phones. It occurred to me when I had to bump the horn to get a driver ahead of me to acknowledge a green traffic signal. Since then that specific incident recurs with irritating regularity. A clue about what’s going on is that their heads are always down because they’re tapping out text messages. See, the idea of a phone is that you may talk to your party directly! You do not have to write them a freaking letter! What’s next? Morse code? Carrier pigeons? However, if you feel the need to write a memorandum, please get the hell off the road or at least out of my way.
4) Automobile advances are numerous and obvious, but maybe some low-tech items forgotten are crank windows, spinners on giant steering wheels, horn rings, three-on-the-column standard transmissions, and wing windows.
5) In the middle to late 1990s I was an anomaly at an airport because I had a laptop computer. I’d frantically run about searching for a dial-up connection. I also had a mobile phone that looked like a brick. I still have my old Dell Latitude Notebook, which was the epitome of laptops then, but now about as modern as an old Edison phonograph. I powered it up the other day, and it still works albeit some files have disappeared. Ah, memories…
When was the last time…you saw a wooden tennis racquet in a wooden frame press…outfielders lay their gloves on the edge of the infield when coming in to bat…a functioning ice house…hat departments in stores…a television antenna…a nurse’s hat…yards with clothes lines…hear young person say, you’re welcome instead of no problem…strategically placed spittoons or cuspidors in pool halls? Wait a minute. There aren’t any smoky, sleazy, old pool halls any more.
Since tobacco has become a pariah—definitely a positive change—some popular Christmas gifts have disappeared. No more gaily decorated holiday cigarette cartons or expensive Ronson lighters or FDR-type cigarette holders or cigarette cases. No more catchy jingles…Be Happy! Go Lucky! Be Happy! Go Lucky Strike…
Finally, automotive travel through the country has lost some of its appeal because we no longer do it on inefficient country roads. The interstate highway system is much faster and safer. Still, I miss seeing barns with one side painted black and lettering that states, Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco. I tried Mail Pouch or Red Man once in the tenth grade. It was not a good experience. And finally…
IT’S TIME THAT I MUST
END THIS TALE
MY FOGGY MEMORY
IS GETTING STALE
Copyright by Gene Myers, author of AFTER HOURS: ADVENTURES OF AN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESSMAN (2009), Strategic Publishing Group, New York, NY – a hilarious account of the author’s overseas travels; and SONGS FROM LATTYS GROVE (2010), PublishAmerica, Fredericksburg, MD - a mildly sinister, but amusing work of fiction. Both are available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and available in Amazon Kindle and Nook formats. Watch for SALT HIS TAIL, a catch-me-if-you can crime thriller.
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