As a child of the 1970s, I really should not be alive today. It’s not that I’m that old (hush). It’s that I started most days of my formative years eating sugar coated red dye #7 cereal, had Hi-C “fruit” punch and bologna on white bread for lunch and hot dogs and canned chicken noodle soup for dinner.
Being the child of a hippie I also ate salad (iceberg lettuce and french dressing). My favorite dinner was boxed macaroni and cheese.
For the record, that wasn’t neglect. That was a pretty solid mid-century meal.
In fact, pretty much any generation raised before the 1990s had a fairly “retro” childhood.
Retro children of the 1930s-1980s went out into the world sans helmets and knee pads. Bicycles, roller skates, scooters or skateboards? We used them all without any head protection. I’m not saying it was a good idea. I’m saying it is what we did.
Also, what was I saying again?
We did hit our heads an awful lot. It makes sense that we never wore helmets.
We rarely, if ever, wore seat belts. Cars came with seat belts by the late 1960s, but in every vehicle, I recall you would have had to fish them out from between the seats where they were permanently stored. Any click you heard in a retro childhood automobile was likely to be the dashboard lighter as someone in the car lit a cigarette.
The car was just a living space on wheels with children rolling around inside — or sliding off the rear window ledge where many stretched out to watch the scenery.
Things weren’t much stricter in park. Parents routinely left children alone in the car, or in strollers out front of the store, while they ran errands. Being allowed to wait in the car was a rite of passage. How else to practice our future driving skills. I mean the good parents always took the keys with them. We weren’t savages.
This same action gets parents arrested or investigated today. It’s a different world.
Although there were certainly ill-behaved children since time began, there seemed to be a lot less sass in the past.
Our parents still had wooden spoons. In many homes, they weren’t just for stirring the pot but for correcting kids who stirred up trouble.
“Go outside and play” was the battle cry of retro parents. Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet or hail could keep a retro parent from their appointed rounds of getting the kids OUT of the house.
Neighborhoods were populated by what were essentially free-range children for most of the day until the streetlights — or lightning bugs — came out.
Today, parents end up on the news for allowing their school-age children to play across the street without them.
If we weren’t playing in the yard — or the street — there was a pretty good chance you were at the local playground. The ground wasn’t coated with soft rubber or sand as most are today — they were usually asphalt. Often this crumbling blacktop produced bits of gravel that ended up permanently embedded in our flesh from various scrapes and falls.
It was a special treat to be scalded by a hot metal slide. If you got too hot you could always catch a breeze when you were flung off a spinning merry-go-round.
We may have left blood and flesh on the asphalt, but we also built some pretty strong character. Also, in some cases, aches and pains that followed us into middle age. Is it arthritis, or the vestiges of the great monkey bar crash of 1968? Honestly? Probably both.
Back home, we enjoyed lots of fun things like BB guns (self-explanatory), lawn darts, pocket knives and swords. What could go wrong with combining young children and sharp objects? Should you happen to end up sliced or stabbed, I guess you learned to move a little quicker next time.
We know that better standards are for the good, of course. For all the “we survived” glory, there were tragedies that changed how we do things today.
Like most middle-aged survivors, we now wax rhapsodic about these “good old days.” God willing, our children will someday do the same about their own.
Each generation has its own memories of the magic — and survival — of childhood. We toughen up and grow older and remember the days when a “little dirt didn’t hurt” and a sword fight was a pretty good time too.
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