I turned 50 earlier this week. FIFTY! I’m not one of those people overcome with depression at the prospect of aging. I’m just amazed how quickly the years have passed by.
As I sat down to pen today’s column, I was reminded of one I wrote when 40 was the biggest number in my rear view and a song on the radio reminded me how far I’d come. A decade later, I still feel much the same:
There’s a popular country song playing on my radio as I begin to write this column. The lyrics speak of the hairstyles, clothing and “toys” we had growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. I was a child in the 60’s and 70’s, graduating from high school in 1980. All things considered, it is a miracle I made it to this age. Considering that bureaucratic regulation as we know it today was not widespread until the early to mid-80’s I have to wonder, how did we ever survive?
There were no airbags in the ’73 Chevy I drove in high school and college. I remember riding in my parents white ’66 Impala without seatbelts, and swinging my legs off the tailgate of the pick-up truck or sitting atop a stack of corn or soybean seed as my dad drove to the next field. If we were helping build fence or out playing far from home and got thirsty, we would drink from a spring, and if were close to home and our boots were muddy, we would pump water from the well to quench our thirst. I can still remember the taste of that icy cold well water.
We picked apples right out of the tree and wild blackberries from a thorny bush and ate them without washing them or our hands first.
Racing down the hill to the creek bottom on bicycles, I wiped out and bloodied my mouth. Dad told me my injuries were too far from my heart to cause any real damage. Nobody scolded me for not wearing a helmet or long pants.
We spent summer afternoons riding our bikes on gravel and sand roads to Grandma’s, a friend’s house, and to her Grandma’s. We didn’t have to call ahead and make an appointment or have a reason for visiting. Anyone living within 5 miles of your farm was considered a close neighbor.
Not once did we consider going near Grandpa’s gun collection when we were kids, although we were taught how to shoot and respect guns as a rite of passage. The faded sign on the back door of his house still reads, “There’s nothing in this house worth dying for. . .member NRA.”
Great Grandma McCullah lived nearly 103 years. Almost every day of her life, she ate bacon and eggs for breakfast and did not once worry about cholesterol. (She did, however, worry that we would not grow up to be polite young ladies, considering how much we liked to chew gum.)
There were no childproof lids on medicine bottles, but since we weren’t allowed to get into the medicine cabinet anyway, it didn’t really matter. Mom would slide a wooden spoon into the handles of the kitchen cabinets to keep the youngest sibling or cousin from getting into the pots and pans.
We had a pet squirrel named Johnny who would come out of the tree and steal ice cream cones right out of our hands. He was a wild animal with sharp claws and teeth and probably had fleas, ticks, and mites.
If we did something we were not supposed to do, we did not get a “time out.” We got spanked. Sometimes hard.
We did not have mini-vans equipped with televisions, dvr’s, and Playstations for the children. Kids entertained themselves by playing games, arguing some, and looking out the window. We used to count windmills.
We did not have cable tv when I was a kid. We did not have computers with social networks. We read books and wrote letters.
We were not allowed to talk on the phone after 9pm, and were limited on the amount of time we could spend on the phone during the day. The phone was in the kitchen, so everyone heard everything you said, anyway!
We would leave the house right after breakfast and run through the pastures and timber playing cowboys and Indians and army and pioneers and other games we made up. . using our imagination. We would swing on grapevines across ditches. We had school clothes, everyday clothes, and church clothes and we knew the difference.
When it was time to come back to the house, there were no cell phones to bring us back. Someone would whistle or honk the horn – a long and two shorts. We knew to stop what we were doing and beat feet to get home.
We ate homemade brownies, red meat, and drank sweet tea. Sometimes we even got a cold Pepsi.
We fell out of trees, skinned our knees, and sometimes, came home from school with wounded pride. We got hit by softballs, footballs and tetherballs. We were kids. We had accidents. Nobody was to blame. We were responsible for our actions. We knew there was a line that, if crossed, meant that we would have to face some serious consequences.
The idea of disappointing our parents was one of our greatest fears.
If you tried out for cheerleading, the softball team, or jazz band and didn’t make it, you tried harder the next time.
All in all, I think I had an amazing childhood. One that prepared me well for my first half-century. I can’t wait to get started on the next!