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Talkin’ ’bout My Generation

Dial Phone

I am of an interesting age, not old enough to be considered part of the “Greatest Generation” and on the very tail end of the “Baby Boomers”. I am of an age that  knows that the title of my blog will remind some of a classic song by The Who, while this very sentence will have others among my peers and younger simply asking “who?”.

I often find myself dwelling on the unique differences between my growing-up experience and that of my own children and those behind them. When asked over the weekend about what it is that I generally blog about, I found myself explaining (to women who fall between my age and that of my parents) some of the topics I have covered; how young boys used to swim nude at the YMCA with grown men, that children in elementary school frequently took public transportation on their own to music lessens or appointments, how children played in parks without supervision and my suspicion there might be a correlation between childhood obesity and the fact that many kids no longer walk to school.  After expressing their shock over the naked swimming a husband joined in to banter about hitch-hiking to the beach with buddies as a kid and I mentioned that in fact my brother would come home from college that way in the 1970’s. It was a lively exchange where a grandmother acknowledged that her granddaughters don’t have the same freedoms her own daughter had or the same responsibilities she herself had growing up.

When I was a kid my brothers burned the trash at an age where Social Services would now be called if a kid was found in possession of matches. I babysat before there were microwaves in homes and in addition to watching the children, I made them meals. Babysitting in that era meant being sure to know what fire station and police precinct served the home you were at, if you needed such services 911 was not yet an option. Occasionally in the news there will be an item involving a child and people will respond with “She was only eleven, where were her parents?” or some other remark implying that youth must be constantly supervised until departing for college. Oddly, when I was that age I babysat, took the bus to orthodontist appointments, volunteered at a nursing home and did a lot of other things that many don’t do now by the time they graduate from high school.

My parents grew up in an era where the radio was home entertainment, my father bought the first TV set that was in my grandparents home. When I was a kid we watched TV together as a family and if someone wanted to see what was on one of the other four channels it required someone getting up to go turn the dial. If National Geographic was airing a “Special” you needed to be home and done with your homework to see it. If you had to go to the bathroom, you waited for a commercial or missed something. The bathroom might get busy during commercials because the family home only had one. If your TV was black and white, you didn’t quite understand the big deal when Dorothy came out of her house in Munchkin Land during the once a year showing of the Wizard of Oz. Eventually my generation moved from those restraints to being able to rent movies. Early in the movie rental era most people also rented the VCR to play the movie on. Most of my friends raised kids who could watch the same video multiple times in a day. Few of us own VCRs anymore. Video stores have turned into a crimson box located in public places where people rent DVDs. Most households have recording devices that allow them to save a near infinite amount of TV shows from an enormous number of stations. If that is not enough viewing availability there are subscriptions to movies, shows and concerts that one can “binge watch”; spending days in a near comatose state watching a Chemistry teacher cook meth in an RV. This teacher was no Helen Crump (see The Andy Griffith Show) of my generation or even a Saved by the Bell educator familiar to my kids. Television school teachers just got real.

Kids shared rooms and families shared bathrooms. While this still occurs, not to the degree it did. I knew people that did not have indoor plumbing in their home and got along fine. It is fascinating to me not only how much things have changed in a single generation but how quickly people forget how things were or are nearly immobilized when relatively new inventions are not functioning properly; calculators, cell phones and computers. I remember the first calculator in our home, it added, subtracted, multiplied AND divided. Nearly 40 years ago they cost $100 and now ones that do more than I could ever find a use for are in most kids backpacks.

Today I saw a meme of a model. To some that likely brings to mind the mental picture of a fashionable man or woman photographed or walking a runway. The one that I am referring to is a kit of plastic auto parts that were painstakingly assembled with glue. Seeing it reminded me that “airplane glue” required a note from a parent to purchase, to insure kids weren’t buying the toxic tube to sniff and get high. Were these notes filed somewhere? Is there a big warehouse filled with sheets from pastel notepads or the backs of old envelopes with perfect maternal cursive writing granting permission for their little Pugsley to purchase this intoxicating tube?

Notes. Nobody really writes notes anymore. Moms could basically write a note for anything “Please sell Nancy two packs of Viceroys.” signed with a perfect Mrs. Charles A. Rose or with the arrival of the Women’s Movement a brief “Please sell Nancy a carton of Pall Mall Gold 100’s.” which was signed with a liberating Dorothy E. Rose. It was obvious no kid had forged a note if the middle initial was used. You took notes to school after you’d been sick, I assume those were sent to the office where they became part of your “permanent record”. I also remember notes coming home from school, they were pinned to us by our teacher with straight-pins. I am not sure if this practice ended because of blood transmitted disease or because transporting a note in this way might be somehow damaging to a child’s self esteem. I suppose if a teacher needs to communicate with parents now they can email, text or post it on the class Facebook page. Kids aren’t really relied upon much anymore to run errands for their parents either, at least not to purchase things that are not legal for them to have possession of.

Notes were also the way to communicate during class or to pass to each other in between classes in the hallway. They could be used as evidence later or get you in trouble if they fell into the wrong hands. Having a teacher intercept a note and read it aloud in front of a class was somewhat akin to the horror that youth now experience when their texting or sexting is shared with recipients it was not intended for. Notes however could not get you in trouble with kids across the country or across town for that matter. For that you needed to either go to Roller Gardens where people from other schools always seemed cooler than those from your own or use “Jam Line”. Jam Line was some weird phone numbers you could call and there was a loud and fast busy signal but you could shout over the signal and give your phone number or listen and get a phone number of someone else. Then you could call them and find out that you had so much in common and then plan to meet at Southdale or some other location on a bus line or in biking distance. If you have ever seen the show Catfish where people are finally meeting the person who they have been in touch with online only to realize that the person is not the same person pictured in their profile, you basically understand how Jam Line was. It was the original online dating service, just that the line was a telephone line and that telephone had a rotary dial and a cord that could only stretch so far.

It’s interesting that with technology bringing the world into ones home with such ease that rather than providing youth with more freedom, there seems to be great effort made at restricting where they can go and what they can do. With tools allowing them to communicate practically instantaneously with peers, frequently they don’t appear to know how to actually engage when with each other. I bet The Who (still touring, in their seventies) really didn’t mean it when they wrote “Hope I die before I get old…talkin’ ’bout my generation.” or perhaps it is simply that their definition of “old” has changed, just as our cultures definition of youth has.

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