I turned 47 at the beginning of this week. I've started to view getting older as a great gift, especially in the past few months, when I have heard all kinds of crazy stories of sudden deaths. One of them was a boy I had a crush on when I was six. He died suddenly at 46, leaving behind his wife and adored children. Another was a college classmate whom I did not know well. A third was a soldier killed in action last week, a dear friend of a dear friend. So, as I pause to celebrate another year, I think about how lucky I am to be alive and well, with my family intact.
I was born in 1966, which means I did my early growing up in the seventies. Here are some of the things I am old enough to remember. Maybe you remember them too? Or maybe your memories are completely different. I'd love to hear your memories in the comments. (I am aware that I have some younger readers; if you are too young to get some of these references, you might want to Google them for a laugh.)
My babysitters - both male and female - had long hair without bangs and wore peace signs on their foreheads. They listened to Pink Floyd. My parents hired them because they were regular attendees at my church.
I watched "Wonderama" on TV. The TV, which occupied a large portion of the living room, was almost as big as the piano, and it had rabbit ears on the top which needed to be adjusted in order for the picture to come in clearly.
Only rich, spoiled kids had their own telephones. The one of whom I was most jealous had a pink Slimline Princess in her own bedroom. It had a modular jack and touch-tone, backlit buttons.
I took a class called Home Economics in seventh grade. All the girls (and one boy who probably had what would now be called ADHD, and who'd gotten kicked out of the boys' Woodshop class as a result) did. We learned to sew. I remember the boy made us all laugh with his manic antics. He also made himself a pretty cool jacket.
Seventh grade was called "junior high." There was no such thing as middle school. But it was just as awful as middle school is today - maybe a little worse. Bullying was considered normal adolescent behavior, and victims were encouraged to toughen up.
That furry blue guy on Sesame Street was called the Cookie Monster. He ate cookies in huge quantities, stuffing them into his mouth with wild abandon and no manners at all. We thought this was very funny, because everyone knew that wasn't how cookies are eaten in the real world. In the real world, Grandma gave you one at a time, after you had cleaned your plate, and you thanked her for the effort that had gone into making them.
We were required to finish all the food we were served ("clean our plate") at the dinner table. And we did. Our parents remembered when food had been rationed.
There was no such Sesame Street monster as Elmo. Snuffleupagus was Big Bird's imaginary friend. No one else had ever seen him. Having imaginary friends was considered normal childhood behavior.
Birthday parties were almost always held at home. The exception: sometimes someone would have an especially fancy birthday party at the local ice or roller rink.
There were nine planets, and Pluto was one of them.
We learned in seventh-grade health class that the worst thing that could come of teenage sex was pregnancy, and the fear of that sort of unimaginable humiliation was enough to keep everyone on the straight and narrow.
I didn't know anyone with autism or breast cancer. Or, if I did, no one talked about it.
Every adult I knew smoked and drank. In art class, when we worked with clay, an ashtray was a perfectly acceptable project to make and give to your dad on Father's Day. When he unwrapped it, he praised the craftmanship and swore he'd use it daily. He did.
Almost no one took voice lessons. It was a universally-accepted truth that doing so at a young age would ruin one's voice. There was one girl who took lessons, and she sang beautiful solos at all the school holiday concerts. The young people were jealous of her. The adults shook their heads and clucked their tongues. That poor girl, ruining her voice like that.
Everyone took piano lessons, and everyone hated them. Or claimed to.
The boys chased the girls on the playground. When we got tired of that, the girls chased the boys. We stopped this game when the girls started wearing bras, because when the boys caught us they snapped our bra straps, and that was painful.
We wrote letters, put stamps on them, and checked the mailbox eagerly for a response.
Penmanship was one of the classes we took in grade school. I remember Mrs. Verilli standing over me, with her beehive hairdo and her frosty green eyeshadow, showing me how to make a proper cursive F. I remember the pride I felt in third grade when I was told my penmanship had improved to the point where I would be allowed to write in cursive full-time.
We played with cap guns, water guns, and Ouija boards, without controversy. Peanut butter was a staple of our diets.
Parents did not argue with teachers. If the teacher told your mother you had misbehaved in class, your mother got angry at you, not the teacher.
No one talked about politics in polite company.
People actually discussed whether piercing a young girl's ears was appropriate or would "send the wrong message." (I never figured out what that message might be, because after prolonged discussions at my house, I got my ears pierced, and nothing particularly interesting came of it.)
When I told my daughter that I was thinking about writing this post, she offered to write a follow-up entitled "I'm So Young That..." I can't promise anything, because she's a high school junior and very busy at the moment, but if she writes that essay, I'll publish it in this space.