I heard on the news the other day a report where a Mother was charged with neglect for allowing her 10 year old daughter walk to and from a playground and play unsupervised. Although I didn’t hear the full story it made me think about the times I see children in my neck of the woods waiting to be picked up right in front of their homes with a parent waiting right by their side like some sort of security detail. I am not talking about toddlers going to kindergarten but grade school children ranging up to 12 years of age or more.
I thought about my own childhood in the mid 1960’s through the early 1970’s and how child rearing seems to have changed. In my day if you were deemed close enough to your school (up to two miles ) you walked or rode your bicycle to school only a few rich kids were driven. If you took a bus to school the stops were far & few between not at every block which seems to be the norm nowadays. It’s strange I do not see children play outside anymore maybe they are all cocooned inside with X-Box & PlayStation controllers which seem surgically attached to their hands. It also seems that playing some type of sporting activity has to be meticulously planned and organized by grownups with expensive bright uniforms on brand new meticulously kept municipal sports fields.
In 1993 there was a movie called the sandlot which took place in the late 1960’s that almost captures what it was like growing up in a suburban or a small town neighborhood during that time. It was very similar to my experiences playing pickup baseball games with the children on my block. (Circa 1967-1973). In my neighborhood there was a vacant field adjacent to a large wooded area. We maintained the field as best we could by cutting the grass, maintained the baselines and even tied to construct a “make –shift” scoreboard from a large piece of plywood we found. We even tried to set up sort of lighting by pooling our allowances and buying “Eveready” battery powered lanterns but that idea failed miserably .Baseballs /softballs were at premium if I remember correctly they were about $5.00 apiece which was a fortune to us kids. . I was always getting yelled at by the other kids when up at bat because of my late swing on fastballs I would foul toward right field in which the ball would land in the woods and usually come to rest in a patch of poison ivy. By the time September rolled around the few balls we played with were scuffed, taped or just plain soggy from over use. Baseball was not the only sport we unorganized kids played. We very adept at street hockey. We used surplus traffic cones or trashcans to mark the goals. I remember saving up and buying a “Bobby Hull” hockey stick and taping it carefully tapping the blade only to have a classmate accidently step on it and break it. Since I was poorer than most of other kids I brought a cheap plastic replacement blade to put on the end of my stick. For most of my childhood my allowance was a whopping Twenty-Five cents a week I remember on Saturday mornings going to the local A&P or Finast supermarket and getting a package of 6 big candy bars (Hershey, Almond Joy, or Three musketeer ) and bringing them home and guarding them from my older sister. In the afternoon if it was cold and rainy I would watch old western movies watching our black & white TV with my father that is if the TV was working. In those days you would have a yearly visit from your TV repair man and dreaded him uttering the death sentence “ You need a new picture tube!”. If that happened it meant about a month or two of not watching TV on our 21” RCA or later our Zenith set while my parents came up with the money for a new tube. I now wonder what happened to the local TV repair man. I guess there is a statue of them somewhere in the Smithsonian gathering dust in honor of a bygone era. We were one of the last families in the neighborhood in converting to color; we got out first color set in 1971. We were going to replace our black in white TV in 1969 but my parents decided on getting wall to wall carpeting instead . Wood flooring was not in fashion then and credit wasn’t readily available as it is today. Back in those days you only brought something when you had the money to pay for it. The only things brought “On-Time” was your house & your car and only if you had a substantial down payment. Every year if my parents had a little extra money (and most years they didn’t) they would pick one home improvement project. In 1969 the carpet lobby lead by my parents won over the Television lobby led by yours truly. . My dreams for seeing the NBC peacock in” living color” would have to wait (If your under 45 years of age don’t ask. ).
So how was television in those pre-digital analog mostly black & white days?. First of all there were only Three networks , Yes children Three. We had only had Seven TV Channels in total and most of them signed off with playing the national anthem followed by their test pattern (Again if you are under 45 don’t ask ) at around 1-2 AM. , There was no cable and the weird metal appendage on the roof of everyone’s house was not some abstract sculpture but an antenna. The only people who had cable in those days lived on the far-out fringe of a metropolitan area were broadcast reception was spotty and the only channels they got were the few broadcast ones. I remember signs outside of movie theatres stating “Save Free TV” because theatre owners were scared if pay cable TV came and showed newly released movies they would have to close. If you lived in a metropolitan area close enough to the TV stations or had a “portable” set you might have been lucky enough to have a pair of “Rabbit Ears” instead of an outside antenna. You would always have to shift the rabbit ears around after you changed the station to get the best reception. I always found that placing and molding a small piece of tin foil on the end of each of the ears would slightly improve reception especially during inclement weather. The popular shows of the day were variety , westerns and family sitcoms complete with a father and stay at home mother. The only alternate lifestyles portrayed were whimsical mix from the simply awful (My mother the car ) to the cute but corny (The flying Nun, My favorite Martian, Bewitched and I dream of Jeannie). The only scandal on these shows were weather Barbara Eden could show her navel the network censors kept it covered for the first several seasons. The word “pregnancy” was a big no no, Twin beds for married couples were mandatory. Children’s programming were mostly live on Saturday mornings. I remember watching Soupy Sales and his show with his famous “double-ententes” that passed both the censors as well as us kiddies as well as the local show “Wonderama” with all of those toys that were given away. I would have sold my sister just to be in the audience . Variety shows were very popular and it will seem strange to all of you who did not grow up in the era from the 1950’s to very early 1970’s that the whole family would gather around the TV in the living room and watch the same show. Sunday would begin with Ted Mack’s amateur hour which featured unknown talent from the bizarre (The one man band with a kazoo in his hat and cymbals tied to his legs ) to an unknown opera singer or a barbershop quartet. Later on Sunday was the main event Ed Sullivan his list of his guests were legendary from Perry Como to the Beatles & Rolling Stones each generation had their favorite fare on Ed’s show. My favorite variety show of the day was the Red Skelton show. Red was a great comedian learning his trade from the silent movie great Buster Keaton who directed him in B movie comedies of the 1930’s & 40’s. He later had a popular show on radio and then transferred it to the new medium of television in the 1950’s. His CBS show from 1967-1971 is the one I remember. The comedy sketches featuring his characters of Clem Kadiddlehopper were the stuff of legend. At the end of each show he would come out to the live studio audience and the TV camera to thank them as well as his guests and say “Goodnight & God Bless” Wow how do we need that type of entertainer now. When NBC premiered laugh in 1968 it was considered risqué and cutting edge. I was surprised when my parents allowed me to watch it, my father kind of liked it. As a young boy I would blush but always be transfixed to the screen when the “Party Scene” came on at the beginning of the show which Goldie Hawn, Theresa Graves or Judy Carn would dance in a bikini (Tame by todays standard’s) with hippie slogans printed on her body. The humor throughout the show featured one liners that were really very funny or very nonsensical. Some of the skits were classic such as Arte Johnson playing the “Dirty Old Man in the park bench trying to pick up a old spinster and having her hit him with her oversized handbag.
Some of my favorite memories was the music, Oh the music. The DJ’s were celebrities and top 40 AM radio ruled the airways. My favorite radio station the 25 thousand watt WABC in New York City. My favorite DVJ’s were Bruce Morrow known affectionately as “Cousin Brucie” by his fans as well as Dan Ingram. I used to put my transistor radio under my pillow at light and listen to the top 10 countdown. The music became the soundtrack of my boyhood with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Mamas & Papas, the Dave Clark Five, Temptations among countless other bands leading the way. To me it was the golden age of Rock N Roll. On hot summer nights hanging out with my friends on my busy street hearing that music coming from each car that passed with their window’s down (Back then A/C in cars were an expensive option) was heaven. We used to play a game yelling out the make/model of each car that rolled by. It was easy In those days the big three American Automakers (GM, Chrysler and Ford) controlled 98% of the market the only “Foreign Cars” were mostly VW Beetles and vans (Mostly driven by the “Flower-Children” ) and an occasional Triumph Spitfire which was the choice middle aged men that were going through a mid-life crisis. Muscle car power were measured by engine size all respectable cars were V-8’s anything under a 350 Cubic inch engine was considered a girly car. Most of the “greaser Hot-Rod” teenager set would hop up there real axle’s after all who ever heard of a front wheel drive car? My family was working class. My father a world war two army veteran worked in a supermarket and later as a custodian in a nearby public school and my mother worked as a credit and collections clerk first in the famous Macy’s department store on herald square and later at American Express HQ in Manhattan. We had a two tone green 1957 Pontiac Chieftain which by 1967 was falling apart. The heater didn’t work so we had to bring blankets when we sat in the back seat during the winter, The AM Radio didn’t work so we used to bring a transistor radio with us. In the summer of 1968 we finally got a new car a Pontiac Catalina with a 401 CI V-8 Engine. We couldn’t afford the A/C or power windows but we didn’t miss those luxuries since we never had them. A bonus was that it had a working AM radio and vinyl seats that weren’t taped . It came with a new strange contraption that seemed like a torture device to children who then weren’t auto- restrained It was called Seat Belts. The lap belts seemed easy to use but the front had the shoulder strap portion neatly folded and pined to the interior roof. We never used the front shoulder belts because we didn’t want to end of try to fold them neatly back into its storage space. Back then young children rode in the front seat , if they were small enough they even used to crawl unto the front passenger seat floorboard and sit. The rear seats were an open seat zone bench seating in those big sedan’s & station wagons back then were great if you just wanted to lie down & sleep. Now the nanny state has mandated we strap down our kids like they were going for a ride in an F-16 fighter jet even the animal rights activists lobbyists in the state of New Jersey has even mandated that we strap our dogs into seat belts . Good luck trying to get your hyper golden retriever puppy to comply being tied down without slipping him a sedative in his puppy chow.
So where the parents of us late baby boomers negligent because they didn’t regulate every aspect of our lives like the ‘Helicopter Parents” of today’s young-ins ? After all many a parent in those days thought nothing of allowing their ten year olds go to the park along as did the ones in the story that bI began this article with. Most allowed their children to walk or ride their bike to school unescorted. I will venture to say they were better parents then todays breed. The majority of them grew up in the 1930’s & 1940’s had hate nothing, most of them never saw the grounds of a college campus until they sent their own kids off to college. When they were children they had to struggle with their parents during the great depression where one-third of them where ill-housed and fed and then as young adults put their dreams on hold to fight a global war. They made sure that their children had more than they did while building the country in the post –war period. They didn’t have to over protect their children because they gave them what mattered most a moral code with a belief in the almighty whatever creed they belonged to , a strong work ethic, and a two parent family. They knew the role of parents was to instruct their children in these virtues and hold them accountable. Many of today’s parents want to be friends with their children instead of being what they should be parents.
As I advance in my years I get more nostalgic for my childhood, . I wouldn’t trade growing up in that time for growing up in today’s world . As the lead character Don Draper in the hit TV series “Mad Men” which takes place in the 1960’s describes nostalgia:
“The pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It let’s us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.”
Just my Opinion D.B.