Utah Boomers Magazine
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When I Was Your Age

This summer I have been spending a lot of time with my two granddaughters, ages 8 and 11. Because I am able to work from home and their parents aren’t, they are often dropped off here for the day. They spend endless hours in front of screens. The TV screen (Grandma, is it my turn to choose what we watch?), the computer screen (Grandma, is it my turn on the computer?) and the iTouch screen (Grandma, is it my turn on the iTouch?). I, of course, grow weary of refereeing arguments over whether they watch ad nauseam reruns of iCarly or ad nauseam reruns of Sponge Bob. Then I say it–those words I didn’t think I would ever have come out of my mouth–when I was your age…

When I was your age, summer meant freedom. My five siblings and I woke, ate our pancakes and headed out the door. Our parents didn’t see us again until we were hungry enough for lunch. After lunch, we played until dinner, after dinner, until the streetlights came on. Then, we bathed, got into our PJs and went to bed until the next morning when we would do it all again. Our neighborhood, like every other post war community, was teaming with kids. If one friend couldn’t play, there were a great many more to choose from. If we did wander into the house complaining of boredom, our parents didn’t panic and look for ways to entertain us. They simple told us, “stay out of my hair”, whatever that means.

Not infrequently, all the parents would agree to let us stay up later for a game of “kick the can”. We waited until the streetlight came on and placed the can in the center of the soft  glow of the light’s beam on the street. The person who was “it” had to guard the can while trying to identify our hiding places. We crouched in bushes and behind porches waiting in silent anticipation of being the one who would kick the can, becoming the winner.

My house has a huge, heated swimming pool right outside our patio doors. I tell my granddaughters, “Go out and swim!” They look at me with glazed eyes, and slowly turn their zombie-like faces back to whatever screen currently has their  attention.

When I was your age, my friend and I walked over two miles to the nearest park with a swimming pool. We swam in ice-cold water (we were sure they dumped ice in the water) with hundreds of other kids, and then walked back home again. We didn’t even consider asking our parents for a ride, for fear we’d get the “are your legs painted on?” reply. When we were driven somewhere, we all piled into the station wagon. Kids sat anywhere they could squeeze their butts, the most room going to the lucky kid who yelled “shotgun” first. There were no seatbelts, air bags, or for that matter, air conditioning.

Like most homes these days, we have hundreds of TV channels to choose from, and often can’t find anything worth watching. My grandkids watch Nickelodeon, the Cartoon Network, and others…all day long.

When I was your age, if our TV was on during the day, it was because our mother was watching the Mike Douglas show while ironing. If we were allowed to watch TV in the evening, our parents chose the programs. Kids didn’t have a vote. Our choices were to watch what was on, or go to bed. Period. Remote? HA! We were the remote. If my dad wanted the channel changed, he stayed in his Barcalounger and told one of us to get up to turn a huge dial to channel 2, 4, or 5. Three channels! ABC, CBS and NBC. Once, channel 2 quit working on our TV and nobody bothered to get it fixed. For reception, there wasn’t a satellite or cable. We had rabbit ears…a small atennae that sat on the TV…more often than not, wrapped in aluminum foil. We didn’t have a 42” flat screen hanging at eye level. Our TV was a huge piece of furniture with a screen was smaller than most computer monitors. Did I mention that it was BLACK and WHITE?

I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t have a cell phone. My oldest granddaughter is no exception. At eleven years old, her communication method of choice is texting. I, unfortunately, do not know the language. When she texts me, I have to call her (my communication method of choice) and ask her what she said. Grandma!, she says in frustration.

When I was your age, we had one big black clunky telephone that sat on a table in the hallway. You were as “mobile” as the cord allowed you to be, most cords being about 10’.  Like today’s phone, our phone had the numbers 0-9 with the corresponding alpha letters. Unlike today, you had to put your finger in a corresponding hole and “dial” it until it came to a stop. Then you had to repeat it. Six times more. Like the TV, the phone was not the kid’s domain. If we wanted to talk to our friends, we simply ran over to their house. When you did make a call, if the line was busy, or unanswered, you hung up and tried again later. There were no voice mails, call waiting or paging.

We had a party line. No. It wasn’t the precursor to social networking. A party line meant that we shared our telephone line with another family. If you picked up the line and heard a stranger’s voice, protocol required that you quietly depress the button and hang up the receiver. If we were really bored, we only pretended to hang up the phone and then quietly listened in. The conversation was never interesting, but it felt scintillating to listen in. If we were caught doing this by one of our parents, we got what was affectionately called “a tap of correction”.

When my granddaughters get hungry, they ask if we can go to McDonalds or other places that serve food with their toys.

When I was your age, it was a rare treat for our parents to bring home bags of Dee Burgers. There were no toys, and often, no fries. Never soda! The phrase “have it your way” didn’t exist in 1963. The phrase “I’m not a short-order cook” did. Like every mother in America at that time, my mother made a lot of casseroles, anything you could throw into a casserole dish with a can of soup, and call it a meal. We ate what was placed before us. No whining. One night when I sat facing the dreaded creamed tuna on toast, I made the bold decision to refuse to eat it. Long after everyone else finished, I was made to sit at the table until my plate was clean. Stubbornly, I refused. My mom threatened that if I didn’t eat it then, it would be waiting for me at breakfast. I still didn’t budge. She told me how lucky I was to have creamed tuna on toast when there were children starving in Biafra. I didn’t care. Let them have it. Finally, her need to wash that last dish overcame her need to teach me a lesson, and I was excused. The fact I remember the incident is testimony to the rarity of her surrender.

On occasion, my granddaughters get a bit mouthy with me.

When I was your age, we were taught to respect our elders. That  meant anyone older than us. I didn’t dare contradict my parents or any other adult. If a neighbor parent punished one of us along with their own child, our parents didn’t threaten to sue, they gave us a tap of correction for good measure.

I could go on and on, but the truth is, times have changed.

I too enjoy all the technological advances. I appreciate not having to type this on a typewriter. I appreciate my microwave, my dishwasher, and all the time-saving gadgets that weren’t available when I was young.

Also, I would not feel comfortable allowing my grandkids to go off to the park by themselves or to wrap a grocery list around a bill and send them off to the store.

But, oh how I wish they could experience the summers I had when I was their age.

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CREAMED TUNA ON TOAST

2 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. flour
2 c. rich milk
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 c. flaked tuna, canned

Melt butter and blend in flour; add milk and stir while cooking until mixture is thick and smooth. Add salt and pepper and canned tuna. Serve hot on squares of toast.

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