Childhood Back in the Day

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I was reminiscing about my younger years recently and how different my childhood was compared to today’s.

Growing up in the 1950s-60s, all my relatives lived either across town, down the block or just across my backyard.

Today’s families are more likely to be scattered far and wide, across the state or the country.

Going to see out-of-town relatives, from Waterbury, Conn. to South Norwalk, Conn. (a distance under 50 miles) was a huge undertaking. We formed a two or three car caravan with aunts, uncles and cousins, stopping along the way to eat homemade sandwiches by the side of the road.

None of us had mobile phones, so if anyone went on vacation there was no easy way to see just where they were or to reach them in an emergency. We had a single home phone, either placed on a telephone table or in later years hung on the kitchen wall. The phone was a big black clunky thing with a base, cradle, hand-held receiver and a rotary dial. We had a “party line,” which meant we shared our phone line with one or two other families. If you lifted the receiver and heard voices, you had to wait your turn to use the phone. You quickly and quietly hung up and never listened in!

We were not the first in our neighborhood to own a TV. My brother and I would walk across the street after dinner to watch Howdy Doody or Kukla, Fran and Ollie on our neighbor’s black and white set. At the time there were probably only three or four channels. I still remember the mom serving us Kool-Aid in clean baby food or jelly jars.

We had a neighborhood elementary school that we walked to. There were no school buses. In high school, I took a public city bus to school. Elementary school went from kindergarten through 8th grade. We always went home for an hour midday for lunch. Since my mom stayed home, our kitchen table was always crowded with cousins or neighborhood kids whose mothers worked.

Our classes had 30–35 students, sitting in parallel rows facing the teacher. We did not do collaborative or cooperative learning. Talking or leaving your seat were not allowed. Since calculators or computers had not yet been invented, we did math the “old” way — memorizing basic facts and figuring out word problems as best we could. Today’s “new “ math is a total mystery to me.

We wrote and read in cursive, practicing regularly the swirls, loops and lines of The Palmer Method as part of the curriculum. There were no special or remedial classes for students who struggled to learn. Typically, these students would “stay back” and repeat a grade if they had not mastered skills needed to be promoted.

Indoor recess was held in the school basement and boys and girls were on separate sides of the playground when recess was outdoors. We had no gymnasium.

When not at school, we played outside as much as possible with friends on our street. Our parents never made “play dates” or gave us ideas for things to do. We made up our own games, rode bikes, or played hide and seek, jacks or jump rope. In the summer we sometimes rode bikes well outside our neighborhood or were gone for hours playing several blocks away. The rule was to come home by lunch or supper, or whenever you heard your mother yell for you when you were nearby.

We had lots of fun even without sophisticated electronics, smart phones or video games, using our imaginations and “found” objects to make things.

I feel mine was a simpler life back in the day. Was it better or worse than today? I guess it’s how you view it.

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