Ammo Grrrll has a question: WHAT THE HECK! ANOTHER BIRTHDAY? She writes:
Last month’s birthday wasn’t one of the “0” or “5” birthdays that we seem to think more significant. I’m just happy to still be here at 73. Two of my lifelong friends the same age are not. Most of you already wished me Happy Returns a couple of weeks ago, so I’m not angling for more good wishes. It’s just an excuse to lighten up and muse about a few minor cultural changes from our childhood to our geezerhood. I eagerly await your contributions.
I am an avid collector of humorous refrigerator magnets. One of my current favorites features a little old lady saying: “I’m so old, I can remember going through a whole day without taking a picture of anything.”
If that’s not one of THE most striking differences, I don’t know what is! Photographs, up until the magical Polaroids, had to be taken, then remain in the Brownie until you finished the film, which could take YEARS, then developed at a drugstore or camera shop, then picked up. There were inevitably several shots that were either repetitive or terrible, but you had to pay for them anyway. You threw them in a shoebox and years later nobody had any idea who some of the people were or where they were or why there was a photo of the occasion.
Firstborns, such as myself, had more photos taken of them than subsequent siblings, and even those usually contained the oldest child as well. An Orthodox friend of mine, number 9 of 11, told me that when she had to have a baby photo for a school project, her mother dug through the shoeboxes, produced a cute baby, and said, “Here. I think this might be you.” Catholic and Mormon kids can relate.
Last spring I was at a Diamondbacks game where the woman in front of me took 75 pictures of her very adorable toddler in the 5 innings she lasted in the game. The child, obviously an old hand at this, happily struck a pose for each shot. Is this a good thing?
Another magnet shows a chipper young woman saying, “I just saved $2000 a week by making my own coffee at home!” If you could bring back my Grandma – who drank a couple of POTS of coffee a day – and tell her that someone would happily pay over $5.00 for one cup, she would faint dead away. The RENT on their share cropper farmhouse was $8.00!
I had friends who had serious meltdowns about aging as early as 30. The only number that ever bothered me was 50. I went into a brief tailspin realizing that even if I lived to 99 – unlikely – more than half of my life was gone. When I hit 51, I thought, “Hey, now I’m just in my EARLY 50s. It’s all good.” Hard to grasp that that minor “crisis” was almost a quarter century ago! And I am happier and more at peace with myself now than at any time in my life. Which I might as well be, because I have no choice!
It is a notorious trait of the “late, late middle agers” to long for the “good olde days,” some of which may not have been as good as we remembered. (World Wars, Depression, the Klan, no deodorant, no Keurig, no Chick-fil-A, etc.) But it sure is tempting and fun to reflect on what was considered normal back in the day.
I was still raised in the era of radio. Jack Benny and Gunsmoke were fabulous on the radio. Mother and I listened to her “stories” – Helen Trent and Ma Perkins – as we did dishes. The theme song for Helen Trent (“Can women 35 and over still find love?”) was “Juanita.” I can still hum a few bars if you’d like. It was very dramatic, like the story itself.
Men wore suits and fedoras to everything from church to ballgames. Grownups looked like grownups and children looked like children. No grown men wore torn jeans and t-shirts unless they were doing manual labor or fishing. No little girls wore shorts with “Juicy” on their bottoms. Farmers sweating in the fields in the ’50s dressed better than today’s guests at weddings and funerals! Grandma did hundreds of hours of gardening in a calf-length cotton “housedress,” a slip, corset, nylons, and old leather shoes. Also a sunbonnet.
I keep reading that the Kid Culture we grew up with is utterly dead. Few little ones know “Ring Around the Rosy” or “Duck, Duck Grey Duck” or “Red Rover” or “Kill the Man with the Ball.” You would have to pry their phones or game devices out of their sticky little hands and try to force them outside. God forbid, grade-schoolers today would ever play Mumblety-Peg which involved an actual working jackknife, or just wander around with a .22 rifle shooting at random stuff in a junkyard. Heck, Dodgeball and Tag are now all but illegal. A “gun” chewed out of the bologna in a sandwich for sure is illegal and cause for expulsion.
One of the truest tests of how old you are is in the area of names. My freshman year at Northwestern (1964) there were 4 “Susans” out of 30 girls on my floor. Now the name is in that kind of limbo – not quite old enough to be cutely retro (like Gert and Emma), but too unhip to be kewl, along with Jane, Joan, Jean, Kathy, Carol, and Linda.
Almost all adults smoked. My paternal grandfather had been smoking since age 9. When his beloved wife of 53 years passed away, he asked to visit my parents for a few weeks. When they arrived to pick him up, he had been waiting for hours on the screened-in porch in his good brown suit, tie, and hat with the suitcase his wife had always packed for him. Mother picked up the suitcase and thought it felt a little light, but didn’t investigate further. It turned out to contain three white handkerchiefs and two cartons of Camels. No jammies, no undies, no socks, no second outfit. But he had the important stuff!
We had two functioning political parties that put forth their ideas and candidates and nobody rioted in idiotic masks if their candidate lost. My family was rock-ribbed Republican but when Jack Kennedy won in 1960, not a single “comedian” carried a bloody, beheaded likeness of him as a joke. No “right-winger” advocated raping Jackie or putting John-John in with pedophiles; no woman “comic” called anyone in the Kennedy family a “feckless c***.” No short, ugly has-been actor said “F*** Kennedy” at the Oscars. Any of these scenarios was absolutely unthinkable.
The political competition was over which party could claim to represent and to love America the most. Good times, good times. Ah, how far we are down the Road to Perdition! I predict that 2020 will be a U-turn on Nonsense Highway and the grown-ups will be back in charge in the House. Please, God.