I grew up in a different era. We did not have many of the things today’s folk take for granted.
Plastic: Just look around. You can hardly go any place without being in contact with something made from this material. One of its pluses is its durability. Little did we realize we were creating something that would practically last forever, that would pollute our soil and waters, that would coalesce into a several hundred square mile island in the northern Pacific, which, even when it disintegrates into small particles, is a danger to marine life.
Before plastic, things were made of wood, metal, glass and paper. These materials are still around. Why not use some of them? I suspect the answer is cost.
Of course, nothing seals up a lunch sandwich like plastic wrap. Mama used wax paper. It was comforting each day at lunch to open my black lunch box, which had the thermos of iced chocolate milk clamped in its rounded lid, and see the two sandwiches nestled in the bottom along with half an apple — my brother had the other half — and a slice of cake or cookies, each item wrapped neatly in wax paper.
Sometimes after eating, those of us with wax-paper-wrapped stuff would take the paper and rub down the high slide on the playground, turning it into a high-speed trough.
Store-bought stuff: Most families did not have the money to spend on things for their kids to play with. So, we made our own. With a hatchet, a cast-off piece of 2x4 could be fashioned into a baseball bat. A semi-round rock about the size of a walnut became the center of the ball.
We’d cut narrow strips of cloth from items in the rag bag — every family had a rag bag — and wind them tightly around the rock, fastening down each loose end with black electrician’s tape. We called it friction tape. When we got it to the size we wanted, a layer of friction tape became the cover. This simple equipment produced many hours of entertainment.
Constant parental supervision: I grew up in the country. Most any day — especially Sunday afternoons, when our parents always took a long nap — my brother and I would go rambling through woods and fields. We’d swing on grape vines, check out wildlife in little creeks, explore abandoned houses, or shinny up a sapling and ride its limber top like a horse.
Our parents had no idea which direction we’d gone or where we might be. They just expected us to come home. And we always did.
We learned to use the sun to find direction in unfamiliar surroundings. On cloudy days, moss on the north side of a big oak tree gave you that direction. Growing up, I never heard of a country boy getting lost in the woods.
Instant communication: This goes along with the one just above. Nobody in the country had a phone, and even some town folk did not. If a town child got really sick at school, parents might be called to come and get him/her. Otherwise, you just stayed on the cot in the sick room until school was out and the bus took you home. There was no school nurse.
Parents were not in touch with their children for a good part of most days. During this time, we were expected to make good decisions. If we did not, there were always consequence.
And no one felt they had to be in constant contact with everybody in every place at all times. We were not encumbered with this burden.
Television: When we first heard that talking pictures were going to be sent through the air, we thought it was a science-fiction fantasy. But it turned out to be true.
The best I can recall, it was in the fall of 1947. In town one Saturday, my friend Benton and I heard that there was a TV at Nail’s Radio Shop. We went to see for ourselves.
The small shop had the lights off and all the blinds closed. The day light picture tube was not yet in use. About six men were sitting in folding chairs, looking at a box with a 10-inch lighted portal in its side. One of them turned to us and said, “It’s a television.” We nodded.
There was movement in the gray light. Some darker objects would come together and then scatter in all directions and then do about the same thing again. The same man turned around again and offered, “It’s a football game.”
We watched a few minutes before leaving. As we walked down the street, Benton asked, “What do you think of it?”
I replied, “I don't think it’ll ever catch on.”
A plethora of cars: In planning new high schools today, one major consideration is the size of the student parking lot. This was not an issue in my high school years.
No student was allowed to drive a car to school. No teen I knew had a car. Many families did not own a car, and those that did only had one. If you needed a car to date or ramble around in, you had to use the family vehicle, and most parents granted this permission only once or twice a week. Many teens today expect that their 16th birthday comes with a set of car keys.
A friend of mine who grew up in East Tennessee likes to tell about when he and a high school friend pooled their savings and bought a car for $50. It ran, but the top had been cut off.
They could now get dates since they had wheels. However, their dating activities were severely curtailed after they got caught out in a rainstorm one night and their dates told all the other girls what a terrible experience it was.
What I’m really saying is that I grew up in a different world, but I don’t call them “the good, old days.” There were some good aspects. A cold drink was a nickel and gas 20 cents a gallon, but those nickels were not easy to come by.
I’ll take 2020, and I’m thankful I’ve lived to see it.