If you are a semi-active Facebook prowler, you will have seen a viral status update this week that nostalgically reads: “My curfew was lightning bugs. My parents didn’t call my cell, they yelled my name. I played outside with friends, not online. If I didn’t eat what mom cooked, then I didn’t eat. Sanitizer didn’t exist, but you COULD get your mouth washed out with soap. I rode a bike without a helmet. Getting dirty… was ok, and neighbors cared as much as your parents did. Re-post if you drank from a garden hose and survived…”
It has been reposted in several Facebook circles since, because, for those of us born in the 70s, we were internally shouting, “yes! Yes! That’s sooooo true!” We were part of an era that collectively experienced childhood in an identical manner. We all watched The Flintstones and The Jetsons. We graduated to The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, Diff’rent Strokes, Family Ties, Facts of Life and Silver Spoons (on the days when we could actually tune the channel in with the antenna). We had girly crushes on Ricky Schroeder and Kirk Cameron and listened to Culture Club and Michael Jackson’s Thriller LP’s until they were as scratched as the family couch from the collective family cat.
We ate peanut butter sandwiches four out of five school days. In fact, our mothers made them so lovingly that they even spread a half inch of butter in addition to the inch of peanut butter. The combined butters were as thick as wedding cake icing. No one was allergic to the family cat or peanut butter sandwiches back then.
We swam in the heavily chlorinated city pools with floating band-aids and diapers, and at the homes of lucky friends who we shared pool-ownership with vicariously. Sometimes, we didn’t even wait the prescribed half hour after eating “all beef” hot dogs to cannonball back in and not come out until our eyes were Peptol Bismol pink.
Yes, we drank from the hose and from the pond full of leeches and passed around cans of root beer from the root cellar and burped C-plus burps from our orange-stained faces. There was no concern over food dye #5 and #6. Actually, we fought over the antifreeze blue freezies because they made your tongue Smurf blue the quickest and longest (purple and orange scored second and third place). Paired with a nice bag of Hostess Ketchup potato chips, you could create your own pinwheel of stained lips and fingertips.
When someone barfed at school, it was innocent, not an epidemic. It wasn’t an “outbreak” of bird flu or SARS or H1N1 or some other strain of this or that superbug. We barfed because we ate as fast as we could so we could extend our recess time playing square ball or trying to conduct a seance in the dark of the gym change rooms (chanting “blue baby, blue baby, blue baby.” Or, if there was a mirror, “red rum, red rum, red rum.”) When there was a barfer, the janitor magically appeared with the bucket of cure-all sawdust. Clean-up in aisle four. We carried on with plugged noses and a chorus of “ewwwwwwwwwwww’s” and hauled ourselves back to our seats for further learning and did things with protractors that would never be used as a skill set in our adult lives, ever.
The greatest thrill was when copies came fresh off the ditto machine (aka, the world’s first photocopier). Even if our nerves were frayed with the thoughts of the dreaded fraction test or having to identify the oceans of the world test, those same nerves were calmed with a deep inhale of the ditto copy. It was like plunging into a pristine November lake. Senses were immediately heightened, each inhale was a deeper awakening into spinning kaleidoscopes and fiery lightning bolts behind closed eyelids. It was our collective first high. (*Editor’s note: Toolgirl Mag Ruffmann recently informed me this ditto delight was derived from methyl hydrate, or, wood alcohol. Didn’t they say it was important to hydrate? They turned us into wood alcoholics at an early age!)
Hydration wasn’t an issue in the 70s, was it? We could survive a day without carting around bottles of crystal spring water. In desperate times there was the communal water fountain that was 100% ripe with bacteria, chicken pox and cold sores– and definitely a spat out piece of pink Hubba Bubba clogging the drain. Every year someone lost a tooth thanks to the water fountain and associated “horseplay.” See? Water was dangerous. We didn’t drink water for pleasure or necessity because it was sugar-free, and by god, we loved our sugar in the 70s. This was witnessed in spectacular amounts in Kool-Aid (2 cups of sugar per litre of water?) and Fun Dip packs where one could suck on a sugar stick dipped in powdered sugar for just 25 cents. To appease the public health nurses, we chewed on red tablets once a year to indicate our tooth decay. The “Swish Lady” would visit with some poisonous flouride (aka “swish”) flavour, press ‘play’ on the cassette recorder and we would swirl and swish the watermelon or bubblegum flavoured flouride around and spit at the end of the swish song, gagging. Totally repulsed.
There was no hand sanitizer, or mouth sanitizer. I think the expression “I’ll wash your mouth out with soap” ended in the 50s or 60s. We were not sanitized or mouth-soaped, even if we said shit or F**k or other swear words gleaned from Arsenio Hall or free-speeched grandmothers who babysat us and forgot about the Whisper 2000 ears that had radars turned to high when it came to adult speak.
We weren’t an obese generation, despite a steady diet of potentially obese-conducive foods. We ate Captain Highliner fish sticks and McCain fries at least once a week. Milk was only 2% and yogurt hadn’t even been invented yet. Sliced bread was white, strawberry Pop Tarts were an acceptable breakfast item and our mother let us put extra sugar on our cereal. And not because it was Raisin Bran or something remotely healthy. We’re talking Honeycombs and Count Chocula and Booberry Crunch. Plus, we fought over the Kentucky Fried Chicken skin and fatty bits in the cans of pork n’ beans and Sunday roast.
Thinking of all this, I laughed watching the news last night. Viewers sending young children back to school in less than a month were advised to ensure that their child’s packed lunches were “safe.” If the child was unable to refrigerate their lunch, it was suggested that ice packs be placed in the bag, or, the lunch menu reconsidered. Did we not routinely eat mayo-laden egg salad and tuna sandwiches? Sandwiches minus an ice pack that sat in the cloak room for four hours with soggy rain boots and dripping jackets made out of (seemingly) garbage bags vs. Gore-tex? How about the deli meats? We lived despite the luke warm baloney and salami!
Not that our parents were nutritionally neglectful, it was more like food was our friend, not our enemy in those days. And boy, did we love our friends Kraft Dinner and Joe Louis.
Speaking of cloak rooms and baloney, I remember a solar eclipse in the early 80s. We were so angry that we missed out on a recess for something so cosmically stupid. But then, we were told, if we made special protective eye wear (from pizza boxes I think), we were allowed to watch the eclipse. But not directly, not for too long at a time. Which we did. Duh.
And concerning eye wear, who wore glasses? Maybe one token person per classroom? And they were usually a serious case. We certainly never had sunglasses at age two like these sassy tots I see being pushed around in prams with SPF 180 on their porcelain skin. However, my dad insisted we would go blind if we didn’t sit six feet back from the television.
No, we didn’t have sunglasses, SPF or helmets and we were allowed to play lawn darts (“just don’t throw them near the cars!”) and walk across the TOP of the monkey bar bridge. We popped wheelies helmetless and found the best hiding spots in the barn rafters, combine shafts and silos on my grandfather’s pig farm. We climbed trees until the tip-tops bent in half and we went sailing down the trunk, raw from bark burn on our inner thighs.
At my great-grandmothers, we sucked on gigantic peppermint candies that induced choking at least once a week. We sucked on jawbreakers as big as tennis balls until we had lockjaw or fell asleep with it stuck between our molars. We sucked on helium tanks to make our voices super high, like Minnie Mouse and laughed until we wet our pants and had a rash.
And about pants. We didn’t care what kind of pants we put on. Did we even have a choice? They definitely came from Woolco or Towers or Sears. I think I wore the same rugger pants for three years. I preferred the grey and navy ones over the burgundy, but, hell, really, they all looked fantastic with my cowboy shirt with the snap buttons and fringe. Better yet when I paired them with my yellow Donald Duck sweatshirt or Dallas Cowboys jersey. Until age 14 or so, we wore what was suggested for us. Running shoes with arch and pronation support? Ha. It was Kangaroos or Traxx or Bullits. And they worked just fine.
And you know what? I was want for nothing. I had a dog, a library card, binoculars, a collection of animal skulls and arrowheads. There was a pond behind the house to poke around in, tadpoles and turtles to catch, trees to scale, forts to build, and, endless games of Hide n’ Go Seek to be played.
When the television was moved downstairs to the basement, our TV watching became obsolete (mostly due to fear of those unfinished 70s basements—cue up Psycho music here).
Life was simple, fulfilling, collective. Kids of the 2000’s will not be able to have such unity in their shared memories. There are too many choices. Kraft Dinner is made with cauliflower and wheat now, for crying out loud (“so your kids won’t even know they’re eating their vegetables”).
We spent our very formative years with my three-pack-a-day Export A smoking great grandmother. We ran to the field’s edge to wave to the pilot spraying pesticides on the tobacco crop. We all stood up to sing “O Canada” at school and at the movie theater. We all said the Lord’s Prayer and Amen. We washed oil paint off our hands with gasoline. We loved the high of building airplane models and snorting those Mr. Sketch fragrant markers that smelled like black licorice and green apple. We were happy playing Pac Man at the Nan King Chinese restaurant once in a while.
We were lucky. We had it all.