When I was a kid, I hated when my parents said, “When we were kids, we … ” (You know the familiar message — "Walked three miles one way to school. Barefoot. Backwards. Uphill both ways. Climbed over 4-foot snow drifts.") I get it now that I’m older and wiser. They wanted us to have a better life than they did, but also they wanted us to appreciate how good we had it without losing site of how we got there. I had a great childhood despite my parent’s moans and groans during the 1950s with the advent or rock and roll and the 1960s with the hippie culture, the Beatles, protests and the like. I can’t help but wonder, though, what the electronic-umbilical-connected kids of today will think of their childhoods.
I consider myself lucky to have been raised on a farm in northern Illinois. Our large family was comparable in population to a small island nation except we were surrounded by rich, black dirt. If we were poor, we certainly didn’t know it. We were pretty much self-reliant raising our own vegetables, chickens, pigs and dairy cows plus a grain farm. We didn’t spend much time indoors. We had a quarter-acre garden to tend, eggs to gather, a huge yard to mow, pigs to water, laundry to hang (making sure the load of underwear didn’t face the road out of sheer embarrassment of neighbors seeing it while driving by. I never figured out why we were embarrassed that neighbors saw our unmentionables flapping on the clothesline. Certainly we’d have been more embarrassed if they thought we didn’t have underwear!)
Our time wasn’t micromanaged. We had household and farm chores to do and got them done — that’s how we earned our allowances. The rest of the time was spent creating our own fun — swinging, playing baseball barefoot on the gravel drive (good heavens, I couldn’t even think about walking barefoot on gravel today let alone running on it barefoot), riding our hand-me-down bikes down the lane to take Dad a Mason jar of water while he worked the back field, playing all sorts of indoor and outdoor games, having sibling squabbles, soaking ourselves with a hose on hot summer days, catching fireflies on June nights, and roller skating with those strap-on metal skates. It was magical. We explored, watched clouds float by, followed ants from their mounds to a sugary treasure they found in the yard, played with our cats and dog, watched baby pigs being born, read, baked, sewed and more. Television and phones were not the center of our lives. We shared a party line with seven other families. And a good old No.2 pencil was how we texted. Tweeting meant there was a nest of baby birds in a tree.
Would I go back to those good old days? For much of it, in a heartbeat. After 40-plus years of working hard as an adult I can think of nothing more enjoyable than reconnecting to the earth and raising vegetables, fruits and perhaps some chickens. I miss a slower-paced life but I don’t want to become stagnate. I’d take my computer to stay connected to the world and perhaps a cell phone without all the apps, but not my television. There is less on television these days with hundreds of channels than with the four channels we had growing up. I’d like living near the edge of the city where the air hints of country, but an arm’s length from all the grand things a great city offers to keep me young and involved.
Yes, these were my good old days even though they were different from my parents’ good old days. Life then was grand. It was simpler, but harder. Slower paced, but hectic during planting and harvesting times. Will the kids today say these are their good old days when they are over sixty? Probably. I hope most can say yes even though they’ll be different from mine, because when I was a kid …