What's New. Some of my previous posts have been rather heavy handed attempts to share my "values" with you; this one is meant only to be a reflection. Your Dad wants me to tell you stories about myself and what life was like back in the dark ages (also known as BZ "Before Zak." This is not a story, but rather a list of some of the things that have come into existence during my life. Much of what each of us knows of life has been there as far back as we can remember. For you guys, instant access via computer to all the world's information is as ordinary as running water and electric lights. Your Dad can remember when we brought home our first computer. My parents could remember "fetching" water and living without electricity. The things I can remember not having include, among others, television, hot water, and an indoor toilet. (These last two were not because they hadn't been invented yet, just a result of economic circumstance.)
Television was around before I was born, but was still just getting started. I was about nine years old when we got our first set. There were only two channels available, and they only operated during daylight and evening hours. Every night they would "sign off" playing the national anthem while showing a film of the American Flag or other patriotic images; the first music video. On Saturday mornings my brother and I would often turn the tv on before the station began broadcasting. We would stare at a screen full of snow (random dots of white and gray) until the "test pattern" came on. The test pattern was an image of rectangles and circles that you could observe while you adjusted manual controls to get the best picture. Finally, the Saturday morning kid shows would start. Television was black and white; like old photos, color television was still a decade or more away.
There were no commercial jet airplanes when I was a child. Living out in the country as we did, it was a bit of an event to see an airplane of any sort. I can just remember, when I was a very small child, seeing a working steam locomotive delivering freight to the small town where we lived. "Modern" diesel electrics had largely replaced steam, but there were still some in use. Cars didn't have air conditioning, seat belts or turn signals. When I was old enough to learn how to drive, the "Rules of the Road" still prescribed the hand signals that were to be used to indicate turning and stopping. You were supposed to extend your arm out the drivers side window; straight out for a left turn, up for a right turn, and down for a stop. For a short time, I even rode a horse to school. It was really a pony, but since I was only about six years old it looked like a horse to me.
The school I rode him to (riding double with my brother, John) was called "Prairie Union School" and was an actual one room schoolhouse, much like the one described in the "Little House" books. We had one teacher for eight grades and at most around twenty students. I was there through third grade, then that school closed and we were moved to the big school in town where each classroom held only two grades.
Many social concepts that we find offensive now were the norm in the 1950's. Gender roles were much more defined, usually to the detriment of women. There were "women's jobs" and "men's jobs" and if a woman was working in a man's job she could expect to be paid less than a man doing the same work. There was something suspect about any woman who didn't aspire to being a wife and mother and nothing else. "Negroes" or "coloreds" were expected to "know their place," even in northern states. "Gay" only meant happy and carefree. Homosexuals were called queers and worse, and in the rural Midwest would have been committing suicide if they dared to come out. Being different in any way was just asking for trouble. Anyone who remembers the Eisenhower years as some kind of Golden Age has a blind eye for bigotry.
Sorry, I didn't mean to turn this into a rant. Growing up on a farm outside a small town in the Midwest was probably as happy an existence as anyone has growing up. If I had fewer companions and less access to organized activities than you have had, I also had a much bigger backyard. Having several hundred acres to roam in, with barns and sheds to play in, trees to climb, and creeks and woodlands to explore is something I very much regret not being able to give to my children. Growing up on a farm also meant learning to work at an early age. Helping tend the animals and the garden came first, followed by heavier physical work and operating machinery as our size and abilities allowed.
Many of the good things and bad things from my childhood were different from the good things and bad things from yours. Our cars weren't as good, but most of our relatives lived less than an hour away so we didn't need a car that was comfortable for a ten hour trip. There wasn't any Aids/HIV when I was growing up, but there was polio that crippled or killed children. There was more bigotry, but also more community. We had fewer things, but what we did have meant more to us. No smoke alarms meant our houses were less safe, but caring people meant our neighborhoods were safer. There were no "Have you seen this child" pictures on milk cartons, but child or spousal abuse was ignored because it was "a family matter."
This post has taken a different turn than I expected. I set out to talk about the changes I have seen in my lifetime and to suggest that you think a little about the ones you have seen. It seems to me that unless we do this once in a while, the changes happen without our noticing and we think life just goes along the same as it has always been. We can't enjoy the ride as much unless we open our eyes.