You know you’re old when you struggle to stay up until Saturday Night Live comes on and then you don’t recognize any of its guests. Then, when the musical performers come on, you don’t understand any of the words they sing.
On top of cultural differences, everyday things seem harder as we age. I can see packaging designers laughing their heads off as they imagine us trying to unwrap that tiny bandage or to find the end of the plastic wrap. And how many of us have misplaced things we just had in our hands? We also misplace words and phrases that may take days to reappear. By the way, what day is it?
Still, it’s not all bad. I barely recall how we lived before television, computers, the internet and microwaves. I’m not mentioning smart phones that do everything but clean the house because I don’t have one and don’t want one. I told you I was old.
My family didn’t have a television until 1948, when my dad bought one because he didn’t want to drive downtown to see the Cleveland Indians play in the World Series. There were only a couple of channels then, and everything went off at 10 p.m. when only a test pattern filled the small screen. Before TV, we all listened to the radio. I remember Saturday mornings when I’d sit on the floor in front of the big console and listen to fairy tales. My mother listened to soap operas during the day and, at night, there were spooky shows, like “The Shadow,” which came on after my bedtime. I wasn’t supposed to listen, but I sat half-way down the dark stairway and heard enough of it to be scared out of my wits.
Over the years, TV screens got bigger, there were more channels, and then there were cable networks. I missed many of the changes while we lived on the farm in Northern Minnesota. We didn’t have a television for about 10 years because it broke shortly after the autumn we moved there. Besides, we could get only two channels, and one came from Canada. To change the channel, we had to climb up on the roof and turn the antenna. That was challenging in winter when there were several feet of snow on the roof and when the temperature sometimes dropped to minus 50 degrees.
Years later came computers. Now, instead of rifling through the library’s card catalogue, all we have to do is type a few words into the search bar. The downsides of that are the proliferation of misinformation, never-ending advertising, the addictive aspects of social media, and the harm to children from too much screen time.
Parenting is a lot different than it was when I grew up. Very few mothers worked outside the home, so they didn’t suffer guilt when they disciplined an unruly or rude child. There were consequences for bad behaviors, including spanking when necessary. Not beating, just spanking. I sure wasn’t damaged the two times I was spanked because I knew I deserved it. We also had regular chores and didn’t argue about doing them. As soon as we were old enough, we were the ones who cut the grass and many of us, mostly the boys, had paper routes.
We gained self-confidence by learning how to do things and gained self-esteem by knowing we were contributing to the family. Today, both parents in many families work, so they hate to be the bad guys during the few hours they spend with their children. That often results in spoiled kids and serious behavior issues that teachers have to deal with when the children go to school.
Another big difference between my youth and today is that my generation spent most of our time outdoors. When we weren’t in school, we only came in for meals and then stayed out till almost dark. Nobody seemed to worry about where we were or who we were with. We explored our neighborhoods, rode our bikes, visited friends, played outdoor games, built forts in the woods, waded in creeks, hung out at the library and did pretty much what we wanted to do. It was heavenly.
As we age, we notice a lot of changes in the culture as well as in our bodies and minds. But luckily, the important things remain the same. Family, friends, the love of nature, our pets, honesty, ethics, fairness, justice, laughter and good memories are as cherished as they’ve always been. I can live with that.
Pat Nash has lived in the Baraboo area, off and on, for more than 35 years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.