Thank you Tom Curley for sending me the clip and reminding me — we really did make it!
I’m not one of those people who romanticizes the 1950s, but there are some truths that are worth remembering and revisiting.
We lived in a very different world, where play meant using imagination and physical activity, not technology. If you were having a hard time with the bullies in school, you got up, got dressed and went to school anyhow. It wasn’t your parents problem … it was yours.
You didn’t get a lot of pats on the back for “trying hard.” You might get an “attaboy” for doing exceptionally well, but you were expected to do your best. That was your job and you took it seriously or else.
You learned your lessons in elementary school so you could go on to junior high school and then high school. You had to do well in high school because if you didn’t, you couldn’t get into college. And we knew if you didn’t go to college, you couldn’t go to heaven.
My son commented the other day that we are raising — speaking of my granddaughter’s age group — a generation of weenies. We are protecting from them life, from acquiring coping skills they will need to survive when mommy isn’t going to be there to bail them out. I said this to my granddaughter too, because she needs to hear it: no one gets a free pass. Even being rich doesn’t guarantee that bad stuff won’t happen to you, that you won’t get sick, lose a loved one, a child, or for that matter, your own health. Nothing prevents life from happening to you. Pain is part of the package and learning to deal with adversity is called “growing up.” If you don’t learn to cope, don’t learn to fight your own battles, when you get out there, you won’t survive.
Just about every family has a few members who didn’t really make it. The ones who never got a real job, formed a serious relationship, accomplished anything to be proud of. If they happen to be our own kids, it makes us wonder what we did wrong … and usually, we have a sneaking suspicion that is wasn’t what we didn’t do that’s the problem. It was that we did far too much.
I don’t think we should be mean and uncaring. I’m not that hypocritical, but I think it’s important to remember we didn’t get strong by being protected from every pain, every hurt. We didn’t get everything we wanted the moment we wanted it, or at least I certainly didn’t. If you got one really cool present for your birthday or Christmas, that was a big deal. Now, most kids get so much they don’t appreciate any of it.
So, in memory of the lives we lived … the good times, the bad times, the hard times, the great times. The schoolyard battles we fought and sometimes lost, the subjects we barely passed or actually failed and had to take again … the bullies who badgered us until we fought back and discovered that bullies are cowards. Getting cornered in the girls’ room by one of those toughs with a switch blade and wondering how you’re going to talk your way out of this one …
Being the only Jew, Black kid, Spanish kid or whatever kid in a school full of people who don’t like your kind … and getting through it and out the other side. Being the only one who used big words and read books when everyone else was watching American Bandstand. And finally, getting to college and discovering that the weirdos and rejects from high school were now the cool people to know … and magically, we were suddenly part of that group. No longer were we outsiders. The same stuff that had made us misfits were now the qualities that made us popular and eventually, successful.
The fifties and early sixties were not idyllic, especially if you weren’t a middle class white Christian kid … but it was a great time to be a kid of any kind. Not because we had more stuff, but because we had more freedom, time to play, time to dream. Whatever we didn’t have in the way of “things,” we made up for by having far fewer rules and limitations. We could use our imaginations. We had to: we didn’t have video games and many of us were lucky if there was one crappy black and white television in the house with rabbit ears that barely managed to get a signal. We learned to survive and cope, and simultaneously, learned to achieve. We weren’t scared to try. We’d screwed up enough to know that if it didn’t work out, we’d get up, dust ourselves off, and try again.
When we got out into the world, for at least a couple of decades, we had a blast.
Here’s to us as we move past middle age. We really did have great lives.