YEARS OF BRASS, YEARS OF GOLD – Marilyn Armstrong

I’m not one of those people who romanticizes the “old days,” but there are some truths worth remembering and revisiting.

I grew up in a different world. Play meant imagination. Physical activity. Jump rope, hide and seek, tag, Stickball because no one owned a real bat. Stoop ball, jacks. Building a “fort” or climbing a tree. Cowboys.

Toys were simple, not electronic. Getting a new doll was a thrill. She never needed a reboot, unless you count having to find her lost shoe. Almost nothing except flashlights needed batteries.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

If you were having a hard time with the bullies in school, you got up, got dressed and went to school. It didn’t mean you weren’t scared. I was plenty scared. It simply wasn’t a parent problem … it was mine. Yours. Ours.

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. Nothing less was acceptable. Doing your best was your job. You took it seriously.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

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. We all knew — with 100% certainty — if you didn’t go to college, you wouldn’t go to heaven.

Pretty much every family has members who didn’t make it. The ones who never found a decent job or formed a serious relationship. Or accomplished much of anything. If they happen to be our own kids, it makes us wonder what we did wrong. Usually, we have a sneaking suspicion the problem isn’t what we didn’t do. More like what we did do — too much.

I don’t think we should be mean and uncaring to our kids, nor am I an advocate of corporal punishment, but I think it’s important to recognize 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 didn’t. If I got one really cool present, that was a big deal. Now kids get so much, it’s meaningless. They don’t appreciate anything because there’s always more where that came from.

So, in memory of the good times, the bad times, the hard times, and the great times. For the schoolyard battles we fought and sometimes lost and the subjects we barely passed or actually failed — and had to take again. For the bullies who badgered us until we fought back and discovered bullies are cowards and for the terror of being cornered in the girls’ room by tough chicks with switchblades, wondering how you can talk your way out of this.

Being the only Jew, Black kid, Spanish kid, fat kid, short kid or whatever different kind of kid you were in a school full of people who didn’t like you. Getting through it and coming out the other side. Being the only one who used big words and read books when everyone else was watching American Bandstand. Being the klutz who couldn’t do the dances and never had the right clothing or hair. Then, finally, getting to college and discovering the weirdos and rejects from high school were now cool people.

Magically, suddenly, becoming part of the “in-crowd.” Metamorphoses. No longer outsiders. Whatever made us misfits were the same qualities that made us popular. And eventually, successful.

The fifties and early sixties were not idyllic, especially if you weren’t middle class, white, and Christian. Yet, whoever you were, it was a great time to be a kid. Not because we had more stuff, but because we had more freedom.

We had time. Time to play, time to dream. Whatever we lacked in “things,” we made up for by having many fewer rules. We were encouraged to use our imagination. We didn’t have video games, cable TV, cell phones and computers. We were lucky to have a crappy black and white TV with rabbit ears that barely got a signal.

We learned to survive and cope. Simultaneously, we learned to achieve. By the time we hit adulthood, we weren’t afraid to try even if success seemed unlikely.

We had enough courage to know if it didn’t work out, we’d get up, dust ourselves off and try again — or try something else. We knew we would make it, one way or another. When we got out into the world, for at least a couple of decades, we had a blast.

Here’s to us as we limp past middle age into our not-so-golden years. We really had great lives. We’re still having them, but slowly.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all of us!

23 thoughts on “YEARS OF BRASS, YEARS OF GOLD – Marilyn Armstrong”

        1. I think it’s because happiness and contentment sneak up on us, but misery is like a piano falling on your head. You really NOTICE it. It’s harder to notice the happy memories because we spend so much time worrying about and trying to solve the difficult stuff. At least that’s my take on it. Because I’ve thought about it a lot, why we take bad things so hard and good things often casually.

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  1. Maybe I do romanticize the past a little but I actually think that I had a great childhood and on the whole a great life. Rough patches of course but everyone has those. Despite the bad things going on in the world which are largely beyond my control life is still good. I just rant more now I think.

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  2. “Now kids get so much, it’s meaningless. They don’t appreciate anything because there’s always more where that came from.” Yes, I do so agree with this and maybe it’s why I see so many broken toys, kids know they will get more or maybe they just lose interest. I don’t think many of today’s five-year-olds will keep a favourite doll for their own daughters.

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    1. I also think a lot of the “toys” they get are junk. I didn’t get a lot, but every doll I got was high quality, well-made and worth saving. All this plastic junk — is it something anyone would bother to save?

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      1. True. Most of the stff that comes to the Op Shop is plastic junk. Left outside it gets faded and brittle. Kids lose the bits and then they don’t do whatever they were designed to do. Fewer toys but good ones was a much better idea. We treasured those toys.

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    1. I think the world is not much fun for most kids now. Out here, I think it’s much as it always was … but most people don’t live in the country. They live near a city because that’s where mom and dad work, the schools are better, there are trains and buses, etc. Kids live where parents can find work and they won’t find much out this way.

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  3. A lot of life hovers around a baseline of our own ‘normality’, whatever that might be. We only take notice when it wobbles a long way off base and the peaks and troughs go off the scale…and those extremes are the ones that jump out in memory. A lot of the bad stuff arrives, like your piano on the head, out of the blue. Most of the good stuff is part of normality first…and the peaks creep up on us.

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    1. Good description. I think it’s that bad stuff hits us so hard. Someone dies, gets terribly sick. You lose a job, lose a home, you get swept into war. Happiness feels normal, it feels right. It’s comfortable.

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  4. I work with one mom who agonizes, every year, that she didn’t get enough for her daughter’s Easter basket. What??! What’s wrong with a chocolate bunny and a few jelly beans? Since when does Easter equate with presents? Kids have way too much now, Marilyn. Parents help encourage it. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

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    1. Yes. I don’t think this is a really fun time to grow up. Between the hatefulness of the environment — and the destruction of the environment — and so many RULES … there’s almost nothing you CAN do except play with a device.

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