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The Olden Days
May 24th, 2012

“Please tell me about I am a little baby.”

Translation, “Please can we talk about when I was a baby.”

It’s one of IEP’s favorite requests these days.  Now that he has a baby brother and a sense of how different babies are from kids, he finds it really interesting to hear about all the things he did when he was a baby.  Partly because I enjoy the trip down memory lane, and partly because I think it’s good for his library of memories, I indulge him.  Also, I was the same way as a kid.  I loved hearing about myself as a tiny tot.

The other thing I loved being told about?  The olden days.  ”Mom, tell us about the olden days!” my sister and I would plead.  This meant, essentially, “Tell us about growing up in a small town in the 1950s so that we can marvel at how arcane life was back then.”  And, probably for the same reasons, she also indulged us.

She told us how her family’s home phone number was only four digits long, and her grandmother’s was only two digits.  She told us that when her mother was pregnant with her and ready to deliver she just got up and walked across the street to the hospital.  She told us about writing counter checks at the Tastee Freeze after school and dragging Main Street on weekend nights in high school.  And she told us about when she worked as a teller at the family’s bank one summer in college a bird got into the building and she was the only one able to shoot it down. …  No answering machines.  No microwaves.  No VCRs.  No cassettes or CDs.  No car phones.

I remember thinking, “Whew.  I’m glad that I’m growing up in the 80s when things are so advanced.  This way my kids won’t think I grew up in the dark ages.”  Clearly 13-year-old Gale had no idea what was coming.

It amazes me to think about this sometimes – how vastly different life is today with the technological advances of the past 20 years.  My children will never know life without cell phones.  Further, they will never no life without iPhones.  They will never know life without the internet and all that entails – e-mail, social networking, instant answers to random questions, etc.  They will never replace a scratched CD.  They will never go to Blockbuster to rent a movie.  They will never know what it is to rewind a tape.

One of these days my kids will be old enough to realize that things were not like this when I was a kid.  They’re going to ask me to tell them about the olden days.  They may not call it that, but that’s what they will mean.  I imagine that probably within the next five years, and certainly within the next 10, I will have to answer some collection of the following questions.

  1. How did you look up movie times? (In the newspaper.  You only threw them out once a week.)
  2. How did you record a show?  (You scrambled to find a blank VHS tape, or something you didn’t care about taping over.)
  3. You didn’t have Tivo?  (No.)
  4. What did you do if you missed something on TV?  (You just missed it.)
  5. What did you do during commercials?  (We watched them.)
  6. How did you make plans with your friends?  (You called their house.)
  7. What did you do if they weren’t home?  (You left a message with someone else at the house.)
  8. How did you do research for school papers?  (Went to the library or used an encyclopedia.)
  9. What’s an encyclopedia?  (It’s what Wikipedia would be if it were printed out into about 30 books.)
  10. How did you listen to music?  (We made mix tapes.)
  11. How did you order things?  (You called a catalog.)

It’s amusing to think about, but I also puzzle over the significance of my life having bridged the gap between the pre- and post-internet worlds.  I think it must be akin to being born in 1890 and Ford Motor Company launching the Model T when you were 18 years old.  I think the change is that seismic.

My kids are absolutely going to think I grew up in the dark ages.  And by today’s standards, they will be right.  But in some ways, I look  forward to their jaws dropping when I tell them that you used to have to look up directions before you left the house, and car phones were mounted to your dashboard.  I think it will be good for them to understand a different way of life, if only academically.

But also, I think I will enjoy the trip down memory lane.  It’s not that I think the older ways were better.  (Life with the internet is far superior to life without it in many ways.)  But I like thinking back on the simplicity of childhood.  Yes, the simplicity of childhood is amplified by the simplicity of less technology.  But life for a child is usually simpler than life for an adult in any era.  As adults we tend to complicate things unnecessarily.  Stopping to remember that things can almost always be simpler is a good exercise for all of us.

One Response to “The Olden Days”

  1. BigLittleWolf Says:

    “The olden days.” I don’t think I’ve heard or used that expression since I was a child or teenager.

    You just took me back a few years… and made me very misty.