Watching A Christmas Story this week sent me on a nostalgia trip for my own childhood of the ‘40s and ‘50s—the blue collar neighborhood, vacant lots with junked cars, bullies beating kids up with no adult intervention. Those were the good old days. Life was simpler then. I wish my kids could have experienced the simple pleasures of walking to school on tree-shaded sidewalks—not having to breathe bus fumes or dodge scores of cars from mothers dropping their kids off. Instead of Seseme Street, I wish they’d had radio programs that required imagination for visual images. I wish they’d had the freedom to roam the neighborhood cutting through backyards because everybody knew them and their parents. And if only they could have had the thrill of after-dark night crawler hunts for bait to sell passing fishermen.
Of course life was simpler back in the ‘40s and ‘50s. I was a kid. No bills to pay, no responsibilities. But those days were not simple for my parents. They had to deal with my dad’s military service, with finding housing during the war, with starting a family business after the war. They worried about polio epidemics in the summer and croup and pneumonia in the winter. For them, the “good old days” were the 1920s when they were kids.
I reread some of my dad’s writings last night—he rhapsodized about herding cows each summer and of sledding in front of their house on Center Street each winter. He learned to swim in the Provo River—no lessons in those days—no swim suits or towels either. Grandma washed clothes with a wringer washing machine, but didn’t have the mounds of laundry modern moms process weekly.
Dad thought his kids missed a lot by being born too late. I don’t know about my brothers, but I never envied his childhood. I wouldn’t have exchanged my library card and radio for the thrill of watching cows eat grass. And freedom to play in the street wouldn’t have compensated for living in a neighborhood swarming with flies from the neighbors’ pig pens, chicken coops, and outhouses. My kids probably feel the same way about my tales of the past. I doubt they would have traded TV, more than one bathroom, malls and movie complexes for my bucolic childhood.
And was life really that safe and secure in the past? Every generation seems to believe the world is becoming increasingly evil and dangerous. Possibly people spend too much time reading the Book of Revelation and too little time reading secular history. The world has always been a dangerous place. The good old days exist mostly in memory. Years from now, people in their 20s and 30s may recall their childhood through the rosy filter of time and wish their children could have lived in the simple, secure world of the early 21st century.