By John McDonnell
Today I turned 60 years old. There are people who would rather ignore a milestone like that, but I’m not one of them. I think it’s worth celebrating when you’ve been on this planet for 60 years, so I embrace my longevity with open arms.
Sixty is a time to stop and think about what went before. I grew up in a time before cell phones, computers, the Internet, iPods and even television (my family didn’t buy our first TV till I was seven years old). It’s a time referred to by my children as the Dark Ages.
When I think back to what life was like in the 1950s it seems like another world. Here are some random thoughts about what it was like for me to grow up 60 years ago.
Playing after school every day, with no need to be home till suppertime. . . playing tag, hide and seek, riding bikes, two-man baseball games (with the strike zone outlined in chalk on the brick wall of the school) using a broomstick and a hollow rubber ball. . . building forts out of branches and anything we found in the woods behind our house. . . swinging on a tire strung up from a high branch on a tree. . . catching grasshoppers and fireflies. . . my father reading the evening newspaper on the porch after dinner. . . the mailman walking his route with a big leather bag, and delivering the mail right to our front door. . . my grandparents spending all afternoon on Saturday visiting, with nothing else to do than just visit and talk. . . dinner at 6:00 every night, with fish on Friday and a roast on Sunday. . . bedtime at 8:00 for the little kids, and 9:00 even in high school. . . no such thing as fast food or pizza. . . saving up our change so we could buy penny candy on vacation. . . no TV watching during the week, but Friday nights were for watching shows on the black and white set in the basement, and eating bowls of ice cream. . . a big black wall phone in the kitchen was the only phone in the house. . . movie theaters that were the size of storefronts, with only one screen. . . Saturday matinees with cartoons and Westerns. . . drive-in movies. . . being taught by nuns who wore heavy black habits with stiff white headpieces even on days when the temperature was in the 90s. . . playing Army with my Dad’s GI helmet and a toy rifle, and dressing up in my Dad’s army uniform on Halloween. . . living in such a solidly Irish Catholic neighborhood that I never actually spoke to a Jew, a Protestant, or an African American till I was in college. . . playing tag at lunch recess, or keepaway. . . trying to scare pheasants in the cornfield near our house, but nervous because people said the farmer would shoot at trespassers with a shotgun filled with salt. . . no seatbelts in cars, and no child seats -- in fact, holding the baby on your lap in the passenger seat. . . my father with the hood up on a Saturday, working on the car. . . being a one-car family. . . my mother sending me on my bike to buy groceries for dinner, and me riding back with the groceries in the basket on the front of my bike. . . watching the 11:00 news on one of only three channels we could get. . . looking up the Church’s rating before we went to see a movie (was it “morally objectionable in part” or worse?). . . having a paper route. . . listening to a tinny transistor radio that faded in and out depending on how you held it. . . playing pickup football, baseball, and basketball games, with no referees and no adults anywhere to interfere. . . the May procession. . . being an altar boy, wearing a high, stiff celluloid collar and starched robes and having to memorize prayers in Latin without knowing what they meant. . . no air conditioning, nothing but a ceiling fan that just blew the hot air around while you sweated in bed. . a milkman who delivered several times a week early in the morning. . . a bread man. . . a diaper service that came several times a week. . . a farmer who came once a week and sold meat, eggs, and vegetables from his truck. . . walking to your friends' houses and ringing their doorbells to see if they could come out and play. . . taking piano lessons in the convent with a stern-faced nun sitting next to you on the bench and going over scales endlessly. . . priests shouting from the pulpit, giving fire and brimstone sermons that scared the kids. . . going to a barbershop and getting a crewcut for the summer.
There are lots of these memories, but the thing that strikes me about all of them is that there seemed to be more time back then. More time to spend talking, exploring, wandering around, or just doing nothing. Was it just because I was a child, and time seems to move slower for children? I don’t know if kids today have that same feeling. Most of them seem to be moving pretty fast, and they’ve got the next item on their agenda in mind at every minute during the day. There’s no denying that young people today have a lot more amazing devices in their lives than I had growing up.
I had more time, though.