Those were the days, my friend, repairing with black tape

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By The Staff

Recently, a friend mused and asked if the good old days were really that good.

There’s no easy answer. Comparing what has been to what is depends on where one is coming from and which priorities were set. 

Hope would be at the top of the list if we didn’t recognize it.

Can anyone recall growing up with anything but positive prospects for the future?

Your writer’s birth country was embroiled in war and her adopted country stepped in to help win it.

America was the Nation that every other country wanted to be like; the Nation everyone wanted to come to.

How could that be bad?

In school, in church, and socially, Americans were always told that they were the envy of the world.  Negativity was never allowed to enter the equation; we were always positive and hopeful.

Many kids had parents who had been caught in The Great Depression – now our grandkids may learn how their great grandparents STILL managed to survive. 

But, imperceptibly, it all started to change in 1963 and culminated in the bloodless coup of 2000; hope seemed never to be regained.

The Sixties saw the assassinations of JFK, MLK, Jr. and RFK.

We managed to peer ahead into an odd future – but we never lost hope.

When George W. Bush was thrust upon us in 2000 he and his hip shooting aggressive ways ended everything hoped for.  We were not taking care of the environment, people’s interests were being neglected, we were contributing to aggression and we ignored global warming.  All the news was bad.

And, relentlessly it got worse. 

Eight years with no hope is a long time.  And it has changed the people in ways not fully understood, yet!

The other prevalent thing in our childhood was ephemeral and linked to hope.  It was freedom.

Today, it seems that freedom has been tremendously curtailed in the supposed interests of a child’s welfare.

Today, everything has to be either supervised or organized. If you want to play ball, you have to play on a team—and hopefully one of the better ones, so there is competition to get on the team. It’s very much unlike those of us who just went to the playground and picked up a team from the kids who were there.

What’s more, all decisions today  are made by parents where we had total freedom to decide what we wanted to play, where and how and who would be on our teams. Nobody told us what to do. We didn’t have coaches who made us practice or told us what we were doing wrong. At the same time, there were no prizes for doing nothing particularly great except attending meetings and games.

If there was nobody around, there were woods, nature walks, digging for crystalline rocks, building fires and toasting some spuds or marshmallows, or whatever. It was a marvelous time for using one’s imagination. 

Some of us were in Sherwood Forest and the king’s men were on our tails. We played cowboys and Indians and secretly were gung ho for the Indians.

There was a stick ball area across the street and just before it, a smooth piece of land for playing Aggies. 

The stoops were great for stoop ball; there was a hardball area in the back yard, rigged, of course, from nothing. All you needed was a little pink ball called a Spaldeen, which cost 15 cents. And if you were playing “hardball” it usually meant an odd shaped ball that had its smithereens knocked out, yet was rendered serviceable by yards and yards of electrician’s black tape.  Electrician’s black tape was the cure for everything in our world. 

If someone scraped a little money together in New York they could take the subway to the City (Manhattan,) a great adventure for a kid of 10-plus.

They could spend the day at the free museums and then go for a snack at Horn and Hardart’s.

There were plates for 45 cents, plus a nickel for a roll and butter and another nickel for a cup of fresh coffee that came out of a fish necked faucet.

It was fascinating just to listen to all the big people talk—the people on break from their jobs or the out-of-work laborer who didn’t have two nickels to rub together. 

Someone always had a friend or a friend of a friend whose dad was the projectionist at one of the cinemas or flea-pits. Too, in those days there was always a friendly usher or an open back door, courtesy of the one person who went in and paid. We watched all the latest serials and ‘shoot-em-ups’ and sometimes for the truly courageous, there would be a foreign film with English subtitles.  An entirely new world.

 Can we say that today?  Today our grandkids are being supervised so closely that they really have no freedom.   Kids don’t get to pick who they play with.  They have it all decided by their parents. And everything is organized. 

So while today, there are cell phones, text messaging, play stations and game playing, plus the Internet and e-mail, back in those days there were mainly two things, freedom and hope.

Your author hails from Yorkshire, England where there were moors and rocks to climb and frozen tarns to be skated on – no Manhattan, but just as satisfying.

There were bilberries to be picked along with yellow gorse and purple heather for Mum and rose-hips to be donated to the Cancer Society. By the way, never ask someone if they’re from Yorkshire.  If they are, you’ll be told, with great pride, immediately. If they’re not, you’ll only embarrass them and yourself.

Some of the moors that attracted and called to us are where Heathcliffe and Cathy loved and died. These moors always had stacked bonfire to be lit when under attack, and so on down the line.   When asked to define a Yorkshireman, Charlotte Bronte once said "They are hard to lead, and impossible to drive."

Oh,  and a wee bit of humiliation – Yorkshire (White Rose) lost to Lancashire (Red Rose) but only because Richard III was unhorsed – so there!

… As I was saying …

Wendy England Binnie, a novelist and op/ed columnist, lives in Oak Trace Villas. Contact her at smcnews@earthlink.net