I never wanted to sound like my parents. No kid ever wants to utter a phrase that begins with, “Back in my day” or “When I was your age”. I shuddered just now as I typed those words out. Yet I find myself saying things like that on an almost daily basis.
In fact, on a recent vacation visiting with family, one of the younger kids said they felt sorry for us. I snapped my head around and sharply replied, “Excuse me?” She then proceeded to say how boring our lives must have been when we were young. She believed there was nothing to do, except look at the dinosaurs. I glossed over her obvious joke about my age, and then reminded her how we had freedoms and fun she’ll never know.
We didn’t spend the bulk of our time basking in the glow of a screen or phone. Nope. On the weekends we were up and out early. At my house, we had chores on Saturday: spring and summer it was mowing the lawn, pulling weeds from the flower beds, and picking up dog poop; in the fall it was raking leaves and picking up dog poop; and in the winter it was shoveling snow and, you got it, picking up dog poop. (We had two dogs, so there was a lot of poop.)
Our rooms went through inspection on a weekly basis as well. General Dot (aka Mom) would come through to check that we had fresh sheets on the beds, and they were made. Hospital corners were a must. (If you don’t know what a hospital corner is, you may be too young to read this. Just kidding.) If your area didn’t pass muster, you had to do it again.
So, growing up in the 80s sounds horrible, like prison or boot camp.
It was this weird dichotomy. On the one hand, our parents were on top of us, making sure our rooms were clean, we did our homework, brushed our teeth and bathed on a consistent basis. On the other hand, we could fly out of the house and be gone for hours without them knowing where we were or having any way to contact us.
We didn’t have cell phones or any trackers. We had neighbors.
If we were hanging out at a friend’s house in our neighborhood, we knew someone somewhere would rat us out if we got caught doing something we shouldn’t. For this reason, we either crossed a main road to the development behind us to smoke our cigarettes and trash talk, or we’d hang out at our friends’ houses who lived the next town over and whose parents either worked all day or weren’t around much.
The only downside to hanging with friends outside of the neighborhood was the dreaded drive back home. My mom never got her driver’s license. So, when it came to carpools, it was all the other moms and my dad. Guess who was usually tasked with driving a gang of teenagers home at night. Yup. Guess who had to sit up front next to my all-seeing and knowing father and pretend I hadn’t been doing anything he wouldn’t approve of for the past four to six hours. Good times.
But what did you do all day?
During the school year, it was pretty simple. Get up far earlier than we wanted to, grumble our way through breakfast with a mom who was a morning person. God bless her, Mom was up early and cheerful. Now, I have been up early, and I have been cheerful. But I’ve never been both at the same time! Get ready, get on the bus, and go to school. Now, here’s where kids today and us separate.
Back in my day, (good grief) I don’t remember having a backpack, just a broken back. There were no iPads or laptops. Sure, we had computers, but they were in a locked room, and no one was stealing those and getting away with it. Each one was about the size of a small car! Did I mention we also had typing class? For you younger readers, in typing class we worked on these old machines called typewriters. We’d insert a piece of typewriting paper into it, and-. I’m making myself feel older by the minute. If you really care to learn about it, you can do an online search. But just know this, typing 90 or more words a minute used to be a big deal.
So, as I mentioned, I don’t think I had a book bag or backpack. But I did have a ton of books. Schools issued these things called textbooks. They were like online searches but printed out. Most of them were older than us. On the first day of classes, we would bring them home and my dad would take them and put paper bag covers over each one. This meant he would take paper bags from the food store, cut and fold them to fit over the covers of each textbook. The idea was to protect these sacred relics. I must admit I had the cleanest book covers in school. Pops was a genius. Now, we have paper covers over each book obscuring the title or subject. How would we know which one was which, you may ask? Well, here’s where we got to be creative. We would draw on the paper covers! My oldest sister was a legit artist, so her books always looked like they belonged on display in a gallery. I was not blessed with her talent, so mine were typically the subject name, English for example, written in bubble or block letters and shaded to give it a 3d effect. It was sort of like graffiti artwork but for the academic sector.
The next morning you’d get on the bus hefting those weighted monstrosities along with your spiral notebooks, 5-subject please, and a Trapper Keeper™. No wonder so many of us were diagnosed with scoliosis during our annual nurse visit. My arms grew six inches and my back turned into a letter C by the time I was fourteen.
In theory, you would put your books in your locker and only grab the ones you needed for your next class. The problem was most of the time your locker was located nowhere near any of your classes for the entire day! So, rather than running back and forth between class periods (did I mention you only had about 5 minutes in between classes?), you’d grab whatever books you need for the first 4-6 classes. Let the bicep building and low back contortion commence!
The worst was when you had gym class earlier in the day. You’d get all sweaty and gross and no one used the showers after (did I mention the 5 minutes between classes?), so you’d be pretty ripe for the rest of your day. The only comfort was that everyone else was too, except somehow the popular girls always looked fresh and clean. Fresh and clean and mean. But that’s a story for another time.
You’re not really winning me over to how great being a kid in the 80s was.
OK, so school wasn’t the best (for most kids it never is). But we had the bus rides to and from to have fun. This was way before kids were chauffeured to school. You got your behind on the bus. Period. Your parents were paying taxes for those buses, so you were going to use them, even if the snowplows had come through and obliterated your bus stop. You’d either stand in the street and take your chances or ascend mount snowbank curb and take your chances. The only time Dad would drive us to school was if we had an early appointment or a project that would get demolished on the bus. Mom and Dad didn’t do our projects for us, but they helped. There was no way they were going to let their hard work and surviving my multiple meltdowns during the design and building process, go to waste. But we’d only get a ride to school. Once the project was seen and graded by the teacher, my folks couldn’t have cared less what happened to it. They just preferred we didn’t litter the street with its carcass.
We had one turn on our bus route that I labeled Dead Man’s Curve. We had a particular bus driver who was very nice, but I’m fairly certain had been or aspired to be a race car driver. He would take that turn on two wheels. (Yes, I realize a bus has more than two wheels. That’s my point.) I have fond memories of looking over at one of the girls on the bus as we’d near the turn. Will today be the day he tips the bus over onto its side? Nope. Whew. We live to see another bus ride.
Another interesting part of the transportation adventure was the after-school bus ride. I still have mild anxiety recalling how panicked I was figuring out which bus I should take. It wasn’t the same drivers or routes as during the regular day. Several times I walked onto the wrong bus. There were few things more embarrassing than having to turn tail and get off to try to find your bus. Were there adults there to help us? They were around but mostly to shout that the buses would be leaving soon, so stop goofing around. I always felt better when I had someone with me who was going my way. Even if we weren’t friends, for that moment, we were comrades in arms on the long journey home.
I lived at the front of my neighborhood. The buses would enter through the back. Here’s where it gets weird. Even though the bus would drive literally past my street to exit the neighborhood, it didn’t always stop at my corner. So, I’d be dropped off at the back end of a long street which crossed mine about a half mile further up. I’d watch as the bus sputtered and kicked out black smoke chugging merrily down the road and past my street! This extra cardio session was so much fun after a full day of classes, after school activities, and arms loaded with books and schoolwork. It was even more delightful on those cold fall and winter evenings when I was just praying I’d get home before the sun set.
I was fortunate to stumble through the door to the smell of something good being prepared in the kitchen. Mom made us home-cooked meals almost every night. At the time, we definitely grumbled about some of the dinner choices, to which Pops would casually remind us there was bologna in the refrigerator. There were no special meals for each family member. You ate what Mom made or you didn’t eat. You can’t imagine how much I’d give to have one more of her home-cooked dinners now.
I have great memories of being dropped off at the multiplex-a major deal in the 80s. For a long time, there were a couple of theaters that had two or four screens and might play a few different movies, but when the multiplex opened, it was an event! They had 10 screens! On a Friday or Saturday night, it’d be packed with teens and tweens who were dropped off in groups, some might say ravaging hoards. It was as if each parent’s vehicle was suddenly a clown car. How many kids just got out of that station wagon? (Yeah, we had those cars too.) We’d all pile out and the steps to the multiplex were electric with energy. Kids were hanging out everywhere. The neon lights from the theater’s sign were so bright, you could see them from the highway. It was the place to be if you were a teen in the 80s. You were either there, at the mall, or maybe at the ice- or roller-skating rink. I spent more time falling than skating, so I tended to choose the mall or the theater.
I saw some of the most iconic films at the multiplex, such as: Ghostbusters, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Purple Rain, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, The Karate Kid, The Outsiders, War Games, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pretty In Pink, Lethal Weapon, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and A Nightmare On Elm Street, to name a few. The best part was staying over one of my friend’s houses that night and reliving every moment from the movie we’d seen, memorizing every line, falling asleep laughing.
Summers were spent in each other’s pools. I remember my friend had cable before us, so we’d split our time between swimming and watching the same dozen European music videos in rotation on this phenomenon known as MTV Music Television. I don’t know if there’s been a cultural moment quite like the first time the channel went live. Here were bands you knew (and most you didn’t, in the beginning) lip synching to their music. Most of the videos were pretty crude and lacked a lot of artistic integrity, until Michael Jackson took over. I know I’ve written before how his Thriller video was must-see TV. It was a cultural high point. You had to be there.
And that’s probably the best way to describe growing up in the 80s: you had to be there. And I was. And it was totally tubular and totally awesome!
Until next time, stay happy, stay healthy, stay in the know. And if you’re stressed out, just take a chill pill.
Look forward to hearing from you.