I know there is a fine line between living in the past and just relishing the memories. I’ve always loved to close my eyes and think about the way the world used to be, when I was young and had my whole future ahead of me, with no clue how complicated and painful adulthood could be. I think we’re all this way to a certain extent, and whatever decades we spent our youth in, those are the bits of nostalgia we treasure the most. I spent my childhood in the ’70s and my teenage years in the ’80s. Here are some of my fondest memories of my childhood in the ’70s.
The First Microwave I Ever Saw
I guess it was around 1978 that my neighborhood friend, Dorothy’s parents bought a countertop microwave. I’ll never forget her saying, “Come on, I’ve got something really neat to show you.” We went into her kitchen and she explained that this strange contraption was like an oven, but that it cooked stuff really fast. She got out a couple hotdogs and a couple slices of Kraft cheese from her fridge, wrapped the hotdogs with the cheese, plated them and stuck them into this mini oven. She turned the knob and after what seemed like only a couple minutes, the cheese dogs emerged cooked, complete with melted cheese. I must have just stood there gasping at this marvel. “See? There all done already. So you don’t have to boil them anymore. Go ahead! Eat one! It tastes really good.” I reluctantly did as she said and to do this day I think those are the best hot dogs I ever ate (and I have always hated hot dogs!).
8-Track Tapes and My Suitcase Record Player
My mom and dad had a stereo system complete with an 8-track and a huge pair of puffy earphones. I would often steal away to their bedroom, shut the door, and lie on their floor with those earphones on and be transported to another world. They introduced me to The Knack, Kansas, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Peter Frampton, Bob Seger, and Abba. One of my favorite Beach Boys albums is 15 Big Ones, which my mom bought one day from a traveling 8-track salesman. It’s not one of their more popular albums, but I loved every song on there, from Rock n Roll Music to Just Once in My Life.
When I listened in my room I would simply slide my suitcase record player from underneath my dresser, plug it in, open it and proceed to play one of my own albums. I became an album collector when I was in the 4th grade, starting with The Bee Gee’s Spirits Having Flown, Circuit Breaker, and The Original Soundtrack to Grease. I loved the albums that opened like a book so while listening I could look at all the pictures inside. It seemed that each time I opened my Grease album I noticed something else in all the pictures of my favorite movie inside. It was a real treat when an album included lyrics for singing along in the privacy of my room! During long winters when we were stuck inside for months, with the only entertainment being a shared tv with 4 channels (no cable), I could spend hours listening to my records and dreaming.
Carefree Days and No Helicopter Parents
I don’t use the term “helicopter parents” derogatively. As a mom in the 2010s and now even into the 20s, I am most definitely guilty as charged! But the world was a different place then, and my parents were definitely Free Range. I started walking back and forth to school in 1st grade, and it was probably a mile or so. We knew every family in almost every house for that entire mile. I had no shortage of friends in my neighborhood for that mile, and we spent our days playing in the woods and the creek behind my house. When skateboards became popular, I taught myself how to ride and spent many happy hours skating through the neighborhood. We also roller skated outside and biked everywhere. When I got a little older, maybe 9, my friend Lisa and I would ride our bikes for miles. One of our favorite activities was to ride over to the gas stations and irritate the attendants by riding over and over the bell activators. (Back then these hose-like contraptions would alert the gas station attendants to new customers. People didn’t pump their own gas back then. You pulled over the hose, the bell rang, and an attendant would pump your gas and clean your windows.) When we had exhausted the attendants to the point that they would unplug the sensors, we would drive across the street to the Holiday Inn and ride up and down in the elevators to our hearts’ content. The bowling alley also provided hours of entertainment, no cash needed. It was fun just to walk around, peering into the halls of lanes or into the restaurants that we couldn’t afford. Once in a while we would come up with 50 cents, and walk the couple miles down the road to Long John Silvers to buy a small bag of hush puppies to share.
Sit-down Family Dinners and Being Forced to Eat Food We Hated I only knew a couple of kids whose parents were divorced, and none of them lived in my neighborhood. All the dads worked and all the moms stayed at home. Around 6 pm every night you could hear the local moms call their kids in for dinner. “Amyyyyyyyyyy! Katieeeee! Jaaaaaaaaaaason!” Most moms I knew had a revolving schedule of dinners. My mom’s go-to dinners went something like this: Monday: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, Tuesday: Creamed tuna over wheat toast, Wednesday: Roast with carrots, potatoes, and onions, Thursday: Stuffed green peppers, Friday: Tacos! There were some dinners I dreaded – namely: Creamed Tuna! Picture white gravy with hot tuna in it spooned over the darkest Roman Meal bread. But it wasn’t our choice. Dinners were my dad’s choice and had to conform to my dad’s likes and dislikes. He liked his tomato soup made with milk, which I found repulsive. But we weren’t allowed to leave the table until we finished what was on our plates. I had a very big imagination, which came in handy one night when my dad told my little sister and I we couldn’t leave the table until we finished every drop of the dreaded milky tomato soup. While my sister kicked and screamed so as to escape her plight, I resolved to pretend I was on a deserted island and the tomato soup was my only food in weeks. I was able to not only finish it, but to actually appreciate it.
Saturday Night Live, Taco Parties, and Uno
My parents were young and had a lot of friends and we spent many weekends with these couples and their children. The adults would play cards in the kitchen while we kids were free to roam their suburban neighborhoods or in some cases rural areas. We always had tacos first. In the Midwest in those days we had zero exposure to other cultures. Everyone was from the Midwest or the South and there weren’t restaurants on every corner. The only Mexican food I knew existed were tacos, and those consisted of flavored ground beef, cheese, and lettuce on hard tortilla shells. We still had yet to discover salsa. Still, there was something magical about the spread and making your own tacos. We would take our plates into the family room to sit in front of the tv (a welcome break from the everyday sit-down family dinners) to watch Saturday Night Live. I honestly haven’t watched SNL since the late ’70s, because I highly doubt that my memories of Rosanne Rosannadanna, The Coneheads, and Two Wild and Crazy guys could ever be matched with the skits of today. When we finished watching Saturday Night Live or if it happened to be Friday night, we spent hours playing Uno. There was no feeling like getting down to the bottom of your hand and having 3 of the same color.
Clogs, Bell-bottom Pantsuits, and Other Things My Mom Made Me WearMy mom still brags today that she dressed us in the latest ’70s fashions when we were kids. In the summer we wore “rompers” and sundresses if we were dressing to impress. Every Easter we looked forward to picking out our Easter dresses and hats. I hated dressing in girlish things with the exception of those occasions, but my mom got to choose what I wore. She had an affinity to dress me in flouncy baby doll dresses and platform sandals. I’ll never forget the feeling of awkwardness or like I couldn’t run and just be my tomboyish self. The Brady Bunch girls wore their mini-dresses and hip outfits with such flair and finesse, but I just couldn’t pull it off. I can close my eyes and remember arguing with her over having to wear a polyester, red and white striped bell-bottom jumpsuit with a huge pull-ring zipper. What I wouldn’t give to see that outfit again! Culottes were another one of her favorites and I still remember the beige culottes and vest set I wore numerous times during my 4th and 5th grade years, including two school pictures. On the brighter side, my mom sewed and made many of our clothes. She made me a cornflower blue and white “pilgrim” dress for a play at school, and I adored it. She made me an elaborate “pioneer” dress that I wore several Halloweens when I decided to go as Laura Ingalls Wilder from my favorite weekly show “Little House on the Prairie”. She also embroidered beautiful flowers and vines on to the fronts and back pockets of our bell-bottomed jeans.
One Phone and One Car Per House
Our telephone was a dial phone that hung on the wall between our living room and kitchen. There was no answering machine, no call waiting, no caller ID. Everyone in the house shared this phone. I had no use for it unless my grandparents called long-distance from Florida. My mom would have her hurried but precious call with them and then we kids would each take our short turn. We all had to hurry and say our “I love yous” as quickly as possible, because long-distance calls came at a premium. When I started to take an interest in the phone in 1979, I was in 5th grade, and my parents were on a “budget plan” where you got 30 local calls per month for free, and then every call after that was 25 cents. This was terrible, because if one of my friends would yell, “Call me!” as I got off the bus, I could hardly explain that my parents didn’t think our phone necessary for “shooting the breeze”. A few years later I was to discover how inconvenient it was to have a call with a boy I was “going with” while my parents listened in and my sisters yelled “she stuffs her bra!” in the background.
Back in the days of dial phones there were books filled with phone numbers. The Yellow Pages were businesses and the White Pages were people. The White Pages started to become exciting around the same year I discovered the telephone. In our local area you could look up someone’s phone number and get their address, everyone’s name in their household, and where their father worked. This was not only convenient for networking for the grownups, it was great fun to spy on a boy who had recently caught your eye. Cars were generally also one per household. If you had 2 cars, you were considered well-off. People just didn’t do the “running around” back then that they do now. However, people were fond of going for “drives” or “cruising” for pleasure. When I was a kid and the household was feeling bored, we would go for “drives” in “the country”. Today I am amazed when I drive through that same “country” and it’s one business next to another and 4 lanes of traffic. In my mind’s eye I can still see clearly the way it used to be — cornfields, a farm here or there, a lone barn, some cows.
I miss the ’70s, and I’m thankful I got to experience them. Things seem to get more complicated and intense each year that goes by. Sometimes I think I’d give up the conveniences of today in a second to experience the slower pace, the sheer “realness” of those days. I think we lived so much more “in the moment” back then. We didn’t have as many choices, but that left far less decisions to be made.