I am in a public place watching several kids play on their smartphones. They haven’t blinked in over an hour. Or moved. Someone better get these kids some urinary catheters.
I’ll admit right off the bat that when we were kids we were not half as “hip” as today’s children. These kids are smart. They have cutting-edge phones, earbuds, skinny jeans, light-up shoes, and unique body piercings. Compared to these modern children we were complete dorks.
Do you know what my uncool friends did for fun? Our mothers made us pick wild strawberries. That’s right. Strawberries. These hip kids are going to laugh us right into the nursing home one day.
Certainly, video games existed during my youth, but my people didn’t have them. And don’t get me wrong, I would have killed for a video game. But it was a pipe dream. Back then, if you had a video game console, this meant that you wore silk undies and a man named Wadsworth turned your bed down each night.
The first time I ever saw a video game was at Michael Ray’s house. His father was an importer, his mother was a competitive horse jumper and Junior League vice president.
The video game was Pong. It was a blank television screen with a singular dot drifting from left to right between ping-pong paddles. This dot traveled about as fast as it took to complete law school. Every kid within three counties traveled hundreds of miles just to see this dot.
My father forbid me from playing video games. He once told me plainly, “Son, if you play video games your brain will melt.” And he didn’t say it like he was joking.
Looking back, I’m sure my father got a great laugh out of this, but I sincerely believed him. For years I thought that video games would cause brain matter to leak out my ears. So I never touched them.
Instead I became a grade-A dork. We built clubhouses. We lived for baseball. We shot craps for Milk Duds. We picked strawberries behind the filling station. There were millions of berries back there.
A filling station—for younger readers—is different than a gas station. Filling stations had auto garages and sold twist chew, or Navy plug. If you needed your radiator serviced, or new brakes, there was always someone happy to complete the job in the same amount of time it took to finish a single game of Pong.
After you picked berries, you followed a creek through the woods to the crazy guy’s house. Everyone visited him. He had a thick beard and he would always sit outside, burning rubber tires on a campfire. Among us kids, you were sort of considered a cool customer if you hung out and shot the bull with him. But he scared me. I would have rather taken my chances with a catheter.
And when the sun would lower, you knew it was time to rush home. We always seemed to know the way back home. Even though we traveled thousands of miles on cheap bicycles, we somehow navigated without a GPS.
When we’d trot into our backyards our mothers used scolding voices to say things like, “Get washed for supper, for the love of God!”
Supper. It was always “supper.” Never “dinner.” Dinner was something eaten on Sunday afternoons after church, or on Christmas.
In the bathroom you would do intensive washing before supper because your hands would have mud beneath the fingernails. And grass stains, they were part of everyday wardrobe. Cuts and bruises were your trademarks.
You LOVED ugly scrapes. These gave you serious bragging rights. Sometimes you’d lift your shirt in the middle of Sunday school just to show Tommy Williams where you got punctured in the spleen with an axe.
Tommy would call you a liar. He’d say, “You didn’t get hit by no axe! I heard you fell off a tricycle!”
The funny thing about our suppers was that—by today’s standards—our food was about as nutritious as Soviet nuclear waste. Our parents didn’t think about cholesterol, gluten, fat, carbs, lipids, folic acid, antioxidants, BPAs, or omega 3s. We just ate whatever.
Sometimes it was meatloaf that Mama stretched out with oatmeal and crushed Saltines. Sometimes it was pinto beans and pig-parts. Or, if Mama was running short on time, French toast. Gag me.
After helping clean dishes, you’d wander into the den and watch something ridiculous on TV, like “Fantasy Island,” or “Love Boat.” This came complete with six hours’ worth of commercial breaks advertising brands like Life cereal, Aqua Velva, Tab Cola, Doublemint gum, Wendy’s (“Where’s the beef?”), and Alka-Seltzer. And you actually LIKED this kind of TV. Because like I said, you were a dork.
And when the lights went out you STILL weren’t ready for bed. So you’d read comic books by flashlight until you fell asleep with a flashlight blaring in your face.
Your mother would quietly sneak into your bedroom, click off the flashlight, and fold your comic book. And maybe if you were lucky she’d kiss your forehead while you pretended to be asleep.
The next morning, you’d jump out of bed, throw on scuffed jeans, ratty shoes, and your pocket knife, and you’d do it all over again.
Believe me, I know we were dorks. I know we were lame. But watching these kids stare at smartphones for two hours without moving a muscle makes me so grateful we were.
And I wasn’t kidding about the catheters.
Sandi. - February 18, 2020 7:42 am
Cell phone addiction has now reached epidemic proportions. This is how teenagers date now days: They sit beside each other and text to and fro. Eye contact is almost unheard of, and their social skills are worse than those of a baboon.
Elizabeth - February 18, 2020 11:17 am
Exactly my day! Thanks for the walk down memory lane.
Mary Rose Reeder - February 18, 2020 11:29 am
Yes. The good ole days.
Rick Godwin - February 18, 2020 11:31 am
I’d give anything if kids today could experience just half of the experiences me, my 4brothers and my sister had while growing up. We sure learned a lot about life and how to deal with many different situations and kinds of people.
JeffJohnston - February 18, 2020 11:35 am
We are definitely the same age.
Hawk - February 18, 2020 12:39 pm
Substitute mother for Granny and strawberries for blackberries and this is my story. You may have happiness beyond belief or over whelming problems. A lot can be taken from you in this life. But a childhood memory like this is what will enhance your happiness or help wash away any bleak outlook of your future. I wish there was room to add to your list my list of adventures as a child. I still struggle calling lunch lunch and dinner supper. I have a long list. Thanks Sean for the memories.
Ol' Retired Geezer - February 18, 2020 12:43 pm
Man oh man, Sean, you’ve hit the nail on the head – again. My lady friend’s grandkids are a great example. When their ages were in single digits, they’d play outside all the time. Tree branches became rifles, or spears, or fishing poles, or who-knows-what. A box was a car, plane, castle, or tank. Shrubs were a jungle or some deep woods full of wild beasts. Then they got bigger and their parents go them “smart phones”. Now, they’re just a collection of zombies, much as you described the kids in today’s column. Outside? Huh? What’s that? Imagination? Can’t find that on any app. Trouble is, it isn’t just kids. I’m seeing so-called “grownups” act the same way. One friend of mine called “social media” the work of the devil. He may not be far from wrong.
Harriet White - Atlanta - February 18, 2020 12:44 pm
Yes we are
Retired Ol' Geezer - February 18, 2020 1:01 pm
About Sandi’s comment: That’s an insult to baboons!
marylynnecochran - February 18, 2020 1:09 pm
I love this! I am a product of the 50’s and loved every minute of my childhood. Thank you for this wonderful reminder of the world I grew up in!
Carol - February 18, 2020 1:41 pm
Amen for the good old days! Kids don’t know what they are missing!
Jackie - February 18, 2020 2:19 pm
“Where’s the beef” I met that lady once at a church in Northern California. She was really upset that I didn’t recognize her from tv.
Beth - February 18, 2020 2:24 pm
Sean, your drawing says it all 😃❤️
Steve Winfield - February 18, 2020 2:28 pm
We picked black berries & muskeydines, were seated at the supper table at 5. No exceptions. Saw the first pong at Green Springs 4 Theatre. FOUR movies in one bldg! To this day an old pinball machine is better than any video game.
GaryD - February 18, 2020 2:31 pm
Even though I’m probably a few years older than you, that’s pretty much how my childhood was. I never considered us as being dorks, though. I just thought we were normal kids having a fantastic time.
Teresa Tindle - February 18, 2020 2:43 pm
Oh my what good memories this brings. It’s how my two sons were raised. It’s how their friends were raised. How I was raised. They played outside from morning til night. Catching tadpoles in the creek, baseball, basketball, your it, hide and seek, and catching lightning bugs after dark. We always knew when to go home for supper. Too bad if it was something you didn’t care for. As mama always said, eat your supper, I’m no short order cook. So you ate. We didn’t have much. But we sure were happy and proud of what we did have. Those really were the good ole days. They need to come back.
Mary T - February 18, 2020 2:44 pm
Yesterday we saw two kids riding bikes in the street!! We commented about how we rarely see that anymore. We ride through our neighborhood and don’t see children playing or teens shooting hoops. How very sad!
Dianne DeVore - February 18, 2020 4:18 pm
A good one, Sean. Social media and cell phones is ruining communication/conversation skills among our kids. I grew up in the time when during summers you left the house in the mornings after breakfast, maybe come home for lunch or eat lunch with a friend, go out again and not come home until dark. Such good memories and fun times that our kids/grandkids are missing out on today.
Shelton A. - February 18, 2020 5:02 pm
It can’t be healthy…staring at phones. There has to be a side effect. It must be bad for your eyes or something. Having virtual friends is not even close to having real friends. I was a dork playing outside, too. It seems like we were the lucky ones.
Edna Barron - February 18, 2020 5:10 pm
It was simple times when I grew up. And I am so thankful for it. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
Dick Currey - February 18, 2020 5:12 pm
Barbara Ames - February 18, 2020 5:28 pm
Gotta agree with you, Sean. I lived up North in one of the five boroughs that made up NYC, Brooklyn. So picking strawberries happened at the grocery store, not out in the fields. I and my family, (3 brothers, 1 sister and Mom and Dad) lived in an apartment owned by a very old Italian lady who didn’t speak English much. There were a lot of kids who lived on my block – but I didn’t play with them all. Went out to play about 8:00 in the morning, back to have lunch about noon and back outside until the street lights came on at 6PM. Then we were in for the night. When it rained we went in to somebody’s house or their garage and made up some things to do………………Most of the games we played involved a pink rubber ball that we called a “SPALDEEN”. You could play hundreds of different games with a “SPALDEEN”……………On Tuesday night in the summertime, if Dad wasn’t too tired, we piled in the family car and drove to Coney Island for the weekly fireworks show….. we watched from the Boardwalk……….sometimes we even got french fries at Nathans as a treat. I wish I coulld go back to those good old days………………
Linda Moon - February 18, 2020 5:56 pm
Okay. I’ll tell you. I actually woke up this morning thinking about the old days. I picked wild strawberries then, and unbeknownst to me, my far-in-the-future husband was picking cotton at his family’s farm. Many years later I slept on GRANDMA’S FEATHER BED there. Really. My daughter recently gave me a refrigerator magnet that says: When I Was A Kid My Social Network Was Called “Outside”. And now, the once far-in-the-future kids who are now adults and their children spend lots of time outside: swimming, boating, water-skiing, kayaking, cliff-jumping, hiking in Appalachia, and even parachuting from a plane! So, I guess the old man and I from those old days did something right. We are grateful for these “Outside” kids and grandkids of ours!!
Janet Mary Lee - February 18, 2020 7:26 pm
Good ole days!! Scary media overload today!! Thank goodness my grandkids love the outdoors and imaginative play!!Love your drawing!! My granddaughter just ordered a “new” camera that prints pictures before your eyes!! Maybe the good ole days will make a comeback for more people!!
MermaidGrammy - February 18, 2020 8:47 pm
And we had so much fun. I seldom see young people laugh – unless it’s at the victim of the week or someone fell down (I have never known why that is funny. I’m probably a dork too). I don’t see young people these days having fun. They’ve taken play completely out of school. Parents have them so overbooked, there’s no time for play at home. Young people now are expected to work about 18 hours out of 24 – not at an after school job, but on school work and extracurricular things they’re told they must do from preschool to get into the right college. I feel so sorry for the young. I’m afraid they’re speeding through life they’ll never experience L.I.F.E., much less youth
catladymac - February 18, 2020 10:10 pm
Oh, on the Farm we ate dinner every day. At noon. Unless we were in school – then we ate lunch.
I was in college before I discovered all hamburgers weren’t supplemented by cracker crumbs and an egg. (Being on a farm, the eggs were free.)
Obviously, you are much younger than me. We had bicycles, but no video games – heck only a couple of my classmates had actual ping-pong tables ! And only 3 TV channels – VHF and UHF – as well as cholesterol – had not yet been invented. But yeh, while I would only go back for a visit, we did have some fun, didn’t we ?
Mary M Berryman - February 18, 2020 10:20 pm
Takes me back. When I was a kid, we were not allowed to play in the house. So we managed to entertain ourselves outside all day building miniature towns in red clay dirt to drive the Tonga trucks through. Or ride around in a surrey that was propelled with bicycle pedals/gears, drinking water from “recycled” glass “Coke” bottles because we were only allowed ONE soft drink per day. And at lunch time, I showed up at home for lunch eaten outside on the front porch because I was too dirty to come in! Loved the summer nights when we stayed out and played hide and go seek in the dark and caught lightning bugs in a jar. Home at last for a scrub in a warm bath and up the next day to do it all over again!
Donald Watts - February 19, 2020 12:28 am
Sean you continue to amaze me with your humor and intellect. I read you daily and feel my day either starts or finished with your slant on life especially your memories of growing up like today’s article. There are days I laugh out loud and others I try not to let my wife hear me cry–yeah, it’s a manly thing. Your emotions and feelings run the gament.
Yesterday’s article was smart, sharp, humorous, and made me appreciate even more why I’m an addict for your writing.
My wife and I would love to attend one of your live events and see you in person and maybe even get a selfie. We live in the Atlanta area, let us know when you might be visiting.
Thanks and by all means, keep doing what you’re doing.
A dedicated and jealous fan–jealous I can’t write that well.
Jess - February 19, 2020 3:55 am
Sean, I guess I was a dork when I was a kid too…I just didn’t know it. There were no smart phones, computers, and few home television sets at the time. Yeah, I know, I was born in the Dark Ages. After school I would wander some woods close to our house to see what I could find. On occasion I would find arrowheads, fossils and other interesting things. I don’t think I was deprived in any way, I had a great childhood, and I just shake my head now at what young kids no longer do because of electronic devices. I think they’re missing a lot of worthwhile things by being glued to those devices. Oh, well….that’s the way it goes.
Ann - February 19, 2020 8:30 pm
Weren’t we lucky!!
Carol Rothwell - February 26, 2020 7:49 pm
Give me the good ole days!! What a wonderful life
It was ❤️❤️