Kids today don’t really know what they missed not growing up in the 1950s

Posted Thursday, Jul. 10, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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witt Many people have said this before, but I don’t envy the kids of today.

What got me thinking about this was the little neighbor girls across the street had a lemonade stand set up on their driveway the other day. But because the homeowners association has rules against “solicitation,” they had to give it away on a donation basis.

I bet Opie Taylor never had to put up with that, even though his dad was the sheriff.

My wife and I don’t have children, despite being married for more than 30 years, so my observations certainly have a bias. Just like when Barney Fife put on his know-it-all face and tried to tell Andy how he should be raising Opie, I don’t really have the basis for a qualified opinion about kids.

Despite that handicap, I don’t know that there was ever a better time to grow up than in the ‘50s. That was the sweet spot.

Before that, things were tougher. The Great Depression in the ‘30s and World War II in the ‘40s. The ‘60s were filled with protests (civil rights and Vietnam), assassinations (JFK, MLK and RFK) and people turning on, tuning in and dropping out.

The ‘70s saw more women entering the workplace — a good thing for equality, but it still changed the dynamic — and the ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000 and on saw more technology and less time for family.

I was one of the lucky ones who grew up in a household that really was similar to the ones portrayed on TV in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s: Father Knows Best, Leave It To Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet and The Donna Reed Show.

Looking back now, I realize the one thing I really missed out on was diversity, because everyone I knew lived the same way my family did. I didn’t know anybody who didn’t look like me. There was only one person of a different race in my school. And surprisingly, none of the kids I knew came from a single-parent home.

So my memories of growing up in Roswell, N.M., are pretty much unblemished.

I never had a lemonade stand, however. I was in the vegetable business at that age. I got some cucumber seeds from the hardware store once and planted them. When they started to grow on the vine I was so excited I picked them all when they were about an inch long, ruining my crop.

But I missed one, and it grew (at least in my memory) to about 18 inches long. I offered it to my mom for a nickel. She agreed, but she didn’t have the cash on hand, so I sold it to our neighbor for a penny.

I obviously subscribed to the bird-in-hand theory of economics.

My next business deal wasn’t so cute. The kid who lived across the street had a money-making idea: The gas station down the street stored all their empty pop bottles in the alley. You got 2 cents deposit for every bottle, with 24 bottles in a case. About 10 cases were stored there, worth about $5.

His idea was to take our wagons down there after supper one night and steal them. And to deflect attention about how we got all the bottles, we decided to stage a play in my back yard and charge all the neighborhood kids an empty pop bottle as admission. The fact that only about 20 kids lived in the neighborhood — not 240 — obviously was a flaw in our plan.

But it worked like a charm the first time (the play we produced, appropriately, was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.) But the second night we did it, my dad was waiting in the alley.

My career as a thief — and thespian — came to an abrupt end.

We moved away after that, so I don’t know what ever happened to the juvenile criminal mastermind, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn he caught on with the mob.

Jim Witt is executive editor of the Star-Telegram. 817-390-7704 Twitter: @jimelvis

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