What normal thing from your childhood would be considered strange today?
September 29, 2017 8:20 AM   Subscribe

I recently remembered that in elementary school, for a kid's birthday, the teacher would spank him/her over her* lap, and the number of spankings was how old the kid was. We would all sing along and cheer "and one for good luck!" at the end, with accompanying bonus spank. We may have also gone up and each spanked the birthday kid, but my memory on this is hazy. This seemed totally normal then (early 80s, Midwest), but I can't imagine it happening now. What other normal childhood things from way back would be considered really outrageous today?

*Not a typo; all of my elementary school teachers were women, possibly also an artifact of the era?
posted by stillmoving to Society & Culture (240 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was born in 1958. The toys in my first-grade classroom were divided into toys for boys and toys for girls. At one school I went to, the playground was actually divided into the boys' side and the girls' side. Guess which one had cool equipment.
posted by FencingGal at 8:22 AM on September 29 [8 favorites]


Also, does anyone else remember this spanking thing? Did other kids actually go up and spank the birthday kid, too?
posted by stillmoving at 8:24 AM on September 29 [5 favorites]


Duck and cover drills. Even as a grade-school student, it didn't make sense to me how crouching underneath a window would protect someone from nuclear fallout.
posted by DrGail at 8:25 AM on September 29 [7 favorites]


We rode bicycles everywhere, as fast as we could go, with no protective gear whatsoever.
posted by Devoidoid at 8:29 AM on September 29 [29 favorites]


Yes, now that you mention it, I remember the spanking. I wish I didn't.
posted by tillermo at 8:31 AM on September 29 [6 favorites]


Candy and bubble-gum cigarettes, so you could pretend you were a "grown up" while developing brand loyalty to Pall Mall, etc. at the same time. (1970s)
posted by DB Cooper at 8:33 AM on September 29 [47 favorites]


Birthday spanking: Yes, I remember it well from the 70s, not teachers doing it, but other kids and nobody stopped them. Birthdays were one day when abusive behavior was positively sanctioned. (St. Patrick's Day was another if you weren't wearing green.)

My 4th grade teacher (1973) decided To Heck with the Separation of Church and State and made us say prayers and read the Bible every day at my public school. No repercussions whatsoever.

My high school had a smoking area. For students.
posted by JanetLand at 8:33 AM on September 29 [10 favorites]


Born in 1974 in Toronto, Canada.

We had something similar, but I don't think teachers spanked us over their laps. They definitely knew that kids did it to each other (at times encouraged it) and it was considered normal. Our version was called 'paddywhacks'. If it was your birthday, a bunch of other kids would grab your arms and legs and raise/lower you x times so your bum hit the ground (not hard) each time. It was honestly a lot of fun. Can't imagine it being done today. (I just told my teen son about it and he was astounded/appalled.)
posted by methroach at 8:33 AM on September 29 [6 favorites]


We did the birthday spanking thing in Italy when I was growing up and I was born in 85. It was never even mildly painful spanking, just swats, and not over anyone's knee but yeah. Weird!
posted by lydhre at 8:35 AM on September 29


I started grade school in 1988, and I definitely remember the birthday spanking thing. I don’t think it continued past kindergarten, though.

In sixth grade, my home room teacher ran a few week-long hunter safety class during study hall. (I grew up in Tennessee, where everyone hunts.) The payoff at the end of the class was going on a field trip to a local rifle range and blasting away at clay pigeons with a 12-gauge shotgun!

This was in 1994, so pre-Columbine, but still...I dunno if that would fly these days, even in the South.
posted by timetoevolve at 8:36 AM on September 29 [2 favorites]


Everything?

5 things your parents did they'd be arrested for today (Cracked)

(1970s) Totally normal to be completely unsurpervised for chunks of time by parents. I rode a public bus alone to school every day in a big city when I was 7. No one even noticed. I was left alone in the house for short periods starting around age 6 (I was a quiet kid who read, and they probably noticed that). When I watch parents today micromanage their kids' lives, it feels so suffocating.
posted by Melismata at 8:37 AM on September 29 [25 favorites]


I remember the spanking thing.
Also, a surprising number of men my age (1960s) remember swimming classes where they were required to swim naked. (I was so surprised by the first one who told me that I started asking around - I also googled and found articles about it describing the rationale, which had something to do with water filters and gross wet swimsuits, but I'm not going to google it at work).
posted by FencingGal at 8:37 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


We'd do birthday punches, the teacher usually wasn't involved. 1970s Australia, you punched them in the arm one for each year & one for good luck. So it's not just a US thing.

Also we used to just go out all day on our bikes & my mother wouldn't have any idea where we were, we'd go for miles. We'd go wash cars the next suburb over (the richer suburb) for extra pocket money then go buy fish & chips & spend the rest at the arcade. I would have been about 10 or 12 at that point, no one asked where our parents where or anything no one cared.
posted by wwax at 8:39 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


My sister and friend and I stood up on the front bench seat of our babysitter's car, all in a row, while she drove us around town.
posted by something something at 8:40 AM on September 29 [3 favorites]


In the 80s in southern CA, we did have "The Spanking Machine" for birthdays. The birthday kid would crawl through a tunnel of their friends standing with their legs apart, and get spanked by each kid along the way. As I remember, adults didn't participate, but they watched with amusement.
posted by oxisos at 8:40 AM on September 29 [9 favorites]




Similar to the car example above: Riding in the back of the station wagon without car seats or seat belts.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 8:43 AM on September 29 [15 favorites]


Yep, my family had a station wagon and when we were little my two siblings and I would ride in the back with blankets and toys, playing around with each other or lying down to sleep.
posted by Redstart at 8:44 AM on September 29 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I remember birthday spankings, including "one for good luck" (70's and 80's). Never the teacher, but definitely family and other kids.

A couple normal then, weird now things:

As kids we often rode in the bed of the pickup truck. On the highway. Even on 5 or 6 hour drives. My parents would throw a mattress in the back, and us three kids and the dog would sit back there.

My school still had the strap ("hands out, palms up!" Whack!).
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:44 AM on September 29 [4 favorites]


I don't remember it being pervasive, but common enough that it was unremarkable, just a thing that was done. The "spanking" wouldn't have hurt a mosquito though.
posted by cfraenkel at 8:45 AM on September 29 [2 favorites]


Yes, definitely riding in the way back. I was allowed to do that at age 7 or 8 in the mid-90s. Also, when my mom drove me and three kindergarten classmates to school, the heaviest five-year-old was allowed to sit in the front seat. No car seats or booster seats involved.
posted by zeptoweasel at 8:46 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


All boys in grade school had a pocket knife on them at all times, including at school. They also often had some method of making fire -- matches or a lighter. I also remember boys bringing firecrackers to school and lighting them in the school yard. No one ever got in trouble for that.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:46 AM on September 29 [3 favorites]


One more thing .... kids would bring toy guns to school.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:47 AM on September 29


The night I was born, my siblings (ages 7, 6, and 4) were left in the car outside the hospital.
posted by JanetLand at 8:48 AM on September 29 [4 favorites]


We also had the spanking machine, which was required by my gym teacher, and it hurt because the boys would hit as hard as they could. My friend told the teacher I was crying, and he told her I'd get over it.

My parents bought a "car bed" for my baby sister. It was basically a small playpen made to go in the back seat of the car. No straps securing the bed to the car or the baby to anything.
posted by FencingGal at 8:48 AM on September 29 [3 favorites]


I grew up in a city in the '70s and '80s. We had a dog that we let out the front door. She just wandered around the neighborhood, shitting wherever she pleased, and then wandered back when she felt like it. We didn't live on a busy street, and she wasn't a scary dog, but what the fuck were we thinking?
All boys in grade school had a pocket knife on them at all times, including at school.
Yup. My parents believed in gender equality, so I also had a pocket knife. It was a Swiss Army knife, and I got it for my seventh or eighth birthday.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:48 AM on September 29 [10 favorites]


Would never happen today, but as a young kid of 6-8yrs old (1980ish) I had my own little motorized skiff and, as long as we wore life jackets and stayed out of the Gulf, I could go anywhere. I could even bring my little sister who was 3 1/2 years younger than me. Can you imagine?! Seeing 3 year old and a 7 year old girls out on a boat by themselves? Grew up that way but my kids sure aren't (though I kinda wish they were).

I remember the spankings too, but by classmates, not the teachers.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 8:50 AM on September 29 [9 favorites]


One more thing .... kids would bring toy guns to school.

Toy guns?

I graduated in 2000, and until Columbine happened, students routinely brought real guns to school because they were out hunting before/after.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:52 AM on September 29 [5 favorites]


Smoking areas at the high school, phased out around 1990. Open HS campuses and students being allowed to leave school, get in their cars and drive to get lunch - this also stopped and lunches got shortened while I was in HS. All the doors at the schools were left unlocked during the day - none of this "you can only go in one door through the metal detectors and past a policeman" bit that kids today have to put up with.

On another note: short hair on young women was not automatically read as queer/alternative, the way it seems to be now. I almost never see young straight women with genuinely short haircuts now but it wasn't that uncommon when I was in high school.
posted by Frowner at 8:54 AM on September 29 [19 favorites]


Riding in the back of the station wagon without car seats or seat belts.

Same with a pickup truck. Was extra fun during haying season and the back was all filled with hay. Realistically this still happens in rural areas (I think) but not in semi-suburbs the way it used to. We also had an unfixed dog which just wandered around on its own. The leash laws went into effect when I was in high school. He would fight with other dogs, this was somehow normal. Most kids wore as little as possible in the summer. Definitely no shoes and no shirts for boys and girls right up until the girls hit puberty.
posted by jessamyn at 8:54 AM on September 29 [3 favorites]


My dad would write notes to the 7-11 around the corner, requesting that they sell us one pack of his preferred cigarette brand. The notes would be dated and he'd sign them. He'd give us the money, and if he was feeling flush he'd tell whichever of us was running the errand to buy a slurpee. We never had trouble. Incidentally, this is how my brother learned to forge things, by changing the date at the top of a note (conveniently these notes were often written in pencil). With a collection of change he'd go buy his own cigarette. He was 8 or 9 when he started smoking enough that dad's cast off butts were not enough. This would have been 1992-95. I think he had the sense to smoke in private but I'm also pretty sure he was the one who burned down the weedy area between our house and the back neighbor. Whether it was carelessness or on purpose, I won't speculate.

And ya, candy cigarettes were still totally a thing. Gross as candy but cool as a marker of some sort of maturity. (For the record, I tried to smoke cigarettes, they always made me throw up!)

I hope the levels of neglect and physical violence in our home would do more than just raise eyebrows today, but I don't know. I spent a lot of time in the nurses office asking for peanut butter crackers because I had "forgotten" my lunch on days when the meaner of the lunch ladies gave me a hard time about my account. So, that too. In a lot of places now in the US no kids pay for lunch to take the shame away from kids who can't. I'm 1000% in support of this change. I still feel a wash of shame every time school lunch is even mentioned, or when I see those plastic barrels of sugar water that we're branded as lil hugs.

There's some pretty good research showing that teens are drinking, smoking, and sexing less now than in the 90s. So that probably counts toward what you're looking for. Though I'm not sure if the kids who aren't doing those things still think everyone else is doing them.
posted by bilabial at 8:55 AM on September 29 [8 favorites]


Grew up in the Midwest, born in 81. Definitely remember birthday spankings, but not at school. Usually just aunts and uncles giving a teasing swat while fake-chasing the Birthday Kid, who fak ran around squealing.

Also there was no "pick up line" of SUVs in front of the school. You rode the bus or you walked. Having your mom come get you was actually sort of embarrassing.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:55 AM on September 29 [19 favorites]


The culture around smoking has changed so dramatically that we forget how pervasive it once was. My mother used to drive me up to the gas station in her pajamas, give me $2, and send me in for a pack of Salem Lights 100s. I couldn't have been more than 7, because I remember not even being counter height. I slid the money across and they sold me the smokes without question.

People smoked in restaurants, on airplanes, in grocery stores, in hotel rooms, wherever. Non-smoking was the exception that you asked for.

I sometimes think I'd like to take a time machine back to some random day when I was 8 or 9 (after I went and killed Hitler, of course), and just look around at how the world was. But I bet I'd get pretty annoyed that every goddam thing reeked of cigarette smoke.
posted by AgentRocket at 8:56 AM on September 29 [16 favorites]


Remembered more:

- Popeye candy used to be red-tipped to emulate the ember, but now they are just all white. The packages used to say 'cigarettes' -- now they are called candy sticks.
- Kindergarten toys included a good number of Barbie dolls. There was also an indoor sandbox.
- A French teacher used a bell to get our attention (we were very unruly). Eventually it broke and he replaced it with a pall-peen hammer, which he would smash repeatedly on his desk when we got out of hand.
- Other disciplinary methods: Being made to stand in the corner of the classroom, facing the wall. If really disruptive, instructed to drag one's own desk and chair out to the hallway and exiled there for the remainder of class.
- I had a male teacher who hung out with some of us socially. Like, I think we went to movies and dinners and such.
posted by methroach at 8:57 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


Casual homophobic comments from teachers as a matter of course, that's something I remember. It's not like this never happens now, but it was not worthy of remark at the time and it wasn't a "right wing fundies only" thing as it would be now.
posted by Frowner at 8:57 AM on September 29 [8 favorites]


I 'm in my 50s now and definitely remember the birthday spanking thing, but not at school.
No one ever wore helmets to ride bikes, skateboards, etc.
My HS had an "unofficial" smoking area for students. The kids who frequented it even had their group photo in the yearbook.
I walked by myself to school (Chicago suburbs)every day, beginning in kindergarten when I was 5. In elementary school it was about 4 blocks--jr high about 10 blocks, HS was a mile.
posted by bookmammal at 8:59 AM on September 29


Oh Frowner, gender conformity stuff of all kinds!! I was all the time being told that I should focus on reading and writing. Science and math education was wasted on girls because they grew up and had babies and left their jobs.

I also wasn't allowed to touch any of the equipment in video club in high school because I was a girl. In 199&. But I sure was allowed to be in a video that was shot to make me look like I was naked.
posted by bilabial at 9:01 AM on September 29 [3 favorites]


My town had a big Asian immigrant population, and most of the kids in my age group's first language was Chinese or Vietnamese. It was completely acceptable for teachers to forbid these kids from speaking to each other in their native language.

My sixth grade teacher would do "body odor checks" after gym class and go around sniffing each kid.

Presumably teachers are discouraged from doing things like this now? I hope so!
posted by cakelite at 9:02 AM on September 29


And the pervasive homophobia. Calling your friends "gay" or "fag" or several variants was completely normal. I was just watching Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure with the kids and there's a moment where they are happy to see each other and give each other a hug. Then they step back, look at each other, and both dismissively say "fag" before hugging again. It's played for laughs, but man does it stick out now. My kids were shocked by it.

On preview, Frowner called it.
posted by AgentRocket at 9:02 AM on September 29 [15 favorites]


AgentRocket's comment made me remember that my dad used to have me go buy him cigarettes on occasion when I was maybe 10 to 13 years old? This would have been late '90s. Wow. Totally forgot that was a thing that happened semi-regularly until just now.
posted by rachaelfaith at 9:03 AM on September 29


Being allowed to grab some snacks and just disappear into the woods behind the house (or a friend's house) and go exploring for hours at a time. The neighborhood I grew up in is still there and if anything it's safer than it ever was, but the new generation of kids on the cul-de-sac don't go exploring in the woods anymore. My friends and I all did so regularly, in the mid 90s.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:04 AM on September 29 [17 favorites]


+1 for the short hair. Small girls would usually have short hair because it was easier for Mom to care for, and there would be a lot of battles over who was old enough to grow out their hair. And, as Frowner said, short hair on teenage girls and young women was mainstream, not alternative. I remember getting my hair chopped off because Susanne and Joanne from The Human League looked so cool with their short hair, and I wasn't the only one.

When I was a little kid in the 70's, the principal still had a paddle and kids were threatened with it. I remember Johnny, the little boy down the street, spreading a bizarre rumor that the paddle was filled with nails, and everyone believed him.

My first elementary school still had a boy's side and a girl's side of the playground. Both my elementary schools also had no cafeteria - you could buy milk, and that was it. (70's) You brought your lunch in a lunchpail - mine had Snoopy on it. We were shooed outside to eat on any day when it wasn't raining. If it rained, we ate at our desks.

The car as babysitter-on-wheels - you'd be handed a book or two and left in the car for a half hour (at least - time passes differently for a kid) - while parents ran errands.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:07 AM on September 29 [2 favorites]


I grew up in New York in the 70's - early 80's. The following things were completely normal:

Elementary school in Staten Island - My parents had to come into school on the first day and inform the teacher she was not allowed to spank us. Saw other students disciplined with spanking.

One day a little boy stuck his hand down my pants, I punched him in the face and got in trouble because I refused to apologize. My father came in, took the boy out of class and threatened him in the hallway! This was 100% allowed by the school. This was around age 8 or 9.

Throughout childhood in Staten Island and The South Bronx - We would leave the house first thing Saturday morning and not return until sunset. Generally we roamed the neighborhood with a pack of other kids going to playgrounds, playing games in the street like tag, kick the can and red light/green light, getting free lunch at one school and a free snack at another location later in the day. There was zero parental supervision.

As small children we went to the bodega on the corner and were allowed to buy cigarettes and beer because the owner's knew they were for my grandmother.
posted by Julnyes at 9:07 AM on September 29 [3 favorites]


I was born in the 1980s and remember birthday spankings and body odor checks. We also had regular spankings for bad kids. There was a really big wooden paddle at the front of the classroom.

My second grade teacher used to give us all a hug before we left. She gave the best hugs. I can still feel her arms now. It meant so much to me then and even now!
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 9:08 AM on September 29 [4 favorites]


Casual homophobia, no helmets, and candy cigarettes were all also part of my childhood in '80s rural CO.

People giving their children drugs, beer, and porn was also pretty common, although that may have been more of a poverty indicator than something specific to the generation. I knew a freshman kid whose dad rolled her a joint to take to school every morning.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:09 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


I remember a spanking tunnel type thing (child of the 80s here), and when the playground game was, unapologetically, "smear the queer" (I like to hope that title would be absolutely forbidden today).

I remember being paid to babysit starting at age 10! And riding around in the "way back" of my parents' stationwagon on long car trips, in a nice little hollow between the suitcases and the cooler of food/drinks. I don't think I started using a seatbelt in back seats until my 20s, maybe?

My siblings and I got to play "flashlight tag" throughout our neighborhood--running around about a 4-block radius in the pitch black, armed with only flashlights. Nowadays I feel like kids a)don't get to run around unsupervised; b)definitely don't get to roam their neighborhoods after dark. Relatedly, I'm sure this still goes on in rural areas, but today it seems shocking that my sibs, c. age 14-15, would be dropped off to hike and camp parts of the Appalachian Trail by themselves for up to 4 days at a time. We would drop them off and pick them up by the side of the highway. No cell phones, of course; just an agreement that they'd be by Mile Marker Whatever sometime around 1pm on a Monday.

Really, perhaps the thing that resonated the most strongly with me about Stranger Things was that remembrance of what it was like to ride out bikes EVERYWHERE (without a helmet) and we only had to be home by dinner-ish. My parents never asked where we were going nor did they give us firm curfews. And we never called in, because no one ever had small change for a payphone.

I went to Europe for a month on a high school exchange and never once called (too expensive) or emailed (didn't have an account) my parents.
posted by TwoStride at 9:09 AM on September 29 [4 favorites]


A sunburn was considered a good way to start tanning for the summer, and (for pasty white people anyway) getting tanned to a deep brown before you went back to school in September was considered an achievement, rather than a skin cancer threat.

On Valentine's Day, you only sent Valentines to people you liked, turning it into a highly visible popularity contest.

On non-family group (class/sports team/etc) overnight trips, you would be sent to stay at the home of a complete stranger who volunteered to put you up.

Parents just left you places (shopping malls, amusement parks, sports practices/games) with plans to meet up at a certain place and time, and no backup plan if something went wrong.
posted by cardboard at 9:09 AM on September 29 [9 favorites]


Born in 1961. The birthday spanking was a thing. A teacher would do it as the class counted along. It ended with "and a pinch to grow an inch!" But the "spanking" was not with any force or impact whatsoever. It made you the star for a minute and I don't remember anyone ever complaining about it.

Other normal things from my childhood in the 60s and 70s:

Actual spankings / paddlings in school, with parental approval (in most cases).

Not sure if this still happens, but, as a boy, showing up at school with a new haircut was an invitation for other boys to run past you and slap your head yelling "skins!" The first day of a new haircut was always full of anxiety.

Being sent out to play (sometimes on bikes) with parents having no idea where we were or what we were doing. "Come in when the streetlights come on" since we didn't wear watches. (And this was in a very rough area of inner-city Detroit.)

Buying cigarettes for parents as long as you had a note signed by them. (This included from the gas station cigarette vending machine on the corner.)

Girls could put their winter hats on when lining up to leave, but boys had to wait until they were outside, because "It's rude for a boy to wear a hat indoors, but not for girls."

Boys took Woodshop while girls took home economics (which may have even been called "Homemaking Class"). In my school, it wasn't even an option to switch.
posted by The Deej at 9:09 AM on September 29 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, and definitely left in the car for hours at a time, often behind a bar.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:09 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


Oh! And I'm sure there'd be waaaay more parental complaining today, but when I was growing up male teachers roamed the hallways with rulers to put against girls' legs to measure that her skirt wasn't too short. I would hope that no one's allowed to grope a student's leg like that anymore today.
posted by TwoStride at 9:11 AM on September 29 [2 favorites]


cakelite, at the charter school I taught at until recently, my students (all of whom were Latinx) were forbidden from speaking in Spanish in school...


When I was growing up, the only communication my parents had from the school about my progress was via a quarterly report card that was sent in the mail. Nowadays, most parents have up-to-the-minute access to their kids' grades via online gradebook systems.
posted by coppermoss at 9:11 AM on September 29 [3 favorites]


Not birthday spanking, but our kindergarten teacher spanked us for punishment sometimes (1984). And boys (and occasionally girls) were paddled with wooden paddles from about fifth grade up until they were big enough to make the teacher worry they might turn around and knock them down (about halfway through high school). The teachers who were paddlers often decorated their paddles, or kept them in different sizes hanging on the wall. By the time I graduated in '97 I think all that was probably phased out. Rural Tennessee, full support of the parents.
posted by frobozz at 9:11 AM on September 29


Yeah, small kids would just go roaming by themselves - southern california, 70's.

What may seem even more outrageous to kids today is that were no cell phones. So your parents only had a vague idea of where you were and no real way of contacting you.

If your mom wanted to find you to tell you to come home for dinner, she'd flag down the nearest kid on the street who would then activate the kid network until, a while later, you were approached with "Hey, Skip, your mom is looking for you." and you'd shrug and keep doing what you were doing.
posted by vacapinta at 9:13 AM on September 29 [43 favorites]


* Being taught how to use the metro bus system when I was 11 and my sister was 9; we then had access--on our own--to all of Milwaukee.

* Walking, and later taking the bus, to and from school on our own, from early grade school onwards.

* Biking anywhere and everywhere, we just had to be home by dark and/or use a payphone to update the parents.

* Arriving home well before parents during the week, and tending to ourselves until they did come home.

* As Frowner mentions, our high school had an open campus--we'd go downtown for lunch--and a student smoking area called "the Grit club".
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:14 AM on September 29 [3 favorites]


I walked to school and home from school, about a mile, with no adults beginning in kindergarten. (Often there were other kids to walk with, but if there weren't I still just walked.) I feel like I'm being daring and possibly irresponsible as a parent when I don't go meet my kids' bus (1st and 4th grade) three houses down but wait for them in the front yard.

I was allowed to walk (or bike) by myself to the library when I was 7, and to our town center when I was 9 and just, like, go shopping with my allowance. I also started babysitting for pay when I was 9. I was babysitting REALLY LITTLE INFANTS when I was 13.

No stores were open on Sunday morning at all. There was a convenience store that opened at about 11 a.m. that charged double for a gallon of milk, if you were super-desperate on a Sunday. This wasn't a particularly Christian community (Jewish, in fact), nor did it have blue laws, stores just weren't open on Sunday. Stores in general had much shorter hours; I can still remember when we got a 24-hour pharmacy. It was very controversial. Before that if you got sick at 9 p.m. and there was no Tylenol in the house, you were just SOL until the morning.

My mom used a diaper service and cloth diapers with me; she was pretty relieved to switch to disposable when my brother came along two years later and they were commercially available.

My parents were extremely safety-conscious, so we sat in car seats UNTIL WE WERE TWO, which was an absurdly long time and they got some side-eye from their friends for being overprotective. By today's standards of carseats, they were not too good; they mostly just held the child strapped into the seat, they didn't provide particular extra padding or crash safety. (They were also sticky vinyl and got SUPER FREAKING HOT in the summer.) The law in my state now has kids in various forms of car seats until they turn 8.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:15 AM on September 29 [12 favorites]


Yeah, seriously...I used to be able to go into stores as a kid and buy cigarettes for my relatives. I completely forgot about that.

I also was left in the car while my mom went into stores. I started watching my 3 year old brother at home for short periods of time when I was 10, although Mom now denies either of those things happened. I think she feels bad admitting it now because of the super-charged atmosphere around modern parenting.

Also, pre-internet, kids from your school (but not your neighborhood) who moved over summer break completely disappeared from your life with no followup or goodbye. Boom, gone.
posted by kimberussell at 9:16 AM on September 29 [13 favorites]


In junior high, I had to get special permission to take wood shop instead of home ec (late 1980s) because I was a "girl."

I don't know if people still do this but I was allowed to drink alcohol on special occasions like holidays, and I could have a sip of our parents' drink when we went to dinner. This started around age 6. I almost had a non-alcoholic drink like a Shirley Temple that made me feel more adult (same with candy cigarettes). Wisconsin has a huge drinking culture though.
posted by AFABulous at 9:18 AM on September 29 [4 favorites]


This wasn't a particularly Christian community (Jewish, in fact), nor did it have blue laws, stores just weren't open on Sunday.

When my grandparents started opening their store on Sundays in the 1950s, the priest called them communists (small town Illinois).
posted by FencingGal at 9:18 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


I'd forgotten all about birthday spanking, but yeah, not from the teacher. Also getting pinched on St. Patrick's day if you didn't wear green. Had to wear dresses to school until 6th grade. Being sent outside to be a free range kid until time to eat. Wandering all over town by foot or by bike with no fear. Baking by the pool all day, every day, in the summer. Friends of my parent's being able to discipline me if they saw me getting out of line. Getting free sample cigarettes for my parents at street fairs, etc. Smoking area for folk over 16 at my high school. No car seats or seat belts in the cars along with piling up in the back of my Dad's truck to get him to drive us around town. Good times.
posted by PJMoore at 9:18 AM on September 29


Lords Prayer before lunch in the 90s

Smoking area for students in the early 00's
posted by stray at 9:21 AM on September 29


I spent a lot of time in bars as a kid growing up in Wisconsin, mostly while my dad bowled. I'm pretty sure legally you still can bring your kids into bars, but I don't think it happens as much.
posted by drezdn at 9:21 AM on September 29 [3 favorites]


"And we never called in, because no one ever had small change for a payphone. "

In my small suburb, our parents coached us on how to ask to make a call, since they only pay phones were really at the library. You'd go to the house of someone you knew from school, knock politely, and when the mom (always) answered the door, say, "Hello Mrs. Smith, I'm Eyebrows McGee, I'm in Stacy's class at school. May I use your phone to call my mother and let her know my bike chain came off so I'll be late getting home?" And you'd be conducted into the kitchen (where the phone might be rotary or might be push-button), call your mom as quickly as possible because it was rude to tie up someone else's phone line, and then say, "Thank you, and my mom says thank you for letting me call." If it was someone you knew fairly well, or the kid of the house was home, you might stay for a while to play, or get invited to stay for cookies.

It's funny to me that this wasn't anxiety-inducing because I hated interacting with strangers, but it was just the super-normal way you got in touch with your mom.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:23 AM on September 29 [38 favorites]


In 1982 you could transport 9 kids in a VW Beetle as long as they were small: one in the front, three on the back seat, three on the floor behind the front seat, two in the back window well. We carpooled to school like this more than once.
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:24 AM on September 29 [5 favorites]


At least until my parents got divorced, one income was sufficient to support a family with three kids, and my mom could stay home with us.

Both my dad and my grandpa belonged to unions even though they were managers.

My parents expected my standard of living to exceed theirs.

Ok I'll stop being Debbie Downer now.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:25 AM on September 29 [21 favorites]


It's funny to me that this wasn't anxiety-inducing because I hated interacting with strangers, but it was just the super-normal way you got in touch with your mom.

Oh yeah, we'd do calls like that when we wanted a sudden sleepover or staying for dinner (definitely had to get the call in before whichever parents hopped in the car to get us!) but I was only friends with 2 families in the neighborhood so had far fewer resources like that.
posted by TwoStride at 9:27 AM on September 29


We carpooled to school like this more than once.

Oh yes--I more than once sat on someone's lap in the front seat on a car trip involving getting on the highway to go somewhere, and no one thought of this as particularly dangerous or illegal. Ditto for riding on the passenger footwell.
posted by TwoStride at 9:29 AM on September 29 [2 favorites]


My dad recalls in one of his science classes, they would pour a bit of mercury into everyone's hands so they could see how weird it was.

Also my parents' generation - sometimes trucks (or planes?) would go by and spray the nearby fields with DDT and all the kids would run and play in the thick clouds of pesticides.

My grandpa was tasked with painting the barn as a kid and remembers mixing packets of lead powder into the buckets of paint.

When my mom was in high school, a male teacher would often drive her home from theater rehearsal since she lived on his regular route home. He never tried anything, but compare it to my high school experience, where when I was studying alone in a classroom with a male teacher and I asked if I could close the door, he explained that wasn't allowed when it was just one student with one teacher.

My oldest aunt would regularly babysit her younger siblings (all five of them!) starting at age 10 while my grandparents went out for the night. Probably explains why she got married at 19.

My grandma told her kids "boys get college, girls get weddings," indicating what they'd be willing to pay for. And my two uncles did go to college, while the four daughters had their weddings paid for by my grandparents. (eventually 2 daughters did go to college, as adults). It was understood that there would be no wedding money if you moved in with a man before you were married.

As a '90s kid, I don't have as many examples, but I was able to wander into any random chat room in the very early days of dial-up Internet and AOL on our home computer, at age 8.

If I had to sell fundraising wrapping paper or Girl Scout cookies, I'd just set off by myself around the neighborhood going door to door, sometimes being invited into homes of (mostly) strangers.

After I got a driver's license, my mom would send me to the grocery store with a list and a signed blank check, and I would just fill out the final total of groceries when it was time to check out. That was only 15 years ago but I don't think it would work now.
posted by castlebravo at 9:31 AM on September 29 [8 favorites]


Wow, I had utterly forgotten about the birthday spankings thing.

I was in elementary school in the eighties, and my sixth grade teacher (male) once gave me (female) a Hershey's Kiss as some kind of reward, but then winked lasciviously and said, "Don't tell your mom I've been kissin' you!" in front of the whole class.

Yes to riding in the way back of the station wagon, and getting to ride in the front seat a fair amount, too. Carpools seem like way less of a thing nowadays also, because of kids needing to ride in boosters seats until quite late and no convenient way to ensure you have enough for everybody. I remember riding in the bed pickup trucks occasionally, either by necessity or as a special treat.

It certainly never crossed my parents' minds to buy us bike helmets, and we were out on our bikes CONSTANTLY.

Man, being able to be left alone in the car while my mom ran errands was THE BEST. It was quiet and peaceful and my books were so much more interesting than the grocery store. Relatedly, my mom regularly deposited me in the book or toy aisles to explore while she did the Target shop and would come and collect me when she was done.

There were no mall curfews back then for teenagers so we could roam the place until it closed on weekends.

I grew up on a lake and we swam unsupervised all the time. I mean, we'd let my parents know first but they certainly were not sitting out there keeping an eye on us. Sometimes we went night swimming after they went to bed. When we visited a friend's cabin, us kids (all under age 10, I'm sure) took the paddleboat out by ourselves while our parents had happy hour. We had life jackets on and stuck close to shore, but I cannot imagine parents being remotely okay with their kids using watercraft on their own today.
posted by anderjen at 9:31 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


I spent a lot of time in bars as a kid growing up in Wisconsin

Wow, forgot about this. Sibling and I would be brought to our parent's regular bar, given KitKats and Shirley Temples, and just kind of be...around, amusing ourselves as we could.

That pretty much ended by the time we were in middle school, but still.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:33 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


All metal roller skates that clamped onto your sneakers. You needed a key to adjust them. They sometimes fell off mid-skate. No protective gear.
posted by Splunge at 9:35 AM on September 29 [11 favorites]


When I was in undergrad (mid-late 1980s) a lot of checking accounts still didn't come with a debit card. So although ATMs existed there were still a lot of students who got their weekly cash by cashing a check at the check-cashing service in the student union.
posted by drlith at 9:38 AM on September 29 [2 favorites]


My dad recalls in one of his science classes, they would pour a bit of mercury into everyone's hands so they could see how weird it was.

My fifth-grade teacher, who specialized in science and math and really should have known better, one day poured out a puddle of mercury on one of the desks and let us poke at it for awhile. He also had us do glass bending with acetylene torches. Open flame + hot glass + 10-year-olds = winning!
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:41 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


Riding around in the back of my friend's dad's pickup truck.
posted by amro at 9:42 AM on September 29


Goddamn lines. Lines everywhere, for everything. So much sheer waiting with no distraction.

- The bank. Which you had to go to at least once a week to deposit/cash your paycheck.
- The RMV, which had legendary waits. Still does, but now with devices and wifi.
- The department store "pickup" section, where the thing you just ordered on the floor from the salesman would be rounded up from the warehouse and sent up on a conveyor belt. Oh the waits there!
- School. Everybody did everything as a group, all with lines.

Everything took much longer to do and you had no amusement while you were waiting but chat unless you had a newspaper or were a weirdo who carried a paperback with him everywhere.
posted by Pliskie at 9:44 AM on September 29 [9 favorites]


One of my friends failed fourth grade and was held back. I don't think that's a thing anymore. Social promotion with extra academic support/scaffolding, not holding the kid back a year when the rest of the class moves up.
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:47 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


In class when we had to use the restroom, we raised our hand and held up 1 finger or 2, to let the teacher know what we had to do in the bathroom.
posted by jennstra at 9:47 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


We had a party phone line - if you were going to make a call you'd pick up the phone and listed to see if any of your neighbors were talking. If you were talking, you'd hear neighbors picking up. And it wasn't unusual for an adult neighbor to interrupt and ask you to get off the phone. It also made a handy excuse for my mother who insisted it wasn't her eavesdropping on another extension; it must have been a neighbor.

Many of our older female friends and relatives didn't drive.

We were expected to obey pretty much any adult and not sass them. Grandparents got at least as much respect as parents. We called aunts and uncles "Aunt (name)" and "Uncle (name)," never just their name. I don't observe this stuff among my nieces and nephews these days.

Hand-me-downs meant a lot of stuff was more gender-neutral.

There wasn't special food for kids; we ate the same dishes the adults ate, except we were generally drinking milk instead of water or coffee or whatever they had.

My parents and I didn't really communicate personal things. They never would have had 'the talk' with any of us kids. they didn't know what subjects in school I enjoyed and which I hated, what things I liked to do for fun, what stuff I was into, particularly. It didn't really matter because I was just a kid. That got me into the habit of not really communicating, though, so when I went off to college I didn't talk to them about my grades or anything, and they didn't tell me I was (most likely) still on their insurance, so I suffered through some things I really should have seen a doctor for but thought I couldn't afford it.
posted by Occula at 9:49 AM on September 29 [8 favorites]


Here's one more person raised in Southern California who remembers "the spanking machine," where kids lined up and stood with their legs apart and the birthday celebrant had to crawl through the line and get spanked.

My sister and I never wore seat belts in the back seat of any car and no adult ever told us we had to.

We (and other friends I know) were often just dropped off at a movie theater and then picked up two hours later; my sister and I saw Poltergeist without an adult.
posted by brookeb at 9:54 AM on September 29 [2 favorites]


In 1980, my kindergarten room had as a standard activity a big wooden stump with a hammer and nails sitting by to be pounded into it.
posted by jocelmeow at 9:54 AM on September 29 [9 favorites]


Born 1972 and experienced the sort of pedestrian(!) stuff below:
  • Was allowed, even encouraged, to ride my bike anywhere that I could get back from before dark, which on summer weekends in New England was pretty god damn far
  • Never even SAW a bike helmet in the wild until my 20s
  • Mom chain smoking Kools while driving, with all the windows rolled up, while my brother and I rolled around in the wayback completely unsecured
  • smoking area INSIDE the school proper - a little interior courtyard. You could even get away with going out there DURING class.

    I also had some other more advanced parental flexibilities, so maybe out of scope in terms of "normal" but no one questioned it at the time. My dad (post-divorce) worked on a traveling carnival for a number of years, and my brother and I would spend the summer with him (yes, I am apparently to some degree a carny), moving from crappy small deep south town to crappy small deep-south town, spending a few days or a week each place. We were basically allowed to do anything, the rest of the adults who ran the carnival knew us and we could eat and drink anything (non-packaged!), ride the rides and play the games for free without waiting in line. No, my friends back home did not believe me either.

    More alarming was that we, the carny kids, were allowed absolute free reign. So, the carnival would set up in some fairground outside some sleepy town (Hannibal, Missouri is one I remember specifically) and we would be free to do whatever the eff until dinnertime, and then again until the carnival closed at maybe 10:00 or 11:00. Sometimes we'd swing by and say hello to dad, but sometimes we'd be gone basically all day. I was nine years old.

    I went with some other kids into some abandoned and falling down storefront in a very apocalyptic skid row feeling neighborhood outside the fairgrounds and one kid found a gallon jug of something or other and decided it would be a great idea to douse me in it, which he did, and my clothes immediately began smoking and falling apart, skin burning (feel wise, not actual!), so we ran back to our trailer and I got in the shower and was more or less OK. Reason I bring it up, though, is that the reaction of all the adults was basically like, "Haha, oh, you kids!"

    We also, and this is the reason I remember Hannibal specifically, would all go out after dark to the shore of the Mississippi River and wait for the big riverboats to come by, filled with tourists, and we would throw fuckin M80s in the water, which would make a really tremendous colorful bubbling explosion and then (so we were told, but it never happened) the people on the boats were supposed to throw silver dollars at us. But yeah, a dozen under-tweens tromping around a disused industrial area next to a giant rushing river, in the dark, throwing explosives at paddleboats, was like a wholesome thing that all the kids did, and no one - not the riverboat people, not our parents, not the town's law enforcement community - thought there was anything off about it.

    God, reading this back I feel like this was in 1879 and not 1979. Silver dollars??

  • posted by dirtdirt at 10:00 AM on September 29 [50 favorites]


    Surprising little had changed between my childhood and my childrens', but my grandchildren live in a different world. No car seats for kids when I was a kid, nor when my kids were small. We drove cross country in an old van with me holding my two year old on my lap! Ack!!No safety gear for bikes until one of my kids got into BMX bike racing, and when my youngest got inline skates and did tricks on rails etc, he did have protective gear. As a kid I had those skates that clamped onto shoes with a key. Like me and my brother, my kids went out on their bikes with their friends after school every day and just had to be in for dinner when the 5 o'clock whistle blew.

    One big and serious thing that has changed is allergies, nobody had serious allergies that I knew about when I was kid, and when my kids were young they took peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch every day. My little grandson who is 21 moths old has already been diagnosed with a serious peanut allergy. This is so common now but was unknown thirty years ago.

    Another medical one, just about every kid had their tonsils out when I was small. None of my kids did, and now they only do it if the child has repeated infections.
    posted by mermayd at 10:03 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    ...anyone else have a grade school teacher who would pull wiggly teeth? It was a real rite of passage for "Mr. Smith" (not real name) to pull our super-wiggly teeth when we were kids.
    posted by Miss T.Horn at 10:03 AM on September 29 [3 favorites]


    I also was left in the car while my mom went into stores. I started watching my 3 year old brother at home for short periods of time when I was 10, although Mom now denies either of those things happened. I think she feels bad admitting it now because of the super-charged atmosphere around modern parenting.

    This exact thing happened to me recently! My mom, my wife and I were talking about how somethings were done differently Back Then, and I said to my mom "yeah, you used to leave me in the car all the time when you ran into the store or something." She wouldn't do it for, like, hours, but 5 or 10 or 15 minutes? Sure.

    My mom was horrified. "I never did that!" She did, and it was completely and totally fine.

    Truth be told, I don't think she even remembers. It was such a normal and unremarkable thing when I was a kid (this is the early 1990s) that there's really no reason why it would stick out in her mind.

    Some other stuff:

    Smoking sections in restaurants. Casual homophobia. Before the Internet, other kids would move away and...that's it, they were gone.

    Around 1993 or 1994 New York State passed a law that kids under a certain age (I think 13) had to wear bike helmets. I was about 10. My mom got me one and I hated it. She talked me into trying it and I wore it maybe two or three times. Most of the other kids didn't wear one either. This law was evidently not very well-enforced.

    When I was in high school (late 90s/early 00s) cell phones were just starting to become common-ish. The general consensus was that this was not a thing that you would want because it would allow your parents to keep tabs on you. I had one friend who had one.
    posted by breakin' the law at 10:11 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    As a aside, candy cigarettes are still a thing. I saw them for sale at the Virginia State Fair just a few years ago.

    My parents left me home alone at age 7 with my 4 year and newborn baby brother. As soon as the baby was down for the night they'd head out to the bar and leave me home alone. This was the mid 70s so it wasn't like I could call them if there was an emergency. All 3 of us survived to adulthood, although my youngest brother voted for Trump so it's possible there was permanent damage. It's illegal to leave a kid under age 12 home alone in my county today.

    As young as age 5 or 6 I simply went "out" on the weekends of after school. As long as I came home at the appointed time for lunch or dinner my mother really had no idea where I was or what I was doing. That never seemed to concern her.
    posted by COD at 10:12 AM on September 29 [4 favorites]


    A couple other things I thought of:

    - One semester in about 8th grade, I took a weightlifting class for PE because I didn't want to do a team sport. Apparently a lot of us didn't, because it was a full class! We had girls' PE and boys' PE that semester (it had just started becoming co-ed) and so the weightlifting class was all girls. No teacher helped us use the machines correctly or anything - we were given the barest minimum advice on how to work the machines and then the teacher left to do crossword puzzles or something. However, she told us - several times! - to only lift light weights, because lifting heavy weights would give us muscles, like guys, and that is so very unattractive!

    - My childhood cats and dogs were utterly spoiled by the standards of the 70's and early 80's because they were 1) allowed inside, 2) actually allowed to sleep on our beds!, 3) spayed, neutered, and given regular vet care. Doghouses were still a thing because even in the enlightened Bay Area, many dogs were outdoor-only. And most of my friends' cats were not allowed inside at all, not spayed or neutered, had litters of kittens (the lucky ones were given away in front of supermarkets, the unlucky ones were taken to the pound or worse), and most eventually were hit by cars or "just ran away." Pet care was nothing like it is today. (looks around at indoor-only, expensively-vetted-at-cats-only-vet, organically-fed House Lions)
    posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:15 AM on September 29 [8 favorites]


    Grew up in the 80s.

    I don't know if it was because we were pretty poor, but we NEVER went to restaurants. Certainly not the whole family. Maybe fast food occasionally. But a sit-down restaurant? Nope, too expensive. I feel like going out to eat is much more common now.

    And yes to buying cigarettes for my mom (when I was probably 6 or 7 years old) with a note from her.

    Yes to birthday spankings. Haven't thought about that in a while - apparently it's not a thing anymore. Only from family though, not at school.

    So much free time as a kid. My mom's favorite saying at the time was 'Go out and play.' We weren't allowed to stay inside unless it was really rainy or snowy outside.
    posted by hydra77 at 10:16 AM on September 29 [4 favorites]


    People weren't as concious of liability or as afraid of being sued, but that awareness/fear was growing all the time.

    We would knock on people's doors (early 90's) and ask to use their swimming pools. The answer was almost always yes. Then one day the owners of a pool we swam in regularly sold their house. We banged on the door and asked the new homeowners if we could swim. They looked uncertain, conferred, and came back and said no. I don't remember how they explained it but the gist was that they didn't want to be liable should we get hurt.

    Another time the local state park closed down a large hill people liked to go sledding on. It was closed just like that and was never reopened, because someone hurt themselves and sued the park. We went there with our sleds and they'd posted the sign and that was it. No more sledding.

    Also, while we had more freedom to run around the neighborhood than we probably would today, all parents were aware of the possibilty of kidnapping and we were all taught not to talk to strangers or to stray too far from home.
    posted by Crystal Fox at 10:22 AM on September 29 [3 favorites]


    Oh, here's another one:

    We would play in the street. All the time. Often ballgames - basketball, football, whiffleball, kickball. But sometimes also tag or weird stuff we'd make up or just running around.

    Is this something that kids still do? I feel like I never see it. If you drove around my neighborhood when I was a kid on a nice day (even a marginally nice day) there was probably a 50% chance on any given block that you would run into a bunch of kids shouting "car!" at each other as you rolled by.
    posted by breakin' the law at 10:26 AM on September 29 [7 favorites]


    Candy bars were not a thing. There was chocolate, it came in bars that were divided into squares, and they were meant to be shared or eaten one square at a time. The idea that you got a chocolate thing the size of a candy bar, and it was okay to eat it all at once, all by yourself... that would have blown my mind.
    It did, in fact, do exactly that when we went to a circus (circuses! they were pretty common!) some time around 1975 and got a candy bar named Raider (now sold under the name Twix) which was being promoted because it was New. For us, it was just another of those magical things that happened at a circus.

    Later we got different types of candy bars: Milky Way, Drie Musketiers (three musketeers), and Snickers. By then, we were used to the concept.

    (It looks like I answered the question in reverse. I hope it still works for you.)
    posted by Too-Ticky at 10:26 AM on September 29


    > it didn't make sense to me how crouching underneath a window would protect someone from nuclear fallout.

    It doesn't; it helps protect you from flying glass and debris. It's not like you stay down there for hours-- you're supposed to get up and walk out of the fallout zone as soon as the bombs have stopped falling, and that's easier to do when you aren't bleeding from shrapnel, blinded by flying glass, etc.
    posted by Sunburnt at 10:29 AM on September 29


    When a teenager, I was sent to the mall to buy school clothes and to pay, I used my stepmother's credit card. No one blinked an eye.
    posted by kerf at 10:29 AM on September 29 [2 favorites]


    We still throw our kids outside and say "go play" and kids still roam around our neighbourhood and wander down to the corner store or to the park. They often all end up in our basement playing video games. We try to discourage them from going down into the ravine during spring runoff, as the creek gets pretty high. And they have to get home from the park before dark.
    posted by fimbulvetr at 10:31 AM on September 29 [2 favorites]


    The unabashed sugariness of breakfast cereals seems weird looking back from today's point of view. When I was a kid, they had names like Sugar Frosted Flakes or Sugar Pops.
    posted by Redstart at 10:36 AM on September 29 [7 favorites]


    I was born in 1957, so I remember a lot of this stuff but I was a pretty timid, only child so I never wandered far from home. I do remember the Fuller Brush man coming by the house fairly frequently, maybe weekly or monthly? My mom would invite him in and chat and maybe place an order and always served him coffee. He was a nice man but I can't imagine that today.
    posted by jvilter at 10:46 AM on September 29 [2 favorites]


    Can I use one from my late father? It's perfect for this ask.
    He used to take his rifle and hunt for pheasant on his way to school. If he got any, the cafeteria ladies let him put them in the fridge. Then he would unload his rifle and leave it in the cloakroom until school was over, when he'd reload it and hunt more on his way home. This would have been around 1940 just outside Detroit, at that time the area was sparsely populated. I live near that school now and tell neighbor kids who attend that school this story, they LOVE it.

    There was a smoking lounge in my high school, and people smoked in lecture halls when I went to college.
    posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 10:49 AM on September 29 [17 favorites]


    Oh, cats were declawed as a matter of course, and it was not popularly understood how painful and cruel this was. I feel like some time in the nineties it stopped being a thing and now I don't know anyone with a declawed cat or a vet who would do the operation. Also, animals didn't get painkillers after surgery. When I got Dr. Cat and had her spayed, we got a bunch of little syringes of pain-killer meds to give her and I was really surprised. I am ashamed to say I'd never even considered how much animals must have hurt when recovering from surgery before. (And just as you might expect, being able to doze in relative freedom from pain speeded her recovery - cat painkillers FTW!!!)
    posted by Frowner at 10:49 AM on September 29 [7 favorites]


    I was born in the late 70s and I remember hiking deep into the forest behind my house and building tree houses with other kids that were rickety at best. 'Come home before the streetlights come on' was the only rule for almost every kid.

    My friends and I would walk a mile or so to the local pool and stay there all day, starting at age 10. Same with the huge theme park in the next city -- someone's parents would drop a gang of us off in the morning and someone else's would pick us up that evening.

    Mall culture.

    I walked to school and piano lessons every day starting in 3rd grade. We could leave for lunch in high school. No metal detectors, no security guards. When they did random locker checks a couple times a year with a drug dog it was a huge deal to have police at the school.

    In elementary school the principal would spank kids who got in trouble.
    posted by ananci at 10:56 AM on September 29


    I remember being left in the car while parents did "boring shopping" (like in places w/o a toy section where they could dump us), and we had full access to everywhere BUT the driver-side. The car at the time had a foot-switch to activate the high-beam headlights, and activating it, even with the car off, would turn those lights on. There was also no dashboard indicator that the lights were on. I guess one time when I was very little I somehow triggered the light, my dad never noticed, and it drained the battery.

    Of course all cars at the time had ash trays and electric cigarette lighters. My dad had a Chevy in which the lighter would work, again, with the engine/power off. I recall my brother and I playing with that A LOT. We didn't burn anything, we just liked watching the coil go from red-hot to grey as it cooled. (I think we were warned to be careful not to burn each other or ourselves, but never told not to play with it).
    posted by jazon at 10:58 AM on September 29 [3 favorites]


    I had a paper route when I was 10, and would go out by myself after school and do it and go door-to-door once every two weeks to have people pay me the $4 they owed for the newspaper. My husband had a paper route starting when he was 7!!!
    posted by jabes at 10:59 AM on September 29 [3 favorites]


    Born 1973. Commuted solo an hour+ to school by train and bus from age of 11.

    From then on regularly travelled longer distances solo by train to visit family in the school holidays.
    posted by melisande at 11:06 AM on September 29


    Mall culture.

    I also remember birthday spankings (from family, not teachers), and they ended with "and one to grow on." Candy cigarettes. Biking everywhere. Riding in the backs of trucks. Playing in the forest unsupervised.

    We should add: metal playground equipment that got super hot in the Texas summer, especially the slides. And none of the soft mulch playgrounds have now. We slid down metal infernos and bounced off of hard clay ground.

    Mall culture deserves more elaboration. Malls, now dying, used to be popular hang-out spots. Stores, food, and movies, all in one spot. Starting around age 12 parents would drop kids off at the mall to hang out with friends and come back hours later to pick them up. There was always a video game arcade at the mall, too, since home video game systems couldn't compete with the superior graphics off the stand-alone games.

    Someone mentioned blue laws. I don't remember what all they covered, but at least in my hometown the list of things you could by on Sundays was pretty small. Just the essentials. I remember going into the grocery store on Sunday and seeing the sign telling us what things were legal to buy.

    On a related note, back then there were never sports games or practices on Sunday because it interfered with church, and Wednesday night was usually avoided too because of midweek church services--at least in small-town Texas.

    I remember entertaining myself for hours with Mad Libs, choose-your-own adventure books, and a deck of cards. I'd sit and play actual solitaire with physical cards. No one does that now in the smart phone/tablet era.
    posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:11 AM on September 29 [5 favorites]


    Oh, and I remember in grade school (1990-ish, 4th/5th grade, so age 9 or 10) I had a couple girlfriends and we'd walk out during lunch and go to the local greasy spoon for lunch, the Village Kitchen. Some kids who lived closer to the school (I was about 1/2 mile away) would walk home for lunch.

    One day when it was snowing my dad drove my brother and I to school and I sat on his lap and worked the steering wheel. No seat belt. We went into a snowbank. I must've been about 7?
    posted by jabes at 11:12 AM on September 29 [2 favorites]


    I grew up in West Hollywood in the 70s, during a huge construction boom. In 5th and 6th grade we used to play in the construction sites after school (which weren't boarded up back then) playing tag, and running around on the scaffolding. There are probably 30 different things right in this example.

    We didnt have any have a smoking lounge in HS, but no one ever got in trouble for smoking at the gates, maybe even at certain places on campus.

    Oh and lots of kids made pipes (for smoking pot) in wood shop.
    posted by Room 641-A at 11:12 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    Here's one from my father's time (probably the late 50s) rather than my own. When he was little, his parents were in the process of building a lake house a couple hours drive from their home. My grandmother and the kids (four of them) would stay up on the property all summer, while my grandfather commuted up for the weekend in their only car. So they would be up there for days and days with no phone or car - probably there were other houses on the lake with phones; certainly they were several miles walk/bike from anything besides lake houses.

    A few years ago I found myself up for a weekend at that same property alone with no phone service and I briefly thought, "Is this safe?" before realizing that 1) I had a car and could leave if I needed to and 2) at least I didn't have four small children to take care of! and 3) the house is finished and has running water and all that.

    More recently, my neighborhood friends and I used to wander the runways of our local municipal airport (our houses backed up onto it) and go to the airport snack bar for hot dogs. At some point we were asked to stop, which makes sense! Guessing based on when we moved from that neighborhood, we would have ranged in age from maybe 5 to 9? This would be in the early/mid 80s.

    And I'm pretty sure the teacher's lounge at my middle school was a smoking area!
    posted by mskyle at 11:16 AM on September 29


    Speaking of riding in the back of a pick up truck, Subaru actually made the BRAT, which had built in plastic seats. It sounds like fun, but I did this once on the freeways of SoCal and it was terrifying! F- would not ride again.
    posted by Room 641-A at 11:22 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    Yes, we had birthday spankings in school, both parochial and public. They called it “the spanking machine,” but it was more like running the gauntlet. The class would stand in two lines facing each other, and you had to walk between the lines as each kid lacked your bottom either with a ruler or an open hand.

    We had regular fallout drills at school. A bell different from the fire alarm would ring, and we'd all troop down to the basement, where we'd line up in the hallway. The first line of kids would face the wall, fold their arms over their faces, and lean forward. The next row of kids would do the same, leaning against the shoulders of the first row of kids.

    Smoking EVERYWHERE. I remember being in the hospital once and my mother not coming to see me because she would have to go all the way down the hall to a smoking lounge to have a cigarette instead of smoking right in my room. Almost all public buildings had built-in ashtrays: banks, post offices, courthouses, you name it.

    Neither my sister nor I have ever ridden in a child/infant car seat. I don't think either of us used a seatbelt until our ages were in the double digits. When we were too little to sit up in the car, Mom either held us or put us in a big wicker basket. When we were older, our family car was a brobdingnagian Plymouth Fury with a big bench seat in the back. Sister Monster and I would sit on the floor boards and use the seat for a desk/table. When we rode in Aunt Underpants’s station wagon, we’d sit cross-legged in a circle with her son in the back, playing cards or games. Of course, all this automotive leisure was punctuated with minor burns to upholstery and young bodies when the still-lit cigarettes thrown by the adults out the front windows promptly flew right in the back ones...
    posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:24 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    I was fed all kinds of garbage when I was a kid. I think I subsisted on hot dogs and corn chips and fast food. The school cafeteria served greasy pizza. There seems to be a much greater focus on nutrition these days. Certainly there was no organic anything back then.
    posted by AFABulous at 11:30 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    > In the 80s in southern CA, we did have "The Spanking Machine" for birthdays

    Same, in Finland in the 1970s.
    posted by The corpse in the library at 11:32 AM on September 29


    We weren't just sitting in the bed of the pickup, we'd be perched right up on the edges. After our softball games every member of the team would climb into the back of one of the parents' trucks, find a place to sit -- on the wheelwell worked, those went first -- and chant and cheer as we rode to the Dairy Queen or other similar place to get ice cream after the game. The opposing team'd do the same.
    posted by rewil at 11:35 AM on September 29 [5 favorites]


    My very sweet spinster second grade teacher would read to us after lunch and the girls would take turns giving her backrubs while she read. The better the backrub, the longer she would read. This was early '80s in the Hudson Valley.
    posted by mochapickle at 11:39 AM on September 29 [4 favorites]


    My parents would put raw eggs in milk or milkshakes to make them healthier. 1960's.
    posted by chocolatetiara at 11:45 AM on September 29 [5 favorites]


    I am an Oldster (born early 50's), so :
    - Smoking everywhere, including the actual doctor in his office
    - Girls couldn't wear pants to school (during class), this was until about 1969/70 - when we were allowed to wear pants, but only as part of a "pantsuit". In '71 we could finally wear jeans
    - I walked to school my whole life - grade school it was 1/2-3/4 of a mile, jr high was a mile, and high school was a mile+
    - until the gas crisis in 1973, if you had a quarter you could buy either a pack of cigarettes or a gallon of gas
    - I bought cigarettes as a minor starting at age 14, no one ever checked my ID or looked askance
    - Until I was about 13-14, our doctor did house calls
    - Mail was delivered to homes twice a day until well into the 60's, and twice-daily delivery to businesses continued beyond that
    - a carton of milk at school cost 3 cents
    - playground equipment that would be considered lethal now - metal 'jungle gyms', 'merry-go-rounds' that were also metal, and could go super fast if you had a strong person push you
    - recess was a Thing in elementary school - two times a day!
    - climbing ropes up to the ceiling of our gym (in gym class)
    - dodgeball was a game we played in gym
    - Long-distance telephone calls were extremely expensive, and usually a portent of Bad News/Death in the family
    - A morning and evening newspaper - two separate papers, not different editions
    - three tv networks
    - color tv wasn't a thing until I was 10-ish (maybe for rich people, but no one I knew)
    posted by dbmcd at 11:50 AM on September 29 [8 favorites]


    Yes, my mid-Michigan elementary school did the "teacher puts you on their knee and spanks you for your birthday, one spank per year" thing, 1985-1989. However, we did have male teachers, and only the female teachers did this spanking thing-- in the male teacher classes we'd do the spanking machine as oxisos mentioned.
    posted by holyrood at 11:51 AM on September 29


    Late 70's/early 80's, My mom could write a check to the Safeway up the street, and I would go shopping for small things for her and give them the check. And they took it without question!

    Buying cigarettes, left in the car, free-range kid, corporal punishment, spanking machine, sipping beers and cocktails as a child. All the good stuff. My kids are jealous.
    posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 11:51 AM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    I was a teenager in the early 70's. I remember a lot of the above from my childhood. No seat belts, constant smoking, birthday spankings.
    One thing I did I can't believe would be allowed now. I was a Y camp counselor (think day camp, resident camp and van camping trips) and at 16 was the 2nd counselor on a Colorado river canoe trip. Our campers were 10 13-year old girls, and 2 12-year old boys. The other counselor was an 18 year old woman and I was the experienced one.
    It actually seems unbelievable to me now that we did this. Thunderstorms, a water skier who ran into a canoe gawking at one of the girl paddlers, a trio of teenage boys who trailed us down the river, camp site to camp site and then the final night camped out 20 yards from the local bar on a Saturday night. That was a night to remember. I basically had to patrol the perimeter the whole night and shoo off idiots.
    We all got home safe and in one piece. No law suits and apparently not even an eye blink from a parent. And I got in trouble because we lost a sleeping bag on the way home.
    posted by diode at 11:52 AM on September 29


    > In 1980, my kindergarten room had as a standard activity a big wooden stump with a hammer and nails sitting by to be pounded into it

    My daughter's preschool had that a few years ago, although it was pumpkins and they weren't out permanently (because they would rot).
    posted by The corpse in the library at 11:59 AM on September 29


    The TV stations didn't start broadcasting until the late afternoon.
    posted by The corpse in the library at 12:01 PM on September 29


    Kids drank wine during Sunday dinner. All the Italian families that I knew, at least. From around 9 or 10 years old. We mixed wine with soda. The first time I got buzzed was at a neighbor's house. The old man kept serving us. I was maybe 11 years old.
    posted by Splunge at 12:06 PM on September 29


    Sexual abuse was not smiled on, but it was pervasive and allowed. There were several teachers in my high school having sex/sexually abusing students. I knew of one teacher who was made to quit over it (a student teacher who was in a lesbian relationship with my classmate) but I don't believe she was fired. Whereas there were lots of incidents of male teachers sexually abusing or having ongoing sexual relationships with students that we fellow students all knew about. There was a rumor than one teacher had left his wife and married his former student when she turned 18 - not sure if that was true.
    posted by latkes at 12:07 PM on September 29 [5 favorites]


    The TV stations didn't start broadcasting until the late afternoon.

    I guess I'm not quite old enough for that, but on the five stations I had growing up (NBC, CBS, ABC, and two independent stations), I remember staying up late enough to watch see them play the Star Spangled Banner video with images of the flag rippling in the breeze and Air Force jets flying by, and then they'd sign off for the night, to resume at five or six the next morning. Nothing was broadcast from about midnight until early morning.
    posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:15 PM on September 29 [11 favorites]


    Speaking of dubious sexualizing of young girls, this creepy Love's Baby Soft ad (SFW but gross as hell) was actually a mainstream ad in mainstream magazines for a line of perfume aimed at tween and teen girls. In fact if you google "creepy Love's Baby Soft ad" you get a whole raft of stuff that looks like the advertising firm of Humbert and Baelish produced it. For a perfume that was supposed to be a young girl's intro to perfumery!

    As Latkes said, sexual abuse wasn't exactly celebrated, but a lot of what we now would consider child sexual abuse and deeply nonconsensual behavior was more or less normal.
    posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:19 PM on September 29 [8 favorites]


    In the late 60s, an early thirties married male music teacher was "having an affair" with a 15-yr-old high school girl and she was disparaged as "fast" and "wild."
    posted by Jesse the K at 12:22 PM on September 29 [5 favorites]


    That was in my high school.

    At the same time one "cool" teacher created, on his own initiative, an informal after-school program for the bored druggie kids (which included me) and a bunch of us would hang out at his house & make dinner & "rap" (which meant speaking freely without worrying about being reported).
    posted by Jesse the K at 12:27 PM on September 29 [3 favorites]


    More recently, my neighborhood friends and I used to wander the runways of our local municipal airport (our houses backed up onto it) and go to the airport snack bar for hot dogs.

    In the early 2000's, when I was in high school, we used to ride horses up to the edge of the tiny municipal airport and along the access roads. We did stay off the runways and were supposed to leave if the runway lights started flashing, but I think that was more so the horses wouldn't be spooked by landing planes.
    posted by esoterrica at 12:28 PM on September 29


    Born mid-1950s; no spanking at school, but yes at home. I did however have a couple teachers who tried to force me (a left-hander) to write/eat/whatever with my right hand only: it never worked and I've always remained a lefty: even as a small kid from an otherwise only-right handed family I was too damn stubborn to give in, especially to the ancient old bat who taught me in first grade and who enjoyed slamming lefties' hands with her pointer.

    We frequently played things like dodgeball at recess, games now banned by most schools as too violent. Some elementary schools (I went to 7? 8? different ones) separated boys and girls on their playgrounds, some didn't.

    Like someone said above, as a girl I was never allowed to touch things like the AV projectors: only boys 'knew' anything about any kind of machinery --- girls' brains apparently being incapable of understanding electrical equipment or power tools other than irons or toasters or ovens. In the same vein, girls weren't allowed to take things like shop class or mechanical drawing; we were required to take home ec, because apparently only girls, never boys, would ever need to know how to cook or sew or do housework.

    Smoking was permitted to the adults, either outside or in the teachers' lounge or in the office; my high school also had a dedicated indoor smoking area for 11th and 12th graders --- younger kids were "assumed" not to smoke, so did it outside only.
    posted by easily confused at 12:30 PM on September 29


    Born in '74.
    I distinctly remember riding in the bench seat of my dad's pickup standing on the seat with my hand on his shoulder while we drove down the road. I also rode home in the back of that pickup more times than I can count.

    I walked home 2 blocks from school every day from second grade to fourth and I was home alone for 45 to an hour until my folks got home.

    The kids at the school where my dad taught would bring their hunting rifles to school and he'd put them in the coat closet in the principal's office until school was over and they'd take them home on the bus.

    We were largely free range and didn't stress about where we were or who we were running with until teenage years kicked in. No helmets or protective gear for anything without an engine.

    Also, bottle rocket wars. We'd take a curtain rod, shove bottle rockets in the end, light them and then pretend the curtain rod was a rocket launcher and shoot each other.

    Oh, and there was only one girl in my class in 4th grade who didn't know how to cook something. By that age, most of us were helping or cooking dinner one night a week for our family.

    And even though we had prayers in school and had Christmas parties and Easter parties, they taught evolution with complete honesty and didn't couch it in the whole "theory" bullshit. It was accepted as fact and rational. One girl in 7th grade opted out of the evolution section of science class because she was very religious and I remember all the kids who were in church choir and would go to Vacation Bible School every summer whispering that it was because her folks were "weird Christians and kinda crazy."
    posted by teleri025 at 12:31 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    Born in 1974, never had a car seat. When I was under 10, we used to drive across Canada (Winnipeg to the Maritimes) every summer in the VW bus and later a Ford F150 with a cap. All 5 kids unrestrained in the back. Cat and dog unrestrained with us.

    Starting in grade 2 I took the city bus to and from school by myself; before that, my brother (3 years older) was in charge of me on the bus ride. My mom often worked late so I spent a lot of time home alone after school, or took the city bus downtown to meet my stepdad.

    I got my first jackknife at age 5 and was told never to cut towards myself. I mainly used it to cut green wood into bows (strung with twine) and arrows which I would then shoot at my siblings and neighbor kids.

    We used to string a badminton net across the back lane and hold it up with our rackets when a car came. At least it wasn't the front street?

    In the summer, on the little island in New Brunswick, we were allowed to hitchhike since everyone on the island knew us by sight. We could also ride bikes by ourselves the mile to the local store to pick up the mail and buy a popsicle.

    I am sure that most of those summers were spent out of sight of any parent or other adult. We slept in tents on platforms built a few hundred yards from the house (adults slept inside,) and used kerosene lanterns to light our way to the outhouse and then to bed. No electricity or running water there - but that's not like an artifact of the times or anything, that was the result of someone reading too much Helen and Scott Nearing.

    Some of the riskiest things that happened when I was a kid were totally dumb things the adults in my life did, without giving us a choice about it, but that's alcoholism for you.
    posted by Lawn Beaver at 12:31 PM on September 29 [2 favorites]


    Born in the 1950s, I can confirm that nearly all adults smoked and smoked when/wherever they wanted to; nobody wore and hardly anybody had seat belts; and until pretty late in the game, we shared a party line phone service.

    We actually did play Kick-the-Can, and it was more fun after dark. There weren't any streetlights.

    Every family had their own "call the kids in to dinner" call. One father had Johnny Weismuller's Tarzan yell down cold. Another family used a rather large bell. Ours was the removable whistle off our tea kettle. It was shaped like a badminton shuttlecock, and my mother would give it three long blasts, twice. You could hear in a mile away.

    Kids never knocked on the door to see their friends (no one had doorbells). You'd go out back of his house and call: "O-o-o-h, RICK-ee . . . O-o-o-o RICk-ee . . " or whatever his name was, or may be bounce some pebble off his window. The only time a kid'd knock on the door would be if you were raising funds for school or maybe if you were ordered to apologise to the adults for some infraction / offer to pay for something you broke.

    I generally rode bus to school, but walked home. That's two miles, past the bakery (donuts), the drugstore (comic books, soda fountain), the pony-keg (sodapop, candybars), and the dime-store (candy, toys, model kits) through the woods, across the railroad tracks, along the creek, and up the trail into our yard. Mom didn't meet us at the bus, so it wasn't necessary to say whether I'd be walking home on any given day. Also, if it took a hour or two to get past all those obstacles, that was okay, too, so long's I was home for dinner. Best not get your school clothes dirty, though.

    We spent a lot of time in the woods, eating berries, smoking things, catching turtles and crawdads, building tree-forts and tunnels, and so on . . .

    We could make enough money off bottle deposits to keep us in comic books and cherry phosphates.

    We weren't allowed to play the pinball machines at the dime-store, though. That would lead to gambling.

    We were allowed to build plastic model kits unsupervised, including smelly paints and glues.

    My friend had a baby food jar full of mercury. His father gave it to him.

    More about automotive safety:

    Some cars offered optional lap-belts as early as 1950, but they were not required until 1968. Early versions were quite awkward, and for years to come, many people simply did not bother. This despite the Buckle Up, Winsocki  seatbelt PSAs. (Also, there were PSAs).

    I never wore a seat belt two trips in a row until I was in my thirties, by which time full-on three-pointers were reasonably functional and convenient. My father remembers riding in his father's car from Cincinnati to Danville, KY standing up in front of the front seat, leaning on the dashboard. This'd be in the 1930s.

    We often rode four abreast in the front seat (dad, me, two brothers).

    You'd also sometimes see little kids riding in the driver's lap.

    A neighbor owned a WWII era jeep. That a jeep jeep, not a Chrysler jeep. It was grey, open, had no seatbelts and the windscreen folded down. Every once in a while, he'd load it up with neighborhood kids and go out for a ride on the mud trails around the quarry.
     
    posted by Herodios at 12:42 PM on September 29 [6 favorites]


    Born in 1975, grew up in Canada and I have so many of these.

    My parents would regularly let us be babysit by and driven by two different adults who were known to be drunk most of the time. They were also non-smokers but would let their friends smoke in the house when they came over. I can still smell the smoke eater spray they would use after.

    We had the strap in school and Home Economics for girls and Industrial Arts for boys. They did switch us for a couple of weeks at the end of each year though, which seemed pretty progressive at the time.

    I remember one male teacher in either late elementary or early junior high telling us all to write on a slip of paper which boy and which girl we thought would grow up to be the best looking...
    posted by misseva at 12:44 PM on September 29


    I'm going to disagree with the "everybody smoked" (1960s). I thought of smoking as something mostly men did. There were a few women who smoked, but for the most part, dads smoked and moms didn't.

    My mother was what is now called a hoarder (that word was not used then). It was our terrible secret and neighbors talked about us (we weren't allowed to have people in the house, but we were the people with the messy garage). We really thought we were the only ones who lived like that. I often think that my mother would have really loved finding out that it wasn't just her singular failure - she really thought everyone else lived like the Leave it to Beaver family.
    posted by FencingGal at 12:48 PM on September 29 [4 favorites]


    Wow, this thread is bringing back memories. I had similar experiences to a lot of the folks here.

    We had milk delivered in glass jars, which we had to leave on the stoop to be picked up when they were emptied.

    There was also a knife-sharpening man who walked around with a small cart ringing a bell.

    A few times my parents picked up elderly people who were walking by the side of the road and gave them lifts to their destination.

    This was in NE USA suburbs in the 80s. I'm not sure if any of this stuff is still done anywhere.
    posted by shalom at 12:48 PM on September 29


    One more on smoking. My mom (born 1928) remembered the first time she was at a movie theater and a woman onscreen lit a cigarette. She said the whole audience collectively gasped.
    posted by FencingGal at 12:51 PM on September 29 [6 favorites]


    OH and we would periodically pile all the empty beer bottles in our wagon and haul it up the back lanes and across at least one quite busy street to the beer store, where we would redeem them for slurpee money. All of us had to go, since the empty cases were wobbly and our wagon did not have high rails.
    posted by Lawn Beaver at 12:53 PM on September 29


    In the 80s, I road in the middle of the front seat with my parents while my older brother and our dog would ride in the back.
    posted by drezdn at 12:54 PM on September 29 [3 favorites]


    When I graduated kindergarten in 1984, all the girls in the class were supposed to kiss the principal on the cheek. I remember being all WTF about it (to five-year-old me, he was an old guy I barely knew who was in charge of the school) and not wanting to do it. I didn't dare speak up. My mom has said she thought it was weird when it happened. I don't think anyone spoke up about it. Can not imagine that happening now.
    posted by melissa at 12:58 PM on September 29


    I was born in December 1974 and grew up in north central West Virginia.

    My friends and I talked about nuclear war all the time. Whether it would happen, when it would happen, how we would survive post-apocalypse. (Turns out eight-year-old me nearly got a chance to find out.)

    I made the mistake of letting my classmates know my great-grandmother had been Ukrainian, and that Ukraine was now part of the Soviet Union.* After that, one boy called me "Cosmonaut" for a year.

    I knew better than to tell people my great-grandfather had been Polish. "Polack" jokes were told constantly, including by teachers.

    When "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" was a hit, a particular radio station in the area would play it at around the same time every afternoon, and girls would rush home so they could hear it.

    When "Like a Virgin" came out, all the girls went around singing it. One day the school librarian asked us, "Do you know what a virgin is?" We didn't. "Well, don't sing about things you don't understand," she said.**

    When Tipper Gore raised a stink about "Darling Nikki," some kid looked at an older sibling's copy of Purple Rain and copied down the lyrics on a piece of notebook paper, which got passed around under the lunchroom tables. We weren't all sure what "grind" and "masturbating" meant, but we knew they were naughty, and that was good enough.

    Speaking of lunchrooms, the school cafeteria had one (usually meaty) choice per day. If you didn't like the day's menu, you should have brought "cold lunch" from home. There was, however, a choice of white or chocolate milk.

    Most of our fathers hunted, and venison was the main meat served in many homes. Much later I was surprised to see it being served elsewhere as a delicacy.

    We played literally in the street, moving if a car came along. All the local drivers knew to turn corners slowly.

    Pet dogs ran freely around the neighbourhood.

    When I was 13 or 14, all the girls had to take their shirts off in the gym changing room and bend over so that several teachers and the school nurse could check their backs for scoliosis. This was done in front of all the other girls. Because my mother was difficult to talk to about personal things, I didn't yet wear a bra, though I probably should have. I ended up clutching my T-shirt to my chest, which probably skewed my results.

    We had virtually no sense of having a distinctive regional culture, probably because most of us (including the teachers) didn't know enough about the rest of the world to know what made us different. We ate pepperoni rolls thinking that everyone did, for example. In a similar vein, the Chestnut Ridge kids who made up a significant portion of my classmates were never taught anything about their heritage in school.

    For all I know, some of this still goes on, but it all seems weird to me now.

    * Actually, the place she came from is now in Poland, but this was lost on me at the time.
    **When I asked my parents what a virgin was, they explained it was an unmarried woman, which later led to an awkward exchange when a neighbour asked, "Do you want to get married when you grow up?" and I said, "No, I'm going to be a virgin." This prediction was not correct in either sense.
    posted by Perodicticus potto at 1:10 PM on September 29 [6 favorites]


    Early 1970s:

    We kindergarteners, age 5, had SHOP CLASS. Where we built things, using hammers and nails and real saws. It was cut by 5th grade due to Proposition 2-1/2, and is now treated like an evil thing for anyone under 18.
    posted by Melismata at 1:21 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    I grew up in a housing development in the New Jersey suburbs, and a lot of this stuff just wouldn't have been possible because the only way in or out of the neighborhood was via a major highway. Of course, by the time I was in the ninth grade or so my friends I were riding our bikes down said highway so we could go play mini golf.

    I remember it being unusual that we regularly had two(!) computers in the house. I once racked up a several hundred dollar phone bill dialing up BBS's in Atlantic City; I did not understand how long distance calling worked. Later on, high school time frame, I had a calling card for long distance (a lot of my friends were children of immigrants and occasionally I'd be calling internationally when they visited home).

    One interesting swing that still amazes me is the rise and fall and rise of the set-top box. I think I was... maybe 6 or 7 when we first got cable in the house, and it required installing a fairly large converter box in between the wall and the TV. That disappeared by the mid-90s, I guess. I never saw them again until the switch from analog to digital, and now we have four or five dongles plugged in to the TV.

    Computer shows? Do those still exist? My dad used to to take me to the local convention center for the computer show, we'd buy knock-off components that invariably never worked right and bundles of shareware for a few bucks. There were always a couple of booths selling (likely bootleg) porn.

    I must have been around 15 or 16 when bookstores started adding coffee shops, and that was a big deal to me. I would spend hours buying coffee and reading magazines at the local Border's.
    posted by backseatpilot at 1:24 PM on September 29


    I was on the safety patrol and in fifth grade (83?), I was the safety for the Special Education Room. It was one room in my school where every student no matter the grade or disability went*. As an 11 year old, it was my responsibility to line them up outside every morning to bring them into class**, to reverse the process every afternoon, and if it rained, I was stayed in the classroom with them while the teacher had her lunch. It's okay though because there were "only" 10 in the class.

    I was 11 years old, and this was completely normal.

    *As unfair and awful as it sounds.
    **We played outside before school started and when the first bell rang we had to line up according to classroom, then the safety patrol kids would have us enter the school.
    posted by kimberussell at 1:26 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    I love this thread.

    Something else that probably seems strange today: my BFFs and I would talk on the landline for HOURS. (After of course having to fend off siblings/parents who were trying to call out or expecting a call in). Once, on a three-way call (the height of modern technology for our mid-90s selves), my two friends and I stayed on the phone together for thirteen hours straight!!
    posted by TwoStride at 1:27 PM on September 29 [16 favorites]


    When I was in middle school in the early-mid '90s, we had school-issued suits for swimming in gym class that were color-coded by size. Around the same time, we heard from the boys that they didn't like going into the locker rooms before school because adult men would be showering naked after their morning open swim.

    Around age 10-12, I was branching out from chapter books for kids and started on the next logical choice: romance novels. Danielle Steel and Sidney Sheldon were favorites. Peers were getting into Stephen King and V.C. Andrews. The library didn't have a young adult section yet. Nor did they have much more than books--CDs were very limited, and the VHS collection ran largely to documentaries and arthouse films.

    When she was in kindergarten, my older sister walked home at recess thinking it was the end of the school day. My mom just walked her back. The story was never told as if that was a big deal for anyone, just a funny kid thing.
    posted by Leona at 1:37 PM on September 29


    Parents just left you places (shopping malls, amusement parks, sports practices/games) with plans to meet up at a certain place and time, and no backup plan if something went wrong.

    This.

    I was just telling my husband this story last week - sometime in the early '80's, when I was about 10 or 11, the girl down the street (a year or so older than me) was to be picked up by her father for visitation one Saturday. She asked me to come along, and I was given permission by my mom, so I walked down to my friend's house around lunchtime and waited with her. It's worth noting here that the girl lived with her grandparents (who did not speak English, and my mother did not speak their language). My friend's mother and father had never lived in the neighborhood, and until very recently the father had been completely out of the picture. Point being, I don't think my mother had ever met him.

    So he picked us up about lunchtime and we drove to an empty house about 25 miles away, in the Hollywood Hills. The house was fronted by a very narrow one lane road, and back was on stilts. The story was that the house was on the market, he was somehow involved with the (potential) sale, and he needed to meet the buyers. But he had some errands to run, so he dropped us off and said he would be back. Again, this was around midday.

    The house was completely empty. No furniture, no tv, no food, and no telephone. We managed to entertain ourselves and around *6pm* the potential buyers came round, baffled as to what these two random kids were doing in the house unsupervised. We thought it was great fun to act as real estate agents and show them around, as by this time we had thoroughly examined every nook and cranny of the property, even managing to lock ourselves out of the house at one point and eventually breaking back in. The couple appeared to be less than amused though and my friend was worried that we had caused the sale to be lost.

    Eventually, around *9pm* the father came round to get us and take us home. I remember it was dark out, I was exhausted and starving, and I remember my mother standing in the doorway looking worried as I came in, but what I do not remember is any sort of scene involving her going outside and reading the guy the riot act.

    And still, the next day we took off on our bikes and rode around the neighborhood unsupervised for another 3-4 hours before coming home for lunch, and then did it all again in the afternoon. We would ride miles away, no one having any idea of where we were.

    These days I sometimes watch as the kids across the street step out their front door with helmeted heads and ride their scooters back and forth on the sidewalk in front of their own house while the mom stands in the doorway. Sometimes the older boy, a 10yo, gets daring and goes all the way in front of the next house, for which he gets scolded and back in the house they all go.
    posted by vignettist at 1:38 PM on September 29 [8 favorites]


    As a Kindergartener I was pushed out the door in the morning with a firm "go to school!" and I'd walk myself the several blocks to school. Last week at my son's elementary school, the parents were admonished that we are not allowed to drop our kids at the corner and let them walk the half block to the gate because "it's dangerous" (they have to cross a driveway, one which is not used in the morning because there's a gate across it that is locked during school hours). If we are not getting out and walking with them, then we are advised that we must use the valet line, and drop them directly in front of the gate. Baffling.
    posted by vignettist at 1:40 PM on September 29 [2 favorites]


    Someone mentioned blue laws.

    Again in the early 80's, in Los Angeles, I remember one Easter Sunday morning on the way to the grandparent's house and our car being on the verge of being out of gas. We drove in circles for what seemed like an hour before we finally found a gas station that was actually open for business.

    It irritates my husband to no end but to this day I insist that we have to fill the gas tank and get all the grocery shopping done at least one day before any major holiday. Although, part of this is also informed by the fact that I worked at a grocery store for a bit and it super sucked to have to work on holidays, and I don't think anyone should have to do it. So I do my part by not patronizing businesses on major holidays. I know it's a drop in the ocean, but there you go.
    posted by vignettist at 2:00 PM on September 29 [2 favorites]


    Selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door. Los Angeles, '70s. Maybe as a benefit for the elementary school? I think we were supposed to do it in crews of two but I was on the outs with my friends (or something) and was encouraged to do it alone - by my teacher? my mother? - at age maybe ten or eleven. A girl, knocking on stranger's doors. Looking back, I think I had the presence of mind to scram when an obviously drunk man invited me in.
    posted by goofyfoot at 2:08 PM on September 29


    I was fed all kinds of garbage when I was a kid.

    I have often thought of how backwards it was that I was allowed to drink as many sodas as I wanted as a child, but was never allowed to drink coffee. As if soda didn't have caffeine - and with the added bonus of sugar! I'll probably end up having brittle bones when I'm older.

    Recently we went out to lunch with another family from my 6yo's class and they let him have not one but two full cups of coke, and I was completely shocked. Until that moment I had never seen one of my kid's contemporaries drink a soda.
    posted by vignettist at 2:10 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    I grew up in the East Bay, which was much more religious and conservative than it is now, but had nothing like the blue laws of the South and Midwest. Even there, in the 60's and 70's, many stores and gas stations closed on Sunday (there was no self-service at gas stations then either) and those that were open had limited hours. There were no 24-hour grocery stores and drugstores like we have now. It was a big deal that my local grocer (which we still had then - another thing that Kids These Days probably don't) was open from 10-3 on Sundays.

    And no place was open on a holiday, and there were no ATMS/cash machines, so you pretty much had to get your cash (no debit cards, and credit cards were far less common and kids certainly didn't have them), gas up the car, and go grocery/pharmacy shopping in advance. I still make sure the car has gas and I have the needed groceries in advance of holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, even though stores are open on those days now, because the habit has been drilled into me when I was small.

    Frowner mentioned cat declawing upthread: people who did allow their cats in the house usually had them declawed - we didn't because mom thought it was cruel (mom was waaaaay ahead of her time in how she regarded pets). Even as late as the 80's, when I was an adult and got my very first all my own, all my responsibility, cat, I was asked if I wanted her declawed when I got her spayed, as "spay/neuter + declaw" packages to get everything done at once were very common. I was also advised to let her have one litter for the sake of her health. (Stella lived to be 18, with all her claws and no kittens.)
    posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:23 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    Racist jokes among white kids in the US - not very many, but they definitely existed and I don't remember thinking twice about them.

    I was not even aware that gay people existed until high school - and then only because Anita Bryant's anti-gay campaigns were making the news.
    posted by FencingGal at 2:23 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    I don't know why I just thought about this one...in New York in the early 2000s, you didn't get your driver's license until your were 17 (I think it might be even later now?). So my friends and I usually got around by bus. Once I hit high school, my mom mostly stopped driving me places unless it was really impractical.

    Things on that count might not be any different today, but: I lived in a suburban enclave of far NYC with a very patchy public transportation network. What public transit there was, was predominantly geared towards getting commuters to and from Manhattan. It would regularly take an hour-plus to get somewhere by bus that would take 15 minutes in a car.

    And of course there weren't smartphones, or bus time, or even a comprehensive MTA website that you could use to look up service updates and detailed maps. You carried around a paper bus map with you. If you were in an unfamiliar area, you'd stare at it for several minutes trying to figure out where to go. Even in a familiar area, the bus probably came every 30 minutes. Most stops had a schedule posted, but these were loosely followed, at best. So you'd just...show up at the bus stop and hope for the best. It seems like such a tremendous inconvenience now, but that was what we did.

    I remember one night when I was about 15 or 16 I was heading home at night from a friend's house in another neighborhood. I walked 20 minutes to the bus stop and I had barely missed it. It was late (maybe 11 or so) and the next bus wasn't scheduled for another 45 minutes or so. So I stood there, and waited. And the bus never showed up. After waiting for well over an hour, maybe an hour and a half, I trudged to the nearest payphone and called home and asked my mom to come pick me up. It was maybe 10-15 minutes away from our house by car. I'm pretty sure she did come get me, but she was rather annoyed about the whole thing.
    posted by breakin' the law at 2:35 PM on September 29


    When I was hitting puberty, AIDS was a "gay disease" and not something straight kids seemed to worry about whatsoever. I was with a group who handed out condoms to high school students and it was quite the scandal.
    posted by AFABulous at 2:52 PM on September 29


    Parents just left you places (shopping malls, amusement parks, sports practices/games) with plans to meet up at a certain place and time, and no backup plan if something went wrong.

    Oh, yeah, in elementary school my folks would go to Las Vegas a couple of times a year. Kids were not allowed in the gaming areas or to adult shows (I'm talking Buddy Hacket, not nude nude nudes!) so my parents would drop me off at Circus Circus with a couple of rolls of quarters (maybe even one roll in those days) to play pinball at the all-ages midway arcade they had back then.

    This may be confirmation bias, but it seems like back then parents and society were much less concerned with the physical well-being of kids, while there was still a pretty red line separating kid and adult things, and now the concern is very much more on the physical well-being while being comparatively liberal about adult things.
    posted by Room 641-A at 2:57 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    Omg.

    Covering yourself in baby oil and then literally reflecting the sun back on to your fucking face. We did that spring skiing, too. It was a badge of pride to come to school with raccoon eyes (in the shape of Vuarnets if you were one of the rich kids.)
    posted by Room 641-A at 3:07 PM on September 29 [2 favorites]


    You guys... have you all repressed the memories of being told the rear car-door isn't properly closed and having to open it, while the car is driving and you have no belt on, to slam it shut? Ideally leaning past a similarly free-riding younger sibling.

    One of my favorite memories is my mom, for some reason, being "cool" and letting me and my friend sit in the open back windows and bang on the roof as she drove around. It wasn't a busy area and she wasn't driving fast, but still!

    Other cherished memories that probably don't fly these days include "getting a chase"; antagonizing some man, shopkeeper, security guard, delivery guy, until they came after you and then trying to outrun or escape them, with a beating as penalty but ah, such heroes if we made it away safe, as we most often did tg.
    posted by Iteki at 3:17 PM on September 29 [8 favorites]


    As a kid, it used to be normal to trust police officers. (YMMV if you are not white.)
    posted by AFABulous at 3:19 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    Yeah, I was going to say literally everything about my childhood, and I don't remember Carter being President.

    Whether it was going basically unsupervised around increasingly large parts of the city starting at 3 or riding in cars without a belt or car seat from the day I could sit up on my own (I did become a big seatbelt wearer around 4 or 5, but that was a personal preference until it became the law a few years later) or riding in the back of cars and trucks rather than in a seat, or nearly anything else about it, my parents would be in jail today, yet it was totally unremarkable at the time.
    (though messaging was beginning to change)
    posted by wierdo at 3:29 PM on September 29


    Our dog used to run free all of the time. She was an amazing pup and very very good with people. The mail lady used to pick her up and take her on her rounds while we kids were at school. I distinctly remember during the hot spells when the school left the doors open for air flow, my pup would wander in and find me in my classroom to the squeals of joy from all of my friends. Then I'd get to leave school and take her home.

    I was a 'walker' - I walked home for lunch every day of elementary school because we lived within 5 blocks of school.

    Being the relatively depressed mid-late 70s we used to do serious urban exploring of abandoned buildings.

    The local drugstore had us on a credit line - just put your last name down and all was good.

    Our neighbor 4 doors up used to just walk in to our house, go down in to the basement, and take a few of my dads Little Kings brews whenever he pleased.

    Tans were a badge of honor and sun tan oil *still* reminds me of wonderful summer days - in fact I think I should make it my new cologne I love it so much.

    We used to boat from lake to lake, only the kids, with the oldest being 14 - we could take a 15 horse out legally (in fact I think you still can). Outracing thunderstorms or quickly getting out of the boat ashore someplace was sooo much fun.
    posted by mrzz at 3:33 PM on September 29


    After my brothers started going out (me in 6th grade or so), when my parents would go to the bar for the night I was supposed to answer the door with my dog and one of my dads guns.
    posted by mrzz at 3:35 PM on September 29 [3 favorites]


    My first grade teacher did the spanking thing in the mid-80s. I found it creepy even then though and I was incredibly thankful that my birthday was in the summer.

    When I was in kindergarten we lived about half a block away from my school so I walked to school each day. It wasn't that far, and my mom used to watch me all the way to the door of the school from a window, but I'm sure modern parents would be horrified by the idea of a five year old walking to school alone.

    We also had half-day kindergarten, and that was a common arrangement then in many schools. The morning kindergarten ran from about 9am to 12:30 and the afternoon kindergarten class was from 1 to 4:30.
    posted by katyggls at 3:36 PM on September 29


    Heh, I also walked to kindergarten, but without the benefit of a minder. Well, usually biked, but it was a 5 minute walk. Still, I was often tardy because I never really thought about the time it took to get there, at least not until Mom explained I needed to leave before class started, not when it started. ;) Also elementary school, though that was much farther. It took 20-30 mins to walk, or about 12 on the bike.
    posted by wierdo at 3:40 PM on September 29


    My parents' cat when I was a kid was declawed and allowed to roam free outside. I have no idea how, but he lived to the age of 18.
    posted by Daily Alice at 3:44 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    In the early 80s I was definitely walking myself to and from kindergarten and then school.

    I also remember being out on my bike all afternoon, buying cigarettes for my mother and being left in the car alone while my father went for a beer, or two. I remember being at faires and indeed the Munich Oktoberfest and being handed money to go on rides while my father had a beer.

    Age 10 I was taking myself and our next door neighbours' slightly younger daughter into the centre of Munich to go shopping and to the cinema - we lived in a suburb and this entailed several types of public transport.

    Also went to the local public pool with other kids unsupervised from age 8 or 9.

    Finally, I remember my first school teacher smoking during lesson breaks - in the school corridors.
    posted by koahiatamadl at 3:46 PM on September 29


    Oh yeah, and I watched RoboCop when I was 6. I'm sure CPS would have something to say about that today, along with all the other R rated films I watched by the time I'd started school. Generally if my parents were watching with me, before about 8 or so they'd tell me to not watch when there were "privates" on screen.

    (Before school wasn't really accurate. I did a year in a Catholic Montessori preschool when I was 3-4, but hasn't started regular school yet)
    posted by wierdo at 3:52 PM on September 29


    You guys... have you all repressed the memories of being told the rear car-door isn't properly closed and having to open it, while the car is driving and you have no belt on, to slam it shut? Ideally leaning past a similarly free-riding younger sibling.

    This happened in first or second grade. My dad was driving the carpool and one of the other kids did this. I remember they almost fell out and we laughed about it.

    Also, from Paula Poundstone:

    In the 70s being an environmentalist meant not throwing your bag of McDonalds trash out the car window.
    posted by Room 641-A at 4:19 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    And no place was open on a holiday, and there were no ATMS/cash machines, so you pretty much had to get your cash

    And banks were closed on the weekends, and didn't they close at 3pm or something early like that?
    posted by Room 641-A at 4:22 PM on September 29


    The phone company would print up a book with the full name, address, and telephone number of basically everyone who lived in your city or town (to the extent you had to pay them extra to not be included) and would deposit it on your doorstep. Most people considered this completely normal.

    It's amazing how quickly this went from perfectly normal to what would be considered an insane privacy violation today.
    posted by zachlipton at 4:32 PM on September 29 [8 favorites]


    zachlipton: a funny reversal from phone books is caller id. when it first became common back in the '80s, everyone i knew thought that it was a horrible violation. IIRC, amex was the first company to answer calls with your name, and it creeped the hell out of most of my friends. now i won't answer a call unless i know the number.
    posted by bruceo at 5:23 PM on September 29 [4 favorites]


    > The local drugstore had us on a credit line - just put your last name down and all was good.

    The grocery store in my mom's town in Vermont still does that. You give the last four digits of your phone number and it gets charged to your account (your store account, not your phone bill).
    posted by The corpse in the library at 5:29 PM on September 29


    > It wasn't that far, and my mom used to watch me all the way to the door of the school from a window, but I'm sure modern parents would be horrified by the idea of a five year old walking to school alone

    No? Not under those circumstances?
    posted by The corpse in the library at 5:30 PM on September 29


    I graduated HS in Mississippi in 1986. I wore a full-on "Tomorrow is another day" antebellum gown (in lavender!) for my senior prom and had zero insight into the history of such a thing. Computers were so new that maybe two kids had them in their homes; we had a computer lab with maybe 10 at the school which as far as I could tell we learned basically how to print our names 100 times with no discussion of why we would even need such a thing. (But I was bookish and I was probably reading while any real instruction went down.) Computers were a novelty, which leads me to a thing that is so full of WTFery now that I had to ask people on Facebook if they remembered it or if I were losing my mind. We all filled out a "personality inventory" that was administered by a third-party company that presumably made lots of money from the kids who paid $5 to get their results that were compiled-by the magic of computers!-to find our 10 campus love matches. Of course girls were only matched with boys, there was no thought given at all about gay kids. But the craziest thing about it? TEACHERS FILLED THEM OUT, TOO. One of my matches was Coach Crosby, a man in his 40s. What. The. Hell.
    (Finally, I'm so happy that "flesh" as a pale pink crayon and bandaids color is in the dustbin. As a child I never questioned that, to my shame today.)
    posted by thebrokedown at 5:50 PM on September 29 [8 favorites]


    Bringing homemade treats to school for a birthday celebration. (This would have been in the 70s and 80s but I don't think it became verboten until much later.)
    posted by lakeroon at 6:01 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    I always felt left out because on TV and movies and the educational films we saw in school, kids were always going everywhere by themselves on their bikes or on foot, but we always lived way the fuck out in the middle of nowhere, where absolutely nothing was within walking or biking distance. It wasn't until my last two years of high school that we moved into the village.

    (BTW, when is the HBO series about dirtdirt's childhood premiering?)
    posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:07 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    I was born in 1986 and a surprisingly large number of the common themes here applied to my childhood as well - I think I must have been riiiiight at the end of an era. I had a crummy car seat as an infant but never a booster seat or anything and in elementary school I had a few friends with seats in the trunks of their cars (old Volvos I think). I was left home alone by age ~6 for short periods. Past age 5 I spent afternoons exploring outdoors with friends. In Kindergarten I remember getting birthday spanks, but by first grade it was birthday pinches so I think that tradition must have been on the way out, but my first grade teacher (a SAINT) still hugged all the kids and that was OK. Biked to and from elementary school on my own by age 8. I had candy cigarettes as a young kid. In high school (2000-2004) we still had open campus and kids went out for coffee during free periods and stuff. I knew one person with a food allergy, but that was it. (Now I know dozens!)

    As a parent of a young kid now, I am pretty dismayed...
    posted by Cygnet at 6:22 PM on September 29


    Oh! I was telling a friend about this the other day. This would have been 1987 or so, but we lived on post and every year there would be this big expo where all the organizations/services on post would have promotional booths and presentations and entertainment in like an airplane hangar, and each booth would hand out something cool like pens, pencils, candy, and very often, matchbooks. As fifth and six graders, we'd collect as many matchbooks as we could and then spend the rest of the year burning stuff. Lots of stuff. Once, we took down a good part of a hillside, because that's what happens when you give lots and lots of matches to 11-year-olds. We never got caught.
    posted by mochapickle at 6:24 PM on September 29 [2 favorites]


    In HS (early 80s) a surprising, even shocking number of liquor stores and convenience stores sold liquor to us on a regular basis. They also sold cigarettes singly. I'm sure it's still done in places but I haven't seen a box of single cigarettes by the register in decades.

    Also, Trader Joe's cut and wrapped all their cheese, so you could ask someone to cut you a smaller piece.
    posted by Room 641-A at 6:25 PM on September 29


    Childhood in 70/s , teenager in 80/s:

    - My ballet teacher casually telling her young students that they were "getting fat"

    - My mom (and most moms) smoking 24/7 in our house

    - Mom sending me to store to get cigarettes

    - My being allowed to babysit for people in my neighborhood when I was 9 years old like it was the most normal thing in the world.

    - My showing up to school in the 6th grade and junior year with a black eye and not a single teacher or any of the adults associated with the school/s asking me about it.

    - My homeroom teacher making comments about my perfume to me in a low register, sexy, growly bedroom voice.

    - That there was always some random runaway or kid living in our basement or on our couch as my mom was very understanding, and my older brother's friends often needed a place to hide from their violent parents. My mom was good to do this, but no one ever took any actual measures or called the cops or attempted to talk to the parents or the schools or anything. And needing (or offering) temporary measures like a place to hide out for a while didn't seem that unusual.

    - The 'Thing Maker' by Mattel. A set of metal molds that you plugged in and melted plastic in to create toy monsters or insects. Lots of fumes; burning down the house.

    - Kids that misbehaved in class having to stand in a corner; shaming kids. Also, other people being allowed to shame or smack your kids if they misbehaved.

    - Duck & Cover. For me, it was only kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade. And it was never fully explained to us at that age. I gleaned that it was something at least different than fire, because fire had it's own drill. But I couldn't figure out if it was worse than fire (and what could be worse than fire?) which really scared me.
    posted by marimeko at 6:55 PM on September 29


    Female cats were indoor cats and male cats were outdoor cats. You couldn't let your female cats outdoors or they would have kittens, and you couldn't let your male cat indoors except if there was a blizzard or something, or he would spray. Because obviously they weren't fixed.

    My sister used to get sent down to the liquor commission to pick up a one gallon bottle of emu sherry. She was about twelve. Obviously, since she was buying in those quantities it was an errand for an adult, so she never got stopped or refused.

    We lived in an apartment building. People who lived there would call out to us kids at play in the lane below and ask us to go to the store and get cigarettes for them. They would drop the money out of the window. Decent people added a dime which was the cost of a chocolate bar, and paid you for doing the errand. Annoying adults didn't pay you but you were still stuck doing the errand anyway. The worst part was having to go around to the front of the building and try to figure out which apartment door you had to bring the cigarettes to.

    Dogs were let out so they could do their business. They roamed the neighbourhood which was covered in dog-dirt. We constantly came home with it in our shoes, and frequently on our pants as well, as it was everywhere. Cigarettes were even more ubiquitous. There were ashtrays in the front of the church to encourage people not to smoke in the pews. Greyhound (Voyageur) buses had two rows in the back for non-smoking passengers.

    Everyone knew women were bad drivers. However, if you were a bad driver the thing to do was to have one or two drinks. Then you would be relaxed enough not to be nervous and you would be a better driver. And seat belts were dangerous because if you were in an accident and the car rolled you'd burn to death when the car caught fire instead of being thrown clear. There was no safety glass, of course, so when the windshield went the occupants of the car were lashed with shrapnel. One day my sisters and I found where there had been a car accident on the corner and instead of broken bits of car and triangles of glass there were all these round pebbles of glass, which we picked up because they looked like diamonds. Arriving home with cut hands, undaunted by my injuries from these vicious diamonds, I asked what the deal was and had the brand new safety glass explained to me. It took two or three accident scenes before I stopped thinking of the diamonds as so pretty and strange that they were worth collecting.

    You waited hopefully for a thermometer to get broken. The fever thermometer had to be shaken to take the mercury down and this was done over a bed in case it went flying out of your parent's hand. If it got broken you would get to play with the mercury. My mother said we shouldn't as mercury was bad, but wasn't so mean she wouldn't let us play with it. However she was too careful to ever break a thermometer.

    If you had to cross the border into the States traveling by greyhound bus alone as a kid you had to have a note from a parent so they knew that you had been put on the bus and not run away. You didn't need a note for the return journey - I just had to show them my medicare card, and that proved I was Canadian and therefore going home and not running away. But if your took a cat over the border it had to be done up in a cardboard box. I dunno why it had to be in a box. If it wasn't in a box you'd have to let the cat go at the border crossing to run away and be feral, as you couldn't go back and you couldn't keep it.

    Road construction sites had "anarchist bombs" to warn drivers that there was a hole in the road. The bombs were extremely heavy round smelly things full of some kind of fuel that the workmen lit when they went home for the evening, and the flame would keep burning for twenty-four hours or so. The fuel stank. They didn't explode. The metal ball was much too hot to touch while the flame was burning, and much too heavy to steal, although we tried. It was heavy like a canon ball. Of course we wanted a burning one, so it was no wonder it was too difficult to take.

    You found matches everywhere. The smokers dropped them. Only fancy people had cigarette lighters, as they were made out of brass or silver and you had to fill them with lighter fluid. Everyone else carried book matches, in paper books which they gave out free, or for two cents at most stores. Then they dropped them accidentally. The paper matches were safety matches. They had to be struck on the brown strip on the cover. Wooden matches however could be lit on anything, from a concrete wall to the zipper of your own jeans. The wooden matches were much better because if they got damp they would still light but the paper book matches softened up too much. These match book covers were well worth collecting. I still have the Major Arcana tarot ones. We kids hunted the ground everywhere for them until my mother found out which store sold them and bought her matches there, and then we each ended up with a set. She even kept a set for herself.

    The old guy who walked around the neighbourhood swearing and crying and talking to himself was old Reggie, who had gotten shell-shock in the first world war, he was eighty or ninety years old, and the cops explained to us that we had to stay our of swinging range as when he was drunk he would hit anyone. They were always very nice to him and took him home when he was lost and thought that he was in no-man's land and being shot at. (This was in the 1960's). There had used to be a lot of shell-shocked WWI veterans around but Reggie was the last.

    There were special ways to sit, if you were a girl. Proper girls did not stand or sit with their knees wide apart. You sat with your knees together and your legs crossed at the ankle, if you were properly dressed up in a skirt.

    Single mothers lost custody of their kids because they couldn't stay home to look after them, and had to go out to work. So the kids would get placed with a relative, or if they were unlucky, get placed at the reform school. So if her husband died without leaving a bit of money or abandoned the family the social workers took the kids away.

    Paper dolls cut out of catalogues or magazines were an excellent way to while away a few hours. families of these dolls could be stored in the envelopes that came with household bills. Every bill the family got had a return address envelope in it so that the bill could be paid by cheque, but if the billpayer paid every two months, or took the cheque in to the utility company office you could keep the envelopes.

    You learned to make things as a matter of course. You might not knit, but if you were a girl you had been taught how.

    A not-inconsiderable number of older adults had learned to read by reading "Reader's Digest". Since so many grandparents and all that had left school after grade three or grade six they weren't really functionally literate until they had been reading Reader's Digest a few years - that was what it was for. It took full length articles and made condensed versions with simpler words so the adults who had left school early could read them. It even had a section called "Word Power Made Easy" that helped the semi-literate old people get a proper adult reading vocabulary. There was always a huge stack of them where there were seniors, and many kids learned to read with them too.

    You could hear people walk. Nobody wore athletic shoes, so they shoes people wore had hard soles not rubber ones and their feet went clonk, clonk, clonk as they walked down halls and down the street. You could tell what type of shoe they were wearing from the sound. Ladies' heels sounded different from men's. You could tell if it was a low heel or a high heel from the sound too. Shoe heels were often made out of wood with a thin layer of leather on the bottom.

    There were always tons of old nylon stockings available for whatever craft project you might want. The laddered easily but women had to wear them. So the discards were used for stuffing things or for braiding, or for making toys.
    posted by Jane the Brown at 7:28 PM on September 29 [28 favorites]


    The only allergy anyone every had was to tomatoes. And everyone knew three or four people who were allergic to tomatoes. That meant they couldn't eat spaghetti sauce or pizza.
    posted by Jane the Brown at 7:34 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    On Halloween, kids went trickertreating without any adults along. We'd start making our way around town and come back home a couple times to empty our large grocery sacks full of candy and homemade things like popcorn balls and candy apples. We'd stay out until people started turning off their porch lights about 10 o'clock.

    In Los Angeles when I was a little kid, we had a milkman, a bread man and an egg man that delivered to our home. The Helm's bread man blew a little 2 tone whistle when he got out of the truck to let you know he was coming. A friend of our family had a little tin lined cavity in the side of her house with a door on the inside of the kitchen and a door on the outside. The milkman would open the outside door and leave the milk. I was very envious of that little door.

    When I was 12 or so there was a 3¢ deposit on coke bottles but many people just tossed them out along the road. A major source of my kid income was collecting bottles and taking them to the grocery store for the deposits back.
    posted by a humble nudibranch at 8:02 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    From 3rd through 6th grade I went to two different Hebrew schools in LA, in the mid-city-ish area, both located on very busy streets. Each gave us a 10-15 minute break and they just opened the doors and let us out. I can't believe we didn't all run away! At the first one, Wed go to the candy store down the block and buy rock candy. So, basically consuming 1/4 cup of sugar before returning to class.
    posted by Room 641-A at 8:20 PM on September 29 [1 favorite]


    I was born in 1960 and grew up in New England and New Jersey. Until 2nd or 3rd grade in the public schools I attended girls weren't allowed to wear pants but had to wear dresses or skirts. And little girls' skirts were SHORT in the mid- to late-60s! But outside recess was mandatory, including climbing on jungle jims, no matter the weather. Well, when it snowed we would wear "leggings," which were usually nylon-shell pants filled with insulation that went zhoop-zhoop when you walked and made you look like the Michelin man.

    Not only did my mother routinely have us run into a store while she waited in the car outside for us to buy her cigarettes, but we pretty frequently were "allowed" to light them for her as a treat--meaning we would hold them in our own mouths and light them while taking a couple of initial puffs and then pass them to her of my father and maybe even adult guests. This was when we were as young as, maybe, 5 or so.

    My parents also taught us how to make their usual, daily cocktails when we were very young, probably not much older than 7 or 8. This included gin and tonics with lime (in the summer) and Manhattans in the colder months--regular for my mother, "perfect" for my father. I don't think the cigarette-lighting or drink-making were unusual among my peers; none of them ever expressed surprise when they witnessed us doing it.

    I clearly remember being 7 and being sent to walk to the store--probably about half a mile away--by my mother to pick up bread or milk. In at least one place we lived the route involved crossing then re-crossing a very busy, wide street. We weren't allowed to cross the street alone, however, so we were instructed to wait until a grown-up came along--any grown-up, always a stranger--and ask them "can you cross me, please?" We would hold the grown-up's hand until we reached the other side.

    We moved a lot, but my parents never seemed to give any particular thought to the best time of year--or even the difficulty of moving at all--to start at a new school, and no measures at all were taken to help us get used to a new school. We just walked alone to school the first day and dove in.

    One time when we moved to another state--I was 6--and I guess I was complaining that I didn't know anybody or have any friends, my mother told me to go to all the houses in the neighborhood, knock on the front door, and ask whoever answered if they had any kids my age to play with. I did, and I wasn't killed or molested. I don't think I found anybody my age, though.

    At Halloween all the kids, no matter how little, went trick-or-treating alone or in groups with other kids, after dark. It was unheard of for adults to accompany them. And no one thought to check out the candy or other contents of our bags. Also, we used pillowcases to collect the candy.
    posted by primate moon at 8:48 PM on September 29 [5 favorites]


    I was born in 1955, grew up in Denver, CO and went to elementary school an old Victorian buliding. One of our favorite things to do during recess was scratching big gouges in the decorative sandstone band that circled the structure. Pretty sure they don't let you do that anymore.
    One day I didn't hear the teacher call us in from recess, I was too shy to walk in late so I just walked home and didn't go back till the next day. Nobody ever said anything about it.
    In my 5th grade class if you were a boy who wasn't paying attention, the teacher, who had been a baseball player, would grab an eraser from the chalkboard and hurl it into the side of your head. We loved him.
    If we wanted cigarettes before we were legal (16, I think) we would buy them from cigarette machines that were in restaurants or movie theaters. The machines were really expensive though, like 35 cents. I haven't seen a cigarette machine in years.
    Always a bowl of match books in restaurants, the best were the little boxes. I was looking for matches this weekend and bemoaning their disappearance from modern eateries. I still resent having to buy matches. I was thrilled when I found them at places in Germany.
    When I was a teen I would go to the local department store, find what I needed, and then go to the counter, tell them my Dad had an account with them and they would call his office and get him to OK the purchase.
    There was a thing called Teen Line. You would call a number that always had a busy signal and shout in between tones: Hi. What's. Your. Number? Kind of like an early chat room.
    We used to be able to dial 0 on the phone and an operator would answer, a real, live person. You could ask them for someone's phone number or address and they would give it to you. You also dialed 0 for an emergency, there was no 911.
    I remember recognizing people by their clothing. People didn't have a lot of clothes so mothers would only have a few dresses and you could recognize someone by them. This is why you find such tiny closets in old houses, they didn't need more space.
    If you got locked out of the house your parents would send you through the milk chute to open the door. I loved going through the milk chute.
    We used to cut through people's yards all the time. Most people didn't seem to mind. There weren't nearly as many fences back then.
    posted by BoscosMom at 11:06 PM on September 29 [4 favorites]


    These are so great, thanks for sharing. We had the spank machine, too! I remember so many of these, especially mostly being "free range" and a few more:

    - Going down the street to ask random neighbors to play with their pets/babies and being allowed to wander off with them for a couple hours. I graduated to paid babysitting at 8/9 (for a 2 year-old) and full infant babysitting at 10, and at 12 I could do nighttime paid babysitting.

    - Men being served food first. I remember my grandma cooking and serving the men (including adults and children) and then the women and girls would come in and sit down to make a plate, always with a smaller portion and with the picked-over options.

    - Clothes were mended (iron-on patches) or just had holes, you got hand-me-downs, and you got a couple of things at the beginning of the school year and a sweater from an aunt at Christmas, and that was it. I also only had one pair of shoes until I grew out of it, seems like kids today have fast fashion, accessories, etc.

    - I also remember scoliosis and lice checks in the school gym, which were terrifying. You had to take off your shirt in a line with other children (I think boys were separated from girls?) and someone would comb through your hair and check your spine. I think you also had to stand up, touch your toes, etc, and it was never clear to me why this was done, just that it was humiliating. There were also dental hygiene days and they would look in your mouth to see if it seemed clean.

    - Affection and candy from the mailman. I think this must have been when I was pretty small (3-5 years?) but there was a mailman that would ring our bell and then hold me on his knee, kiss my face, and give me candy. (Thinking back, I think they were tums or vitamin C tablets as they were very citrusy and powdery).

    - And of course casual racism, calling all of the East Asian kids, of whom there were not many, "Orientals" and making "my chinese, me play joke" and squishing your eyes "jokes."

    - Checking for movie showtimes in the newspaper and calling your friends to coordinate when to meet. Calling the theater ahead of time to see if they still had tickets and/or that show was still on.
    Similarly, looking in the printed TV guide to see what time a show was on you wanted to see and reserving the TV for that time, later in the week.

    - Oh, and if you wanted to know what time it was, you called POP-CORN and a voice would tell you!
    posted by stillmoving at 2:26 AM on September 30 [6 favorites]


    p.s.: Can I mark them all as best?
    posted by stillmoving at 2:32 AM on September 30 [3 favorites]


    Can kids still write fake excuse notes for school and get away with it? I feel like if I saw all the "please excuse Room 641-A from school, as she was not feeling well" notes they would all be laughable forgeries that the school must have known were fake.
    posted by Room 641-A at 2:55 AM on September 30 [1 favorite]


    I forgot - about a third of my classmates did not have a phone at home (1980s and early '90s). The contact forms we filled out at the beginning of school said something like "Phone number or nearest neighbor's number." I believe some households didn't have telephones until cell phones came along.
    posted by Perodicticus potto at 3:06 AM on September 30 [1 favorite]


    My mom carried a pen gun and one day when I was three somebody grabbed her purse and she shot him in the back with a phosphorus round. He dropped the purse and ran off screaming trailing smoke with a small spot of starlight on his back. She was so calm about the whole incident. I realized she was more than she appeared to be and remained calm myself through the riots that engulfed our neighborhood a little later because mom was a wizard with a magic wand that shot balls of fire.
    posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:31 AM on September 30 [14 favorites]


    I'm relieved to see that other people played with mercury - I'd been wondering if my father was really trying to kill us.

    Cars had carburetors. Learning to drive included how to start a car without flooding it, as well as how to start it when you inevitably did flood it. And manual choke valves, which you pulled out to help the car start, and pushed back in (theoretically) once it was running.
    posted by still_wears_a_hat at 5:38 AM on September 30 [1 favorite]


    I never witnessed the "men served first" phenomenon, though I recall discussing it with friends who came from more rural, conservative backgrounds and larger families. My own family was middle-class and small, so there was always enough to go around. I do remember that guests - whether family or friends - were always served first.

    One thing about food, was that there wasn't the variety of international cuisines that there is now, even in California. We always had Mexican food - because California was once part of Mexico, so that is one of our native cuisines - but Chinese restaurants, for instance, were pretty generic "Chinese" and not specifically regional. No sushi, no Thai food or Vietnamese until the mid-70's, no Indian food, no tapas or small plates, definitely no fusion. Food, whether home cooked or restaurant, was much much duller. It got less dull as the 80's progressed.

    And eating out was a special treat for my (middle class) family - when it was someone's birthday, or when aunt and uncle came to visit, or another special occasion. Likewise, we didn't eat deli food or takeout pizza that much (70's) - maybe it was because my parents were frugal, but basically anything not home cooked was a special treat, not an everyday occurrence. That changed drastically about the mid-90's when both my parents had retired, I had long since moved out, and the variety of restaurants had increased and the relative price dropped. Now it was "let's eat out" all the time at the Sichuan restaurant or Applebee's or at the hotel buffet for Thanksgiving.
    posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:09 AM on September 30 [3 favorites]


    Speaking of food: in the Bos-Wash metropolis in the late 50s and early 60s, you couldn't get many types of food year-round. There were very short seasons -- basically, what could be grown locally -- for fruit. Never saw a mango until I was an adult.
    posted by Jesse the K at 8:13 AM on September 30


    Lots of fruits weren't available in most of the country until the late 90s and early 00s. There was some Asian produce where I grew up because there were thousands of Vietnamese immigrants who were importing it themselves. In Safeway or whatever you couldn't get anything more exotic then a grapefruit. Certainly none of the newer apple or cherry varieties, just Delicious and Bing. Bananas, oranges, strawberries, blueberries and other berries when in season, and not much else.

    The vegetables like plantain and yuca came first, followed a few years later by mango, papaya, guava, etc. Now it seems like that aside from a few special varieties, you can get most any fresh fruit any time. The downside is that the expanded produce (and frozen goods) section has largely eliminated the once nearly ubiquitous florist and drastically reduced the shelf space for toys and variety/seasonal goods in the smaller supermarkets.
    posted by wierdo at 8:42 AM on September 30 [2 favorites]


    Oh, and thinking of grocery stores, it's been a while since I've seen the open baskets of individually wrapped candies that had a little box attached for you to drop a nickel in if you took a candy. 100% honor system.
    posted by wierdo at 8:45 AM on September 30 [2 favorites]


    People smoking in places where kids had their birthday parties, like bowling alleys...until 2005 in my home state and even later elsewhere.
    posted by Seeking Direction at 10:10 AM on September 30 [2 favorites]


    I remember doing lots of arts and crafts with the metal tabs that you pulled off the top of soda and beer cans. Also the big plastic eggs that L’eggs brand pantyhose came in, and used computer punch cards.
    posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:40 PM on September 30 [4 favorites]


    This is the best thread. My youngest was born in 1987 though, and it is surprising to me to read reminiscences from people that age that I would have thought dated from much earlier! The memories, I mean, not the people.

    Where I grew up the dreaded gbomo-gbomo man isn't entirely mythical so no free-range childhood for us. The one big difference I see, even though my parents thought of themselves as particularly modern and enlightened, is smacking. In the 50s and 60s if kids weren't being smacked, they weren't being brought up right.

    But when I think of it, the smacking conventions were strict: if you found yourself resorting to physically hitting someone much over the age of seven or so ie approaching the age of reason, your parenting was obviously sub par. Smacking was seen as an appropriately non-verbal response to someone half in the non-verbal world, the negative/discipline equivalent of a hug when a little person has a bubu. I remember being really shocked as a young woman still believing in smacking, to meet the much, much loved matriarch of a large family and discover she had smacked them all as toddlers and hardly ever had any trouble out of them afterwards.

    I feel now I HAVE to say she was an amazing, generous, caring person - she had a lot of children and basically had to be a general marshalling her troops or the lives of all of them would have been miserable.

    Of course to my daughters smacking is one of the worst things you can do to a child. I still think there's much worse things you can do without ever touching them.
    posted by glasseyes at 1:25 PM on September 30 [3 favorites]


    now I feel really exposed
    posted by glasseyes at 1:28 PM on September 30


    "Sit like a girl." I'd forgotten about that. Of course mini skirts were in so sitting with knees together was just as well.
    posted by glasseyes at 1:38 PM on September 30 [1 favorite]


    In 10th grade I had a classmate who was a fairly typlical Dead Head. He was tall and had long, brown hair just below his shoulders, Birkenstocks, and he one of the few guys who could already grow a decent beard and mustache. On Halloween he came to school with a white sheet draped like robes and a crown of thorns and he carried what must have been an 8 foot tall cross made of 2x4s on his back all day long. This would have been in 1979 I think.
    posted by Room 641-A at 1:40 PM on September 30 [2 favorites]


    I remember doing lots of arts and crafts with the metal tabs that you pulled off the top of soda and beer cans.

    Yes, lots of repurposeable consumer stuff, there wasn't as much premade "craft with this" stuff around. And, if you had a pottery class at any point in time, making ashtrays was 100% normal and expected and a lot of people tried to get away with pipes or bongs (which had a tendency to blow up in the kiln said my ceramics teacher)
    posted by jessamyn at 1:49 PM on September 30 [2 favorites]


    Oh, and if you wanted to know what time it was, you called POP-CORN and a voice would tell you!

    The Speaking Clock is still going in UK if you call 123 on a BT landline. If you've got an android phone you need an app tho.
    posted by glasseyes at 1:55 PM on September 30


    Friday All-night lock-ins at the skating rink, with boys and girls of many ages (probably topping out around 14, after which it wasn't cool). The idea was to skate/play all night while hanging with friends and no parents. The Saturday morning after, the cool thing to do was get to the mall to hang out at the food court.

    I remember my dad dropping me (female, age 11) off with $20 - I considered this a huge amount of money - and a sleeping bag. My male cousin, who was two years older, sometimes came along, but not always. This was something like early eighties.

    The only "authority" inside the rink were employees of the skating rink, both genders, usually in their late teens, with maybe an older manager somewhere. I don't remember anyone ever expressing any fear that I might be corrupted by this experience. No one ever seemed to worry I'd do drugs or get drunk or have sex (or have sex forced upon me). Nor did I ever feel remotely endangered. The sleeping bags were for puppy-piling with friends in the corners when you got tired, and for making out if you were in the upper age range.

    Many a chili dogs and nachos, and many a "suicide" soda were consumed by this writer on those long Friday nights, and in many epic battles were Donkey Kong, Tron, and Tempest defeated...

    I have no idea if this still happens, but I'd be surprised.
    posted by invincible summer at 2:02 PM on September 30 [7 favorites]


    Yes, lots of repurposeable consumer stuff, there wasn't as much premade "craft with this" stuff around.
    Yeah, I made scrapbooks as a kid, but there was no such thing as designated scrapbook supplies. (Or at least, if there was, I wasn't aware of it.) The scrapbook was a photo album, and I would paste stuff in it and cut letters out of construction paper for labels. In fifth grade, we had a big project where we were all assigned a state, and we had to make a scrapbook with information about that state. I made a scrapbook about Wisconsin. I had a pen-pal in Wisconsin, and she sent me some postcards and stuff for my scrapbook.

    Cars didn't have cupholders, but they did have ashtrays and lighters.
    posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:02 PM on September 30 [1 favorite]


    One thing I just thought of when you brought up cupholders: no one really hydrated much. We had a water fountain at school, but no one brought water bottles anywhere. I remember when travel mugs first appeared.
    posted by latkes at 2:49 PM on September 30 [4 favorites]


    The soda fountain! WE used to go there once a week and get sundaes if we were flush, phosphates, if not. I still remember "lemon Coke" with a big glop of lemon phosphate in it, and how much I enjoyed looking at it before I stirred it.

    The corner candy store, with real, actual, delicious (not mass-produced) candies. Ditto the bakery.

    In general, though, the food was horrible. Lunch was Wonder Bread with bologna, or peanut butter and jelly, or cheese, with a tired-looking orange or a Red Delicious Apple. My mother hated to cook and she also found our food preferences boring. I'm afraid, horrible children and ungrateful husband that the three of us were, her attempts at innovation were not warmly received. OTOH, we never gave her a had time about always including fresh fruits and vegetables on the table, and I still remember her plates of cut-up carrots, celery, and pickles with great affection.

    Health food stores. Organic food was weird and strange. Cooking fancy meals was an affectation, unless you were having a party. Parties involves tons of hors d'oeuvres, and a lot of puff pastry. My mother only rarely made ethnic dishes from her family tradition for "outsiders," although we devoured them when my grandmother sent us special breads or pastries.

    Board games. Card games. Craft projects. We all did macrame and made snowflakes out of cut-up paper, and learned origami. When I was younger, we'd gather leaves, or grind up dying crayons, and carefully iron them between sheets of waxed paper. My mother didn't like bored children, so she always found something for us to do. If the weather was nice, we were pushed outside to go and play.

    Going places by myself. By the time I was twelve, I used to get on a city bus, go downtown (of a fairly major city!), go to the library, where I was allowed to check out whatever I wanted from the children's, young adult's, or adult rooms, and go volunteer at a local museum for four hours. The next year, I added Sunday afternoon volunteering at a nearby hospital.

    Adults were always right and you always had to be polite to them. Casual sexism was a thing. It was acceptable for an instructor of the honor's math track to tell girls they couldn't do math and shouldn't try. Boys snapped girls bra straps and made fun of our changing bodies. Our career options weren't overtly limited, but we also didn't have tons of role models. I remember how excited I was when I saw my first female minister, went to my first woman doctor, that sort of thing. (My pediatrician was horrible, so that didn't help).

    Casual racism was also a thing, but overt racism was frowned upon. We played "Cowboys and Indians," the African-American community was referred to, quite casually as "the ghetto," and children from different background who didn't understand or want to participate in Christian celebrations (i.e. singing Christmas carols, making Easter eggs, etc) were allowed to work quietly, but the kids made remorseless fun of them, and no adult told them they were wrong.

    It was considered pretty normal for boys to run wild for a few years, especially in high school, up to and including drinking, vandalism, fights, and violence. Girls had much less leeway.

    Girls who got pregnant were viewed as in disgrace, although they usually weren't sent away. Their babies were given away for adoption. (I grew up in a heavily Roman Catholic city, so if abortions were happening, I only heard about them when I was older).

    LGBTQ folks were pretty closeted. My mother, who was very progressive, had lesbian friends and teachers. We met them, liked them and their partners, and they were just part of our lives. She also was friends with one of the first transgendered persons to come out publicly in our community. I don't think we ever met him, but my sister and I were like, Oh, that's nice and neither of us thought much of it.

    Everyone drank a lot. Multiple drinks in the same day. Also, adults drank AWFUL coffee - Folger's and Maxwell House - which smelled delicious and tasted nasty and horrible. One reason I am grateful for living when I do, is that the coffee is SO much better.
    posted by dancing_angel at 2:56 PM on September 30 [4 favorites]


    Health food stores. Organic food was weird and strange.

    I always had weird lunches that no one ever wanted to trade with but the handful of kids with the wheat bread had the weirdest lunches. I can even remember my first friend whose mom bought wheat bread. They're also the houses that had carob candy instead of chocolate.
    posted by Room 641-A at 3:20 PM on September 30 [5 favorites]


    Oh, and if you wanted to know what time it was, you called POP-CORN and a voice would tell you!

    I totally remember calling the local phone number that did this - after a power outage when we needed to reset the digital clocks, because without a cell phone or computer how could you know what time it was?

    I am much younger than most in this thread (childhood in the 90s, teenage hood in the early 2000s) but I still have so many memories that would never fly today:
    - Riding in the way back of my friend's mom's Volvo station wagon, laying on the floor sometimes. Also occasionally putting some people in the back of an SUV if we needed to go somewhere with more people than seat belts.
    - My 4 person family riding around in my dad's 2 seater car.
    - Swimming in my friend's pool with no adult supervision, from age 7 up. I mean, her mom would be home but definitely, definitely not watching... and as we got a little older (10?), she probably wasn't even home sometimes.
    - Disappearing on our bikes for hours and getting the kid-network "Your mom wants you to come home now" message passed along.
    - Playing in construction sites, which our parents definitely knew about because we dragged home the products of our dumpster dives for a tree house in backyard. Tetanus, anyone?
    posted by raspberrE at 3:58 PM on September 30 [3 favorites]


    When I was just starting 1st grade, my Dad got a job in Maine, moving from Massachusetts, and he bought an old farm.

    We moved up in November, and we had no heat and no bathrooms, while he was getting the place fixed up. I remember sitting around the oven, warming our hands, and running out into the ell to the outhouse, which sported a sign of a comical guy flushing himself down a toilet saying, "Good-bye, cruel world!"

    We kids played in the barn a lot. Which involved climbing the ladder to the 2nd story. Then climbing ladders to other platforms, and 3rd platforms, then walking across a rickey plank bridge to get to an old hand-built ladder that led up to the cupola. Where we would sit, and sometimes my brother would say, "Want to see my duck walk?" and he would walk out onto the barn roof and back.

    In the winter, we would go up onto the roof of the old ice house and jump off into the snow drifts. Lots of treks into the woods for sledding. Only kids, no parents. Same in the summer, we'd go off into the woods or riding our bikes, and come home before dark.

    I used to get a quarter for doing dishes. My parents would set it on top of the fridge, and I would stand on a stool and do the dishes, and then I would get my quarter.

    The next day, I would ride my bike a mile up to the corner store, past the scary barking collie that was tied to to tree, and up a hill, and buy 25 pieces of penny candy. Bazooka Joe and wax lips, candy necklaces, etc. Not sure how much they all were, but I'd get a bag full, and could coast downhill, past the mean collie, then peddle my way back home.

    When I was 6, I had to help match socks from the laundry, and dust, and even younger, help set the table (silverware). Not much older than that, I had to help darn socks, because we used to darn socks when they got holes.

    One grandmother taught me to knit, and I had to make samples for her, one of which was the basket weave, and I made gigantic scarves for people and also pillows in variegated yarn with huge fringes. Another made lace to fit around her pillows and on her armchairs, so I was taught to crochet lace, and also had to make samples for her (seashell stitch).

    My sister made a cockerel out of beans and my mother hung it on our kitchen wall. There was also lots of macrame going on, but I was far too much interested in reading to get into that. My allowance money was spent at the bookstore, and I still remember the fresh smell of books, when I wandered into Waldon Books at the mall, where I was also let loose with my Dad's credit card to shop for gifts for my mother, because he hated shopping, so I was the one who bought her gifts.
    posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:13 PM on September 30 [6 favorites]


    In the early sixties my aunt had a strange device in her car. A metal box with wires hanging off and a big red plunger. My cousins and I would play bomb. When we exited the car, one of us would press the plunger in and toss it in the back seat. Then we'd run. Really annoyed our parents.

    It was one of the first emergency blinker devices. It had to be added on to the car under the dashboard.
    posted by Splunge at 4:40 PM on September 30


    Wonderful thread, so entertaining and relatable to me, as an old.

    One weird thing I don't think was mentioned: before pollution controls and trash pickups, everyone burned trash in their backyard. We had a big old trash barrel in our backyard, and every day, one of us kids had to go burn the trash. Usually it was the oldest boy. We had seven kids in the family, I was number five and a girl, but I had a stint of being the fire keeper. Amazing, really, this went on everywhere, little kids lighting fires in backyards at dawn or dusk

    The barrel was like this - the post talks about burning leaves, but we burned all our trash.
    Of course, we also had less trash then - my mom saved & reused everything, tin foil, waxed paper, bacon grease, wrapping paper, plastic and tin containers, string, elastic ... there were no frozen food or take out packages back then. Ancient times.
    posted by madamjujujive at 6:16 PM on September 30 [5 favorites]


    > Can kids still write fake excuse notes for school and get away with it?

    The method that might work in my school district would be for my eeevil child to hop on to my computer and send a "Young Corpse won't be at school today" e-mail to the attendance address. But I might see the sent e-mail on my computer or phone, or the school might write back to say "Hope they feel better soon" and that would have to be intercepted. And report cards say how many absences a kid has.
    posted by The corpse in the library at 9:34 PM on September 30 [1 favorite]


    shalom: "We had milk delivered in glass jars, which we had to leave on the stoop to be picked up when they were emptied."

    FWIW, I have this service today. Maybe it's making a comeback.
    posted by Chrysostom at 9:50 PM on September 30 [1 favorite]


    We had the birthday spanking equivalent called “the dumps”, where you'd get grabbed by the hands and feet and you'd have your arse smashed on the playground (your age + 1 for luck) times. As a slow-moving kid with a birthday typically in the last week before the summer holiday, I did not look forward to it. Let's just say I had to develop other means of defence that no-one would wish to be downwind of …

    Our school also had the belt/strap/tawse. Got it once for horseplay. The anticipation and shock hurt the most.

    My dad tells me of enjoying playing with the bright yellow-green tannery waste that Rutherglen Council used to dump on the pavements to kill weeds. It was apparently mostly Chomium-VI compounds, eek.
    posted by scruss at 9:51 PM on September 30


    I remember before cup holders in cars, the lid of the glove compartment would fold down into a tray similar to the one in an airplane seat. It had just about enough room for two shallow, circular indentations that would hold your coffee cup if the car was parked. This was great for drive-In restaurants like A&W.

    Every once in a while we'd get in the car, go through the drive-thru window at McDonald's, get our food, and pull into the farthest corner of the parking lot and eat it in the car. We wanted to get out of the house for a while, but not badly enough to go into a public place or eat while driving around. Mom and Dad would use that little tray to hold their coffee, and Sister and I would sit on the back floor boards and use the bench seat as a dining table.

    One time, another family pulled in a few spaces down and ate in the parking lot the same as us. Since their windows and ours were rolled up and we knew they couldn't hear us, Dad said, “Huh. Looks like we’re not the only sick assholes who go to a restaurant and eat in the car.” From that moment to this one, my sister and I refer to any food that's going to be eaten in the car (esp. a parked car) as “Sick Asshole Food” (or “S.A. Food" when we're in mixed company), especially if it's meal-type food rather than obvious snacks. The little pre-made 6” subs in the deli case of a grocery store are “S.A. subs,” etc.


    (Sometimes as a treat, Mom would ask for extra coffee stirrers at McDonald's because they were shaped like tiny spoons and we would use them with our dolls.)

    posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:14 PM on September 30 [2 favorites]


    In the 1960s, in-school medical physicals in 5th and 9th grade in the school gymnasium. Doctors and nurses were at several stations along the gym walls (e.g., eye test, throat exam, misc pokes and prods ending with vaccinations) and kids entered the gym single file, moving from station to station. Girls wore full slips, boys wore underwear (tighty whities)—mercifully, we were separated by gender.

    In 9th grade, the disgusting Jr high principal (male) was in the gym during the girls' physical, acting as if there was nothing at all inappropriate about his presence among hundreds of half-dressed teenagers.
    posted by she's not there at 12:09 AM on October 1 [1 favorite]


    I definitely remember when caller ID and call waiting were not standard. You just picked up the phone without knowing who it was! Seems crazy now. I had a friend who had call waiting (early/mid 90s) and I thought that was so cool.

    It does seem weird that cars didn't get cup holders until the mid/late 90s. It doesn't seem that innovative! My first car was from the 70s, and I bought a cup holder that buckled in to the middle of the front bench seat. Speaking of that, do any cars have bench seats any more?
    posted by radioamy at 2:24 AM on October 1 [1 favorite]


    We had milk delivered in glass jars, which we had to leave on the stoop to be picked up when they were emptied."

    In Brooklyn we had seltzer delivered. When we moved to LA (early 70s) we stopped, but I had an uncle here that had it delievered For at least a few years more.
    posted by Room 641-A at 3:12 AM on October 1 [2 favorites]




    Dial-a-time lines still exist, although the one I found quickly by Googling for an impatient two year old insisting we call someone was clearly commercially operated. Which means - and every time I think about this I start laughing again - that you get the time after a short ad.

    An ad for diabetes supplies.

    Or funerals.

    Because of course.
    posted by deludingmyself at 9:43 AM on October 1 [1 favorite]


    Born in the early 80s here in the suburbs, back when more Maryland counties were still a mix of suburbia and future developments and farmland. At age 4 or 5 I got in all kinds of trouble for disappearing for a few hours with my best friend who lived up the street. We'd cut through the woods that separated our two houses and navigated our way down probably a quarter mile of undeveloped land when we found An. Abandoned. Motorcycle. Which we had great plans for, of course, and spent quite a while discussing how we'd fix it up and go on adventures together. (We knew nothing about motorcycles or engineering as far as I know, but we'd been in a garage before, so obviously we could figure it out.) I remember being incredibly miffed at the unfairness of it all when we finally headed to my house because we were hungry to find my parents there and upset and his parents quickly on the phone, because they'd been looking for us for a while at that point. So instead of getting snacks and a toolkit we were banned from going out of sight of either of our houses after that, and I never rode a motorcycle until a few years ago.

    Question: did everyone's grandfathers close car doors and pull out chairs for women around then, or just my southern ones? By the time I hit college it felt unbearably anachronistic.
    posted by deludingmyself at 9:51 AM on October 1


    I know a ton of time lines in the middle of the country still. Just about any city large enough to have a bank has at least one since they seem to all be run by banks in that part of the country. Often, but not always, the last four digits are 8463. (TIME on an E.162 keypad or Bell dial)

    I grew up hearing that "the City National Bank time is 4:02 pee em, current temperature seventy seven degrees."

    Being the persistent little bastard I was, I also discovered the ANI number that would read back your phones number, a ringback number that would ring your phone after a few seconds, and a couple of loops, but didn't have enough friends with phones to make the loops worth using. I literally spent hours dialing every number in every local prefix. (Before having the benefit of a computer and modem to automate the process) I guess I got bored when I couldn't go outside.

    These days, if you defraud the phone company, they actually prosecute you. Wasn't like that back then.
    posted by wierdo at 10:44 AM on October 1 [1 favorite]


    All boys in grade school had a pocket knife on them at all times, including at school.

    The school *gave* us a small pocket knife for being a 6th-grade crossing guard (1990).
    posted by starman at 3:45 PM on October 1


    Yet another thing I just thought of - I wore drugstore cosmetics as did all my high-school friends, because that's what we could afford, and the quality was pretty bad. Drugstore cosmetics these days have improved leaps and bounds over what was available in the early 80's. I couldn't really find a foundation that matched my skin tone. (Girls and women of color had it the worst - very few cosmetics companies catered to them, or indeed to anyone who didn't have Generic Sorta-Tanned White Girl skintones.) Eyeshadows clumped in my lid crease, mascara ran, and lipstick feathered. And did I mention it was the 80's? HOT PINK GLITTER BOMB TIME. Cruelty-free wasn't even on the radar. If I could go back in time and make NYX available to my high-school self...

    Not to mention makeup application was largely trial and error - no beauty experts or YouTube celebrities or makeup artists available. The best I could do was get Way Bandy's Designing Your Face out of the library.

    And there were always battles with our mothers over our makeup and leg shaving and clothes and bodily autonomy in general. Our moms were big on Not Letting Us do things that were For Grownups. I think most parents these days are a lot more respectful of their daughters' (and sons') choices and there is, as mentioned above, less of a hard bright line between adults and children.
    posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:10 PM on October 1


    Born in 1965; my sister was born in 1967. Here are things that stand out from our childhood in a small Maine town:

    * My mom writing a check made out to "Cash" and making sure to cash it before the bank closed Friday, because there were no ATMs.

    * The two of us and two to four of our friends meeting at one kid's house on Halloween evening and spending the next hour and a half going from house to house filling a pillowcase with candy.

    * When my sister was in sixth grade, her English teacher realized at the end of the previous class period that he'd run out of cigarettes. So when my sister and her classmates walked in the door, he announced that he had to run an errand and that they'd be coming with him. Walking behind their instructor, all 20 or so students schlepped over to the nearest convenience store (about 10 minutes down the street), he picked up his smokes, and everyone trooped back for a truncated class.

    * Making local calls on the landline without having to dial more than the last four digits. Also, the joy at the discovery that local calls were free. (So why was Dad so uptight about our talking to our friends for 90 minutes after school? Jeezum crow!)

    * Entertaining ourselves on weekends and in the summer by browsing through the latest 45 singles and K-Tel compilations of Top 10 releases.

    * Listening to Casey Kasem's Top 40 countdown every weekend ("Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars!"); hearing about punk and new wave from someone much cooler -- a friend's cousin from Massachusetts? a proto-hipster at an all-state band concert? -- then going home, tuning in the nearest college station on my transistor radio and listening to it late into the night.
    posted by virago at 5:15 PM on October 1 [1 favorite]


    Vaccines.
    posted by Room 641-A at 9:12 PM on October 2 [1 favorite]


    Vaccines.

    They lined us up in the school library, and an office worker gave us the oral polio vaccine. That's the one with "live" virus in it, that can, in like one or two in a million cases, cause paralysis. No announcement, no note home to parents either before or after. My mother was mad when I mentioned it, because she was really good about keeping our vaccines current at the doctor's office.

    Somebody above mentioned being left-handed but forced to learn right-handed writing. The same thing happens to my Lefty cousin, and this was in the 1980s what's usually thought of as a very hippie granola town. As an adult he's fairly ambidextrous, but his school days were pretty stressful because of it.
    posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:18 PM on October 2 [1 favorite]


    Hm, thought of yet another thing that's different now than it was in my (1970s) childhood: holidays, specifically Halloween and Christmas. When I was a kid, and YMMV depending on where you grew up, of course, Halloween was a kid's holiday celebrated quite modestly. Costumes were often homemade (a sheet with holes for the eyes/mouth as a ghost costume, for instance), children carried pillowcases to hold their candy hauls, and went out trick or treating in packs by themselves. Adults stayed home, and costumes and Halloween celebrations for adults were very rare, as were Halloween cards for anyone but small children.

    A few people decorated their yards like haunted houses or whatever, but most Halloween decorating was also modest - a jack-o-lantern on the front step, a cardboard witch or black cat on the door, but no huge decorating displays like it is common to see now with Halloween lights and talking decorations and adults answering the door in costume or going to their own parties dressed up. And there were few organized Halloween night events that substituted for trick or treating, as is very very common now where I live. In fact, in my (affluent suburban) area, parents seem to prefer taking their kids to "Main Street Trick Or Treating" or "Mall Trick or Treating" events where merchants give out candy.

    And you couldn't pick up jack o lantern carving kits and suchlike in the grocery store - it was you, the pumpkin, and a kitchen knife, and that was it.

    Christmas was also much more low-key - this might have to do with the 70's energy crisis and inflation, but the extravagant Christmas light displays I see everywhere now were far fewer then. People might put a string of lights along the eaves and hang a wreath on the front door and that was about it. Driving around to see Christmas lights, which I love to do now, wasn't really done then. IIRC, it started to take off in the 90s, depending again on where you lived.
    posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:38 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


    I rode my BigWheel around the back of my parent's huge-ass station wagon, while it was in motion.
    posted by signal at 2:06 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


    A few people decorated their yards like haunted houses or whatever, but most Halloween decorating was also modest - a jack-o-lantern on the front step, a cardboard witch or black cat on the door, but no huge decorating displays like it is common to see now with Halloween lights and talking decorations

    Yeah, we were Halloween people before being Halloween people was a thing. We had to make all our own stupid Halloween shit ourselves; you couldn't just BUY prefab tombstones off the rack at Rite Aid, and there was no pop-up Halloween City store at each end of the mall for a month. We were out there like a bunch of morons with scrap lumber, a Skil saw, and a black marker.

    And a kettle of boiling water to make the frozen ground soft enough to pound in the stakes.

    The more I post in this thread, the more I realize that "normal thing" and "my childhood" might not be that comfortable in the same sentence.

    posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:31 AM on October 4 [6 favorites]


    Answering machine pranks.

    My brother (born in the 70's) and his friends liked to call random people from the phone book and either prank them if they answered or leave really stupid messages on their answering machines if they didn't. Before caller ID, of course.

    He also had an ancient black-and-white TV in his room, on which he would watch Woody Woodpecker, the Smurfs, and the like.

    He also had an absolutely gigantic box of Legos, which he would upend all over the floor. No pink ones then, no Lego beach resorts. He would build every new set meticulously according to directions, then when he'd done that, take it apart and add the pieces to the rest of the pile.
    posted by Crystal Fox at 10:07 AM on October 4


    These are all so great. Love hearing so many tales of normalcy. Can't imagine how kids today will grow up without the freedom and challenge and public humiliation that so many of us lived with. Kidding, not kidding? If it weren't for the gymnasium vaccines, I wonder if any of us would have survived!
    posted by stillmoving at 1:56 PM on October 4 [2 favorites]


    Late 1960’s Francophone Africa

    Born left handed but forced to write with the ‘right’ hand in nursery school. Still do today.
    posted by Kwadeng at 12:23 AM on October 7


    Can't imagine how kids today will grow up without the freedom and challenge and public humiliation that so many of us lived with.

    Thank god we didn't have Facebook.
    posted by Room 641-A at 5:49 AM on October 7 [3 favorites]


    The latest 99% Invisible is about the invention of the sports bra in the 80s and concominent changes in attitudes about women, sports and exercise. It's good!
    posted by latkes at 12:22 PM on October 7


    In the mid-70s and earlier, playpens was where infants and toddlers would hang out while their mom or other caregiver got stuff done. I recall little ones being in a playpen virtually all day, apart from feeding or bathing.
    posted by Frenchy67 at 11:54 AM on October 8 [3 favorites]


    Sonic booms! We lived close to an air force base and heard them quite often.
    posted by BoscosMom at 9:47 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]


    Overshoes. Nobody actually had boots - Boots were a specialty item worn right over your socks, and very probably could not be worn indoor and at school because they had soles that would damage the floors. Boots were cowboy boots or army boots, utilitarian workman's things, right up until the sexy tall boots for girls and women came in, to be paired with the minidress. Like the legwarmers of the eighties, you had to be careful where you wore them, and how much you dressed up as wearing them was suggestive that it would invite unwanted attention. The adults secretly called them hooker boots, as they were ubiquitious in a certain profession.

    Overshoes were made of rubber. The superintendent (who lived in a basement apartment at my elementary school in downtown Montreal so he could get a jump on the snow removal and turning up the furnace on cold nights in time to warm up the school) had enormous black overshoes - impressive, barge sized black rubber overshoes that went on top of his own shoes. Overshoes had very wide tops which folded over with a flap to seal. You had to stomp your feet into them to get them on. They frequently refused to let go of your shoe when you tried to take them off, so that left you hopping around on a slush covered floor in the cloakroom, in your socks, trying to tug at least one of your shoes out of your overshoes. Kids overshoes came in colours - we had brown, red and one pair of white. The kids' overshoes had an interior "fur" rim to keep the snow out and when trying to force your shoe into the overshoe this was what you hung onto while tugging hard.

    Shoes lasted. They were made of leather. In the sixties it was easy to find shoes in fifties styles still being worn, and there was no reason not to hand shoes down through the oldest kids to the youngest. We had saddle shoes that were definitely at least fifteen years old. Of course leather shoes needed to be polished, which required you to sit on the kitchen floor with newspaper and the shoe polish kit and use a brush and rag to put the shoe polish on and off. There was a special brand of shoe polish that had a pom-pom dauber on a stick inside the cap which was for kids and did not require rubbing off. You had to have as many colours of polish in the house as you had shoes - brown, black, white, tan and a type of dull lavender. Grandmothers could get rather waspish about the state of your shoes, if you wore them into a state of sad scuffing.

    Waiting to inherit your big siblings' clothes. There would be that rare item that was not the kind of thing that came into the house often - a pair of white overshoes , a party dress, a sweater that was home knitted and had a bear on it rather than being relentlessly solid colour plain - It was worth the wait.

    Sugar-bandy - buttered white bread with white sugar poured over the top. What didn't stick to the butter went back into the sugar bowl. "Sweets" was a food group. No kidding. Food energy was important so it was healthy to eat a dessert after dinner. Sweets had been an acknowledged food group during the war, and afterwards during rationing and that lingered. We ate sugar bandy when money was tight. We got canned fruit for dessert, or, because my father worked for General Foods and they bought out Jell-o, we got pudding or jelly, but not everyone got those last two. Pudding, of course, required the cook to bring milk to a boil, just as jelly required the cook to bring water to a boil.

    Information about how to run a household came from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company - Prunes and bananas were pushed as very important. Informative booklets abounded.

    House dresses. Your mum might schlep around the house all day in a house dress. Sweat pants and that were not yet invented, and the house dress was one step up from the bathrobe. You could answer the drawer in a house dress, but not go outside.

    Butter. Margarine was for people who had given up. You might not be able to afford meat or fruit but you sure as heck got real butter. Margarine was what they served in institutions.

    Lots of restaurants that had a family menu. There were restaurants everywhere that served actual choices that came from dinner menus - you might go to a restaurant and get to decide if you wanted pork roast, liver, cod or beef. Of course it would come home cooked, with potatoes and a veg that came with it. It was much harder to find a restaurant that served hot dogs or hamburgers and had French fries. Those were called "snack bars." If they didn't serve a full menu then they were only a snack bar.
    posted by Jane the Brown at 4:18 AM on November 20


    Socks came in sizes. They had very little stretch so the difference between a size 8 and a size 10 was pertinent. And if a little kids socks fell down - as they almost certainly did, since they often didn't have an elastic in them, you could get elastic garters that pinned to the child's shirt hem to hold them up. Only very little kids wore these, but men had a kind of sock garter too, that went on under the knee. Wearing nylons was something to look forward to, as it freed you from finding your socks in a small squished ball in the toes of your shoes. If you were a high school girl you might get a nylon allowance.
    posted by Jane the Brown at 4:23 AM on November 20


    We used to have a pair of my mother's old overshoes that fit over high-heeled pumps. They were fascinating!

    While we're talking about winter footwear, did anyone else have to wear empty plastic bread bags on their feet inside their not-so-waterproof winter boots as kids?
    posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:35 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]


    I tell my kids all the time about wearing plastic bags on my feet in the winter. Most kids did. Man, I hated that. Boots were terrible back then. No waterproof mitts either, so your hands were always cold and soggy.
    posted by fimbulvetr at 12:39 PM on November 20


    I never wore plastic bags over my shoes, but I - and other kids my age - wore rubber (or fake rubber) rain boots that went on over our shoes, and, yes, they were pretty terrible in quality and fit.

    In general there wasn't the variety of childrens' clothing, and it wasn't as cheap as it is now - it was common to have just a few school outfits, plus play clothes and one or two Sunday best/party outfits. And most of us had three pairs of shoes - school shoes, "good" shoes, and play shoes (those were usually sneakers in winter or for boys year round, and sandals for girls in summer, in California where it didn't snow, and rarely went below freezing).

    The "SoandSo's Mom" phenomenon didn't really exist. When I was out for a walk earlier today, I saw a couple of bumper stickers that made me think of this thread - "Stanford Mom," "UCSB [UC Santa Barbara] Mom," and "Chico State Mom." And there's tons of personalized license plate frames with stuff like "Proud To Be Jessica's Grandma" and so forth. Growing up (70s), I never ever saw that. I think we've come a long way in raising children with love and valuing them - back then families were much more adult-centered, awareness of child abuse and sexual abuse was just beginning - so while I find this phenomenon eye-roll-worthy sometimes, I'm glad children are more valued now. In my childhood, most families were larger and ambitions for children less, and married women were wives first and mothers second, for better or (or/and) worse for the kids.
    posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:27 AM on November 21 [2 favorites]


    > No waterproof mitts either, so your hands were always cold and soggy

    We had them in the mid-1970s in Finland. The mittens weren't waterproof (we had the standard knit ones) but we had rubbery mitts that went over them, like oven mitts. Galoshes, but for the hands, and in bright red.
    posted by The corpse in the library at 3:07 PM on November 21


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