Ten on Tuesday 1-22: Way Back When

This week’s Ten on Tuesday prompt is “10 Things That Were Better ‘Way Back When’.”

Way back when? I think that’s left unspecified on purpose, so you can go wherever you want to in your Wayback Machine with this one. Back to times you’ve read about, but don’t personally remember, like the turn of the century – 19th into 20th, that is? Back when your parents were kids – the 1950’s and 1960’s, maybe? When you were a kid yourself – the 1970’s and 1980’s? (If it’s the ’80’s, now you’re making me feel old – that’s when my kid was a kid.) Back at the turn of the century – 20th into 21st? Some combination of any or all of those eras?

I think the vagueness of “when” here was part of the challenge for me. I also try to fight the impulse to wax nostalgic about “back in the day,” because it can be a trap. For one thing, there’s a lot about life that’s better here and now, especially if it involves anything technological. There are things that one might miss about the past, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been replaced by something worse.

But having said all that, here are a few things that were better once upon a time and not so long ago:

Gas stations. I remember when the price of gas first topped $1 per gallon, and it was a huge thing. Back when gas was cheap, you didn’t even have to fill your tank yourself; the gas station had employees that would pump your gas, clean your windshield, and check your oil and your tires, too. Of course, that cheap gas also had lead in it, so there were some drawbacks…

Cars you could work on yourself. This one was contributed by my car-nerd husband, who does not idealize classic cars all that much – he can give you a long list of reasons why cars themselves are better today – but does miss being able to open the hood and know what you’re looking at, what to do with it, and being able to do it in your own garage.

Television. A lot of the shows were junk then too, but there were fewer of them, and I’m not so sure that more choice in TV entertainment has been a good thing. Instead of four or five channels and nothing worth watching, we have 150 and the same problem. We also had more time to decide for ourselves if they were good or not, since they wouldn’t be canceled after just one or two episodes – they were allowed to start off slow and given time to develop. When there was less on TV, what was there drew more people together and gave them common viewing experiences to talk about; these days, that only happens for major crises, the Super Bowl, and the American Idol finale. Also, TV theme songs were much better.

Music. I grew up singing along with the radio and my records. There’s much less that lends itself to that these days – partly because popular music has split into subgenres of subgenres, and partly because there just doesn’t seem to be much interest in conventional songcraft anymore (melody, lyrics, that sort of thing). I miss that.

Dancing. This one goes with music to some extent, but not entirely. While the perspective that “dancing is the vertical expression of a horizontal idea” has been around for a long time – go back a couple of centuries and you’ll find that the waltz was considered scandalous – it’s gotten way out of hand.

Unstructured time for kids. Most of us didn’t have many places we had to be at a specific time, except for school; some of us took music lessons or played a sport, but much more of our time was our own. We played – and unless we were visiting a friend who lived outside our neighborhood, we worked out our own arrangements and didn’t have “playdates” scheduled by our parents. We came up with most of the things we played on our own, too.

Parents knew their place. Even the parents who made themselves available and accessible when their kids wanted to talk about anything – and I was lucky enough to have a mom like that – didn’t seem to worry much about being their kids’ friends, or even whether their kids liked them or not. They seemed to be much more comfortable with disciplining and setting limits for their kids, and didn’t question that it was part of the job – even if we kids didn’t appreciate it much at the time. We probably didn’t appreciate the fact that many of our parents wouldn’t drop everything to amuse us, either, but instead would charge us with “finding something to do” and developing our own resources, but they really did do that for our own good.

Public standards for appearance. It was not OK to leave the house in your pajamas, unless you were just stepping outside to get your newspaper from your front yard. Certain areas of your skin were kept covered unless you were at the beach or the swimming pool, and not just because of concerns about sun exposure and skin cancer. You combed your hair, and put on clothes and shoes that were clean and in decent condition. You were taught that being “presentable” didn’t only affect how others saw you, but it was a mark of courtesy.

Public standards for behavior. Simple politeness – “please,” “thank you,” yielding the right of way when passing through a door or going through an intersection – is more appreciated than ever when it seems to be less common. Again, courtesy mattered – respecting other people’s property, boundaries, opinions, and right to be different from you (although to be fair, I think we’re better at that last one now, even if we don’t necessarily act accordingly).

Grammar. Enuf with the kre8ive spelingz – its 2 much! Seriously, I consider this one more area of declining standards, aggravated by a misplaced reliance on spell-check, which doesn’t catch such things as incorrectly chosen homophones and misplaced punctuation.

It’s a good thing that I have to stop there, as I seem to be sounding more and more curmudgeonly with each item I list. The thing is, I don’t really buy into the whole “good old days” thing. At the same time, though, some parts of the old days and old ways are well worth remembering, preserving, and bringing back.

What do you think was better “way back when”? If you’re curious about what other players had to say about that, visit the main post at Ten on Tuesday.

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  1. I really like your list–agreed with all of them! I remember when gas topped $1 and it really was a big deal wasn’t it? Gee, if only…

    Here in NJ, we still have gas pumped by the attendants. It’s the law, rofl.

  2. I sure agree about unstructured time for kids. And most of the rest, too!

    Hey, could you email me your address so I can send your book? Dewpie at gmail dot com.

  3. A woman after my own heart! You qualified your response by talking about how there are things better today than they were back then before making your list. πŸ™‚ I like that.

    I never had the experience at the gas station that you talk about, but that does sound wonderful. Except for the cheap gas.

    Even as a person who likes variety when it comes to television, I have to agree with you there as well. And I’m right there with you on public standards for behavior. The grammar issue gets to me too.

  4. Literary Feline – I never paid only $1 a gallon for gas – that was before my driver’s-license years – but I do remember the full-service stations from my childhood.

    I think there’s a whole post brewing on the grammar thing…