How is life different today compared to when you were a child?
It might take a book to describe all the things that are different now than fifty or more years ago. The ones listed here are just those that jumped from my head first. Almost everything today is better now, but I’ll start with the one that I am grateful to call my childhood.
My world was one of the stay-at-home moms, Dad home from work promptly at 5:30 pm, a small house for seven people, and what seemed to be a large backyard, at least big enough to play whiffle ball and climb its two trees. Although not ours, most streets in the neighborhood had alleys to access garages, mount basketball hoops, and throw footballs and baseballs without the dangers of the open street. That was particularly true on Ashwood Avenue in North Dayton, as our street was one of the few nearby that provided a cut-through alternative to the heavily traveled Siebenthaler Avenue from both Main Street and Riverside Drive. It was not unusual to wander the neighborhood on bikes looking for adventure or make the two-mile trek to play three hours of Putt-Putt golf for sixty cents on an early Saturday morning, starting before my parents woke up. I would ride three miles on my bike to and from baseball practice. My parents would attend one game per year and I was grateful. I played because I liked the games, not for attention. None of the above is the norm these days.
Cars were very different in the 1960s. Seat belts were just starting to be mandatory equipment. Not the lap-and-chest variety used today, just a skinny lap belt. Most people hated them and refused to wear them. Car batteries were a common maintenance item and you had to make sure they were filled to the proper level with distilled water. Sealed batteries would come later. Car tires went flat quite a bit, either from just losing air to nail punctures and frayed sidewalls. Everyone knew to watch them closely and everyone knew how to fill them with air and how to mount a spare. Travel was viewed as a bit of a gamble. We hardly give it a second thought today.
I grew up with one small, black-and-white television in a corner of the living room. As the number of younger siblings grew, the TV was moved into the fireplace, replacing the hearth and providing a better viewing angle to everyone. My Dad was a master at replacing its tubes, taking them up to Victor's drug store, testing them out, buying the right replacement, and getting them plugged back in and the set running again. I eventually bought myself a very small television for my bedroom with money I saved from my Dayton Daily News paper route. Still black-and-white, but all to myself. My parents didn’t have a color TV until the five of us kids pitched in and bought one for them. I was probably about twenty-two years old when that happened. That’s was about the same time I came to understand the Wizard of Oz reference to the “horse of a different color.” That horse actually changed colors as it moved through the Emerald City. We also only had three VHF channels, ABC, CBS, and NBC, we could tune into. It would be a few years later before I was able to watch Star Trek. Nowadays we stream HD content from hundreds of sources to screens as small as a few inches to massive 65” and larger flat screens.
Smoking was a big thing back in my childhood and my parents lit up with the rest of them. Most Sundays we would drive over to my grandfather Otto’s house in Beavercreek and the adults would be inside puffing away while my siblings and cousins played outside, even in the dead of winter. As much as we tried to convince them how badly they smelled, they continued until my mother had to give it up for health reasons. Then she understood what we knew for years, but even she couldn’t convince my Dad to stop. A year or two after Mom passed he met Alice and after she said the cigarette smell was disgusting, he stopped cold turkey. Smoking isn’t allowed almost anywhere inside today and not having people smoke on airplanes is particularly great. Cigarettes are a habit I’m glad I never started.
Finally, needles are so much better today. Going to the doctor’s office, for whether a childhood vaccine or a shot of penicillin when I was sick, the jab of yesteryear was pure pain. So was getting novocaine at the dentist before getting a cavity filled. The gripping fear of the coming pain was almost as bad as the shot itself. But over the years the needles got smaller and the stab hurt less and less. Now it’s almost not noticeable and the dread is gone. I might be more grateful for this progress than any of the others.