There are often times when I talk to the children at school or listen to comments made by parents and I realize that my own childhood must have taken place in the Stone Age. There are so few correlations between my experiences and those of the children around me! Good or bad, my life revolved around work, education, more work, and a little play. The adults around me ruled the world and if I wanted something I had to earn it. I was expected to be polite, respectful, and responsible. I’m not going to tell you I always was…but punishment for not living up to expectations was swift and severe. I didn’t have my own television or phone or other devices. There wasn’t any entertainment in our car. Movies were something we went to…once in a while…at the drive-in. Food choices were made by my parents. “Fast food” was a strange new innovation. And work was always given priority over everything else.
My earliest memories involve work. If there was something that I could do at home I was taught to do it. I did dishes while standing on a chair. I learned to make my bed, set the table, fold laundry, and sweep the floor before I was old enough to go to school. I could pluck a chicken, snap beans, wash clothes in the wringer washer, and make biscuits from scratch before I was ten. I also chopped and picked cotton, cut grapes, tied vines, sorted olives, loaded hay, fed animals, worked the pipes that irrigated our fields, picked peaches, and cut fruit for the “drying shed” nearly every year from age six until I was fourteen and we moved here.
If I wasn’t working I was reading or studying. Education was very important to my parents since my mom didn’t finish high school and my Dad barely did. They wanted more for their children and they constantly told us we had to excel in school. I usually had to do my homework without any help because Mom was too busy with my brothers and Dad was too tired to be bothered. I was always worried about my grades and about pleasing my parents and my teacher. Report cards were examined very carefully and if we got in trouble for something at school we were in BIG trouble at home. I only did that once!
Play time was almost always spent outside. I remember watching cartoons and Tarzan or the Lone Ranger on Saturday mornings if there wasn’t anything to do in the fields. Other than that we were out playing in the yard, in the trees, or in the woods, depending on where we lived. We made up games. We pretended to be cowboys or soldiers or aliens. I sometimes played with dolls, but mostly I “played like a boy” because my brothers were often my only companions.
I’m sure my observations are limited by my current environment and my conclusions don’t apply to every household, but it seems that play is the dominant priority for children today (and for some adults as well), education is only important to a few families, and personal responsibility isn’t expected until children are at least ten. But, like I said, I grew up in the Stone Age…so what do I know?