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Caught some kids ripping a flower box apart the other day and asked them point-blank why they were so destructive. They told me in so many nasty words what they thought of both my question and of the town. A parting shot was to spit on the ground as they walked away. Times, they are a changin', but not, I am afraid, for the better. These kids tell me that they are hard-done-by because their parent(s) had the audacity to move to a small town where there is nothing to do but raise hell. The only thing these idiots are lacking is imagination, a work ethic and a positive attitude.
My teenage years were spent in the same small town and I didn't go around spitting at people and raising hell. I can't remember any of my friends doing it either. I didn't know any foul-mouthed, destructive individuals. During the 1950's most teenagers were lucky enough to have parents that gave some direction, while at the same time practicing parental control. Ah yes, unlike some family operations today, that nasty bit of business called parental control was very much in evidence and for the most part, we were glad to have guidance and direction. Parents were never meant to be best friends and closest companions. That sort of relationship developed much later. After we had raised our own children, we could relate to our parents experiences.
One of the first things we learned was that public property was to be respected. There were few acts of wanton destruction. As young people, we had a pride in the community. Flower boxes were not vandalized. Even though there were no handy garbage cans, there was no litter. We picked up after ourselves.
There was always something to do. We didn't rely on others to provide entertainment. We didn't wait for someone else to organize an event. There were no complaints that the town didn't provide us with adequate facilities or entertainments. We did have a drop-in centre. It was called grandmother's house.
As young people, we weren't afraid of work. People needed good babysitters. When both parents worked we pitched in to assist with house-cleaning, laundry, gardening and grass cutting. Read that as grass cutting with a push-mower as our parents owned nearly one acre of land but not a power lawn mower. Some kids had part-time jobs, earning money to put themselves through university or trade school. Trade schools were honorable institutions where boys, in particular, learned hands-on skills that provided employment for years. Girls normally signed up for business college, nursing and teaching. All worked to take some of the financial responsibility for attending higher education off the backs of their parents.
There was always lots of homework. Some teens liked homework better than others but all understood that to pass, it needed to be completed. Teachers understood the importance of homework and the discipline that completing it taught us. We didn't wilt at the thought of school exams and testing. Yep, we had testing, similar to what is proposed today. Most welcomed the challenge. Our parents didn't complain that the mere thought of testing was stressful for us. They told us living is a challenge, and that we should reserve our judgement various situations until we had spent some time in the real world. We had enough respect for parents that we listened to their sage advice and strived to achieve a measure of success and independence that would be a credit to them.
We enjoyed lots of recreational activities without having a community centre and structured sports activities. When we had some spare time, there was always a game of scrub-baseball under way. We read books. Do young people read today? Board games were popular. Ice and roller skating was great fun, especially on outdoor rinks or, in the case of roller skating, in paved parking lots. There were long bike rides to enjoy and time set aside for long, cool summer swims. There were piano and art lessons, history to learn, summer courses to finish. There were elderly neighbours to help with outdoor and indoor tasks. If we couldn't find anything to do, our parents soon came up with creative jobs. Clean out the garage. Clean the silverware. Sort the library. Clean your room. Wash the car. Paint the house. Trim the trees. Learn to type. Learn to change a tire. Paint the fence. Scrub the kitchen floor.
We were expected to live up to high standards for manners and behavior. Swearing and spitting were high on the list of don't does. Although dad could, and did, swear like a trouper, that was not a family tradition that his children were encouraged to carry on. Spitting was just crude behavior. Has anyone informed young people today that it still is totally unacceptable.
We explored the river, went fishing and fossil hunting, enjoyed long bike rides. Visiting a restaurant for a snack - especially the Fergus Restaurant for a Tin Roof Sundae was O.K., as was running downtown errands for parents and neighbours. But woe-be-tied ye' average teenager caught hanging around downtown. And, if you thought you wouldn't be found out, think again. Parents cared about what their children were up to. Some cruised the street, looking for wayward sons and daughters. Most relied on storekeepers and other parents to let them know if Johnny was out and about. If you were hanging out on the street, you had far too much time on your hands.
Sure, some boys- and a girl or two - hung around the pool hall, but they were known to be ones with reputations and fast hands, if you know what I mean. Even if they did hang around downtown, they knew enough to be polite to people and to share the sidewalk. They didn't litter, lounge on window-sills and tramp through flower beds.
We enjoyed summer and autumn hay rides sponsored by the various churches, church suppers, singing in the choir and teen-town dances, held at the high school during the school year. These dances were organized by students with teacher and parent supervision. The movie theatre was a great place to enjoy a couple of hours of entertainment. We didn't have live theatre at the time but we participated in yearly school productions.
Parents set standards for dress. It was unacceptable for girls to dress like street-tramps. Boys actually wore pants that fit. We wore the latest 1950's styles but worked them into the excepted level of parental tolerance for clothing styles.
If we got into trouble, we got ourselves out of trouble. Our parents didn't molly-coddle us. They'd been through the depression and the war. They knew the world was a tough place to survive. It definitely hurt to see their children stumble, but they knew that they couldn't fight battles for us. They believed that you learned by doing, that making mistakes was all part of growing up. By the same token, if punishment was to be netted out, they weren't afraid to do so. I never felt the strap but privileges were taken away if the lines of common courtesy, family and community values were overstepped. Punishment was swift and effective. Work was heaped on the offender. Any bucking of the punishment meant banishment from the inner-circle that held the family together as one unit. We were outcasts, but not cast out. Parents made it known that they had expected far more from their children and that when an apology was forthcoming, all would be forgiven, as long as we learned from the experience.
If parents stumbled at their gargantuan task of raising young people, most didn't blame the government, or society. They recognized their parental responsibilities and strived just a little harder. They were self-made people and expected their children to be the same.
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