Bikes, Roller Skates, and Cars: The Speed of the 1970s

“Catch ya on the flip side!”  Only six vague words, interpreted as “See-ya-later,” satisfied the parents of 1970.  The screen door slammed shut as children hopped on their means of transportation, a Schwinn Stingray, without a plan of destination or time of return.  The thought of wearing a helmet, donning knee-pads and carrying a backpack containing water bottles, snacks, and a form of communication may have resulted in being told, “Don’t be such a spaz!”  Bounding down the road meant a freedom to explore new streets, take risks, and enjoy the comradery of friends.  Kids walked through the mud, swam in the river, and remained outdoors until the hunger pangs struck, or their name was called, carried along with the wind in a calm sing-song shout!  No kid wanted to face the consequences, whether it was a wooden spoon, Dad’s belt, or the worst of all—being grounded to the house. It was torture to a kid, who wanted nothing more than to be independent.  God forbid a friend of the family recognized you, and the news through the party line of “telegraph, telephone, or tell Grandma,” made it home before you did.  Immediately, ties severed with the phrase “Gotta go.”  And kids raced home to answer the call and the bike returned to its place, and the screen door opened once more.

Parents thought nothing of the day-long absence. There was little to fear of kidnappings or adults preying on children.  With everyone helping to set the table, parents and children assembled at the dinner table to say a prayer before enjoying a hot meal.  If the house phone rang, the sound echoed from the farthest room in the house to the back yard.  Eventually, after five rings, the caller gave up.  No one wondered who called, especially during meals.  If the news was important, callers redialed the memorized four numbers!  Everyone in the family knew when Aunt Sally or Great-Grandma Jean called. It seemed to resonate in the tone of the ring. And, minutes later, to no one’s surprise, a family member would enter the house to borrow sugar, a stick of butter, or sit down to dinner.

From 6:30 AM to noon on Saturday, parents knew their children were glued to the television watching Super Friends, Hong Kong Phooey, or Johnny Quest, while eating multiple bowls of Fruity Pebbles. Siblings told younger children to turn the channel on the hour or half-hour or face being pinned down and tickled. If only 70s kids had a remote control or pause button to take well-needed bathroom breaks, especially during School House Rock and Looney Tunes !

If the big-wheel wasn’t scraping heels or hands, the obvious next choice was roller skating.  Daddy’s orange Carmen Ghia didn’t require a key to turn on the radio. Whether the song was ACDC “Back in Black” or Freddie Mercury belting out, “We are the Champions,” it was a great excuse to avoid Daddy and Mama screaming at the television, hoping the Pittsburg Steelers won yet another Super Bowl.

Family outings in the station wagon required a systematic seating arrangement. Daddy drove while Mama sat in the passenger seat, praying the ashes of her cigarette didn’t burn holes into another coat.  The oldest sat near the window while the youngest sat on the hump.  As the result of aerodynamics, kids slid on the vinyl upholstery and bunched together on every turn.  If everyone didn’t sing along with the radio, Dad and Mom talked, and the kids did not dare interrupt.

Privacy was impossible.  Bathrooms occupied someone at every minute of the day, and bedrooms housed a minimum of two children.  And, should you be privileged to receive a phone call, the entire household knew who had called because your name and theirs was shouted for all to hear, including the neighbors.  The only solution was to extend the 10-foot phone cord to the next room or stand on the deck during a blizzard.

Kids didn’t complain when Mama left a list of household chores to finish before she arrived home.  The oldest sibling helped divide responsibilities, and each kid fulfilled their part.  Praise rarely came to acknowledge a job well-done!  Kids knew the expectation and were happy enough to please Mama!  Because if Mama wasn’t happy, no one was!


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