In the early 80s, technology to us was the television (the console type, if you were fancy it came with a little box that let you change the channels!), the record player, rotary phone (with the extended cord), the two-dimensional pong game (bleep, bleep), and, if you were lucky, the latest and greatest video game- Atari (can you say…Space Invaders).
Back in my day, we didn’t have all of the current technology kids have now. But, we had plenty of face-to-face conversations with our neighbors.
But, since then, plenty of innovative inventions such as the cell phone, wireless internet, Google, Social Networks, and Cable TV, have been introduced. They have increased our ability to obtain things faster, and we have become more efficient. However, some of these inventions have hurt us more than we realized or would like to admit. These innovations have undoubtedly stolen precious, non-retractable time from our lives and our loved ones.
They have become time wasters. The very thing they were made to give us more of.
If we aren’t catching up on our favorite DVR’d reality shows. We are channel surfing for anything enticing. We are binge watching episode after episode of a commercial-less sitcom on Netflix.
If we aren’t playing mindless games on our convenient internet accessible cellphone, we are texting, facebooking, pinning, tweeting, or chatting.
We have taken these novelties, and to some extent, have made them our primary way to connect with others.
We have allowed these gizmos and gadgets to minimize and redefine, the simple, yet humanistic aspect of relationships – the face-to-face interaction.
Consequently, we have become socially awkward to a point where we struggle with making new friends- or carrying a conversation.
We want to live in our bubble- with locked eyes on LED-lit touch screens . We want to simply stick to ourselves, to our family, and to our small circle of friends.
This overabundance of convenience has created a disturbing trend.
Many of us, don’t even know our neighbors, the people that live within feet from us. The African proverb that “It takes a village to raise a child” is becoming more and more extinct in our city.
As we have become more “connected”, we have become disconnected from ourselves.
Certainly, there are advantages to the new ways when we want to connect with friends and family members miles away from us.
Back in my day, long distance phone calls to Puerto Rico were costly and letters mailed would take approximately a week to arrive.
Refreshingly, many things still remain the same, as they once were.
Waking up to an alarm in the morning hasn’t changed. It may no longer be an alarm clock, but rather your phone alarm. We still need some type of device to wake you up.
And if you are a parent, you most likely have the agonizing task of waking up a child and getting them ready to go to school. I can attest, this hasn’t changed.
Like most children today, when I was a child, I would be kicking, screaming, and begging to stay asleep on school mornings.
But, Saturday mornings were different I, along with my little sister, would – with blankets in hand – jump off our beds, run to the wooden framed television, turn the knob, and there they were…
Saturday morning cartoons.
We watched and we watched! There was no pause button.
Back in my day, there was no Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, or Cartoon Network. Now-a-days, there is always something on TV, and if not there is always Netflix- “Kids” section – with it’s endless catalogue of cartoon classics from claymation to musicals – to fall back on.
We had ….Channel 11 (PBS) and the Saturday morning cartoons.
During the weekday mornings PBS had long blocks of children programming. There were many shows, good shows. But, two- Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street were my highlights. They were the mainstays.
They were more than phenomenal educational shows. They were the example of the quintessential children shows that demonstrated how to be a good citizen in your neighborhood.
Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.
The theme song with a catchy 15 second tune played with a xylophone, as a red trolley rode through a neighborhood, and the camera honed in on a yellow house – Mister Roger’s house, and then quickly transitioned into a yellow traffic light located in his living room.
And then, Mister Roger would walk through the front door singing…
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.
As Mister Roger sang his song, he would make himself comfortable by switching into a cardigan zipper sweater and his low top, blue Converse sneakers.
I loved how he and the jingle were in sync with each other. When he zipped his sweater and when he took off his right shoe, and tossed it towards his left hand the xylophone or piano will hit a high note.
Mister Roger’s goals was to educate his viewers, mostly 3-6 years olds. He would take them on tours of factories and they would learn how things – crayons, fortune cookies, sneakers- were made.
But, by far, the premise of the show was to encourage the viewers to love their neighborhood and their neighbors…
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” Mister Rogers
Come and play
Friendly neighbors there
That’s where we meet …
As the theme song played, children of different backgrounds ran-through fields of tall grass, parks, and dirt roads. Children rode on animals and fed them. Children slid down the slide and hung out on the monkey bars. Children played “Ring Around the Rosy” while others kids ran around playing tag.
Sesame Street had plenty of human characters as well as a galore of puppets, such as Bert & Ernie, Kermit the Frog, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Count von Count, Grover, Mr. Snuffleupagus, and one can’t forget Big Bird who led the pack of characters.
There were recurring segments – Number of the Day, Letter of the Day, Sesame Street Pageants, Pinball Number Count (The 12 Song) , Sesame Street News Flash, and the the list goes on.
Sometimes the show had adorable Pre-k visitors, like John, John- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keJeDo5e9Qw, and a guest stars. The show also had a few famous songs- People In Your Neighborhood, Sing, Sing A Song, etc.
Sesame Street was more than an educational show for me. It showed me how to share, and be kind to others. It encouraged acceptance of others, because it was completely racially integrated. It was a show definitely before it’s time.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street taught me how to be a good neighbor in my neighborhood – Back of the Yards.
Back in my day, I played up and down my street- 53rd and Wood, and I knew my neighbors.
Until the unthinkable (to the mind of this 10 year-old girl) happened.
My family purchased a house in the Marquette Park neighborhood. We were movin’ on up, to the farther west side- Damen to Kedzie. For my parents, they felt like they finally got a piece of the pie!
We were leaving our rat and cockroach infested two bedroom apartment, and moving to a four bedroom house with a big back yard that had a pool.
I, however, felt differently.
I was leaving my security blanket, my safety net, my familiar (friends, schools, my block) for the unknown.
I had a multitude of questions..
Would they know how to double dutch?
Would there be a playground close to my new house?
Would there be a corner store down the block?
Would the piraguero (snow cone man) in the brown station wagon come to my new neighborhood?
At the end of fifth grade, we did end up moving out of the Back of the Yards.
There was no playground or corner store near my house, the girls from the neighborhood didn’t know how to play double dutch, and the piraguero (snow cone man) didn’t come around.
But, to my pleasant surprise my new neighborhood was full of friendly children that loved to play up and down the block until the street lights came on, just like my “old” block.
Marquette Park was becoming my new neighborhood, but Back of the Yards would always be home. To many, my home may have looked run-down and just plain ugly.
But, we had the essential ingredients for making memories that would last a lifetime – love, loyalty and laughter.
My “Back In My Day” series has been about looking back to a time when things were simpler, and occasionally, much better. Yes, my family experienced some challenging times, but I wouldn’t change our humble beginnings.
I am who I am because of those days- a humble and kind, yet bold and confident woman.