80’s nostalgia is all the rage.
I look at the things I see and read, and I don’t see the life I had. I grew up in the 80’s. My life wasn’t like the kids on “Stranger Things”
My parents didn’t get involved with the counterculture in the 60’s and 70’s. Most of my relatives didn’t either.
My parents never let me play outside of my own yard.
My parents never let me go walking all over the neighborhood in the early 80’s, or riding my bike anywhere alone until I was about 15 and could drive myself anyway (albeit, on a learner’s permit).
I wasn’t even supposed to close the door on my outdoor playhouse. I couldn’t walk in the woods next door. I couldn’t walk to my Uncle’s next door without telling my mother where I was going and why.
When I turned about 12 or 13, I started getting invited to things like parties and little dates and the kind of stuff middle-school kids tend to do to act grown. Parties with boys present were a hard sell for my parents. I went to some, vetted to have responsible parents present, but for the most part, the answer was no. I didn’t get to go where the other kids went. I begged and occasionally got a reprieve. I had to have five levels of justification to go to a different church youth group (Methodist instead of Baptist.)
At this point, some people will say, “But you probably didn’t get into as much trouble as those other kids.”
And that isn’t true. I just fought harder for the gasps of air that I had. In reality, I missed out on key socialization that I should have gotten earlier on. I was always very independent, but I wonder how my life would be different, and possibly better now if I had been allowed to flex that independence by being allowed to … walk outside the yard.
There were no rock and roll albums in our house, and the most dangerous country songs was probably an Alabama album. Most of what my parents listened to when I was a child were Ronnie Milsap, the Statler Brothers, and the Oak Ridge Boys. When I was old enough to have records of my own to mix in with records about children’s characters, I had to play them on my parent’s record player. I had a handful of 45’s. I was about 5 or 6 when I got my first, but they had to be ultra-clean. No bad words. No blatant sexual allusions (my parents don’t really register metaphors and symbolism well, so I did get away with some things). No references to drugs except in the “don’t use them” type of statement.
I did most of my music at other kids houses.
Every kid I knew was getting whatever album they wanted, no matter the content. They had their own record players. They had the life you see in “Stranger Things.”
I couldn’t watch most of the most popular shows because they were “filthy”. My mother had a tough time with anyone in any movie or TV show saying “Oh God!” or “Oh my God!” She didn’t even like anyone to say the word “stupid.” She monitored everything that came, was viewed, or was listened to in our house.
My brother and I got a tape player and a set of Disney cassettes one year for Christmas. The standard type that held one tape and was black and silver and had a handle on the end.
That tape player was fun. It let me record my voice. I had a few blank tapes I could record over and play with. I was desperate for something that would let me listen to whatever I wanted.
Mostly, I did what I wanted to do at other people’s houses. Watched the movies I wanted to watch. Listened to the current hits. I remember learning the words to “Beat It” in the woods outside the playground at school.
We didn’t have cable. Music videos were a precious magical delight to me.
The salvation of my life was Soul Train. I would watch these people dance without a care. Sometimes hear something modern before my mother heard something she didn’t like and change the channel. I would also watch PBS’ Austin City limits occasionally when I could. The second one was harder. Came on when my father was in charge of the TV. From time to time, an artist came on, and my father would say that he “Couldn’t stand” whoever it was and he would flip the channel. That could mean anything from saying the individual had lyrics he found to be offensive to his sensibilities, or that the individual had displayed politics or said things he despised. Willie Nelson’s long hair was never on TV for longer than five seconds.
Or, better yet- a mention that my grandfather or some other relative had hated (or did hate) that person—for whatever reason- and the channel was changed. A Johnny Cash album in my car now will still cause my father to remark every time that his mother didn’t like him as if it was an important matter to my musical taste.
I was not allowed to play Dungeons & Dragons. I had a few older cousins who played it, but their parents were the aunts and uncles that we weren’t fully encouraged to interact with. With them, my mother had a social unease because they didn’t attend church regularly and allowed such things in their home. They also kept beer in the house. Although my father did drink beer, my mother never kept it in the house. He could drink beer and other such things elsewhere. My mother called it all “beer” no matter what variety of alcohol it was. She never drank. I don’t know that she has ever drank in her life. She also has never smoked or done any drugs. At all. Such things, to her, are shocking and things to get a bit wide-eyed about.
My father did make homemade muscadine wine once, but he kept it hid in his shed, away from my mother, mixed in with other reused coke bottles full of oil and grease.
My mother didn’t like the men who were famous at the time. If she ever found anyone famous truly handsome, she never indicated it in any way. She didn’t watch most soap operas and always changed the channel when a sex scene came on. After a while, she didn’t watch them at all. She would never get truly wrapped up in the adult conversations – only half paying attention to whatever was on TV. When it comes to comedies, she laughed at bits that weren’t the actual punchline.
Very little got through the filter. Either my mother thought it was bad language or too much sex or my father just didn’t like it, or the actor or singer was wrong in some way.
I fought and did my own thing as much as I could.
I had older relatives that were my parents’ age. They may not have been as uptight as my parents, but certainly managed to go through the 60’s and 70’s without any of their core opinions being affected. Some were uptight golf republicans—not religious, but still to this day, dress as if it is 1982. Easy snobbery and dull, mostly unfeeling lives concerned with financial gain alone—they can’t get past the yuppie 80’s stage of their lives.
I wanted to be normal. Badly. I wanted to be able to drive my bike all over the place. I wanted to be the kids who could go play as they wanted to. I was sometimes able to sneak away and pretend at normal. I made a point to get the jokes.
Cultural norms were that- norms. Not absolutes. The extremities of my personal restrictions in my home were fairly unusual in the larger world, but in evangelical homes at the time, were actually par for the course.
Emotionally speaking, I feel my parents didn’t have enough of their own being worked out when they decided to marry and have children. They never had the chance either. And I am always working a little more on the ongoing process of life discoveries because of my upbringing.
Either I find a new movie that everyone else saw in 1987 or I find new depth in something forgotten. I listen to music from my childhood that was never played in my home and revel in its richness, no matter who is singing, or what the genre might be. I dive in. I let music engulf me. I dance with wild abandon and relish in my body’s shakes and rolls and stops.
I am always finding something, even small things, that crack open the door a little bit more.
I still reach out for my normal. ‘