I’ve been thinking about the 1980’s lately. It certainly was a time when life was much easier for me. I didn’t think so then, but looking back, I can’t help but reminisce. My life revolved around High School, playing field hockey, music concerts, and chores. We grew up on a dairy farm, so a large portion of our lives included milking, feeding, and cleaning animal waste.
I still remember facing a huge pile of calf manure on my 16th birthday because my parents forgot about my special day. I was on vacation and the barn needed to be cleaned. I never had a childhood birthday party that was more than my immediate family. The closest I had, was when my brother and I shared a birthday party in July because my mother felt that my birthday, 3 days after Christmas, wasn’t fair.
I was bombarded with homework, often way over my head. My parents placed me in the most difficult classes in order to adequately prepare me for college. Most of my classmates were way more intelligent than I, and I have to admit that there were times when they carried me through courses. I thought Chemistry and Calculus were going to legitimately kill me.
I looked forward to Youth Group, although memorizing scripture was painful. The leader was my cousin, who was a Nazi in disguise. He lived with us, so I would practice my verses by yelling up over the stairs. If I nailed it, he would congratulate me, and insist that I say them again at church. To this day, I stink at memorization, but for the record, I did earn a monographed bible for my efforts, which I earned fair and square. We counted the days between Youth Group social activities, which were often bowling or roller skating. Our job was to keep my cousin awake all the way home. Don’t tel my parents!
We weren’t allowed to go many places, other than school. However, we did look forward to marching in parades, and swimming at the local swimming hole. My siblings and I would try desperately to stand on an overturned canoe, while my parents watched from the shoreline. Afterward, we would lie in the back of the pickup bed, curled up in blankets, and our parents would take us for ice cream. We generally had three choices for flavors, but if Dad wasn’t with us, Mom would allow us to order a Twist. That was a real treat.
We went through a period of time, where we took Sunday trips to McDonald’s for a fish sandwich. I remember my brother ordered a Big Mac, so that we could sing the song to the person taking the order. I can still sing it word for word. We would often have very in-depth and philosophical conversations during these trips, which would sometimes get quite heated and result in tears.
I remember being frustrated because my parents kept us on such a tight rope. However, they always made sure to support our love for music and encouraged us to attend summer camp. They pushed us academically, and always felt that good manual labor could solve a multitude of behavioral issues. We went to bed early after reading every single night, and our mother would sing at the foot of the stairs to get us up before school to do our chores. At breakfast, each one of us were met with a list of things that needed to be done on weekends and vacations.
We had barn clothes and school clothes, fetched milk from the bulk tank, and our mother smelled our clothes and our hair before we were allowed to go into public. We were clean, neat, well fed, supported, and trained from a very young age to value a good hard day’s work. To this day, I struggle with feeling that I need to be productive at all times.
I was convinced that my life was as difficult as it could get. My parents made us watch The Lawrence Welk Show and Hee Haw, while banning Fantasy Island, because it was on too late and Emergency 911 because it gave me nightmares. They made me share a room with my sister until we moved to the farm, and forced my brother and I to help her to clean her room. It was a huge undertaking.
However, the best part of my childhood was when I met my future husband in 1983. We met during the summer, and went on our first date to a school dance. I picked him up, because I had my driver’s license first. I drove my parent’s tiny Volkswagen diesel truck. He smelled of Avon’s Wild Country Cologne with a hint of cedar from the shavings they used to bed the cows. He looked adorable in his brown corduroy jacket. He held my door, asked to hold my hand, and the rest is history.
Soon, my husband will return to his childhood. The dementia will take him there. My prayer is that he will recognize me with my freshly permed hair, pink Izod knit short-sleeved shirt, and a huge smile on my face. More than anything, I want to be there waiting when he goes back to the beginning. I want to be waiting for him in 1980-something.
“I wouldn’t trade those days for nothin’
It was 1980-something.” Mark Willis