By Tim McGrath
“The older I get, the less I enjoy being miserable.” – Cheryl McGrath
It starts the minute we make our grand entrance in the world. Somebody is forever laying loads of must-dos, have-tos, should-dos, don’t-you-dares on us.
From: “Put the seat down, and wash your hands; you weren’t born in a barn!” we hear as kids to, “You’re wearing that?” when dressing up for some important event. Admittedly, many of these must-dos, have-tos, should-dos, and don’t-you-dares make our lives better, no question. And, everyone knows we need rules and laws in a civil society: can’t have complete anarchy. That’s not the point. It’s the sheer volume of all these things over the course of life and how the buggers change. A continuously moving target that makes the rebel in us raise our fists in defiance. So, does it, will it, ever get any better? It depends…, maybe. Let’s see if we can find out. I’ll go first.
I grew up in a golden age to be a kid. When my pals and I were left to our own devices, which we were much of the time, we could create all kinds of adventures with imagination and not much else. New and ridiculous games were manufactured. Take golf, for example. We had one golf ball and somebody’s dad’s beat up old putter. No matter, it was a start. The only thing missing was the golf course. One afternoon we decided to create one: our very own four-hole gem in my backyard. There wasn’t much of a master course design in mind, but that didn’t seem to be of any concern. To ensure the ball actually got to the hole through the turf, though, one of us decided it’d be a great idea to dig a trench from the tee to the hole. As the day wore on, progress was rapid. By mid-afternoon, the course was finished, ready for play.
“Hey, do you think your mom will be mad we dug up your yard?” Ronnie asked as we surveyed our handiwork. Good question.
“Mom, can you come out and see something?” I asked. She put down whatever mom stuff she was doing and ventured out to the newly excavated backyard.
“Well, honey, what have you been making out here?”
“It’s a golf course, we just made it. Do you like it?” I asked.
“Very nice. Just put it all back when you’re finished,” was all she said.
That’s the way it was with quite a few things then. We were free range children, to a point.
Slingshot wars were OK, but BB gun shootouts were nixed after my brother got the bright idea to plug me in the rear end at close range over some grievance he had with me. Then there was the not-too-well-thought-out game of “chicken” that sprung up out of our collective group-think. Various moms in the neighborhood put the kibosh on ours when one of them saw what we were up to. This version required all interested parties to have a bow and arrow. Standing in a group, on the count of three, everyone shot an arrow straight into the air. The idea was not to look up to see the flight path. The first to look up was deemed “chicken”. Honestly, this one made me nervous. There were a few very close calls, yet no one ended up skewered. I think we were all grateful it ended.
In spite of our creativity and freedom, there were lots of must-dos, have-tos, should-dos, don’t-you-dares. These usually revolved around the premium placed on good behavior and conformity to the norms of the day. This also applied to all my friends, as well. Rebels need not apply.
“Good heavens, what would people think, for crying out loud?” was an exhortation heard frequently. This played out in how we dressed, acted in school and church, for example. Heaven help you if you got a note home from the teacher, or you weren’t paying attention during the sermon at church. Mom’s favorite ploy at church was to give the distracted child a sharp pinch. She’d have her arms folded as a warning. If that failed to get the offender’s attention, quick as lightning, she’d strike with a stealthy pinch to the fleshy side of the underarm. Those nails lay on some serious hurt. And, don’t even think about yelling out. The wrath of the Lord in real time.
Yet the rebel in me chafed at the incomprehensible things coming from the pulpit. I had to quickly learn to evade Mom’s hovering eye, so I invented an entire world of misadventures in my head, all the while looking like I was hanging on the preacher’s every word. It was an early version of ANL. (Active Non-Listening. See previous Random Bits for details)
Swearing was not tolerated, either. Again, with the, “What would people think?” standard attached. Even the words “poop” and “fart” were taboo. When actual cursing made it to our tender ears, usually from older siblings or their friends, and usually directed at us, it made for a real moral dilemma. We knew those were “bad words”, but boy oh boy, the power they had. In the end, it was just too much of a clarion call. Just be sure you know your audience. And, never, ever let your parents hear it. Because, after all….
As time passed, the things of childhood faded. All the goofy, silly, and dangerous things we invented morphed into the imposing rites of passage through high school and college.
The 1960’s-mid 1970’s was a weird time. So many changes everywhere. The Vietnam War, Watergate, the Kennedys, Woodstock, Black power, civil rights, the space race, the cold war, women’s lib. Yet, an evolving list of must-dos, have-tos, should-dos, don’t-you-dares remained solidly in place. One of the oddest things that came from that time was when it was deemed a good thing to allow 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old kids to drink. The logic at the time was if someone could now legally vote at 18, and serve their country in Vietnam, they should be allowed to legally drink. Seemed to make sense, until the people in charge realized too many 18 through 20-year-olds had no concept of moderation. Still remember kids in high school who had already turned 18 heading out for the pizza buffet at Village Inn on Fridays for lunch, grab a quick pitcher of suds, then return loaded to Chemistry lab. Never mind they had to drive there and back. Our poor Chemistry teacher, Mr. Blok, had enough trouble convincing us studying Molar concentrations was of infinite value in our lives as budding young chemists. Now add in a number of the class who were tending a beer buzz, or dozing off, and it did add another layer of difficulty in his life. It was easy to tell when he was getting miffed. His neck would turn bright red, the red would then slowly rise up his face until his entire head looked ready to explode. Reminded me of Elmer Fudd when Bugs had got the best of him again. In spite of my classmates’ shenanigans, though, I couldn’t wait to turn 18.
When the big day finally arrived, I announced to Mom my intention of joining up with an older friend at Electric Avenue, a local disco. You’d have thought I just announced I was turning Catholic.
“Don’t you dare! You will not set foot in there. You know what goes on in those places. Plus, we don’t drink liquor in this house,” she hollered. “For heaven’s sake, what if someone saw you coming out of there, what would they think?” Suffice it to say, to keep the peace I didn’t go then, but I sure did shortly thereafter. And a lot of times after that. I really did want to find out what went on in those places. Whoooeee, I did find out, to be sure. Heh-heh ….
Thankfully, this phase didn’t last long. By the time college came and went, the lure of roaring around town to our favorite watering holes with the various pals of that time, had lost its luster. Hmmm, maybe my own list of must-dos, have-tos, should-dos, don’t-you-dares was starting to shape up. Plus, had to admit, it was time to get on with adulting.
I had the good fortune to have a long-lasting career I thoroughly enjoyed, a loving spouse and family, two fine kids, wonderful grandkids, many friends, and relatively good health. Who could ask for anything more? Yet, in spite of all these grand and glorious things, the closet rebel remains. I’m reminded of the feature articles I used to enjoy as a youngster in MAD magazine called The Shadow Knows. In these, the illustrator would draw panels that portrayed people in various situations acting logically, responsibly, and respectably. In the background, however, their shadow selves reveal what they’re really thinking, or wish they were doing instead. That’s me.
I’ve been retired about ten years. Senior citizenry is at hand. And that, my friends, is an invitation to finally, finally cast off the shackles of all those pesky must-dos, have-tos, should-dos, don’t-you-dares that have plagued us forever. We can be less concerned about what we do or don’t do. They don’t need to define us any longer. Time to drive as slowly as you can in that immaculate beige minivan with no thought to the line of cars behind you! Drive with your mouth hanging open! Spend hours searching for the best gas price in town! Wear those pants up high! Wear suspenders! Sport those thirty-year-old clingy shirts with no worries about your saggy man boobs! Be a devotee of The Wheel! Go to bed at eight o’clock! Put exclamation points at the end of every written thought! Yes sir, it’s high time to stick it to the man.
Therefore, the well-timed curse, the enjoyment of a glass or two of a favorite brew, and a fine cut of prime beef await. Guilt-free and unashamed.
As my darling sweetheart reminds me, “The older I get, the less I enjoy being miserable.” Hear, hear!
So, ladies and gentlemen, raise your glasses! Here’s to delighting in that Beam and Squirt for dinner. Go right ahead and slap that big porterhouse on the grill. To **** with all those don’t-you-dares….
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