That 70’s Kid

Summer is finally here. By now, pretty much all schools are out and the parental mania of planning activities for kids has begun. Over the last week or so, I have seen several people post a link on various social media sites to an article titled “Ten ways to give your kids an honest-to-goodness 1970’s summer.”  While I’m sure the idea is meant to be about keeping things simple, it got me thinking about what an “honest-to-goodness 1970’s summer” actually entailed. After all, I lived it so I remember quite clearly and if we’re being honest, I’m not entirely sure I’d want my little kids doing the same things I did back then. Unless the goal is to think of that time as “Survival Camp” because if you can make it out alive, you are a champ. So here is my list of “Honest-but-not-necessarily-goodness 1970’s summer activities.”

1. Every parent told their kid “Just come home when the street lamps come on.” I remember feeling scared at the lack of supervision, yet exhilarated at the lack of supervision. No cell phones to call or text to check in, just go out and come back before it’s too dark. This meant hopping on your bike, riding to a friends’ house to hang out for a bit, eventually getting bored and going back out on bikes to ride all around town and occasionally, even ride to another city. Of course, we’d eat at some point. A quick stop at a 7-11 to load up on all the candy you could carry down the sides of your tube socks or tucked into the front pocket of your corduroy shorts so you could have a free hand to balance the over-sized Slurpee you dumped multiple flavors into that now has a nondescript taste. Before taking off, you’d grab a couple of packages of Wacky Packs and go through the funny cards and stickers with your friends, trading ones you needed with ones you already had, before setting back out to ride. You’d continue to ride while eating and drinking, chucking wrappers into bushes as you passed because there wasn’t a trash can in sight.

2. After all that bike riding, you’d work up quite a sweat. No lifeguard keeping an eye out down at the nearby river or pond, and certainly no supervision when you’d hop the fence of the nearby neighbor who had a pool and was out at work all day. No swimsuit? No problem! Just hop in with your clothes on. They’ll dry before the sun sets so your parents will never know what you did. If you were lucky, a friend would have a Slip-n-Slide set up so you could race down the yard and hurl yourself onto a plastic tarp being sprayed by cold hose water. Occasionally, you’d disconnect that hose and everyone would gather around to drink from it, and then re-connect it. And since parents weren’t around, go ahead and throw some dish soap on that Slip-n-Slide to really make it slippery. Don’t worry about the lawn getting wrecked, it’ll eventually grow back. At least it wasn’t your yard so you wouldn’t get yelled at when your parents came home.

3.  Now that you cooled off, this was a good time to collect things to make a sling shot. You’d find the perfect “Y” shaped stick outside, and then rummage through the kitchen junk drawer for rubber bands. You’d collect a pile of tiny rocks to launch at mailboxes or trees, without looking beyond those objects to see you just hit a house window, then take off running because no one saw you do it, so it’s like it didn’t happen. You’d move on to a game of hide-and-seek, which involved catching the person by throwing water balloons at them as hard as possible, always nailing them smack in the back or on the side of their head. Good times.

4. The fireworks stands sold an unlimited supply to any age person who was willing to give them money. If you remembered to ask, they’d even give you a free book of matches so you could get started right away. And since you’re on your own, now is the time to twist those Ground Flowers and Piccolo Pete’s together and light them all at once because that is WAY more fun than lighting them one at a time. And while you’re at it, those metal sparklers make a great light saber duel you and a friend can enjoy, especially if you twist a few together to make one jumbo sparkler!

5. There was always one latch key kid whose parents also happened to be the ones who could afford this new technology called a “microwave.” Since no one was around, this was the best place to see what you could over-cook and explode, melt, or cause sparks to fly inside of. They were also the ones who bought their only child all the junk food your parents wouldn’t buy you, so you’d raid their refrigerator and cupboards and eat as much Otter Pops and Fruit Loops as you could without eating so much that your friend would get in trouble later.

6. The sun is starting to go down and you’re really far from home. Time to put a friend on the handle bars of your bike (no helmets) and pull the other one who’s holding on to the back while riding their metal-wheeled skateboard, and race down that hill without a care (or a traffic precaution) in the world. You get home as the street lamps come on, and all is right with the world.

7. If it’s a weekday, you get to sit down to some sort of casserole mom made for dinner. You have no idea what’s inside of it but you’re happy to eat it because the top is covered in crumbled chips. Sometimes they’re potato chips but tonight, it’s Fritos. If it’s a weekend, your parents are probably going out, so mom is preparing the Swanson TV dinner you picked out at the store earlier in the week. This is your first introduction to Salisbury Steak, and the art of keeping the corn out of the brownie you’re trying to save until the end.

8. It’s time to watch TV. “Solid Gold is on, followed by “The Love Boat.”  This week of new passengers still has people who have adventures, are always drinking alcohol, and keep mentioning this “nightcap” thing which you eventually figure out involves even more alcohol and sex with someone they just met on the ship. (We also saw this a lot with people at “The Regal Beagle” on Three’s Company.)

9. You would go to sleep at night with doors unlocked and windows wide open. Sometimes, you’d even sleep out on the back deck. In the morning, you would go to pour a bowl of cereal for breakfast and saw that you were out of milk. No problem! Carnation taught our moms that in a pinch, all you had to do was add water to their powder and it tasted just like milk. This was also when we learned what false advertising was.

10. Before heading out to have another day just like yesterday, you’d spend 4 hours in your pajamas, glued to the TV set as you played your new ATARI 2600. You’ve already mastered “Combat” and “Air-Sea Battle” but now you’ve got “Pong” and “Breakout” to become a pro at. Little did you know, summers were about to get a whole lot better when the 70’s would come to an end, and the 80’s would bring you “Space Invaders”, “Asteroids” and a place to spend all of your allowance in an arcade playing “Pac-Man” and “Donkey Kong.” But first, you’re going to throw on the same clothes you wore yesterday so you can run barefoot down the street to catch the ice cream man as he makes his way around the block because it’s almost noon and you’re ready for a 50/50 bar and some Fun Dip. Another carefree day is underway. Just remember to come home when the street lamps come on!


46 thoughts on “That 70’s Kid

  1. Sounds a lot like my 80s/90s childhood, if I’m perfectly honest. Weekends were literally ‘get out of my sight and don’t come home until it’s dark.’ Although I also lived on a tiny island which meant a lot of my summer spent on the beach instead of in ponds. Although, looking back, that rip tide could have caught us on several occasions.

  2. Thanks for the flashback. Makes me want to go pool hopping right now! B^) Maybe when my daughter is older we’ll make it a family field trip.

  3. That was great – and pretty much spot on. Although my mom didn’t let us buy unlimited candy, etc. but we lived next door to a Hood ice cream factory. Honest to God! We did get to buy ice cream cones on allowance day. The Coke a Cola factory across the street provided a cold soda on occasion too. My younger brother and I also raced our bikes down the ramp of the grain silo down the road, it was fast. We dug up rocks and found odd pieces of metal, including keys in the Purina factory parking lot a block away. Then there was that time my older brother showed us how we could get into the junk yard next to the cola factory. It looked scary and there was a dog so we never did. Yeah – I lived from ’70 – ’75 in a mansion on the “wrong” side of town in Bozemen, MT. I loved it but damn I would never let my kid do what we did!

  4. 60’s kids could buy cigarettes for their parents. The shopkeeper would even wrap up the change in deli paper so you wouldn’t lose it.

    1. We were always sent in to pick up the cigs! Even on occasion to “Tell your dad to light my cig and bring it to me”..oh yeah those were the days?!

    2. I grew up in the late 40’s. The days when we could buy fake cigarettes! There were 2 kinds. White chalky candy with red dye on the tips and (the best kind) chocolate cigs in white tissue paper. Which we also ate!

  5. Great piece. I can remember similar things from The Netherlands where I grew up. Tinkering with mopeds. Driving around way to fast without helmet and uninsured, often trying to shake of the cops that were on to you… We lived in a time where you could roam free. When you got hurt your parents did not think to sue whoever because you got hurt. They would berate you for being so stupid as to get hurt in the first place. We had jobs. Run newspapers in the morning all year round. Get up at five thirty in the morning to deliver 100+ newspapers on your bike. Six out of seven days there was a huge pile of newspapers delivered at the door. On Saturdays the pile reached the ceiling. Cold hands in winter? Suck it up and put your hands on the heating. Then breakfast and to school.

    Actually modern kids don’t have such a free life as we had at that age. I recently heard of some research that determined the radius of free roaming in history and what the research amounts to is that that radius has shrunk from 6 miles 30 years ago to 300 meters for a 10 year old. That must be horrible. Luckily our ten year old is bold enough to run around town. Although we live in a place where that is possible. If you go with him don’t reckon on making good speed. He knows everyone and everyone knows him and greets him. Why? Oh he speaks with everyone, does chores, what not…

    A good kid. And maybe even we used to have a good life as kids not being tethered to TV and phone and tablet and – most annoying – overbearing and litigious parents…

  6. Your summers sound a bit more fun than mine were–not that mine were bad, mind you, but there were no ponds or streams, or even a 7-11. But this did bring to mind the time that a cry went out in the neighborhood that one of the freezers at the neighborhood IGA broke down and they were giving away the ice cream that was going to be ruined. I loaded my mom’s big freezer UP with an indiscriminate selection of Klondike bars and Eskimo Pies and other frozen treats. That’s winning the lottery to a kid!

  7. Sounds very much like growing up in the early 60s when I was a kid. Good times in either case.

    Today, the pleasures are not so simple and its become really expensive to be a kid.

    When I was eleven, Batman comics were 12 cents, popcicles were a nickle, a ticket to see a double-feature with a couple of cartoons thrown in cost 35 cents.

    Yes, inflation is part of it. But there is no getting around how much more cash is needed today just so you can do all the things your friends do and still afford even a tenth of the product advertised on TV and available on the internet.

    But despite the added cost, being out of school and on summer vacation can still be the best time in your life…

  8. I was a kid of the 80’s and yet a lot of that was still true. We lived on a block in suburbia where no one had fences. You could run through all the yards and see what was up. I remember when a neighbor was doing a slow burn on a stump. We ran back with stuff for smores and set up our own camp-out. He didn’t even have kids yet, he just let us cook our marshmallows. When I was about 13 people started setting up fences, and it hurt my heart so much.

  9. Holy flashbacks Batwoman. I loved “come home when the street lights come on”. Thrown in some ill-advised bike ramps, a fort or twelve, and the roller rink on Friday nights and you’ve got the best of my childhood.

  10. Yep, that’s about right. Except I was lucky enough to be a kid with a pool so most of the kids hung around our place on the really hot days. Nice bike ride down memory lane, thanks!

  11. Although Im more of an 80’s kid, these are mostly true for me too. Speaking of Solid Gold, my greatest ambition in life at the age of 4-5 was to be a Solid Gold dancer, I used to practice in the basement while the show was on. Praise the lord nobody holds to to those ambitions when you get older, no one wants to see this dance!

  12. Then there were the kids who didn’t have to come home when the streetlights came on.
    They could occasionally be glimpsed on their bikes in the fog behind the guy who sprayed for mosquitoes.

  13. Seriously, did you grow up in my neighborhood? This is exactly what we did back then!

  14. I remember one day playing with fireworks when I didn’t throw the noisemaker soon enough and it popped right next to my ear. I spent the rest of the day wondering if I was always going to have that ringing in my ear.

    I also discovered that the best place to hide for hide and seek was up an electrical pole (since the footholds went all the way to the bottom), because the other kids didn’t tend to look up when seeking.

    1. You cray, the best place was on the roof … You could get there by climbing the shed first.

    2. And don’t forget to stick your tongue on the wooden phone pole as you climb to feel the tingle!

  15. Similar to my 90’s childhood.. Get up, do bible study to make mom happy, run off with neighbour kids through the woods and climbing in drainpipes, creek and swamp wading.. Then hurry home before dark and eat whatever mom made while watching Star Trek tng on fox.. Wishing I was dr. Crusher with tricorders and a cool lab coat.

  16. First time reading the blog. Way to put yourself out there. Seriously. It’s inspiring.

  17. I missed being a true ’70s kid, being born in ’74. I do remember playing in a huge (to tiny me) rain-water flooded end to our court. The still warm asphalt under my toes combining with the cool rain water, the smell of honey-suckle. Splashing and laughing.

    I was more an ’80s child. I remember walking to the closest 7-11, past the ponds that I learned to swim in. Playing Team Hide-and-Seek with the girls vs the boys, with the boys receiving a kiss on the cheek from the girls if caught (eww girl-cooties!), and the girls having to hold this big toad we found earlier (eww gross!). After the first time I got caught by a girl, I inexplicably lost all ability to hide effectively from that point on. I have NO IDEA why ^_^

    I remember arcades appearing. Game cabinets in 7-11s! In grocery stores! Being allowed to walk to the local strip mall’s arcade (at least 10 games in there). If the arcade seemed too busy, going to the other end of strip mall, to the WinDixie. It had three game cabinets, often different from what was in the arcade. Then 7-11 got IT, the game I would play as much as I could. Spy Hunter. I never went back to that arcade in the strip mall.

    The most common activity for me and my friends, however, was our bicycles. Our (elementary) school had a small BMX track behind it, tucked into an unused lot surrounded by trees. Thinking back, it wasn’t that big, but it certainly seemed that way to me and my friends. A big starter hill and banking turn wall to start it all out, then jumps and slopes and go faster! jump higher! There was always other kids there. Then came Sundays. Sundays were special. Sundays were RC car racing days at the BMX track. Teens and young adults would bring out their off-road RC cars to race each other around the track, and us younger kids would sit on the dirt walls of the track and watch (just don’t get in the way, geez!). The battery powered cars, the gas powered cars, all zipping around so fast! And loud. The buzzing sound as they whipped around the track…

    I hadn’t thought about all that in years. ^_^

  18. the Swansons these days don’t seem to be the same size. “Nightcap? – No, thanks – I never wear one” Frank Drebin Naked Gun movies. I can’t believe that people paid $80 for the Atari 2600 Asteroids cartridge.

  19. Love this! So much like my childhood in the late 70’s/early 80’s, except we didn’t have to be home when the streetlights came on – we just went home to get flashlights and hustled back outside for more play.

  20. I didn’t feel poor at the time, but it’s hard for me to imagine having candy money or video games back in the 70’s. I got my first bicycle from a garage sale when I was 12 and it opened up my world, but my parents would have killed me if I had purchased candy, slurpees, fireworks or wasted money on video games. My friends and I would get together to go to the library, assemble jigsaw puzzles, and sing along to the record albums our “rich” friend was able to purchase – mostly Abba and then the very daring Kraftwerk. I have a hard time finding folks to nostalgia with me.

    1. My parents’ money all went to the cult, and we lived in the country on a goat farm and grew/raised a lot of our own food, though my dad had a “town job”. The country was great for making your own fun though. Which is good because I got a quarter a week for allowance.

      My grandparents lived in town, though, and all us cousins would go to stay for a couple of weeks in the summer. Grandpa handed out pocket money like it was no big deal, and there was a garage full of bikes for us to ride to the candy store and the park and the movies.

  21. I think what most people mean when they say, “I wants kids to have a 1970s summer,” is “I want to have a 1970s summer.” Because it sounds awesome! But there is no way in HELL my kid is doing at least 1/2 of that stuff…I’m sure she’ll figure out her own way to make my heart stop though.

  22. Yup. That pretty much nails it. Except we lived where there were no convenience stores within walking/riding distance and there was a large piece of forest just at the end of the street, so substitute your candy and stores with wild grapes/blackberries and trees.

    In fact, I wrote about it not long ago, too. 😉

    No TV, either, really, when I was that age. Only had one and Dad watched sports (though we did sneak in some stuff). But we did have an old black and white TV in the basement that was hooked up to that magic machine we got for Christmas when I was five…the Atari 2600…sigh…

  23. Swap out some of the TV shows and it sounds exactly like my 90’s summers. Running to the corner store for candies and Slurpees in bare feet? Check. Playing on a friend’s roof just because? Yep. I hope my daughter gets to have summers like these one day. Of course, I won’t know about it 😉

  24. Oh wow Anne!!!! Grew up in San Jose, Cali, and that all too well described those years in the 70’s. No serial killers, child molester/abductors you had to worry about. The fact that we did actually survive our childhoods has to be a testament to something. Not coddled as most kids have to be now.

    Thank you for the stroll down a lane long forgotten!

  25. I get what you are saying (and I think some of these people don’t get your sarcasm). It is not as “care free” as it sounds. I had a friend blow off four of his toes and half his foot using firecrackers. My babysitter lost her toe getting a ride on a bike with no shoes. We went pool hopping, and one kid who couldn’t swim almost drowned. I had to be taken to the hospital to get 8 stitches in my forehead when I fell off a brick wall, while no parents were around. It was definitely more “survival camp” then “fun in the sun.” Thanks for a great blog.

  26. I lived in the country, and was 5 in 1980 so I just caught the tail end of the 70s, but the country offered a plethora of delights in those days. I once dammed a creek using only rocks from the creekbed and flooded 2 acres of soybeans. The property owner Had a Talk with my dad and I dismantled it. And then dammed another creek on someone else’s land, just because I could. I used to sneak rides on two different neighbours’ ponies. No tack, no helmet, frequently no shoes. Definitely no supervision.

    We lit bottle rockets out of our hands, teased nests of poisonous snakes with sticks, and had close encounters with all manner of livestock. Even in the country I don’t think that stuff flies now. 🙂

  27. This was a great trip into yesterday! Details differed depending on the decade, but essentially the summers were the same.

  28. Wonderful story of yesteryear.

    In the late 60s/early 70s we got the same admonishment to get out and not come home until suppertime–then the doors were locked. (There were four of us kids, heh. Don’t blame my mother one bit.)

    I was lucky enough to have very clever friends…one of which was a super-smart science nerd (back when nerd was an insult) who loved electronics and rockets (and went on to work for NASA and the shuttle program). We were always building things. We built a hot air balloon (sheets of tissue paper glued together and filled with hot air from a propane tank), played bicycle polo (croquet balls and mallets, bicycles and crazy kids), built and launched rockets, and, our pièce de résistance…we built a catapult in his backyard. We only fired it once. The stone (small) flew over his house, over the street, over the neighbor’s house and landed in their backyard pool.

    Good times, indeed.

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