I was born in 1973. Pierre Trudeau was the Prime Minister of Canada, a carton of eggs cost 45 cents, and construction began on the CN Tower in Toronto, so that future families could travel 114 stories up an elevator to experience being nauseous at 1100 feet.
My family wasn’t poor—at least not in the way others were. We didn’t have new coats every winter, but we had coats, and that was more than some of my classmates could say. I think it came more from the fact that my sister and I lived without a mother in our home. Our house was a bungalow we shared with my father, and it was in a nice neighbourhood where the bigger houses had paved driveways. Those kids could ride their bikes on their driveways, but we found fossils in the gravel of ours. Discovering forgotten ancient species was worth the skinned knees and dusty hands discovery required.
Our house was simple and clean enough, but no one planted flowers, and whatever car sat in the driveway leaked oil. My sister and I started the car once—far too young to do so, but not so to know better—because we wanted to listen to the radio. Being 1o and 8 years old and almost at least temporarily stupid, we did not understand the concept of manual transmission, yet somehow pushed the right pedals in the right order and promptly smashed the car into the fence. We also lit the backyard on fire using gasoline meant for the lawnmower to start the uncooperative charcoal BBQ. It worked to both cook the frozen steak and also in that it eliminated the need for a lawnmower for the season. I guess the takeaway here is that when I was young, parents left their children unsupervised and with access to flammable materials.
I had a pair of hand-me-down roller skates with a key I wore around my neck on a piece of twine (choking hazard), I was allowed to return glass pop bottles for the 10 cent refund (possible breakage), and I ate sandwiches my Gramma made me using cracked wheat bread and corn syrup (diabetes). If there is a God, he is surely providing my Grandmother all the roller sets she desires as payback for those delicious sandwiches. My sister and I ate mountains of them while we stuffed and rolled cigarettes on her fancy cigarette machine.
Ahh, the ’80s.
Do you remember Strawberry Shortcake? My friend down the street had the whole collection and the traveling case. She also had two parents and a matching bedroom set from Sears, so the Shortcake gang wasn’t my only provocation to hate her. I had my own Barbie castle, but it smelled of stale beer because I made it myself from empty beer cases. I loved it more than I could love a plastic one, and my memories of growing up—even the bad ones—don’t revolve around the material things I missed. Except Cougar boots—being a child in 1983 and not owning a pair of tan lace-up cougar boots with the red lining was like having a scarlet letter on your chest. I would have built myself a beer case house to live in if it meant I could have a pair of those boots.
I watched Sha-Na-Na and I ran around saying things like, “Wonder Twin powers, ACTIVATE!” And I was scared of Russia, and my father needed silence when the news was on, and on Friday nights if I was very, very quiet and sunk down low in the recliner chair, he would forget I was awake and I could stay up to watch The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. He would smoke at the table and I would pretend to be sleeping during the opening credits. The house smelled like cigarettes and the Lestoil cleaner we used to mop the kitchen floor, and Fridays were my favourite.
When I think about my childhood, it doesn’t smell like Strawberry Shortcake. It smells like clean linoleum and empty beer cases and fresh-rolled cigarettes and burnt grass.
It’s a good smell.
A version of this post first appeared at YummyMummyClub.ca. I write a weekly column there called Panic Button Years about parenting teenagers and all the super-fun that entails. Seriously; it’s a real party sometimes.
Image Source: WikiCommons