Memories of a pre-digital childhood

Driving around these days, whether it be in the countryside or an urban area, it’s hard not to notice all the men, women and children standing in groups, or walking around with a cell phone in their hands. They are either speaking or texting with their devices, but not talking directly to one another. From what I’ve observed, it appears that in this era of high-tech equipment, we’ve a created a serious addiction to all this electronic wizardry. How times have changed, and how fast they’ve changed! Kids in particular have imprinted on their phones, and don’t seem to be able to function without them.

Yet it wasn’t so long ago, before the cell-phone revolution, that things were very different in our society. I remember my childhood very vividly. It was a time at the outbreak of the Second Great War that I came into being. Back then, there were obviously no cell phones or computers and few TVs, for that matter. And in our house, no central heating, just three wood stoves. We did have running water and electricity.

So as youngsters, what did we do to keep occupied, without all of these electronic diversionary devices? It must have been really tough, right? Not at all! First of all, as soon as we were old enough, right after breakfast, Mom shooed us out the door. We didn’t take lunch, and there certainly were no phones to help keep track of us. Our orders were to be home for dinner. So for me, it was off to the brook with my friends, to catch minnows and crawfish—which, as young entrepreneurs, we tried to sell, with little success. On other days, we went berry picking, depending on the season and what was ripe at the time. That activity, more often than not, caused serious gastric disturbances! But it was fun and often resulted in a nice pie cooling on the side board. 

Sometimes, we built huts out of buffalo grass, or attempted to make tree houses. Some days, we cobbled together soapbox derby racers out of scraps. They didn’t last long. At night we clustered around the radio to listen to the “Lone Ranger,” “Green Hornet” and Tom Mix.

Once fall arrived, there was firewood to be cut, but no chain saws. We either used a long two-handed saw with big teeth, or in later years, a saw that ran off the rear wheel of the Model “A” Ford.” We made a huge pile. When I was old enough, I was allowed to purchase a Daisy BB gun, which was paid for by selling packets of seeds. It became my constant companion in my quest as a squirrel hunter. When it got cold enough, we ran a trapline and caught a few muskrats, and upon occasion a wayward skunk, which always caused a stir. Once I dragged a baby home. Dad was not thrilled.

In winter there was ice skating and sleigh riding. And as I got older and received my first firearms, grouse hunting and ice fishing became passions. In the spring, we got into trout fishing and were fortunate in that my friend’s father took us every weekend. We started local  but eventually were able to fish the Willowemoc, Beavekill and Esopus.

As youngsters, we had to be creative and learn to entertain ourselves. As a result we became multi-dimensional, creative people. So when I see all of this cell-phone activity, I just shake my head and realize how lucky we were as youngsters, to grow up when we did.

[Tony Bonavist is a retired New York State Department of Environmental Conservation biologist, and writes a column titled “Ramblings of a Catskill Flyfisher” for The River Reporter.]


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