Diane Dean-Epps: Lovely memories of simpler times | TheUnion.com

Diane Dean-Epps: Lovely memories of simpler times

At the very core of who we are as Baby Boomers is the fact that we’re incredibly independent people, but simple. Lest you’re a Baby Boomer who now thinks I’m calling you a simpleton, let me explain.

The reason for this is because when we were growing up, we relied upon ourselves, nature, and really bad pre-Shark Tank inventions to entertain ourselves. (Repurposed fireworks were a favorite where I grew up, and about as common as boys nicknamed Four Fingers.)

Oh, sure, we can offer up the seemingly obvious reason accounting for this fact, which is we didn’t grow up during the digital age, so sans computers we pretty much were forced into taking a self-service entertainment approach.

But it was something more, maybe even less, because our parents had less growing up.

Our Depression era parents never met an item that couldn’t be reused, nor a food that couldn’t be reconstituted from powder. Along with that approach came a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” philosophy handed down to them from their parents. This meant our upbringing was practical, direct and not so much filled with at-home recreational options, so much as … options.

Tough love originated with our raised-on-scarcity parents, providing our generation with many fill-in-the-blank mad libs that can be completed by other Baby Boomers near you, anywhere, anytime, including, “Stop crying or I’ll …” The person will chime right on in with, “… give you something to cry about.” And we laugh about it. Not mirthlessly, but heartily. Almost fondly. Because it was a different time that needs to be viewed in context.

Our generation didn’t dare utter the words “I’m bored” at home. Well, you might say them out loud once. However, you quickly caught on to the fact that your parents had some not-so-nifty ways of keeping you amused. This “entertainment” always possessed an element of work and/or deep cleaning with banned toxic chemicals. Interestingly enough, another option was they sent you out into the elements.

When we were really little — say, age 5 — and complained of being at loose ends, we might hear, “How can you be bored? There’s the whole outdoors to explore. Run outside and play!”

That meant weekdays you ran outside when you got home from school, returning at dusk. In the summer, you ran outside the moment you woke up, returning when it was pitch black.

As we got older — you know, right around age 11 — we were likely to receive the advice to “get a job.” Nope, our parents didn’t brook any shilly shallying, dilly dallying, or lollygagging.

Yet some of my fondest memories, particularly in the summer, are of those times when I had to amuse myself and, possibly, my really quirky childhood sidekick.

The funny thing is our entire generation can pretty much relate to these cheap pursuits no matter where you hail from, just as long as you’re from a working-class family.

You may have been doing the same thing I was when I was …

1. Lying on my back, looking up at the sky, trying to figure out what the cloud shapes reminded me of. (Daytime version.)

2. Lying on my back, looking up at the sky, trying to figure out what constellation the stars had aligned into. (Nighttime version.) P.S.: I never got this correct.

3. Lying back in my wooden, all-in-one school desk/chair, looking up at the ceiling, and counting how many holes there were in one acoustic ceiling tile. (Approximately 5,000 for you inquiring minds.)

4. Making a whistle out of a blade of grass. (Google it, whippersnapper. It’s a thing.)

5. Braiding grass, twigs, and weeds together into a crown, necklace, or other accessory. (Our generation has always been very environmentally woke.)

6. Slowing my breathing down, being really quiet while smashing myself down flat on the floor, next to the vent in my room, listening to my parents as they talked about absolutely nothing of interest to me.

7. Waving at the Union Pacific train conductor while I stood on my grandmother’s split-rail fence, the train whooshing by in a cloud of non-energy-efficient black smoke, as I watched the penny I’d placed on the railroad tracks get squished into found art.

8. Combining all my mom’s lotions, potions and girl products into one big vat, convincing myself that I was the next Estée Lauder.

9. Crafting a skateboard out of skates and a board, then hauling myself up on that thing, wearing my prized Keds shoes, trying not to break my spirit, nor my rear end.

10. Swimming in irrigation ditches, not even thinking about why the water was decorated by those pretty rainbow swirls on the surface. (Of course, I now know this was due to chemicals from the nearby orchards, so color me lucky I didn’t grow a tail.)

These were almost sweet recreational activities because no one got hurt. Well, usually. There were random bugs flying into my eyes, close calls with poorly timed railroad track penny placement, permanent grass stains on my “good clothes,” and irrigation ditch “finds” that still give me daymares.

Reflecting upon the experiences that formed us into the human beings we are is a worthwhile pursuit. Actually, that sounds exactly like an amusing activity my parents would have suggested, coupled with, “while you wax the kitchen floor.”

Diane Dean-Epps lives in Grass Valley.

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