Writing My Story for the Kids These Days

I will soon become a published author, sort of.

Every Monday over the past year I have received an email message with a new question for me to answer. It’s part of a birthday gift I received from daughter Clara last January. The intent is for me to answer the questions in as much detail as I want and at the end of a year, all my answers are compiled into a book. I think we get one copy.

Maybe we’ll call it “The Book of Dad.” Hey, anyone can be an author these days.

It’s a great way to get old people like me to document their lives before they’re gone. Except that, to me, it’s kind of like a really long interview about my past, including questions about some things best forgotten. And trying to answer the questions in an interesting way does not always work well. Anyhow, I’ve answered 42 of them so far and, yes, I skipped a few.

You can choose a different question if you don’t like the one asked. But you have to pick something and many of the questions are not the kind I’d be inclined to expound upon. Here are some examples:

“Tell me about an adventure you’ve been on.”

“What advice would you give to a family member about to go to college?”

“Has anyone rescued you, figuratively or literally?”

“How did you rebel as a child?”

“What were your favorite subjects in high school?”

You can also create your own questions to answer although I haven’t done that. That seems sort of like interviewing yourself.

Now, I’ve had an interesting life so far but it’s not edge-of-your-seat exciting. I haven’t answered some of the questions in a wholehearted way. I’m going to have to edit and maybe embellish some of it. If I were to ever write The Great American Novel, it probably wouldn’t be about my life. No one would read it, even Minnesota Norwegians who might even understand some of it.

The latest question for me to answer is “How is life different today compared to when you were a child?” I’m interpreting the question to be about life in general, not specifically my life. Here’s what I wrote:

Retirement has afforded me the time to do whatever I want to do. It’s almost like being a kid again with few responsibilities and a lot of time to play.

Except that it’s not really like that, especially in the middle of a pandemic. As a kid I couldn’t wait to get older so I could do adult stuff like have a job to earn money, drive a car and drink beer. Now I don’t work, drive very little, and don’t drink. I mainly mow, shovel, get checkups at the clinic and check the mail for bills.

When I was a kid 50-60 years ago we had an oil furnace with one large vent in the middle of the house and a small one to get heat upstairs. We had no air conditioning, dishwasher or color TV. The washer and dryer were in the kitchen next to the fridge. A record player sat on top of it with a nickel taped to the stylus for weight.

We went to church – a lot. We saved our pennies, nickels and dimes and signed up for every sweepstakes drawing we came across. I built model cars and had a seven-day-a-week paper route. We took a bath once a week. We rode our one-speed bikes everywhere. Mom typed the Christmas letter on a manual typewriter. We knew where a stamp goes on an envelope and we could write in cursive.

We could only dream about a Dick Tracy wrist radio that you could use to talk to someone, let alone a portable phone that did everything. WCCO AM radio was where we listened for school closings and followed the Twins. We slid down hillsides of dried grass on sheets of cardboard. We bought cereal with prizes in the box. This is how we lived back then and we were mostly content. At least I was. 

Every generation of adults mutters “kids these days“ followed by a litany of complaints about their behavior and how they don’t appreciate how good they really have it. I have, my folks did and so did theirs. But we forget that kids learn from their parents. We’re the ones allowing them to live in ways we didn’t or couldn’t. So if we don’t like how they turn out, shame on us.

Kids just need to be allowed to figure some things out for themselves rather than having adults hovering over them, cajoling them into becoming people we never could become. And we shouldn’t be jealous over cool stuff they have today that we didn’t.

The best we can do is prepare them for the day when they need to deal with their own kids. Right now it’s tough for both kids and parents dealing with the uncharted territory of a pandemic. But kids have survived growing up with war and a depression.

I had a pretty good childhood. I just hope my generation didn’t fail the one taking over. Their adult lives will be different than ours. But that’s how it works.

And I have a feeling they will survive just fine.

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