LARRY PENKAVA COLUMN: Back in the good ol’ days

Published 6:23 pm Tuesday, July 24, 2018

I was deprived growing up.

Larry Penkava

My family was so poor we never had a computer. We had to correspond via the U.S. Mail. That meant having to fork out for stationery, envelopes and stamps. Daddy complained when the price of a stamp went up to 3 cents.
That meant my mother’s siblings, living in four different states, resorted to sending around a chain letter that worked its way from North Carolina to Pennsylvania to Ohio to Missouri, then back again. That way each sib only had to use one envelope and one stamp instead of four of each.
When Mama got the letter, she would read about the doings of her brothers and sisters, remove her old letter and replace it with new news from our corner of the world: “We traded for another Studebaker the other day. I’m having a time learning to drive it since it has that new-fangled automatic transmission.”
But as they say, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
At some point, the weak link failed to keep it going, maybe due to a busy lifestyle but more likely from misplacement of the envelope and accidentally tossing it, along with all the letters, in the trash.
That forced the sibs to use their clunky telephones to keep in contact. Of course, long-distance phone calls would show up on the next telephone bill, raising blood pressure and causing shortness of breath.
By the way, we were too poor to afford cellphones. But that was OK since there weren’t any cell towers to provide signals.
Since we didn’t have a computer we couldn’t order stuff online. Therefore, we were forced to drive to town to buy groceries and other supplies. Imagine my embarrassment at having to be fitted for a pair of pants, right there in the middle of the store for all to see.
As a schoolboy, I couldn’t google subjects to write reports on since my family wasn’t connected to the worldwide web. I had to thumb through our American Educator Encyclopedia to get the skinny on Timbuktu, Albert Einstein and Henry Ford. And even then, I couldn’t copy and paste but had to transcribe by hand.
I never owned a PlayStation or Xbox to play my video games. In fact, I didn’t know what a video game was.
Since all our board games were missing pieces, my friends, who were equally poor, and I were forced to go outside and toss baseballs and footballs around. Or, we engaged in militaristic pursuits such as army or cowboys and Indians.
Playing outside had a definite downside. By the time I came back inside I was exhausted and famished. That’s probably why I developed such a gargantuan appetite and typically slept the entire night away.
Speaking of sleep, my bed was the upper berth of a used set of bunk beds. The good part was that it was pretty toasty in the winter. On the other hand, it was even toastier in the summer.
Being outside so much of the day had some definite negative effects on me. My skin turned into leather and my hair was bleach blond, and the bottoms of my feet were thick-skinned from running on gravels.
When we were visiting our cousins on the farm, we would become dirty and sweaty from all that time spent hiking through the pastures and woods. Since they only had one bathroom, we were forced to bathe in the pond. Because we couldn’t afford water wings and floats, we wound up having to learn how to swim.
I played youth baseball but had to walk the two miles to practice. Later, I got an old beat-up J.C. Higgins bicycle to ride to the ballfield. My leg muscles became abnormally large from all the pedaling.
When I was home alone I was compelled to practice my batting skills with a big stick and assorted rocks. I would toss a rock up and then hit it with the stick, attempting to knock the rock into the woods for a home run.
I think you can begin to see how deprived we were. It’s a wonder we survived to become old fogies who yearn for the “good ol’ days.”

Larry Penkava contributes a column to The Stanly News & Press, when he can afford the time.