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COLUMN: Looking forward to looking back

It dawned on me the other day that I've been alive for almost four decades.


While some people may be embarrassed to admit they are almost 40, I am actually proud and amazed I've lived so long. Of course, that doesn't stop my daughters from pointing out how much things have changed since I was in middle school (besides the fact that I had to walk 10 miles uphill to school in 5 feet of snow).


Michael Jackson was "the" person when I was in junior high. I remember being scared of watching the "Thriller" video on MTV (back when they actually played music videos all day). Madonna was also new, and I remember the uproar she caused when her song "Like a Virgin" came out. My friends and I listened to one pop radio station, and at the end of the year they would do a countdown. Since I had no social life, I sat by the radio and tape recorded all the songs I liked onto a cassette and dutifully recorded the artist and their numerical status. I did that from 1983-1990 and had all the tapes catalogued. When a friend of mine hosted an 1980s party and we did musical trivia, I kicked butt on naming what song came out in what year.

For my 12th birthday, my parents gave me a Walkman - so cool! I remember listening to that on the bus for volleyball games and having to tote extra cassettes and headphones in my bag, along with extra batteries. The really high-tech ones had both cassette and radio!


When I was in grade school, I had some friends who wanted to make prank phone calls. They simply got the phone book and called random residential numbers. There was no caller ID, no *69, so they just got away with it. For the record, I did not participate.

Remember pay phones? We had one in the hallway at my high school. For a science experiment, we swabbed the receiver and looked at it under a microscope. No wonder those things aren't around that much anymore.

Even in my freshman year of college (1989), cell phones were not commonplace. My parents gave me a calling card that I could use from the pay phone in the student center when I needed to call home. I had that number memorized! One of my friends had a phone in his dorm room, and we all thought that was so cool.


Going to the movies with friends was a special treat. We quoted lines from John Hughes' films and acted out Steven Spielberg movies. Back then, too, vampires died spectacularly when they were exposed to sunlight, unlike the glam-pires of today.


We got our news from the evening news show or the newspaper. There was no other way to get it unless you happened to be at the actual event. I really don't remember much of the news, simply because I was young and didn't realize there was a whole other world out there.


When I was a kid, we got three channels. That was it. I remember my family getting cable around 1983 or so, and that was pretty new. The only channel I remember clearly was MTV (I have older sisters), but I also remember seeing late-night "scary" movies. We were one of the first families in our neighborhood to get a VCR in 1981. It was a huge thing, about 5 inches thick and 2 feet long. The cassette opening popped up, so you could not set anything on the unit. I remember the buttons were huge and you really had to press down on them.


My family had a Commodore Vic in the early 1980s. We played games like Sea Wolf and a ping pong game. Of course, Pac Man was available at the arcades. The graphics were simple and the music repetitive, but I remember we thought it was all very high-tech.


I bought my first manual typewriter from a thrift shop for $10. It was a great machine: I produced two plays, numerous articles and three years worth of research papers on it. I don't remember how much Wite-Out I had to use, but I loved that typewriter. I do remember feeling slightly jealous when I visited a friend of mine who had an electric typewriter of her own in her bedroom. Oh well, I got pretty fast on that manual, and I loved the fact that it was portable. I still have it and I need to get the ribbon replaced.


We actually went to the stores and bought stuff -- obviously, no buying over the Internet. Heck, I even remember my mom using layaway for our clothes when I was a kid. I also remember catalogues from Sears and JC Penney. My sisters and I used to go through those looking at the toys.

Eating out

It was something families tended to do more on the weekends. For a family of six like my family, however, we only ate out in months that ended in a "j."

Yep, things have certainly changed. When I try to expose my children to 1980s movies or music, they roll their eyes and sigh. My only consolation is that in 20 years or so, their children will think Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, and Jay Z are "old-fashioned" and the Twilight movies are "so early 21st century."

And I'll be sitting there watching "Back to the Future" and reveling in the irony.