I walked into the cavernous room not exactly sure what to expect. I had a vague recollection of Nerf guns but having had daughters, these toys were not at the top of our list. However, this was the occasion of the eighth birthday of my middle grandson, Will Faulk. Make no mistake, he is all boy.
Granny and I had been invited to our first Nerf Gun War. I am not sure if that is the correct title, but you get the jest of it. His friends were invited to bring their own Nerf guns. Some even had special bullets. Bullets? I thought Nerf guns shot small cushy sponge-like balls.
For two hours, Mary Lou and I watched in amazement as the kids played at warp speed. They had free play time before an organized war complete with teams and referees, followed by an extended game of kickball with a ball three feet wide. At least I do remember playing kickball in my youth, though with a much smaller ball.
I could not help but think about how different my own eighth birthday probably was. I am thinking I likely had a homemade chocolate cake. Certainly nothing wrong with that. I expect I received some playing cards, some fireworks, and maybe one of the popular board games of the day, Password and Aggravation. Certainly, Monopoly was at the top of the list.
There were no gift cards or gift certificates because they did not exist. Gift cards are in fact a great step forward for those who have no idea what to give a kid that age.
We did have wars when I was eight, though they tended to be more of the cowboy and Indian variety. We might have had a cap pistol if we were a cowboy. The Indians had mostly whittled down spears, often carved with our own Case pocketknife.
At my eighth birthday I received no Legos, remote controlled cars, and certainly nothing like a Wubble Bubble Ball. I had to look that one up on You Tube to even understand what it was. It does not matter, as these were not gifts for me.
1962, the year of my own eighth birthday, was also when the dance moves known as “The Twist” found their way onto high school dance floors. The Beatles had their first hit. “To Kill a Mockingbird” became a classic movie, still watched almost sixty years later.
Looking back, it seems like life was so simple back then, but was it? A month after my eighth birthday the Cuban Missile Crisis gripped the world. I remember the food stocked in the closet in our hallway. The kids knew how to fill the tub with water if there was a missile attack. My parents instructed us where to meet if we were in different places when the nuclear missiles landed.
Fifty years after 1962, The Saturday Evening Post published an article entitled “Living the 1962 Life”. Many of the quotes from 1962 could be uttered today.
“These teenagers that really scare you, with their gangs…and all. What’s got into our kids? I don’t know.”
“We’re becoming decadent. …Moral values have declined. People don’t feel patriotism as they used to.”
“People seem to have lost something. They don’t seem to care anymore. Maybe what we’ve lost is Americanism. They don’t teach it to the kids anymore.”
Stewart Alsop interviewed 500 people for his 1962 article, “The Mood of America”. The quotes above were typical of what he received from the respondents. He wrote that our country was in a “curious national mood … balky, ambivalent and contradictory”. Sound familiar?
I find myself channeling my own grandfather, who fondly recalled the simple days of his youth, or the “Good Ole Days”, as he would phrase them. Of course, these were also the days of the First World War, the Spanish Flu pandemic, and the Great Depression. His youth and mine seemed so simple, but were they?
I never had a Nerf gun war, but I too played with my friends at birthday parties, oblivious of the challenges of the world. Will is eight years old. I was once that young, too. Sometimes it is just a time to be child. The tough part of life will come soon enough.
Yet, it is somehow reassuring that the more things change the more they remain the same. The crisis mode of today is not the first we have experienced. It will not be the last. My job, like my father and grandfather before me, is to be worried about the future for my grandchildren. Not just to be worried, but to do my part to make sure they have a chance. To give them hope.
Will’s job is to be a kid. A happy, well adjusted, fun-loving kid. He is doing his part just fine. Now, it is up to us adults to do ours. Happy Birthday, Will.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org