When Bec was little she would often say, “Tell me a story of when you were a little girl.” She would listen in wonder (in my dreams!) as I told her about life on a farm, holidays with relatives and funny things that happened in a large family.
One day, with perfect comedic timing, she followed her request with the question, “What were the dinosaurs like?” We laughed at the time, and still do, but I think that question may have signalled the end of her interest in my childhood, for a time at least. Some aspects of my childhood would have been as unrecognisable to her as the world of the dinosaurs. It is even more so for the children of today.
Learning about the past from parents and grandparents is one way of piquing young children’s interest in history. When I was in primary school we learned a little of history in what was then called Social Studies. Both ancient and modern history were available as discrete subject choices in high school but seemed to be primarily a list of dates, names and wars with little relevance to my teenage experience. Historical fiction brought otherwise remote and unfamiliar situations to life.
I have touched a little on the topic of history in previous posts, I’m new here, Understanding family relationships and Whose story is it anyway? including mention of an early childhood unit Getting to know you, which is available in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
It amuses me now when visiting museums, particularly small local historical museums as opposed to large national museums, to see artefacts from my childhood on display. Although I don’t necessarily consider myself “old”, definitely not passed my “use by” or even “best by” date, I do realise that to younger ones I am probably a relic from the past, holding as much interest for them as the objects on display. (I am not too old to remember what it was like to be young.)
This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills declares herself a history buff who digs “hanging out in cemeteries where history reads in the names and dates carved in stone.” I confess that I have rarely visited a cemetery other than to farewell a loved one and haven’t taken to reading gravestones to feed an interest in history.
The teaching of history in my early childhood classrooms involved helping children to discover and record their own personal histories and the more recent histories of their families and local environment. Celebration or commemoration of historical events such as Australia Day, ANZAC Day or Remembrance Day required some elaboration, without too much detail, of their significance.
Many of the experiences of children growing up now in the early part of the 21st Century are vastly different from those I experienced growing up in the mid-20th Century. Some of the differences are subtle and others more significant.
Since I grew up in the 20th Century, as part of my historical record I decided to list 20 (random) changes that have occurred during my lifetime:
- I listened to music on vinyl records on turntables with manual arms. The records needed to be turned over after each side was played. There were no CDs, iPods, Youtube or streaming
- I spent hours in the sun, getting burnt to a crisp, without the protection of sunscreen.
- Polio was still a major threat and I knew children who suffered it. Now, thanks to immunisation, it is almost eradicated worldwide.
- We could purchase fireworks and set them off in our backyards and parks. I have no memory of huge firework displays such as are now part of most community celebrations.
- Shop opening hours were very different with shops closed half day Saturday and all day Sunday. No shops opened on Public Holidays and planning was required to ensure there was enough food in the cupboard to last the four day Easter Weekend.
- There were no huge supermarkets selling everything, mainly smaller grocery stores and some “corner” stores that sold a few “essential” items. Air conditioning was not common and chocolate was not readily available as it melted in the heat.
- There were no theme parks or water parks; just a few amusement rides such as merry-go-rounds and dodgem cars at local and state shows and fairs, and council swimming pools. Very few people had pools in their backyards.
- There were no computers, tablets or smart phones. When I started school I wrote on a slate, a tablet of a different kind.
- Fish and chips was the most popular and one of the few take-a-ways. There were no McDonald’s, pizza stores and few Chinese restaurants. There were no eateries in large shopping malls. In fact, there were no large shopping malls!
- We had an outside dunny with a pan that was collected and replaced weekly.
- Telephones were not in every home. They were attached to the wall and had a circular dial. Calls were manually connected by operators at telephone exchanges.
- Televisions first became available in Australia when I was a young child but my family did not own one until after I left home. I used to visit an aunt, who lived close by, to watch on her set after school some days.
- Cars ran on leaded petrol. I remember my Dad using a crank handle to start the car. The seats were hard and uncomfortable and there was no air conditioning (unless you count winding down the window).
- We would go to beach or the park to swim or play all day, without adult supervision. The only requirement was to be home before dark.
- Photographs were taken with a box camera and a roll of film which needed to be sent away to be developed and took weeks to be returned. It could take months to fill the roll and often the occasions were well in the past before the photos were received. It was expensive and multiple shots of the same image were not encouraged.
- There was little traffic and cars were slow so children often played in the street, which were sometimes still dirt and mostly without kerbs. It seemed to take forever to get from one place to another.
- To keep food cool we had ice boxes for which an ice man would deliver a large block ice daily.
- We used imperial standards of measurement including pounds and ounces, inches and feet; and shopped with pounds, shillings and pence before converting to decimal currency in 1966 and other units soon after.
- Smacking by parents and corporal punishment in school was the main form of discipline. If children were in trouble at school (I never was!J) then they were usually in more trouble at home.
- In school we sat in rows of desks nailed to the floor. We listened to the teacher and learned by rote lists of facts which were often chanted repetitively. There was definitely no talking in school and no group work.
I add one wish for another change I’d like to see in my lifetime in the 21st Century:
For friendship, understanding, tolerance, empathy and peace to rule a sustainable and equitable world!
I don’t ask for much, do I?
Now back to the cemetery and Charli’s flash fiction challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a final resting place. I have taken Marnie to the place where her parents rest as she discovers more about them and their history than she had before realised.
She wasn’t sure why she was here. Miss R., Annette, had suggested she come. So she did. What struck her most, as she read the grave markers, was their ages. She’d never thought of them as young but their life spans were short; both a mere 49 years, going within a year of each other. She worked it out. They were younger than she was now when she’d left home. Who’d have thought? She felt a strange sadness, a familiar hollowness, not for the loss of their lives but for the absence of love, love which had never been.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.