Being a Teenager Back in the Day

Was it harder or easier to be a teenager “back in the day”? Chance Cortez asked his great-grandparents and discovered it was both.

By Chance Cortez

We all know the stories of our grandparents walking to school in a raging blizzard uphill both ways, but no one in the history of the world has believed that, so I went on a search to find out what my grandparents’ teenage years were really like. I sat down with my 81-year old great-grandfather, Lindy, and my 79-year old great-grandmother, Pat, to see what it was like to be a teenager in their days.

I was welcomed and invited to sit down at their dining room table, surrounded by little trinkets and cookies. They served me a cup of coffee, proving again there’s no other feeling than the comfort of Grandma’s home.

I started off this conversation by asking about their glorious teenage years. Pat and my Aunt Sandra (who joined in later) were both teenagers in the 40s and 50s. They both grew up in Igloo, South Dakota, in the Black Hills Army Depot. For fun they would always go outside and play with the neighborhood kids. They also loved going to the community center, reading, going to church, and of course attending the school dances. Although they had fun, they were quick to remind me about the work they did. They worked at the theater everyday, not getting home until after dark.

“If we were to ever to disrespect our parents we would have gotten our butts whipped with a strap.”

Lindy is a different story altogether, he was a farm boy who grew up a little bit differently than the city girls that are Pat and Sandra. Lindy grew up in Mills, Nebraska, a small farm town where the closest neighbor was at least a mile away. He had little time for friends, but when he did get some time they played hide and seek or catch. His favorite activities were fishing, going to dances, and the occasional movie. My grandfather didn’t have a lot of time for fun and games, because of the abundance of chores. All his plowing was horse-driven and the picking was by hand. He had to gather eggs daily and milk sixteen different cows, morning and night.

“In the case of schooling,” my grandma Pat explained, “you could quit school before you graduated and you could still get a decent job, so no one worried about school or grades, not even your parents.”

“We never got away with anything when it came to our parents,” Grandpa Lindy confessed. “And there wasn’t really a law because it was such a small town. I think kids now have it rougher because of the law, but I’m not on the farm anymore. It’s a completely different environment. We got away with a lot more with the law. They would take you home instead of taking you to a Juvenile hall, but they told your parents and I’d rather have gone to Juvenile hall.” That doesn’t mean Granddad got away with everything.  “If we were to ever to disrespect our parents we would have gotten our butts whipped with a strap.”

“Kids are held up to higher standards than we were, and the law is so much more strict.”

I then asked him about crime, bullying, and drugs and alcohol while he was a teen and he said, “There was no drugs or alcohol, completely non-existent, it was never available, and it’s so easy to get now that kids get hooked all the time. There was absolutely bullying, but very little. My cousin used to bully me and one time we were playing ball, and I was running from first to second and he was playing second. I knew he was gonna end me. I had had enough, I was smaller and younger but I ran him over, and I worked him over good with my fists. He was the biggest wimp I’ve ever seen after that.” He continued, “We didn’t even know what crime was, there was no such thing.” Grandma agreed.

I asked them if they thought kids now have it tougher than they did back then. “Absolutely,” Pat replied. “Kids are held up to higher standards than we were, and the law is so much more strict.” Everyone agreed. My granddad and Aunt Sandra agreed with Grandma.

I had to ask them one more question, the most important of them all. Did you really have to walk uphill both ways in a blizzard to get to school?

Lindy laughed,  “Yeah.”