Childhood Before The Computer

This morning in that half conscious haze between sleep and wakefulness,  my mind roamed to the town I lived in as a child of  eight to eleven.

In the years that have ensued, the world has grown more dangerous, or at least more wary when it comes to allowing children to spend long hours exploring on their own. I used to hop on my balloon tire bike and cruise the side streets of my sleepy suburb of Los Angeles.

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Nelson’s Drug Store, the German delicatessen and Bocks Toys were huddled together with other shops that remain nondescript in my memory. The rest of the community bathed in long hot days on the summer shoulder of the San Gabriel Mountains; modest stucco ranch houses lining the street . The occasional small orange grove sent sweet fragrance onto the breeze.

My family moved from the mid west, Dad in search of a better life and a job in the neophyte computer industry. Through the rest of his life he carried a micro chip in one of the the plastic sleeves of his wallet. “The computing power in this chip filled an entire room,” he’d muse.

That first summer in California, we rented the home of the family of a girl who would become my best friend. When our new house was through escrow and her family returned to theirs, Sue and I spent our free time together.

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There was a ping pong table under the pergola of her backyard patio. It fanned my competitive nature. I became a fearsome ping ponger. Her Dad had a pet raccoon in an elaborate cage in the garage and a way cool convertible Porsche in the driveway. Sue’s twin teenaged sisters tolerated us, but did take us to see the filming of some television dance shows in the mysterious Hollywood. Her younger teen brother played the role of brooding young man by nearly never being seen outside his room.

I remember an earthquake shaking her house so violently that we could barely remain on our feet as we battled our way down the hall toward the front door. Welcome to California, indeed.

Most of all I remember feeling safe and lucky to be living in such a magical place and time. Days were filled with the outdoors, laying out floor plans of imaginary houses in the thick grass of the fields, skateboarding on no more than a length of two by four and roller skate wheels hammered to the corners, and listening to records on my parent’s turntable.

So many of today’s children have never known the joys of the imagination born of  time and space and opportunity to explore. Play is no longer a thing under the control of a child’s imagination. Play is spoon feed through a screen or organized into a formal class or play date.

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The childhood before personal computers, video games and instant everything was something special. I wonder what memories will fill the internal screens of tomorrow’s grown-ups as they look back.

Some things will never change. Having a mom and dad that provide security and a safe place to fall is treasure beyond compare.

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8 Responses to Childhood Before The Computer

  1. I was one of those mothers who didn’t let my kids have a TV or computer in their rooms. Heck, we only had one computer for the house and it was in the family office. I remember being afraid of it and my kids were fearless. I thought I’d blown up the whole computer trying to get Where in the World is Carmen San Diego installed. My six year old son talked me down.

    My kids played in the backyard a lot and used their imaginations. They also had friends next door and down the street and could run over to play with them. They are both avid readers and hopefully put their imaginations too work as adults.

    I remember so much of what you described, but my family life wasn’t a great one. However the innocence of neighborhoods and long hours spend studying the clouds probably has a lot to do with the fact I’m a writer now.

    • christinelondon says:

      Your kids are very lucky to have a ‘mean mom’ who saw the wisdom of fresh air and a book too. Balance in now and probably forever more will be the best medicine.

  2. robena grant says:

    Lovely post, Christine. I don’t have grandchildren yet but often wonder what their lives would be like. What their interests would be twenty years from now. It has been hard enough keeping up with my own kids, now 30+.

    I do know that my kids love life, enjoy healthy relationships, and even care about their old mom, even though they’re glued to technology twenty-four-seven. ; ) I don’t think feelings about family and connection change much from one generation to the next.

    • christinelondon says:

      The glue of familial love is thankfully more powerful than the technology of the generation in most cases. It is the love that is important. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Robena.

  3. Too old, too streetwise, too fast: I feel more sorrow than anger at what children today experience.
    My own childhood memories are (viewed through 20/20 rose-tinted glasses) pleasant, even though we in Blitz-bombed Liverpool, England, had b***** all to call our own: we didn’t even get “re-connected” to the National Grid electricity supply until c. 1957.
    I was one of the l;ucky ones. My father was Road Manager for a local grocery firm with 30+ branches, and he qualified for a Company Car: the only car in the street (57 houses).
    If the sun shone we played football (or cricket) in the street- there was no traffic to
    worry about. If it rained, we’d amuse ourselves by tossing ice-lolly sticks into the gutters at the roadside and seeing whose stick got to the bottom of the street first. If we were truly desperate, someone would get out a monopoly board or some other long-lasting board game. And any number of hiding/stalking games could be played in all weathers and without any equipment at all – just as well, really, as we had no money to buy games with!
    Street parties. There was always someone in a street of that size who had a birthday. Nobody ever told me who owned them, or where they were stored when not in use, but a set of trestle tables and folding chairs suddenly ‘appeared’ from nowhere at least once a week. and the tables were loaded – literally – with party food. I can only assume everyone’s Mum contributed (I still remember rationing of certain foods when I was growing up).
    Your final comment about having a Mum & a Dad being a priceless treasure. Let’s not forget Grandparents – mine lived in the same street as we did.
    Hope you won’t mind if I bore you with a poem about my Gran?

    There’s no doubt about it, Grandma knew best
    Some things she handled far better than the rest
    The amazing aroma of fresh-baked fruit pies
    My Nan’s been the greengrocers on Saturday night
    She’s batted her eyelids and done really well
    She’s got all the ‘fades’ which he couldn’t sell
    Sugar and flour: a stir and a prayer
    (The last an important ingredient for her)
    No need for a recipe, or a measuring spoon
    She knew how much of each thing to use
    Each pie was perfect, she knew how to please
    A wonderful treat for a Sunday High Tea
    Each mouthful of fruit simply oozed with her love
    Now baking her pies in Heaven above


    • christinelondon says:

      Oh my goodness, Paul. I am enchanted with your retelling of your frugal childhood a’brim with the treasures of love. Thank you so very much for sharing every single word.

      It is the chefs that do not measure that truly know their task. So full of experience and care. I did not realize there were so few cars in the streets of London post war. It must have been an amazing time. How wonderful and smart that the children took advantage to take the streets over as their own. I imagine there was a bonfire or two in November with plenty of Pennies for the Guy. 😉

      Please feel welcome to share your memories and thoughts here anytime.

      Warmest regards,


  4. Janie Emaus says:

    We had a ping pong table, too. And I loved to play. I wonder about the future also. And that’s why I try to get my grandkids to play games outside and I love feeding their imagination.

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