School’s Out for Summer

About this time each year boomers eagerly counted down the remaining moments to when they could run out of their schools, screaming:

No more pencils
No more books
No more teachers’ dirty looks

Then suddenly, it was summer vacation; that glorious time of year when we could bask in the warmth of the sun, free of responsibility and forced learning. Much of our summer time was spent outdoors. The contrasts between how our generation spent summer days and what kids today do on their summer vacation is striking.

In our day, we generally woke up the same time we did when we had to go to school, which could be anywhere between 6 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. In Mister Boomer’s case, he and his siblings woke around 7 a.m., slipped out of our summer-weight pajamas and into shorts and a pullover shirt. Then we’d fix ourselves a bowl of cereal for breakfast. For Mister B and his siblings, that could be anything from Corn Flakes to Cheerios; Shredded Wheat to Raisin Bran; Sugar Pops to Sugar Smacks; Cocoa Puffs to Lucky Charms.

After rinsing our bowls and leaving them in the sink (Mister B’s family, like a lot of boomer families, did not have a dishwasher), we’d give our teeth a quick brushing and we’d be ready to go our separate ways out the door, all before our mother was even awake. So it was with most boomers all summer long — children could leave the house in the morning and not return until dinner time. During the agricultural era, people living on farms used bells to call the family to the dinner table; in the suburban boomer era, it was moms standing on their front porches, calling out the names of their children. We’d often be within earshot, a block or two away, so would usually pick up our individual maternal call that would immediately end our play and beckon us to head home.

What would we do in the eight to nine hours we’d be outside? Studies have shown that we’d participate in unstructured play with neighborhood children. While girls tended to stay closer to home, the boys could be anywhere from a baseball field to deep in nearby woods, thanks to their bicycles. The play was considered unstructured because the group would decide at that moment on that day what we’d do next: dig foxholes and play army, gather teams for a 100 inning baseball game or explore fields and streams looking for snakes, tadpoles and insects. Occasionally girls would join in with the boys, but generally, they remained near home and played with dolls or board games.

By contrast, today’s kids are media consumers. A recent report indicated children are spending almost eight hours a day either watching TV, playing video games or surfing the Internet. Some say this precipitous rise in indoor activity is directly correlated to the availability of mobile electronic devices, including cell phones and iPods. While we would spend hour upon hour outdoors in unstructured play, today’s children are spending half as much time outdoors as children did just 20 years ago, let alone compared to boomer years. Unstructured play has been reduced to just four to seven MINUTES a day. While our day was open ended, time for today’s kids is much more structured, with team sports or classes at given schedules. It is true, however, that today’s kids have fewer playmates. Being part of the baby boom meant there was always a group of kids in every neighborhood. Mister B recalls that every house on his block, with the exception of a couple of senior citizens, had more than one child. Children of different ages often played together as well. By the very mathematical nature of the birth rate since our Baby Boom years, there are fewer kids now to be prospective play buddies.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for aging boomers like Mister B to understand how this indoor/outdoor shift will produce positive results for society as a whole. Yet it’s good to remember that the generation before us often didn’t have the luxury of summer play-time at all. Mister B’s father was working in a factory at age 12 to help his family out during the Depression. One generation later, we were given the gift of time — time to play, discover and breathe.

That summer time produced some fantastic memories for Mister B, as it has for boomers across the country. Will the generations that followed us be able to look at their summer play with the same nostalgia and remembrance of video games past? And will their summer experiences teach them life lessons that will carry them into their adult endeavors? What do you think, boomers?

Source: “Changing Times of American Youth: 1981-2003”, Juster, F. Thomas et al. (2004). Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan. Child Development Supplement

Boomers Watched the Original Dark Shadows

Recently Mister Boomer went to see Dark Shadows, the Tim Burton movie starring Johnny Depp. He thought the movie was OK as a campy romp, but came away no more of a fan of Dark Shadows than when he entered.

Long before there were Twilight movies for tweens, boomers enjoyed the Dark Shadows TV show. Having been indoctrinated with the classic movie monsters of the 1930s and ’40s — namely, Dracula, Frankenstein and the Werewolf — boomer minds were ready for a TV show that tapped into the supernatural.

In April of 1966, ABC tossed Dark Shadows into the mix of daytime TV as a gothic soap opera. Created by Dan Curtis, the show originally was not pitched or intended to feature supernatural elements, but six months in, a ghost made its way into the script. Over the next five years werewolves, zombies, witches, warlocks, time travel and a parallel universe became part of the storylines. Yet contrary to some boomers’ memories, it wasn’t until episode 210 that Dark Shadows writers introduced the most famous character of its franchise, the vampire Barnabas Collins (played by Jonathan Frid).

Something about the character attracted boomers — especially teen girls. Perhaps they latched onto the romantic leanings of the character as much as the supernatural elements. Barnabas was hopelessly in love with Josette, but Angelique, a witch, had designs on the young man. When her love goes unrequited she casts a spell on Josette, causing her to leap to her death at Widow’s Hill. Unsatisfied that Barnabas still would not return her affection, she turns him into a vampire which forces him to stay away from everyone he loves. Throughout the series Barnabus remains a reluctant vampire, agonizing over his need for blood and the killing he had to do to maintain himself. Angelique then turns the townspeople against him and his family. Barnabas is arrested and, as a vampire, is sentenced to a locked-coffin prison.

After two hundred years, Barnabas is unknowingly freed by a would-be grave robber. He immediately sets out to seek his revenge on Angelique. Returning to the family estate, Collinwood, he disguises his true identity to the current Collins family and tells them he is a cousin from England, there to assist in restoring his family’s prominence in the town that bears his family’s name. While at the mansion, a young governess named Victoria Winters catches Barnabas’ eye for her uncanny resemblance to Josette. Thus was the basis for complex storylines involving the characters, monsters and ghosts of Dark Shadows from 1966 to 1971.

ABC placed the show at 4 p.m. Eastern time. Mister B’s sister was a big fan, and would hurry home from school in order to catch each episode. Mister B’s spouse recalls the same scenario at her house, where she and her sisters watched the show after school. The original black and white filming lent a scarier atmosphere to the drama, but the show switched to color broadcasts in 1967. Meanwhile, as soon as the spooky strains of the theremin signaled the show’s distinctive opening, Mister B was out of the living room and into his bedroom to study and do homework before dinner. Melodrama — with vampires or not — was not Mister B’s cup of tea.

At its peak, the show was the most-watched TV series for the age demographic of 18-35. As 1971 arrived advertisers backed out, not because of the waning ratings — which were still high for daytime TV — but because the audience for the show was too young to afford to buy their products. Dark Shadows was cancelled in April of 1971. There was a movie made, and an attempt at reviving the show in the 1990s, but neither caught the imagination of boomers like the original.

Were you or your siblings fans of Dark Shadows on TV, boomers?