With all the talk lately about the early 1980’s, I thought I’d pull my dusty yearbook off the shelf and reflect. I was 16 in the Summer of 1982, and like any rising high school senior, I wasn’t fully aware that this was a transitional time between two very different eras.
On the one hand, we had films like Animal House which exposed and celebrated the drinking and sexual excesses of college fraternity life. We had songs like AC / DC’s “Highway to Hell” and Van Halen’s “Running with the Devil,” anthems of a sort blaring from our cassette players as we drove into school. We had the drinking age at just 19 and we were partying like it was 1999!
On the other hand, we heard about 32 Billy Graham Crusades worldwide in 1982 inviting people to come “just as you are.” In 1985, Sting suggested that “the Russians love their children too,” a new concept for us post Cold-War era teens whose parents were born on the heels of McCarthyism. And, we had MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, that movement of people mad as hell about the vast number of drunken drivers who were destroying their families.
Here are a few more remembrances…
- I went to a public high school in Neptune Beach, a small North Florida community near Jacksonville. For the better part of my high school years, I lived in a mobile home on a marsh which overlooked the Intracoastal Waterway. Most of my neighbors were working class people just trying to get by.
- Somewhere along the way, I figured out that if I didn’t want to live in a trailer all my life I’d better do well in school. Nobody else was going to give me a ticket out.
- My mom told me early on, probably at age 8, that you don’t go in boys’ rooms, and if you do happen inside one, you keep the door open. That included while visiting family, friends or neighbors. Even though the rule seemed extreme at the time, I’m glad she shared this piece of wisdom. I applied it to high school and college parties. If people were going into bedrooms, I stayed clear.
- Another rule-of-thumb I followed is that people associate you with the people you associate with. In other words, you become the people you hang out with, at least in the eyes of the onlooker. This principal proved invaluable. I did not want to be linked with people who were going nowhere. I did not want to be at the back of a restaurant shucking oysters in my 50’s!
- Generally, the boys in my high school were gentlemen. They were traditional, asking you out on a date and paying for it. Or, they’d open a door for you or carry your surfboard for you.
- People went to church and participated in youth groups.
- High schoolers drank beer. That one doesn’t seem consistent with # 7, but it was the culture. People drank beer at parties. Parents hosted parties and provided the beer…Gasp! But it was a different time. Just think, 1982 was only 10 years after Vietnam. Our country hadn’t created a unified legal drinking age. Teen drinking was becoming an issue and local officials were struggling with what to do about it. MADD – a new movement was working to change the drinking age and the drinking culture.
- I remember a school-wide assembly when MADD organizers came with a program showcasing the catastrophic consequences of drinking and driving. Slides were projected on a big screen showing graphic photos of people who had been horrifically killed or injured because of a drunk driver. Pleas were made, “Don’t drink and drive!” This was the beginning of the change.
So, why this reflection?
Several important things come to mind. Certainly, we’ve come a long way toward getting the teen drinking culture under control in this country. Teenagers and college students have a real awareness of the dangers associated with drinking and driving. They still drink, but they call an Uber or they walk. Most parents I know would never dream of hosting a beer drinking bash in their homes.
We’re better at accepting others and their differences. The Cold War is over, and everyone knows that the Russian people were victims of a forced political ideology. In the South, we’ve moved on from the forced busing and the racial makeup quotas imposed on us by the local school boards. Nowadays, we live next door to people of all races and nationalities because we want to.
Finally, even in the midst of all the decadence, the drinking and the lack of parental supervision, it was still possible to keep an even, narrower path and progress onto greater things. It was possible to move on from the 1980’s and the trailer. The environment of this time, prepared us to be better parents.
Today, I remember the early 80’s with fondness, grateful for the friends I experienced it with and appreciative of what this era was: a moment between two epochs.