I have a friend here in town that admitted a while back that he actually liked those little Hormel “tamales” that come in a can wrapped in greasy paper. You know, of course, they are not really tamales. They’re…well…I’m not sure what they are. But you know what? Whatever they are, they’re not too bad. There, I said it. I’ve got a can in my desk drawer at the office as an emergency backup breakfast.
Given the choice, however, between those things and the real thing, there’s no contest. The ones from Don Juan’s Cocina are the real thing, and the tamale lady that used to sell from a cooler on the bench in front of Smith’s, they were pretty good, too.
Growing up in the American south, those Hormel canned tamales were regrettably what I thought tamales were, so to speak. That was it. How I ever survived childhood without real tamales I’ll never know.
Heck, I don’t even know how I survived at all. For example, I was reading a recent article about how parents may be overprotecting their kids these days, as opposed to maybe a generation or two back; things like extra safe playground equipment and being overly fearful of accidents and abductions and such. I don’t know if that line of thinking is justified or not, but as a parent, I completely understand, and believe me, I was as watchful as I could be. And yet some of us remember what it was like growing up in an era of fewer constraints and fears, and wonder if today’s kids have it better, or worse.
To put those times in perspective, that was back when kids were allowed to do things that are unheard of – or at the very least unacceptable – nowadays. For instance, we rode in a car that didn’t come with seatbelts and a child’s car seat was a flimsy thing that hooked over the back of the seat. Oh, and on long trips, the little ones slept on blankets laid out in the back of the station wagon.
Back then there were no supersize meals. If you had a Coke it was usually in a six-ounce bottle that sold for a nickel. The 12-ounce version cost a dime. I don’t remember 20-ounce bottles coming out until the 90s.
We did chancy things like going trick or treating in the dark without adult supervision and actually ate the popcorn balls, candied apples and other homemade treats. Kids went out bike riding – sans helmets or knee pads – for hours without a cell phone to be in touch with parents and in the summer we were sent outside and told not to come in until lunch and then not again until supper, or dark, whichever came first. We drank straight from the garden hose, played war with slingshots, and whittled with pocket knives, and if there was a mishap a little Mercurochrome or Merthiolate would fix you up. Luckily the now-banned lawn darts weren’t invented yet. Getting spanked on the butt by one’s parents was quite common.
And don’t get me started on school. In gym class, there was DodgeBall, and at recess we played a tackle version of red-rover-come-over. Is that still a thing?
And speaking of school, it wasn’t against the law to carry a pocket knife in your jeans in case you were challenged to a round of mumblety-peg, but at the same time, you would get whipped for minor transgressions, like talking back to your teacher. I think I got a paddling once for dropping a smaller kid on the teeter-totter.
Also at school, we played around with globules of mercury in science class and got a little buzz from sniffing fresh copies from the mimeograph machine.
My parents had me earn my own money by going door to door all over town selling flower seeds and magazine subscriptions, and Girl Scouts knocked on doors to sell cookies. And if the Civil Defense siren went off while you were out doing that, you knew to jump in a ditch and lay flat to protect yourself from the nuclear warhead that everyone was expecting; one of the variations of duck and cover at school, of course.
All that seems weird now. But likewise, it would’ve sounded weird back then if someone said you’d be reading this newspaper from a device straight out of Star Trek, watching Casablanca on a four-foot TV screen, or driving a car that turns the steering wheel for you if you go too far to the right.
Admittedly, I guess, yes, I do love the technology that’s available today, in spite of my hidden Luddite tendencies.
I mean, right now I’d settle for one of those E-refrigerators that lets me know when I’m out of tamales.

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