Sure, you’re a thousand years older than they are, and they’re sick to death of the, “We walked on bloody stumps in the snow uphill both ways,” schtick. Even if it’s true. You look at your grandsons with that Justin Bieber hair, pants hanging off their behinds and those earbuds permanently inserted in their ears. Your granddaughter’s got a ring through her nose, three-toned hair and won’t stop texting. Do you have anything in common – anything?
How about bringing up some topics you’ve never discussed before, subjects that they somehow think they own. I found myself rethinking my elders, and my own offspring, when I inherited my late great-aunt Doris’s diaries from her teen years in the Roaring Twenties. My, my, but that gal had a good time. I was startled to see how much fun she had as a teen, and though it’s almost 90 years ago, her diaries could have been written yesterday. How little some things have changed. Do you think your own grandkids will believe it?
Try these topics out on the nearest teenagers, and see if they pay attention. I’ve added some corresponding thoughts from Doris’s diaries, for your – and their -- entertainment.
Speed. Car culture is a twentieth-century phenomenon ―but not really. Shakespeare and Jane Austen characters brag about their fast horses. Some things never change. What was it like when you learned how to drive? What kind of car did you have? What were the rules for using the family car? How fast or how far were you allowed to drive, and what did gasoline cost in your teen years? How much did you pay for your first car? What was the speed limit?
“Mother told me to take [the] Ford and go to [the] store. As I was backing out of the Garage I bumped into the ice wagon. Thrilling!! Then I skidded halfway down the hill.” – Aug. 30, 1926
Slang. Whatever this week’s newest word or acronym, your grandkids think they are the only ones who ever bent the language backward. Was your car ‘boss’? Was your boss a ‘square’? Were you ‘groovy’ or ‘far out’? How about some Valley Girl talk? How did you express delight or disgust? What slang words from your youth are still in use today?
“Gene said that Fanny would probably object to a little kissing or mugging, as he called it. He said, ‘Now I don’t mean that I want to mug all the time. But I like a girl that you can mug once in a while without getting slapped.’” – Sept. 30, 1925
And speaking of kissing: What, they think they invented kissing? They can’t believe old people made out, or still do? How long could you go out with a girl before trying to kiss her? Would you let a boy kiss you on the first date? When did you have your first kiss?
“And he took me in his arms and kissed me. Of course it was thrilling. I thought, maybe he was so enthralled that he had to kiss me. He did it so tenderly and gracefully.” -- Sept. 26, 1925
What was risqué in your day? A teeny-weeny bikini? Racy or profane lyrics in a song? The drive-in? Lovers’ Lane, also known as Makeout Point? What made your parents, and the spying neighbors, unhappy? A goodnight kiss on the porch, or in the car? Steamy windows? Holding hands? Sharing a canoe?
“My heart stood still. Fridze had crawled in (under the canoe) and was lying beside me. His gray eyes bent upon me. For a while we just looked in each other’s eyes. Then one of the boys yelled, ‘Come on, Fridze, we’ve got to hit for home.’ Fridze said ‘Uh-uh. I don’t wanta.’ Then the boys laughed and said, ‘I don’t blame you, old kid.’ I made Fridze get out. There’s no telling what the others would say and I’ll admit, it didn’t look very nice.” --Aug. 6, 1925
Pop culture – what did it mean to you? Popular music, books, magazines and movies could set the tone for a whole generation. Were you part of the Beat Generation, with jazz, cool cats, Nick Cassady and Jack Kerouac? Were you listening to Jefferson Airplane, sliding in the mud at Woodstock and copying Jimi or Janis in dress? Was disco your thing? Did you pogo at the Fab Mab? How did the pop culture of your youth direct you or inspire you?
“We went to see Beverly of Graustark (silent movie from 1926 starring Marion Davies). It was a wonderful picture. Between the end and the beginning, they had a lot of Pathe news” (newsreels). –April 24, 1926
Parents – did they drive you nuts? Did they yell about the dumbest things? Fuss over something stupid but ignore all of your wonderful traits?
“Daddy came in, of course, his face red with rage, told me not to be so damned sassy and I was too flippant and a disgrace to the family, and blah blah. He couldn’t trust me because I talked to a boy, alone in the dark, and oh! I’m so mad. I think I’ll run away.” – Nov. 14, 1926
Hairstyles: Were you a ducktail man, or a Brylcreme guy? Did you tease your hair, rat it, or use orange juice cans for big curlers? Did you have feathered bangs? A pixie cut, or a shag, or a Dorothy Hamill? Your hairdo in your teens says a lot about the times, and your place in them.
“Marjie went to get her hair cut today. She had it cut in a boyish bob and looked so adorable that I had mine done. I look perfectly hideous. Rae [Doris’s brother] said that he wouldn’t be seen on the street with me and that I looked cheap and everything else mean that he could think of.” – Sept. 2, 1925
Here’s hoping you will open up some new channels of conversation, and spark a few good memories, as well.
Want to read more about Doris and her diaries? I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do: The Diaries of a Roaring Twenties Teen (1925-1926), edited by Julia Park Tracey, is an excellent read for teens and adults available online at major retailers. Follow Doris’s diary entries at Facebook/The Doris Diaries or Twitter@TheDorisDiaries. Read more at www.thedorisdiaries.com .