Looking at the lives our children and grandchildren lead, then thinking back to our own childhoods shows some pretty stark contrasts between then and now. A lot people would say it was a different time. But no matter when you were a kid, there are certain things that most everyone else your age remembers, too. Maybe it was racing home to watch your favorite show on television. Maybe it was the strong desire to have Santa bring you that special toy, whatever was the most popular at the time. These shared experiences have bound generations and left them unified with shared memories of an earlier, often simpler time. Whether they grew up nearby or across an ocean, read on to learn what sorts of things these Johnston residents remember from their childhoods, and you just might be laughing as you remember right along with them.
When Dan Goodwin thinks back on his childhood in the ’70s, he remembers many kids playing together and being outside until the sun went down. It seemed like there were dozens of other kids his age in the Beaverdale neighborhood where he grew up, and they would be outside all day long playing kick the can, spy or hide and seek.
“We went down to the field at the end of our street, where there was a big cornfield and an old brickyard, and we’d ride our bikes and build forts down in the woods,” He says. “We’d play with ‘Star Wars’ figures and it would be a handful of neighborhood kids getting together and doing a whole city of ‘Star Wars’ figures.”
He says weekends were especially fun. Friday or Saturday nights meant homemade pizza and popcorn with his family watching all their favorite shows – “The Love Boat,” “Fantasy Island,” “Dukes of Hazzard: and “Falcon Crest.” On Saturday mornings, it was time to get up early and catch all his favorite cartoons before heading outside to play all day.
Back then, weekends and summertime meant largely unstructured play, and that suited the boys of the neighborhood just fine. It meant more time to build forts, play games and ride bikes.
“I remember my parents had a cheap little swimming pool, and as a kid I thought we were rich because we had this four-foot tall swimming pool,” he laughs. “Now today I realize it’s so cheesy, but as a kid you can love these simple things. It was so great to be outside and smell the grass and play outside all day long, and it was a great time being a kid.”
Goodwin remembers one particular Christmas where he wanted the “in” toy that year — Stretch Armstrong, a large gel-filled action figure whose claim to fame was that he could be stretched from his original size of 15 inches to about four or five feet. Goodwin and his brother woke up extra early that Christmas morning to find two large packages under the tree, one for each of them.
“We ripped into one box and it was a sleeping bag,” he remembers. “So I’m thinking, ‘Not only are these not Stretch Armstrong, but we got sleeping bags?’ But I still have the sleeping bag. And my wife, Heather. still wants to get me a Stretch Armstrong.”
Now that Goodwin is raising his own kids, he likes to remember back to his own childhood and try to give his kids the same gift that he had — the beauty of some unstructured time to just be a kid.
“Between Heather and I, we have six kids, and it’s like ‘The Brady Bunch’ with three boys and three girls,” he says. “It’s important for us to create less stress for the kids and not get them so over scheduled. I always want us to do something fun as a family and get that whole dinner together as much as you can, so they have that really enjoyable childhood that we had.”
Lisa Cooper definitely didn’t have all the same experiences growing up as a kid in Iowa might have had. After all, she grew up in Australia. But despite living an ocean away on another continent, some of her memories growing up mirror those of her U.S. peers who were kids in the 1960s.
Cooper grew up in Warwick, a town in southeast Queensland, Australia, about 81 miles south-west of Brisbane. Because its climate was very temperate year-round, she says they were always outside playing and riding bikes. Kids had a lot of freedom to explore, and the rule was to be home before the streetlights went on.
“Where I lived, there were many kids my age, so we had a local playground we’d go to and ride our bikes somewhere all the time,” she says. “The big drainage ditch was a great place to go. I grew up in a town of 10,000 people, and it was safe as a child to be out exploring.”
She loved going to visit her grandparents’ farm to play with her cousins. They’d ride bikes to the country store. Of course being Australia there might have been a huge snake crossing the road, but she says you’d just stop and wait for it to pass.
Swimming was (and still is) very popular in Australia. Kids begin taking swimming lessons from an early age, and since school is year-round, kids would be bussed to local pools for swimming in the summer for physical education class.
Sports were also a huge part of a kid’s life, and the one Cooper liked best was a sport called vigoro, a team sport played mostly by Australian women that is a bit like a combination of cricket and tennis.
Also, because school was year-round, there were regularly scheduled breaks. Christmas, which is in the summer, meant six or seven weeks off school. There were also breaks in April, June and October for two weeks each.
“We always went to the beach for two or three weeks in the summer,” she says. “We didn’t ever fly anywhere as a kid. We had caravans; you call them RVs. I loved that because you never knew where you’d end up. I didn’t like camping so much. Because you know, all those snakes and bugs and things.”
Cooper and her family moved to Johnston 14 years ago, and her children’s experiences living in Johnston have been very different than hers and her husband Mark’s, who grew up in Scotland. Ultimately though, the important things are the same — like the family values. She says she hopes her children grow up with a global worldview and an ability to have tolerance for all people, no matter where they are from.
“My husband and I both worked in university in Australia, and it was a big melting pot,” she says. “It’s not as much here, but our kids love to travel and see other places and meet people. We’ve instilled in them to learn about the world and to be respectful and tolerant. Everyone has different views and different stories to share.”
Another Johnston resident who had an interesting childhood far away from Iowa is Monique van der Heijden. She grew up in The Netherlands, and she says one of the major differences between Europe, especially the Netherlands, and parts of the U.S. like Iowa, is the level of population density.
“The Netherlands is so small compared to the U.S.; it’s like a quarter of the size of Iowa, but there are 17 million people, so there are cars everywhere,” she says. “It’s not rural like it is here. We live on a three-acre lot now, and we would have built 60 houses there, so we are used to close quarters and everything is close.”
She says that’s one of the reasons that biking is so popular there — there simply isn’t enough room on the roads for all the cars that need to travel. Kids learn to bike very early, and they don’t learn to drive until age 18. She also remembers as a child having a lot of freedom to roam, since it’s very safe.
“My mom would send me to the shop to go get sugar on my bike,” she says. “I don’t think many moms here would ask their 6-year-old to go the shop.”
van der Heijden says one thing that is similar to growing up here during that time period is the amount of time spent playing outside. After school, kids gathered to play marbles or hopscotch or ball games. Her favorite was a game that involved bouncing a ball of the Dutch raised sidewalks that were on either side of every street.
When she got older, she remembers that some of the pop culture phenomena that took over the U.S. made there way across the ocean to Europe. For instance, Madonna was just as big in The Netherlands as she was in the U.S. in the ’80s. They had Dutch singers who were popular as well, but she says they were more old-fashioned. Then, what was in fashion was following the American music and styles.
van der Heijden’s children are in their 20s now, and she says it’s been a great benefit for them to spend time in the United States, just like American parents think it’s a great benefit for their children to spend time in Europe. She says though she loved her childhood, she loves where they are now, and sees it as a great place for young parents to be raising a family.
“We love it here, or we wouldn’t stay,” she says.