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As Long as We Remember...

February 4, 2004

Memories of A Teen-ager Who Survived

Joe Volz

I hear an outpouring of laments from teen-agers of my acquaintance these days that I, a senior citizen, really don’t understand them.

How can I?

They ask more in sorrow than anger.

Grandpa doesn’t watch MTV or play any computer games, they remind me. I just don’t speak their language. “Cool” and “awesome” have different meanings for me than for them.

So, they contend, this sixty-something definitely is not cool. He’s from a past that, clearly, was not as sophisticated as our modern times. After all, I grew up without any TV at all, or a PC. How could a man weaned on radio possibly have a clue about life?

He was in high school like 50 years ago.

I have to confess I do not know what it is like to be a teen-ager —today, that is.

But I do remember, as I am sure you do, what it was like 50 years ago and you tell me if there are any similarities.

I was scared half the time. Girls frightened me. For one thing, they were taller than I was. I was afraid to ask girls out on dates. Maybe, they would say no. Why would bright cheerful girls want to go out with this skinny 145-pound kid (a deficiency I no longer suffer from)?

After all, there were a lot of other guys — bigger, better looking, great athletes.

I felt really inadequate.

I wondered what the future would bring, not only in my social life but out there in the real world. Would I get into college? Would I do well? Would anyone want to hire me?

Could I handle all the responsibilities, one day, of being a husband and father without breaking under the load?

I was reminded of some of those fears the other day when I took my 13-year-old granddaughter, Valerie, to a Westview movie I thought she would identify with. It was a B grade flick called, “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!” I was doing my grandfatherly duty.

A sweet blonde teen-ager from a hollow, called Fraser’s Bottom, WV, wins a date with a young handsome movie star. They fall in love, much to the chagrin of the boy back home, Pete, who runs a supermarket and has always loved the girl but has been afraid to tell her.

I was captured by this kid flick — the rest of the audience was comprised of teen-aged girls who gloried at dating a movie star. I identified with Pete the supermarket boss. Losing the girl to some pretty boy who was skin deep was well, as Valerie would say, “like too much.”

It all turned all for the best and Grandpa left the theater with a smile on his face. The girl came to her senses at the last minute. She ditched the vacuous movie star for sensitive Pete.

Now, at 68, I have survived all those teen-age years — and beyond. And so have you.

Oh, our problems have not evaporated. Now, we worry about Medicare and Social Security and a future in a nursing home. Yet, if my teenage grandchildren were to ask me if I would trade places with them, I would say no way.

At least now I have some clues about who I am. Not all of the answers, certainly. But as a teen-ager, my fears were unreasonably amplified. My strengths were muted.

So, maybe, you and I and all the other senior citizens out there can, somehow, get across the idea to the latest generation coping with an uncertain future that we have been there and we do understand.

And we are willing to listen without offering unsolicited advice. Well, most of the time.

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