This is the first of four articles in a series entitled, Reflections on the Last 40 Years in America.
The Eighties were my favorite decade. Those were the years of my childhood. Times were so much simpler back then–before the internet, ubiquitous cell phones, texting, Netflix, Facebook, and email. Let me try to take you back to that time.
Ronald Reagan was President, and he presided over a time of relative peace, stability, and prosperity. By the end of the decade, the Berlin Wall had fallen and the Cold War was drawing to a close. There was definitely less division in the country; many Democrats actually voted for Reagan. It seemed like everyone loved America. We felt safe, and society was much more peaceful. There weren’t shootings and disasaters every week like now, but the Challenger disaster did stand out as one of the tragedies of the decade. Americans looked to President Reagan to soothe the nation as he talked about how the crew of the shuttle had “slipped the surly bonds of earth.”
On the technology front, personal computers began to be mass marketed for home use. IBM released its first personal computer, while Apple released its Macintosh personal computer. It was the first commercially successful PC which used a mouse and a graphical user interface. Cell phones began to hit the market, although they were mainly a luxury for the wealthy and not yet widely used by the general public. The internet, then called ARPANET, had been in development since the 1960’s, but it would not become available to the general public in the form of the World Wide Web until the 1990’s.
On the weekends in the eighties, teenagers went to the mall, the skating rink, or the movies. Popular movies included the Indiana Jones trilogy, E.T., The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, the Back to the Future trilogy, Top Gun, Rocky IV, Star Trek II and IV, Three Men and a Baby, and Crocodile Dundee. Television was much cleaner back then. We had classic shows like The Cosby Show, Family Ties, and Magnum P.I. Popular books of the decade included Beloved, Lonesome Dove, and The Color Purple. And Rush Limbaugh began broadcasting his famous radio show nationally from New York City in 1988.
Musically, it was the beginning of MTV (back when they actually showed videos). Bands like U2, Duran and Duran, and The Police were in vogue. Almost every young person had seen Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. I still remember listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40 on the radio on Sunday with my brother after we got out of church.
As kids, we played board games like Risk, Monopoly, and Stratego. Hot wheels, Legos, and Star Wars figures were the popular toys for boys. Girls had Cabbage Patch Dolls and Barbies. We called our friends on the phone and talked for hours since there was no texting. We spent the night at each others’ houses on the weekend and played video games like Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo. We had our birthday parties at the arcade at the mall. We played Little League and traded baseball cards. My dad coached our team in 6th grade.
One of my most vivid memories was watching the New York Mets come from behind in Game 6 of the ’86 World Series with my brother and mom. How exciting it was to watch Ray Knight score the winning run as Mookie Wilson hit it down the first base line!
Family was important. We loved and respected our parents and visited our grandparents often. We ate at cafeterias like Picadilly’s and Luby’s. Of course we got plenty of Happy Meals at McDonald’s, too. We played basketball and football with our cousins on the weekends. We went to church on Sunday mornings and studied the Bible. My mom led me to Christ in our living room when I was eight years old.
My mother was a teacher, and I was in her math class in 2nd grade. One of my favorite memories was going to the school carnival in the Fall and playing all the games. We also had Land Run day in April where we dressed up and brought covered wagons to school. We said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang My Country ‘Tis of Thee at the start of each school day.
My dad and stepmom owned a restaurant called, Pro’s Coney Place. My brother and I spent many Saturdays there playing video games like 1942 and Pac-Man, eating Frito Chili Pies, and walking around Holiday Square. We also went golfing with dad on Saturday mornings at the neighborhood 9-hole course.
Yes, it was a great decade. I have many fond memories of that time. Our country was more united, more secure, more caring, and more optimistic. I thank God that my childhood was in one of the best decades ever.