On Potato Sack Races, and Why “Everything was better when I was a kid….”

Everything was better when I was a kid. We didn’t have everything given to us. We could occupy ourselves with a piece of wood for an afternoon. We only got fresh fruit on Christmas. We walked 2 miles to school, in snowstorms, uphill, both directions…

You know you’re old when you start thinking this way. But sometimes I marvel at the changes I’ve experienced in my 53 years here on this planet. When I was in high school there were only two males in the typing class, me and Teddy King. I took typing because my handwriting was pretty much illegible and I knew that if I didn’t type my essays my teachers wouldn’t be able to read them. Teddy took typing just for the heck of it. Our friend Bill Kemp tried to take typing at his high school, because he’d heard of these things called “computers” that required “punch cards,” but at the time his school wouldn’t let boys take typing.

I have an old black and white photo that was taken on “Field Day” at Westacres Public School in Mississauga. The event being shown was the “Potato Sack Race” whereby children would step into potato sacks and hop down the length of the course to the finish line. Many of the children would fall. Ninety-nine percent of the class would be losers. There were no trophies or ribbons for just participating in those days. If you didn’t win you were just a loser. I can be seen way at the back of the pack of the potato sack racers, which was my usual position in a race. I was fairly short and never that athletic, so I never won any of those sorts of things. And yet somehow I managed to make it through youth with my self-esteem intact. Michelle would argue that my self-esteem has in fact always been far greater than my physical nature would warrant.

These days, some parents are aware of the tactical advantage of a child being the oldest in their cohort in each grade, i.e. the most mature physically. They actually hold their kids back strategically and start them at school a year later to optimize their odds of being the biggest “winner” in everything. Good grief Charlie Brown, is this true?

Since I am running a CSA this year I ordered potatoes in larger quantities than I ever had before, and they came in burlap “potato sacks!” My daughter Katie and son-in-law Dhruva were home one recent weekend so upon their arrival I declared that we would be having a “Family Fun Day” which would include among other activities, “Potato Sack Races.” This idea was stolen directly from the Brady Bunch Movie, in which the Brady family continue to lead life as though stuck in some sort of 70s time warp and they confuse their iPhone-surfing, WiFi-addicted, death-defying-theme-park-going contemporaries to no end.

In truth, we just had the one race for a photo-op for the blog. I think potato sacks are way smaller than they used to be. I swear they came up to my chest when I was a kid and this one barely made it past my knees. Surprisingly it wasn’t as much fun as I recalled from my youth, either. I did, in fact, fall down eventually and that was OK.


That weekend my Dad and his good friend Shirley came for dinner. Shirley regaled us with tales of her experiences from a trip to Africa that she had taken many years before. I asked her if I could see photos of her trip. She said she took slides and didn’t have a projector anymore to view them with.

For the benefit of my younger readers, back in the 1950s and 60s you could take photos using “slide film” on your camera and the film store gave your pictures back to you as slides. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photographic_slide You inserted these slides into a tray, which you placed into a “slide projector” which required electricity. The bright lamp behind the slide projected the image onto a screen, which hopefully you remembered to get out of the attic at the same time you got the projector. Because it was such a lot of work to set up, you generally only looked at your slides two or three times in a decade. Oh, and you really could only look at them properly at night, when the room was dark enough to see the image on the screen. Sounds pretty convenient!

My dad took lots of slides as were growing up and he has boxes of them, but doesn’t own a projector anymore. I’ve offered to buy a $50 slide converter to convert them to digital images for him, but he doesn’t seem that anxious to have it done. It’s kind of a dichotomy when you think of how photo- and image-obsessed the world has become. I wonder how many millions (billions?) of photos are taken on smart phones every day. And I wonder, if 30 or 50 years from now, there will be a way to view them. Apparently there are many slides in boxes out there that will never be seen again.

We have photo albums and we can pull them out and look at them any time we feel like it. Unless the house burns down or we put them in the basement during a flood, they should be good for a while. Some of them are starting to yellow but that just adds to the effect of time and history on the image.

Then I think about all of the eReaders being purchased and how many people are investing in digital versions of books. What happens when the industry standard finally emerges and people find their eReader isn’t supported anymore? Or when the battery technology that their eReader uses is no longer popular and you can’t get replacements? Or when some technology evolution happens and they miss the miss the window of “porting” from one version to the other, and those digital books simply disappear?

Our living room is lined with books, those ancient relics of another time. They will never be obsolete. No technology will ever usurp them. No Electro-Magnetic-Pulse or solar storm will ever wipe out their hard drives and Read-Only-Memory. Yes, our books are a pretty cool technology. I love them and will continue to collect them. They’ll give us something to read as we huddle around peat fires when the fossil fuels run out. Yes indeed, everything really was better when I was a kid.

8 Responses to “On Potato Sack Races, and Why “Everything was better when I was a kid….””

  • Remember the Super 8 movie cameras? My son bought one off ebay and uses it to create films like this

    . I have lots of films on Super 8 of my kids as babies which I want to get converted to CD some day…….
    I cherish my photo albums and now I’m starting to scan some pictures to my computer and save them on an external hard drive.
    Great post!

  • Louis:

    Cam, You are right, they are smaller sacks. Judging by the pic, it looks like a 27 kg. bag, convert to imperial, 60 lbs. I still have a few burlap potatoes in the barn, and they were 75 pound bag of P.E.I or New Brunswick potatoes.

  • Tricia:

    Good post…you always make me laugh:} And…I LOVE BOOKS. I’m collecting them and saving for the time when I can live my life very slow. Books and puzzles!

  • Mike the Carpenter:

    One other reason to keep good old ink-on-page books: When the fossil fuels run out, real books can be read for entertainment and then burned for warmth if necessary. Good luck trying that with a Kindle…

  • Cam,

    You are probably right, the potato sacks are smaller – I blame the metric system.
    You are right life was better , I think the peak was 1988 ever since then things have went down hill.

  • Jennifer:

    Ha! What a great photo and story! I am the same age as you, and often miss “the good old days”. Thankfully, my 84 year-old father is currently digitizing his massive slide collection, for my brother and I.

  • Heidi:


    This may be my favorite post ever………

    Because yes, everything really WAS better – when I was a kid too!

  • Gerrit:

    Potato sack races! That brings back memories, and remember the 3-legged races, where you and a partner tied together a leg and had to co-hop, skip, and jump to the finish line? Totally agreed on books; nothing will ever replace books for me. The seventies rule!

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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