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  • Writer's pictureKaren Herbert

My Dad's 5 Surprising Boomer Life Hacks You Need Today

Ron Downer's birthday was April Fool's Day. He would have been 90 years old today. He was famous for his "Rules for Living" - or Boomer Life Hacks.

We always said that my dad had a great sense of humor because he was born on April Fool's Day. While my father, born in 1933, was a member of the Silent Generation, he raised five Boomer children. He told his first joke at age 8, so memorable that my aunt was able to recreate the scene decades later. Ron delivered the punch line with a straight face and from then on, he was quite a trickster. He didn't need April Fool's Day to play a prank and often enlisted me to call a friend and claim to be an IRS auditor or drop off a bottle of bourbon in a mailbox, to name a few of my memories.

Ronald Downer around five or six years old.

There are too many Ron Downer Rules to list completely, so I've chosen five rules that, while amusing, are still good advice today.

1. Take pictures at every opportunity.

Leaving for school, church, or work? Going shopping? Holidays? No matter the occasion, my dad had the camera out. The pose would most often be on the sidewalk in front of our house. Going through old pictures, I found hundreds of pictures of us on that sidewalk. Not selfies - my Dad had a camera with film - but the frequency would have been perfect for social media. He was ahead of his time!

Me with my dad, Ron Downer, mid-1980s, posing on the sidewalk in front of our house.

2. Don't drive faster than the car in front of you.

My dad was a salesman who covered St. Louis and several smaller cities in Missouri and Illinois. He loved driving and had a good record with his company vehicles. I call this the "First Rule of Driving" and passed it along to my sons. The wording is a little contradictory since no one can drive faster than the car in front, but that is what makes you pay attention and remember. Still good counsel. I'm sure Dad would have come up with a variation to account for cell phones.

3. Serve a green vegetable on the dinner table.

This rule was so sacrosanct at our house that if we were having carrots and corn, my mom would open two cans of green beans, so we would eat a green vegetable. Maybe spending summers on his grandparents' farm gave him an appreciation for eating vegetables. Now we know how vegetables contribute to health with antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber. Definitely ahead of his time!

We had many other rules centered in the kitchen: each condiment gets its own utensil, never open the oven when the refrigerator door is open, only bake in the morning during the summer, there can never be enough onions in a recipe, and with hygiene in mind, no hair brushing in the kitchen. All five of us still follow this guidance. It's great fun when we catch each other heeding Dad's rules.

4. Always travel with a cooler.

My dad always had a cooler in the trunk or back of the station wagon. It would be filled with Vess soda, a local bottler that was cheaper than Coke or Pepsi and came in kid-friendly flavors like grape, orange, and even blackberry. Budweiser products for the adult would be included. We never went thirsty.

Most of the time there would be double-wrapped sandwiches and other snacks with the drinks. In fact, I think my Dad may have invented tailgating in the mid-70s when my brothers started playing Junior Football. My parents made sure the players had food and drink at all the practices and games, and they just carried that on for every event.

Visitng my sister, en route to visit the Santa Inez wine country.

5. Arrive on time - early is better.

Yes, we are those people that get to places early. Even allowing for stopping on the sidewalk for a picture, our family was never late. When I texted my siblings about the Rules yesterday, my sister definitely agreed. The time was 9:30 am EST, 6:30 am where she was in California.

My own family teases me since I like to arrive at the movie theater several minutes before the trailer, and they don't feel the same way. (Where did I go wrong?)

Ron Downer, 70 years old, and me, during a visit to Kansas. The last picture of us together.

My Dad died a few months after that picture was taken. He's been gone 20 years now, and still, we follow the Rules.

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