I shouldn’t be alive.
As I was placing my grandson into his high-tech, tornado/nuclear proof car seat (you have to be a Ph.D. or under three years old to operate it, and I’m neither), I started thinking about the difference between the world I grew up in and his. If you’ve been reading my articles for any length of time, you know that thinking and I are a dangerous combination.
I grew up in a generation that didn’t have childproof bottles, cabinets or electrical sockets. We didn’t have car seats, seatbelts or airbags. I have probably ridden 1,000 miles lying in the back window of a car with the sun beating down on me. My brothers and I rode bikes, hung upside down from trees, jumped off roofs, climbed hay bales and rode to town in the bed of a pickup without adult supervision.
I was driving a tractor by the time I was seven, a truck by the time I was 10, and I swam in a murky pond filled with catfish—all without wearing a helmet, pads, flotation cushion or any kind of safety device. What were my parents thinking? We ate white bread with real butter, used an outhouse and two out of three meals included desserts with no artificial sweeteners. Grandma cooked with lard from our own hogs, and we didn’t worry about our weight or cholesterol because we left the house early in the morning and worked and played until dinnertime.
Back then, home was not a place to come and lock yourself into, but a place to leave and explore the world. We would ride our bikes into town to a drugstore, where we would get a Coke® made with real sugar and ride back home. At 11 years old, I had a morning paper route where I had to get up at 5:30 a.m., ride two miles to get my papers and then continue riding, throwing sometimes as many as 100 papers per morning.
My parents never set their alarm to get me up. After school, I had a second job delivering the paper for another publishing company. Only twice can I remember my parents deciding the weather was too bad and driving me around my route. Again, I would work until dinnertime.
Once a month, I had to go from house to house and collect the newspaper subscription fees. If my customers wouldn’t pay, it was my problem. If I wanted to buy something, my parents didn’t buy it for me. I had to use my own money. I learned early on how much work it took to earn a dollar and that money meant time. If I wanted to spend a dollar, I calculated how long I would have to work to replace it.
My brother and I drank well water from a faucet. If it was hot and we were outside, we wouldn’t bother going inside for a drink. We just drank from the garden hose, paying no attention to the rubbery taste. Think of it: we didn’t know what bottled water was, and yet we managed to live. My parents would let us play in the rain, make mud dams and eat snow ice cream. I ate bugs (not always intentionally), picked up snakes, carried a knife, climbed barbed wire fences and it seems like I always had a BB gun.
As I look back, it seems everything I grew up with has now been deemed hazardous. Our toys had leaded paint, the slats on our baby bed were too far apart, there were no safety devices on our lawn mower and cigarettes didn’t come with a warning label. We also used DDT as an insecticide and played with an Erector set that had 147 small metal pieces. And yet we survived.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad we have more awareness of safety nowadays, but I wonder if we’ve become more safety-conscious than family-minded. The difference between when I was growing up and what I see in today’s society is that back then, we did things together. We worked together, played together and even watched TV together. I remember us watching “Lassie” together as a family. That was the one night a week when we ate in the living room. The menu was always the same: hamburgers, potato chips and “Pork ’n Beans.” We went to church as a family, serving God together.
As we enter the holiday season, may I urge you, Mom and Dad, not only to look for toys that are safe for your children but also to find something that says, “Caution: This may bring joy, fun and family unity. Apply liberally.” In today’s world, a present like that would be a miracle.