A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Safety? How did we survive?

Written May 24th, 2015 by Hasso Hering
Childhood long gone, old men wear helmets to ride their bikes on peaceful streets.

Childhood long gone, old men now wear helmets to ride their bikes on peaceful streets.

We all know that times change and that except in dentistry, civil rights and a few other fields they rarely change for the better. We know this, and yet it’s good to be reminded now and then. How about, for instance, childhood adventures and relative safety?

In the Sunday paper, a syndicated columnist named Steve Batie remembered some of the things he did as a boy in the 1950s. That’s about the time I too was a boy, so what he wrote struck a chord. He remembered routinely ignoring his elders’ advice not to do this or that because “you’ll hurt, burn or cut yourself.” So what did he do? “I climbed trees, pounded nails, made gunpowder (and the cannon to load it into), hunted other children with BB guns and played on construction sites,” Batie remembers. But he never cut himself because his Scout knife, he implies, was too dull or clumsy to use.

We didn’t have Scout knives in post-war Berlin, but we had other stuff to amuse ourselves with. We had Bowie-type knives, for some reason, and the thing to do was to drop them a few inches on our thighs, flex our quads just right and thus make the blades bounce off without breaking the skin. It worked — once you got the hang of it. (Maybe our knives were about as pointed as Batie’s was sharp). And we usually wore knee pants, so there was no garment damage that would have raised eyebrows at home.

I don’t remember making gunpowder, though I heard from my grandparents that my father and his brothers had done so and had occasionally blown up a pond near their village. What we had instead, in the city, was what I now think was cordite, or at least some component of spent explosives. Some of the older boys occasionally found bits of it while exploring the ruins of the bombed-out apartment buildings and a movie studio in our neighborhood. You could light this stuff. The effects were fun to watch, and I remember the smell.

We didn’t have BB guns either. All we had was cap guns where nothing came out except noise and a bit of smoke. But we did the best we could in the shooting department with home-made slingshots and rudimentary bows and arrows. None of that seemed to concern any of the adults around us, if they noticed it at all, which I doubt.

The one and only time we got into trouble —  I remember our mothers talking to us sternly after the potential victim’s mother complained — was when we tied a brave from an opposing band of Indians to a tree and made as if to light a fire under his feet, the sort of thing we had read about in books.

But, as I say, times change. Some 65 years later, we are old men and wear helmets while going for a bike ride. Even children, closely observed by watchful parents, wobble along with head protection while riding tricycles and scooters on Albany sidewalks. And as a flurry of media stories mentioned in the last few days, the Boy Scouts have a rule that squirt guns must be pointed only at targets, never at people, and, oh yes, safety goggles must be worn. (hh)

7 responses to “Safety? How did we survive?”

  1. Bill Kapaun says:

    You struck a note-
    When we were kids, we learned how to be careful after getting various cuts, bruises and the rare broken bone.
    Now, we wrap the children up in helmets, knee & elbow pads etc. so that they never pay any consequence for their indiscretions.
    Then, when they turn 16, we hand them the car keys and expect them to be safe.

  2. Gothic Albany says:

    Far safer to have the kids sitting in front of the computer, tv, gamebox, or iPhone, getting obese with high-fructose water, and genetically modified chips; than to risk getting hurt exercising, exploring and interacting with the real world.

  3. Annette Grondkowski says:

    …and we survived playing with mercury from broken thermometers that we kept in a jam jar..

  4. Peggy Richner says:

    Here are a few of the things my brothers and I did back in the day: It was loads of fun to sneak out of the house at night, crawl under the fence of a nearby drive-in theater, and sit by one of the speakers watching the movie. We also had a lot of fun playing on a train trestle, jumping off into the creek below. In addition, we would play on the trestle tracks and wait until we heard a train coming before jumping over the rail and standing there getting splashed with assorted grime and smoke from the train. BB guns we had aplenty and learned to use and respect firearms, which by the way were in the closet of our house, not locked. We knew to leave them be except when Dad took us to the mountains to learn to use them. Yes, my parents would likely be arrested today for looking the other way over any of these activities! How sad. This was in Los Angeles by the way, 40s and 50s.

  5. James Carrick says:

    My Dad loaded his own ammunition. In the 60’s one could buy 20lb kegs of surplus rifle powder for a song. Uncontained, a paint spray can lid full, lit, produced a very cool roman candle-like display for several seconds. My Dad wondered for years how he went through a keg so fast…….and when I finally told him, he laughed. Actually, we did some harmless things with gunpowder that could get someone arrested today. Guns in our house weren’t locked up either….we knew if we messed with them without his supervision there would be hell to pay and that was enough to keep us on the straight and narrow with the guns. I was driving my Grandad’s tractors and combines before I was 10 as well. People learn best through experience and sheltering kids usually is not to their benefit, I’ve always thought.

  6. Shawn Dawson says:

    We can go on and on about the things we did as kids which are now deemed unsafe. And I would be in agreement with the notion that this is how people learn. It’s a bit of a peeve of mine.

    I follow Lenore Skenazy’s ‘Free Range Kids’ blog (and get her daily emails) and pretty much agree with her philosophy. It’s a shame how much we do not allow kids to be free to learn and basically have the type of healthy, educational, childhood that we experienced. She also stresses how laws such that they literally make criminals out of parents who don’t agree with the current hysteria about child safety.

    I was introduced to her writings through her column in the Albany Democrat Herald, which I still enjoy. Her blog is a thttp://www.freerangekids.com/


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