By today’s standards, I grew up with multiple possibilities of being maimed, sickened, or dying waiting around every corner. It is a wonder any kid I knew grew into adulthood. Most children in my day had experienced actually having diseases like mumps, measles, chickenpox, impetigo, colds, and earaches and recovered from them well after a bit of suffering. I’m not arguing for or against vaccinations, but just relating what I experienced. We survived all manner of things that could have maimed or killed us back then.
I don’t know about the “town kids,” but we country boys and girls all played in drainage ditches, caught crawdads, went swimming in rivers and farm ponds, ate dirt when the mood struck us, and snacked on unwashed fruit and veggies when an opportunity arose. We walked through woods, along country roads and creeks without care. All that began unsupervised before we were ten years old or so. By current thinking, our parents were irresponsible. After all, we could have been bitten by a poisonous water moccasin or rattlesnake. We could have broken a leg, fallen from a tree, drowned, eaten something deadly, gotten kidnapped, or worse, but none of these things happened to anyone I knew.
My parents cautioned us about dangers and set time limits for returning, but we were allowed the freedom to roam about the countryside. I only know secondhand about the home life of kids living in town, but there were certainly dangers in school for all of us. We had “deadly” swings even from the first grade. Swing sets with chains hooked overhead as tall as 20 ft. with seats made of 1” hardwood oak boards. One big game was to pump your swinging arc so high you’d have enough momentum to swing over that top bar. Another game was getting under a swing and seeing how far you could raise up without getting hit. Pete Redding got knocked out once. He was never the smartest kid in school.
We had slides and merry-go-rounds that are now banned. Our huge teeter-totter was used as a trebuchet catapult. Instead of rocks, it shot out kids. We dug trenches in the schoolyard and played war with sticks and dirt clods. Looking back, I am amazed at what we were allowed to do at a young age, even before sixth grade. We were made of steely stuff and tested daily.
Our high school was seventh through twelfth grade. There’s not much more to tell until we got our driver’s licenses. Oh boy. Road races, drag races, drinking, driving madly in general. I was one of the worst. Some kids refused to ride with me since I drove with the “pedal to the metal.” That both I and my car survived my teen years is a wonder. The main reason for my survival was my innate skill, and I probably would have made a good pro racer. I had great instincts for the road and the car’s limits. I never raced while drinking, though.
Parents in the 1950s and early 60s had their challenges, but I believe it was a much simpler time. Today elementary-age children may have safer playground equipment, but many are exposed to drugs, sex, gangs, and worldly knowledge that we didn’t have access to until adulthood. Teens now face a complex social structure that is much more confusing, if not outright dangerous. I don’t envy kids today. I have many fond memories of that uncomplicated “Leave it to Beaver” or “Father Knows Best” world of the past, where we Baby Boomers regularly risked life and limb with innocent aplomb on our daily adventures.