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Survival of the Fifties

jungle gymBy today’s standards, it is amazing that those of us who grew up in the 50’s and early 60’s survived to adulthood. Those were the Cold War years when our government was more worried about whether we would survive a nuclear attack than whether we would survive the dangers of every day life.

As a toddler I supplemented my diet with grass and dirt from the lawn. I managed to do that because in those days your mother was not your constant companion. She watched you from the kitchen window if you were lucky.  There were no vaccines for many childhood diseases. In fact, the goal was to expose your child to certain infectious diseases as early as possible. If someone’s knee scabchild got the measles, mumps or chicken pox, all the neighborhood kids were sent over so they could catch it too.

Now they have competitions called “extreme sports” where individuals participate in activities so dangerous that they appear to have a death wish. Of course we had a child’s version of extreme sports. We played on antique jungle gyms of splintered wood that were erected on ground so trampled by small feet that it was as hard as a rock. We careened our bikes (no hands) down steep hills without the benefit of helmets. We roller skated on concrete sidewalks without elbow pads or knee pads. Skinned knees were a common occurrence and nursing a scab became an art form. The trick was to leave it alone until it was brown and crusty. It always started to itch a little before the skin underneath was completely healed so you had to resist the urge to prematurely pick it or you’d end up with a bleeder and have to start the healing process all over again. Patience resulted in perfect picking conditions and you could peel the scab off almost in one piece and reveal skin in pristine condition. 50s kids on bikesIt would be hard to describe the satisfaction of that achievement in a day where numerous types of antibiotic ointments are constantly smeared on (no enduring the painful sting of iodine) and a bandaid is applied that is designed to stick on the skin until it is surgically removed.

Sports were not the only danger. When it rained on a hot summer day, our parents would let us out to play risking the chance that we would become human lightning rods. We damned up storm drains with leaves and sticks to create a pond to splash around in. Who knows what germs lurked in that muddy runoff.

By the time we were 8 or 9 we were allowed to ride our bikes or walk, unaccompanied all over the neighborhood which often extended 4 or 5 blocks in all directions. By 12 we were riding our bikes all over town. Yes, we were told not to talk to strangers, maybe once when we were 5 and then the subject never came up again.

Those were truly different, Darwinian times.  It was a great time to grow up.

Susan Harrison is an attorney by training, home remodeler by accident, and a writer by choice.

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