December 19, 2013
Subtract the smoking references and expand the time frame to take in the late 1960s through the late 1970s and this list compiled by Jenny Isenman turns into a pretty accurate description of my childhood.
1. Thinking the middle seat in the front was the best seat because I could get crushed into the dashboard, I mean, because I got to control the five radio stations.
On vacations, the seating arrangement in our ginormous Ford station wagon was three in front, four in the middle, two in the pop-out rumble seats (above the spare tire) in the back.
2. Being totally inaccessible from after school until dinner. Now, we would call that being lost.
"Be home in time for dinner," my mom said as we ran out the door.
3. Having an equal intake of air: 50 percent oxygen, 50 percent second hand smoke.
My parents didn't smoke, thank God. We didn't have air conditioning either. By my teenage years, my dad had installed a whole-house fan that helped a lot.
4. Thinking that SPF 4 was responsibly using sun block.
SPF didn't exist as a concept for most of my childhood.
5. Thinking the haze of Solarcaine I was engulfed in was a healthy way to heal the 2nd degree burns I inevitably got from using SPF 4.
But Solarcaine did.
6. Getting excited when someone had a pick-up truck because that meant the kids got to ride on the flatbed.
7. Sitting on my dad's lap and manning the steering wheel.
8. Eating salami straight from the log.
And lots of raw cookie dough.
9. Playing on a rusted swing set where that one leg always popped out of the ground threatening to propel into space and then came back with a thud.
I know exactly what she's talking about. Remember jungle gyms and monkey bars and dodge ball? All those elementary school delights have since gotten sued into extinction.
10. Helmets? No one wore them and if you did, you were super geeky, protecting your nerdy brain and all.
Another safety concept that didn't exist for most of my childhood.
11. Being a latchkey kid by seven years old. The first couple times I stayed home. I parked a chair right inside the screen door and just sat there staring out, so I could see my mom pull up (also, the world could see I was alone with an open door, brilliant).
12. Fearlessly scaling fences, climbing trees, playing in the woods, and jumping streams without a parent in sight to save us (hell, we used to ride our bikes through a cemetery).
Several vacant lots and a swamp, in my case. We could travel as far as our bikes would carry us. My brother broke his leg playing in a house being built on one of those lots. Nobody got sued.
13. Running into the store to buy an adult cigarettes.
14. Nerf Shmerf--oh, we had them, but cap guns and BB guns were way more likely to shoot your eye out, and we preferred them.
I made a bow and bought real arrows to shoot. Could have killed somebody with one of those. During my chemistry phase, my mom bought me a pound of sodium nitrate. The pharmacist sold it to her, knowing damn well what I was going to do with it.
I bought a canister of calcium carbide at the Army Navy Store without an ID or nothing. Annoyed the hell out of the neighbors making milk carton bombs.
15. Car seats? Bahwawawahaha. My dad drove me around on the back shelf of his convertible in a Moses basket. "Oops, she was here a minute ago, must of hit a bump."
16. And forget seat belts--I barely sat in the seat at all, lying across the back windshield of my mom's Mercury Marquis or popping up and down from the floor was way more fun.
Luckily, we seatbeltless kids survived all the real-time experiments in Newton's First Law of Motion: an object in motion stays in motion unless acted by an outside force. The sufficient outside force being a parental arm, not the dashboard.
We were lucky. Ubiquitous seatbelt use is the best public-health idea our safety-obsessive society has produced of late.
17. Jumping on beds until they collapsed. I was once under a bed when that happened.
18. Babysitting at eleven years old. In my town, once you were able to dial 911, you were considered a candidate for babysitting jobs.
19. Eating unwrapped things people handed you in stores--like pretzel logs from the bank.
And everything we could rake in on Halloween. The razor-blades-in-apples myth had just begun to gain traction in the suburbs, but that didn't stop any kid from snagging all the edible loot he could (parental escorts not required).
20. Being left in the car to wait for my mom do the grocery shopping because I didn't feel like going in.
Hey, I've got a book and the radio. I'm fine right here.
21. Running around until sundown without a care in the world, a phone in my pocket or shoes on my feet.
Again, "Just be home for dinner."