October 20, 2015

How did we ever get to live this long?


     If you were born before 1960, you and I might be wondering the same thing.  Considering our generation’s relaxed safety rules, compared to today, how did we ever get to live this long?
     We rode our bicycles without helmets.
     We skated down sidewalks with kneepads, maybe.
     We drank water from filthy garden hoses.
     We lived in a blue haze of secondhand cigarette smoke.
     We rode on the back shelf of automobiles.  Actually, among your siblings, you were considered the lucky one if you got to ride up there.  The big glass picture window gave you a panoramic view of where you’d just been.
     We rode—standing up—in the front seat of cars, but “safely” tucked beneath our mom or dad’s shoulder.  Parents were programmed.  When a foot went down on the brakes, an arm flew up to keep the child from catapulting into the dash or windshield.
     We splashed—barefoot—in polluted drainage ditches.
     We shot a 55-gallon drum of Daisy BBs and kept our eyesight.
     And when our mothers weren’t looking—Heaven forbid, we probably ran with scissors.
     Yes, I know.  Many kids weren’t so lucky.  Accidents happened.  But for the most part—unless it was in our small world, we didn’t know it.  Without instant everything of 2015, news took its time getting to us.  Sometimes it never did.

     That was then.
     Now is now.
     You’ve seen this.  Some parents put their kids on bikes with enough safety gear to challenge the puffiness of the Michelin Man.  No doubt, we want our children protected from harm. Looking back, I was probably an overprotective parent.  I was forever seeing dangers that were oblivious to our three.    And when they complained, I’d say, “One day—when you have children—you’ll understand.”   
     The time came, and they did understand.  These days, when I am entrusted with grandchildren, I am given be-careful-of-this-and-that reminders. Following those safety briefings, I think about visits to my grandmother’s farm. There was no place I’d rather go. I had heard of Disney World, but that was another world beyond my dreams or my parents’ pocketbooks.
     When our 1952 Dodge rolled to a stop a few miles south of Newton on Highway 91, I couldn’t wait to tumble out.  And if I was being left to stay awhile, I carried only two things up the front-porch steps: a cardboard suitcase and an I-love-you-and-remember-your-manners smear of my mother’s Avon lipstick on my cheek. 
      That was then.
      Now is now.
      When grandchildren come to stay awhile, there are tote bags of gear and supplies.  You must make sure the right car seats for the right children are in the right vehicles.  Imagine the jail sentence you’d get if you let a child ride on the back shelf of your car.  And don’t forget the lists.  Armies have invaded countries with less detailed logistical information.  Neither Amtrak nor Delta has better-timed schedules.
     In reflection, I think about two things.  I wouldn’t change then or now.  But most of all, I wonder: “With the absence of all of today’s safety rules back then, how did we ever get to live this long?”