How on earth did we ever make it to adulthood?
I remember back when I was a kid. I scavenged parts from a bunch of old bikes belonging to friends and siblings, and built myself a bike. A frame from a 10 speed, big old sting ray handle bars, tires and pedals from this, a seat from that. It looked like the bike that Dr. Frankenstein would have made had his interests lay less in the biological and more in the mechanical. And brother it was fast. But, I never got the brakes to work. The stopping method was to lower the feet and stop the bike a la Fred Flintstone. Helmet? Why would anyone wear a helmet? It was only a bicycle? Nobody I know ever got hurt on a bicycle.
I also had a slot car set. I guess every boy had one of those back in those days. My friends and I would race the cars around the track for a while, but eventually, we got bored and started figuring out ways to “ratchet it up a bit.” Sewing Machine Oil on the track to make it slippery usually followed, and soon we would break out the lighter fluid and matches and turn the thing into Death Race, complete with flaming army men.
Model Airplanes? By the hundreds. We would build entire air wings, and tape bottle rockets and fire crackers to the wings. That opening scene from “Pearl Harbor” didn’t have anything on some of the pyrotechnics that went off in back yards around my neighborhood.
Model Ships? Entire fleets could be seen plying the creek near our house. Of course, they too had been fitted with bottle rockets, fire crackers, and smoke bombs. The entire German U-Boat force sank fewer ships than my friends and I did in that creek.
I had wood burning sets, where you could actually plug in something like a soldering iron, and actually burn things into wood. Really burn, I mean. Smoke and all. I don’t remember ever burning myself with it. I burned coffee tables, books, picture frames, and carpets with it, but never my hand.
We had darts with real metal points, and electric trains with bare wires that connected by screws to the transformers. I had a friend that had an erector set, and we built machines, gizmos, contraptions, and apparatuses that spun and rolled and had metal propellers and launched projectiles. I never, not even once, poked my eye out with any of it.
We rode bikes miles from home. We fished for crawdads under bridges. We played with fireworks. We all carried pocket knives. We shot BB guns, and later we shot .22 rifles and .410 shotguns. (I got my first BB gun when I was 9, my first .22 when I was 13.) We sold candy for Little League going door to door for blocks. We played tackle football with no pads. We played “Tackle the man with the ball” where it was 20 on 1. We played baseball in the field behind the house.
We didn’t have cell phones, pagers, or text messaging. We had to be home when the street light came on.
I can’t count the number of times I sat in the car while Mom or Dad went into a store.
I didn’t know what a seat belt was for until I was an adult. (Remember laying on that space above the back seat, going down the road without a thought or care? Or in the back of a station wagon on long family trips? Or, The Holy Grail, in the back of a pickup?)
I look around now, and 10 year old kids are still in car seats and wearing more harness than Richard Petty ever wore at Daytona, and kids can’t ride a bike without wearing more padding than an NHL player, and I just shake my head.
It's a wonder we survived at all.