In A World Before Helmets

Posted on Sunday, November 9th, 2008

safety coneI grew up in a world before play dates, kiddie leashes, helmets, cell phones, “may contain choking hazards”,  hand sanitizer, “adult supervision required”,  and guarded entrances.  I agree that all these things are good and necessary precautions, but I remember a different time.

My parents had a crazy notion to raise 11 kids on the banks of a river, below a dam, which formed a lake, next to the railroad tracks and trestle over the river, and down the road from a railroad switching yard.  When young people today decide to buy a house, they usually take into consideration the safety of their family.  My Mom and Dad believed, like so many of their era, it’s sink or swim, which in our case was a literal expression.  We grew up without a leash and ran in packs, from early morning until after dark, we hit the ground running.

All summer we put on our swim suits when we got up and headed for the river, or walked over the trestle to the lake, and swam all day, jumping off a rusted old barrel submerged in the lake.  Walking back over the railroad trestle, we took the opportunity to jump right off that trestle into the river and swim to the dock.  We took old inner tubes up to the dam and jumped into the white water, popping up once again somewhere downstream.  When we got tired of that, we would swim down the river about a quarter mile just to walk home along the highway in our suits, barefoot.  Then we’d walk or ride our bikes for miles and miles along our winding country roads.

When fall came we’d rake up big leaf piles and dive right in.  We would then have the pleasure of setting all the leaf piles on fire, and stand around late into the night adding tinder we gathered as we cleaned up the yard. As the garden ripened and whatever was left rotted, we pelted any and all unsuspecting targets with tomatoes and expected we’d be next.

In the winter we would dig tunnels in the snowbanks that the plows would build for us along the road and crawl along deep inside those snowy caves.  Then, after a heavy snowfall, there was always diving head first off the railroad tracks into the big ditch filled with snow.  Walking across the trestle to find our little pond, we’d strap on our ice skates and skate until it got dark, hoping the ice was thick enough.  Finding the highest hill, we’d grab whatever sled or cardboard we had and hit the slopes, no matter how icy it got and how much it hurt.  And, yes, this writer even stuck her tongue on the big steel gas tank.  And, yes, it does stick and it does hurt.

As soon as we got a glimpse of spring we were out on the road jumping rope on the first scratch of dry blacktop road.  Then, off to the lake again to climb around on the big ice as it started to crack, melt and break free.  And as the first of the water appeared out of the frozen lake, it was time for a polar bear dip.

Most people my age will say that they lived in a world like I did, a world where kids ran free without a great deal of caution.  No one put water wings on us as we learned to swim, we just jumped in and swam.  We weren’t taken to a kiddie gym where we could climb through a make-believe tunnel instead of a snow cave.  There were no play dates arranged where we could safely jump-rope somewhere other than in the road.  We didn’t have cell phones in case, God forbid, we left the yard.

Today I wear a helmet when I ride my bike.  I don’t leave the house without my cell phone in case of an emergency.  I’ve taken some turn toward caution, and I understand why my grandchildren have, too.  But, good or bad, there were things about that other world that I liked.

p.s.  I’ve gotten so many compliments on this post – mainly because so many people my age can relate!  How about you?  Can you relate?  I would LOVE to see what you have to say about your own experiences.  Please comment here and share your own ‘non-helmet upbringing’ memories.

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10 Responses to
“In A World Before Helmets”

  • MB says: November 18th, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    Thanks for the memories….I never did have the nerve to jump off the trestle!

  • admin says: November 18th, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    Hi MB!
    I don’t think it was nerve, I think it was insanity! But, Hey, thanks for the faith you have in my nerve and for the time you took to comment. I’m glad I can share my memories with you… because we know how soon those memories will begin to fade! Write It Down! Ha! Thanks! P of RW

  • George says: July 6th, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    Were were not over weight. We respected our elders as well as each other and we took care of each other. Nobody messed with any of us. Our parents always knew where we were and who we were with. We ate well and were loved. The family protected us by allowing us to establish our own boundaries and limits. I miss those days…

  • admin says: July 6th, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Me, too George. Thanks for reading and sharing!

  • xzid says: August 31st, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    I’m only 22 and I grew up like this too. I just don’t see children have fun like I did their age. They’re all bored and they think the only thimg interesting is tv an internet.

  • Patti says: August 31st, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Sad, but true. Good that you can recognize this at such a young age.

  • Valerie says: November 4th, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    Thanks for the laughs! I’m a few years behind you (46 yo here) but I remember some of the same things, like being pulled behind a truck on a sled, breathing in exhaust. Another thing I remember was “Time Out” was what mama took after she tanned your hide. Lovely post!

  • Patti says: November 4th, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Thank you, Valerie. Yes, I see you can relate – danger danger! Thanks for reading and sharing your memories and thoughts.

  • Huffygirl says: January 21st, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    I’m surprised you’re still alive Patti 😉 I had a similar experience growing up, except my mom was terrified to let us cross any street, even though we lived out in the country. So we could wander the woods and step over any snakes we happened to find, but not cross the road, because that might be dangerous! I think part of the difference then was that most moms were home during the day, so as kids went from place to place at least there might be a mom around looking out at them from time to time.

  • Patti says: January 21st, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Oh yeah, Donna… there were a few episodes where counting heads got a bit scary. 😉

    It’s funny what frightened parents. When I was a young teenager, a friend and I decided to spend the night in the woods, sleeping under the stars without a tent. When we told her mother, she said; “You girls slept out in the woods without a tent?! A bear might have stepped on you!” Nevermind some evildoer coming along and kidnapping us. A bear. That was the threat. Well, they were from ‘the City’ so bears seemed to be a big concern to them up there in the Northwoods.

    And yes, I think just having a Mom at home probably gave us a sense of freedom that can only be felt when we knew we had a place to go and be cared for. That may be a whole ‘nother discussion, eh?

    Thanks again, Donna, for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I sure appreciate it!

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