Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I made it. I survived.

A Tale of Survival

This is a heroic and epic tale of overcoming daunting circumstances and unbelievable danger.
No, it wasn't the holocaust, WWII, the McCarthy era,  hurricane Katrina, September 11th, 2001, the Obama presidency, the Bush presidency.  
None of those.

It was called "growing up in the 50's".  A time fraught with many dangers that people today can't even imagine.  I was reading an article today about the  dangers of growing up in the 50's.  It is nothing short of a miracle that there are any of us left that can reveal what really happened in that era.

Let us start with my birth.  I was not born in a hospital.  I was born in a maternity home in my hometown.  I am not even sure there was a doctor present.  I didn't ask and I didn't really care.  
I weighed 4 pounds 7 ounces which is on the smallish side.  A circumstance of birth that I never overcame in my adulthood.  I was a giant compared to my wife, the little French lady.  She weighed 2 pounds 8 ounces when she was born.   Between the two of us we weighed almost as much as a human being. Almost seven pounds.

We survived the circumstances and the weight of our birth.  One thing that may have affected my weight was the fact that my parents were smokers.  They also didn't mind tipping a few Pabst Blue Ribbons on occasion.  
When I came home from the maternity place I was put in a crib that was painted with lead paint.
Nobody died from it.  Nobody became hyper or mentally challenged because of it.  
Yes, we had some "not too clever" kids in our class, but I assure you, it was inherited.

We were fed terrible food.  Dangerous foods.  Things like peanut butter, bacon and eggs and numerous danger fraught dairy products like milk, cheese, and butter.  Not one kid in my 1st grade class died of a heart attack or an allergic reaction.

I don't remember a child in our class who was autistic.  In fact I can say that about the whole school and the whole town.  NOT ONE CHILD!!! No one was autistic. Hmmm!!?
The most nerve wracking disease for my era was polio.  I knew a few people who got polio.  This was kind of scary.

Now comes the horrific stuff.  
You are familiar with child proof caps. Yeah, the ones that adults can't open. We didn't have any child?proof caps for medicine.  We just had to turn clockwise and the cap came off.  We could chugalug as many aspirins as we felt like.  Oddly, I don't remember any kids ever doing that.
We rode bicycles, played baseball without helmets.  The cars we sat in did not have seat belts, we rode in the back of trucks standing up.  None of my friends had dented heads.  In fact no one I know had a dented heads or twisted limbs. 
Wait a minute!!!! Our cars didn't have airbags either. WOW!!!!

I drank water out of a brook, out of a garden hose, from a container 4 other people had  used before me.  I should have died of amoebic dysentery or typhoid fever at an early age.
We ate huge quantities of cupcakes, refined sugar, kool aid, cake, cookies, potato chips, Pepsi, Coke, Fudge bars and nobody was fat. WHY????
Well, I was really too busy to analyze that one.  I was outdoors from about 8 AM till about 4 PM.  My mother had no idea where I was.  She did not call 911 and report me as missing. No search parties were organized.  She knew I was probably at my friend's house mooching a meal at lunch time between our baseball games.  We didn't have play dates. We had fist fights and wrestling.  We solved our own issues with reason and brutality, whichever worked best for the situation.

If I wasn't home by 4PM for supper...too bad for me.  My mother didn't operate a restaurant or cafeteria.  Either you went without or possibly she would keep it warm in the oven if she was having a really good day.
Then I would go out and play for a couple more hours, especially if I had school that day.
I would not spend a whole lot of time watching television since we didn't have one.  We knew who had televisions.  Their house would be completely dark except for the silver glow of the round television screen as seen by a 10 year old boy who happened to be walking.   Occasionally we would knock on people's door and ask we if we could watch television.  They would let us watch one program and tell us we would have to go after the program was over.  We were very grateful.
It was many years later that I realized it did not always snow during the "Buffalo Bob Show".
I thought it was always bad weather, not bad reception.

This part is going to shock a lot of people.
Our telephones were hooked to a wall.  They weighed about 11 pounds, you could throw them against a wall and they would still work.  They had a  rotary wheel on the front and the wheel had holes in it.  In each hole was a number and three letters. You would put your fingers in the whole and move the wheel in a certain direction until you hit a finger stop, then you would release your finger from the hole and it would return to its original position.  This was referred to as "dialing the phone."  
If you were a little trouble maker like me, you would just dial some numbers and get to talk to people in exotic places like, Yellow Knife in the Yukon, Capetown, South Africa and Belfast in Northern Ireland.

Before the dial phone it was very similar to what you see on "The Andy Griffith Show."
"Sarah, connect me to Emmett's garage."  You just told the operator who you wanted or you gave her a number like 842R or 93J1.
If you had a speech impediment this could become a problem.  Something like "twee, twee, teven..aw" (337R)
Operator: "Huh?"
Phone user: "Opowaito, Ju giz me da wong numba!!!"
Operator: "Huh?"
Then there was the issue with "party lines". This was a really nifty thing if you were a kid. 
A party line was a pretty weird concept.  Your family and someone else's family had the same phone line.  If the phone rang once it was for you.  If it rang twice it is for your neighbor down the road.
The nifty thing was you could listen to your neighbors gossiping if you picked up the telephone from its cradle really gently.  You could listen for a while.  It was really bad form to shout out stuff like, "THAT'S A LIE, YOU PIECE OF CRAP"  or "GET OFF THE PHONE. YOU HAVE BEEN GOSSIPING LONG ENOUGH."  I do apologize for doing it, but I was young.

Another weird thing about the phone system was that there was no call waiting or answering machine or voice mail.  If you called someone and they weren't at home, too bad for you.

School was a place you had to have survival skills.  The teachers had weapons and they were not afraid to use them. Most teachers had big wooden paddles.  They would use them on boys and girls alike.  Mostly boys.  I saw one guy beg for mercy because he had a boil on his ass.  The teacher didn't believe him. He was not spared. I know of some legendary matches among teachers and students in high school.  I only saw one.  The teacher won.  I am talking about physical confrontation.  I think our teachers had to go through some type of boot camp before teaching at our school.
Strangely there were no lawsuits.  The only time there was mention of a lawsuit was in 1951 when a bus was taking a summer outing to a place I went swimming every day. This day I decided not to go.  The bus hit some gravel on the side of the road. The driver lost control and the bus rolled down an embankment and ended upside down.  There were 54 people on the bus.  Only a couple were seriously injured.  Another miracle, really!!!

I survived all this and more.  Did I mention the fallout shelters?  The atomic fire drills?

Ummm!....Please don't tell anyone but......It was a wonderful time to grow up.


  1. LOVED this! I grew up in the '60s and survived quite a few of the same "unsurvivable" situations. Amazing, isn't it?

  2. We were lucky. Even my kids were luckier than the kids today are.

  3. Making our own fun was half the fun!