Disclaimer: Please, please do not think that I am in any way protesting ANY of our current safety measures for children, or that I want to return to some of these earlier practices. I just marvel sometimes that I survived my childhood. A friend and I were discussing a couple of these items and it just brought back a flood of memories.
How Did I Survive?
My earliest memory is of standing in the back seat of the car, holding on to a little strap that hung from just above the window, and listening to my grandmother scream, “Bobby, Bobby!” The first time I related that to my grandmother she was amazed! Apparently that happened when I was just over two and a half years old. We were on a trip and my dad was driving far too fast and my grandmother was trying to get him to slow down. Perhaps the fact that I was actually in a car accident as an infant triggered some deep-seated fear that caused me to imprint that incident forever. I can even recall the smell of the wool carpeting in that car!
I also remember routinely standing in the front seat of the car. As we approached intersections my dad would stick out his arm to keep me from falling. We never used a seat belt. I’m not sure if cars even had them back then.
I had all of the major childhood illnesses- measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox. Mother and I had mumps at the same time. I didn’t have chicken pox until I was fourteen and my brothers had them. And I have many, many memories of hours spent sitting under a sheet with a pan of boiling water and Vicks. Mom’s cure for congestion. My eyes burned, but my lungs cleared up in a hurry. And Gran’s cure for almost anything was cod liver oil. I just learned not to complain!
I never went to a dentist as a child. Loose teeth fell out. Not-so-loose teeth were pulled with my father’s pliers. Thank goodness I didn’t get many cavities. I did get a chipped tooth from a playground accident. It stayed chipped until I was an adult and finally had it repaired.
In CA I spent much of my early childhood playing all over the neighborhood with other children. Once a group of older children tricked me into getting into a dry canal, told me the water was coming, and just left me. When we lived here I played in the woods alone or with brothers or cousins. We often played in the water, chased critters, climbed trees or jumped off of rocks.
During a storm when I was around five, a window fell on me while I slept. Scratched my face a bit, but thankfully didn’t do any serious damage.
I learned to wash dishes when I was small enough to stand on a chair to do so. Nothing we owned was plastic, so I just learned to be careful.
Two men attempted to kidnap me while I was walking home from school. They offered me candy and I ran for my life! Made it home by crossing a vacant lot that I wasn’t ever supposed to cut across.
We swam and fished often in the river near our home in CA. When I was eight I nearly lost my foot because I was wading in the muddy water and stepped on a broken wine bottle. My dad wrapped my foot with my brother’s diaper and rushed me to the doctor. I was on crutches for weeks. I remember hobbling to our bus stop one day, determined to go back to school, but my dad stopped me and made me go home!
I worked in the fields as a child. Cut grapes with a knife. Chopped cotton with a sharp hoe. Pruned vines with pruning shears. The worst accident I ever had in the fields was an encounter with a wooden packing box. My brother and I were standing in a trailer on top of the grapes. My father and the workers handled the full boxes and dumped them into the trailer. My brother’s job was to take the empties, pass them to me, and I passed them down to our mother. Well, I missed the “cycle” at one point and my brother accidently slammed the wooden box into my face. It was feared at first that my cheekbone might be broken, but I just ended up with a horrible shiner and an eye lid that has always drooped a bit more than the other.
I learned to chip ice with an ice pick when I was about nine. Ironic that I never hurt myself, but years later jabbed a knife through my hand while chopping frozen corn. When we finally got a refrigerator that held ice trays they were metal. We also drank from metal cups and glasses for years. I assume they were aluminum. We also cooked with aluminum pans.
We lived for a time in a house without indoor plumbing. We drew water from a well in the yard. Yes, with a bucket. No, I don’t remember boiling it.
Drove a car in the hay field when I was nine or ten. Dad started it and I drove it so he could load hay on the trailer it pulled. We didn’t own a pickup for several years.
One of our favorite “treats” for a while was riding on the front fender of the car! We only rode from the real street down the dirt road to the field- probably a couple of blocks- but still… And we also rode on top of the “ditch digger” plow for weight sometimes, so it would dig a deeper trench. And yes, I admit to riding home from the lake, standing up, holding to the back of the cab, so my hair would dry! I was thirteen and it only took a couple of miles before I sat down…yes, riding in the back of a pickup was so “normal” I hardly gave it a thought.
As a young teenager I was often left alone in a field, or with my brother, to irrigate for hours until my father returned from the field where he was working. There were no cell phones in case of accidents. In fact one summer we had a problem with a gopher hole that caused us to battle a leak that nearly ruined a row of our neighbor’s valuable raisins. I was in tears by the time Dad came to the rescue.
I could ramble on forever. I can’t remember anyone ever being concerned about medicine sitting out and of course it didn’t have child-proof caps. My grandfather shaved with a straight razor and I knew exactly where he kept it. Everyone we ever knew smoked, and there were ash trays and matches in every home. It was normal for kindergarten students to make clay ash trays as parent gifts! My dad kept guns for hunting. Gasoline was kept in cans in the barn. There were sharp tools and unsafe objects everywhere, but we knew what we were supposed to avoid, and we usually did.
So I survived. If I wasn’t fearful of boring you, I could list at least a dozen more accidents. I was just that kind of kid. And people often ask how I remember any of this stuff. I associate most of it with particular places. Even though I’ve moved 51 times, I have them all written down. My mom and I made a list of the 21 places I lived in from birth to high school. Without her help I wouldn’t have remembered half of them. But once we started talking about them and writing them down, then I remembered details about particular places- the neighbor who washed her walls, the rose garden with a secret hiding place, the cellar that smelled of old wine, the girl next door in the iron lung, the house with lots of ants, the house with the glass doors….so many memories. I should write them down.
Have a great day!