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We Survived Play in the Good Old Days

The picture showed a family riding bikes, all clad in helmets and safety gear. Poor things, they’ll never know the freedom of zipping downhill, hair whipping around their faces, wondering if they will wipe out in the gravel at the bottom of the ravine. All part of growing up in the good old days.

I feel sorry for today’s protected generation. It’s not their fault that parents try to shelter them from harm. But we have to wonder, in seeking to protect our offspring, if we robbed them of experiences that turned us old geezers into survivors.

Take, for instance, the typical playground swings in our generation. They had incredibly long chains that would enable us to dangle, spin around, twist, and jump from such heights that we sported skinned knees if we landed wrong. But I don’t remember anyone actually breaking bones doing that. It was all part of the childhood rite of passage. No one worried too much about our safety; we just survived somehow. And we had lots of fun doing it.

Riding bikes? If we had shown up in our neighborhood wearing helmets, we would have been laughed at and called sissies. Even the girls. Helmets were for rich people’s pale, soft kids.

Along with surviving perceived biking dangers, we farm kids actually rode in the back of trucks- no safety equipment needed. Sitting on the wheel bump inside the truck bed traveling 30 miles per hour on a country road—or dangling our feet as we sat on the open tailgate--we never thought much about danger. We were having too much fun.

Hayrides? Yes, we had them. Not on close-sided wagons, mind you; we dangled our feet as we sat on flat hay wagons, pulled by (gasp) open tractors. Sometimes a teenage boy, eager to impress his date, would jump off and run alongside the wagon for a few yards, then jump back on. If our parents worried, they never told us. I think they were having too much fun.

Ever see pictures of playground slides in the good old days? Extra tall, hot, metal slides. We loved them. No sides to enclose the metal steps, either. They weren’t for the faint-hearted. And you landed in gravel or dirt at the bottom. Somehow, we survived.

Then there was the merry-go-round, king of all kid-slinging, arm-breaking, concussion-causing playground equipment. Kids migrated to those things like June bugs around porch lights. Once the first graders had been catapulted off by smart-alec fifth grade boys, we learned to grab the bars and huddle in the middle.

We can’t forget old-fashioned teeter-totters. (I couldn't find a picture of the wooden ones, like our school had.) If a kid who was heavier than you were, sat opposite and put you in the air, and then he or she jumped off—you learned not to cross your feet underneath before you landed. Depending on the length of the teeter-totter, you could be treated to sore ankles or jarred teeth.

Yes, kids today are missing out on a whole lot of excitement in the name of safety. I feel sorry for them as they navigate the world in their safety helmets and padded equipment. Where will they learn to be tough survivors?

Your turn. Any thoughts on how you played in the good old days? Tell us about it in the comments box below.


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