Running Scared

I promised myself that I wouldnt make a lot of social commentary on this web site .... but...

I have witnessed a trend  in America  that troubles me deeply.  Kids are no longer allowed to get hurt. They are overly protected and coddled to the point that  they rarely experience what it means to GET hurt or injured.  Kids learn most things by example.  They learn what's safe and what's not by the little scrapes and bruises that WE learned "back in the day".  These little injuries are a reminder that "I'm not doing THAT again!"  and we become more thoughtful about our actions as we progress through childhood.  Today, many of the ways we got hurt have disappeared, and if you listen to todays parent,  it makes you wonder in amazement how WE managed to survive at all!   How for example did we manage to ride our bikes without a helmet throughout our growing years without getting killed?  There should have been dead kids laying about on every block if you believe what you hear today.  That's a photo of me in the old City Park .  I rode a couple of thousand miles growing up and still lived to tell it.


This is the school I attended.  Mercer School was like any other in Charleston.  It had hard-packed playgrounds with gravel scattered about.  See that killer slide?  (more later)

If you fell off the swing or other child killing device like the dreaded jungle gym,  (no longer allowed) 
you more than likely got tiny pieces of gravel in your wound. These little injuries better prepared us and kept us from getting seriously hurt later in life. Today, most all playgrounds are covered in mulch or that smelly shredded rubber.  Lord knows that little "Snowflake the miracle child" ( did you notice how many more miracle children there are today?)  should fall on something soft.  Course, too many parents are sue-happy today and will sue the Board of Education at the drop of a hat... or the drop of a Snowflake.....

The slide that killed kids daily! We just piled the bodies in the basement to be picked-up at the end of the day

The dreaded Teeter Totter, where when one kid hopped off,  a herniated disk was sure to follow


I'm not saying that the following examples are safe, or that they shouldnt have been corrected.  I'm just saying that somehow we managed to live through all these "killers" without dying on the spot, or by age 30 at least.  But sometimes we go overboard in our concern.  Let's take a look at what us kids had to deal with.

Kids in backseat windows

And who didnt do this?  I can remember many times taking long trips and resting in the back window of our car.

Charleston WV

Every summer the DDT fog truck would drive throughout my neighborhood spraying a fine fog of pesticide that us kids ran behind and played in for blocks at a time.  You couldnt even see the kid standing 3 feet next to you, and yet after all that, we didnt drop dead like the flies it was killing.

Can you believe this?  DDT wallpaper for babies!  
Bet some of those babies are reading this right now

Handing out DDT free to people of our area.  This was across the street from the Virginian Theater.


In more homes than not,  people used space heaters like the one above. We had at least four of them. Some of them had radiants that glowed and sparkled when hot.  This was asbestos applied to the radiants to give it that look.  There was usually asbestos panels behind the heater and sometimes under it.

I grew up across from the largest rail-yard in the city.  Those engines and boxcars ran day and night, 24-7.  Guess what stopped those heavy trains?  Asbestos brakes.  That asbestos floated through the air for years and I somehow managed to survive.  But there was a danger worse than asbestos:  We kids would cross part of the rail yard by crawling under the trains.  We didnt know half the time if the boxcars were hooked up to the engine and if they were going to start moving. It's a miracle we lived.


As kids, many of us played with Mercury.  My mom actually encouraged it, as she told me stories of how she and her friends used to shine-up dimes with mercury when she was a kid.  (she lived to be 83)
When I was around 13, I had a full pint of mercury.  I "think" one of the guys at a
chemical plant gave it to me.  I played with that mercury for two years or more.  I carried it around in my pockets for months.  I shined dimes and anything else I could find. I dropped it all over my bedroom floor and it was probably still there when they tore the house down 20 years later.  NOW.... if one drop of mercury is found in a public place like a school or business,  the entire place is closed-off and people in Haz-Mat suits are hired at great expense to remove it!  Heck, I'll remove it for ten bucks wearing nothing but shorts and a T shirt!  Oh... remember when every Jr High chemistry or science lab had a big bottle of  mercury?  Remember when we performed all sorts of neat experiments?  The chemical plants used marbles in some of their processes, and some of the guys would bring me big bags of them after they were used.  God only knows what was on them as me and my friend  played for years with them.


When I was a kid, there was no such thing as seat belts.  There were no baby car seats.  We rolled around in the car like monkeys.  We sometimes even rode in the back window ledge!  (you never did that?)  The dashboards were pure steel and most cars had bench seats, which meant that you could slide from one side to the other in a sharp curve.  Ahhh... the good ole days!  Now, I'm in no way advocating this in any way.  I'm just saying that somehow we managed to live through it all.


One of our favorite past times as kids was to snow surf.  We didnt use a board or even a hill.  We would hide behind a parked car and wait for a passing car to stop at the intersection.  Then we'd sneak up behind that car and grab onto the bumper. (couldnt do that today because plastic bumpers have no where to grab onto).  Then off we'd go down the street at the mercy of the driver. We never knew how fast he'd drive or if the cops would see us.  We'd go for blocks sometimes, and our biggest fear was the cars behind us... should we hit a dry spot and roll out in front of them.  Good times, good times!


I'll bet that 50% of the boys who lived anywhere near the railroad tracks hopped trains. I've even known girls who hopped trains.  It wasnt unusual for us to travel to the West Side and back again this way.  Dangerous? You bet!  Hanging onto the ladder and hoping that the train would go slow enough to hop off was the fear.  Most trains were easier to get on than off.  And if the train didnt slow down, you might wind-up in Nitro.. or worse!


We used  to climb the rock quarry at the end of Capitol street.  Crumbly sandstone that gave way with every foothold.  We walked all over town at nighttime,  when the biggest fear wasnt child molesters or druggies, but the cops catching you out after curfew.  We threw rocks at each other and went into   abandoned caves so dangerous that animals wouldnt even enter.  We got cut, and bruised and yes, even broke bones.  But if nothing else,  we learned in the long run what pain was. And we thought twice about doing it again. (some of us took several times however).  We woke up to skies so polluted by chemical plants that we couldnt see the hillside 200 yards away.  We grew up breathing this stuff, and yet most of us are still here to talk about it.  Boys especially arent being allowed to do what boys do naturally anymore.  They are protected and raised closer to girls than boys in many cases.

Today's Snowflake is so protected that I'm afraid that when he or she DOES get injured, it's going to be much more serious than otherwise need be.  Again,  I'm not advocating any of the above.  I'm just saying that there's a fine line between being careful.... and running scared.

Back to Index