Cartouche's Blog

Writing My Way Out of Something


Someplace, somewhere else, USA
February 09
Mind My Own Business
Artist, former newspaper columnist and restaurant critic. Award-winning author of "In Pursuit of Excellence". In my spare minute I can be found blogging here, on Huffington Post and other places that don't pay and (more often) writing for some places that do. Occasionally I tweet random thoughts and observations as @nonconfromist. I keep the really good ones to myself.


NOVEMBER 9, 2011 11:22AM

My Dangerous Childhood

Rate: 41 Flag

Do you remember how our parents ranted about the distances they walked just to get to school and reminded us how lucky we were to have shoes on our feet? If I had birthed children of my own, I probably would have been caught saying, “In my day, you got a pair each of school shoes, dressy shoes and those you used exclusively for gym. You think life is tough having to put on a seatbelt to ride in that child’s seat until you are seven years old (or 85lbs., whichever comes first)? When I was your age, I was sliding back and forth in the backseat of a Buick as my dad careened down the interstate at 90 mph, driving with his knees as he ate his lunch with both hands, using the service road of the interstate as his own personal lane because he didn’t believe in stopping for food or pee breaks. That man was in a hurry.”

If that didn’t scare them, I would have also thrown in a good dose of, “Rubberized gyms and playgrounds? That’s so fey. We had industrial chain link swing sets with a flap of some mysterious material to sit on and nothing but cracked, hard cement underneath us to catch us when we fell.”

Nothing says childhood survival better than being hit head-on by a high-speed tetherball.


Indoors, things weren't much better. We shimmied up thick rope in an effort to pass a test and earn the President's Fitness award. I have scar tissue memories of the horrific (and unfortunately, horizontally) striped gym uniform (not Missoni, for sure) I wore to accomplish this feat and rope burns on my hands in the name of John F. Kennedy.  And somewhere, buried under jacks that I never would have dreamed of swallowing, I still have that certificate to prove it.

There were no germ-ridden MCDonalds playhouses to explore with colorful, rounded corners to keep us out of trouble or harm’s way. A happy meal implied nothing more than showing up at the dinner table with our hands washed and eating whatever was served to us with gratitude. If we were lucky, pleasure too. No TV, chicken nuggets, toys or bottled anything to make it taste better. Our dishwasher was our mother. We recycled brisket until it became something that would still taste better than some of the items that pass as food today. 

Daycare consisted of our moms. We had play dates with mud pies and the hose. We did this with other children in backyards or living rooms with ugly furniture that was protected by plastic slipcovers. We amused each other and ourselves without a parent in sight. And we managed to go home, do our homework, brush our teeth, bathe and get to sleep without being bribed by anything other than the promise of no dessert. We were grounded every night and forced to stay at home. We were stay-at-home children, not miniature executives-to-be.

Our roller skates came in a flimsy box that didn’t require a PhD and a chainsaw to open and get to them. They came with a twisted key and no directions. We attached them to gym shoes that had absolutely no support or cushion whatsoever. There wasn’t an ounce of body armor required by law or our parents to put them on and hit the pavement running. Or falling.  When we went down, banged our knees or rolled uncontrollably into a stop sign, nobody got sued. We got up and did it again. And again.

We pedaled down steep hills on our banana bikes (with no hands!) wearing clothes that had no padding for our bottoms. Today, you have to wear a condom, helmet, knee and elbow pads just to walk out the door. And that's only after you have passed a DNA test, been accepted to the proper preschool and jumped through hoops to prove how special you are before finding out that you're just plain average or not at all when going through airport security.


                                Cute?  Maybe. Special? Probably not. 

 Childhood in my day was brutal, I tell ya. From the beginning, we were abused with cloth diapers. Not one of us sprouted water or blood from being accidentally poked by safety pins. There was no disposable anything when we were small other than the occasional goldfish. Halloween meant trick or treating in a several block radius until well after 9 pm and being able to eat all the candy you could collect without risk of being poisoned or meeting a razorblade.

Grocery stores were closed on Sunday, which meant that if you didn’t have parents who realized this, you had nothing to eat again until Monday. I don’t think we ever missed a meal.

Back in the old days, almost everything was closed on Sunday. As a matter of fact, I'd tell kids today that Sundays didn't even exist until they were born and that the malls, video games, cell phones and Wi-Fi came right after. I may not be wrong for once. Breaking news was delivered every morning via newspaper, for a short time in an afternoon edition and then at 6:30 pm when we gathered around the television to learn what was going on in places like Vietnam and heard my parents muttering about sending my brother to Canada if his number was drawn. News was delivered by men with wrinkles, character and journalistic integrity and nobody gave a damn what diet Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley were on or whose label they were wearing.


We waited until dark to play 50 scatter (hide and go seek to the uninitiated). The only people who ever came searching for us were our friends. My father’s blazing eyes and leather belt were the equivalent of an Amber Alert if I stayed out too late. Mr. Rogers and Captain Kangaroo were diversions, but they were no Jack Kennedy.

There were plenty of times during our dangerous childhood years where we complained, “there’s nothing to do”. But the fact of the matter is that it was true. Unless we entertained ourselves, sometimes we did little more than enjoy a less invasive, more carefree excursion into adulthood and we lived to tell about it.

The last time I had nothing to do was probably 1972.

I miss those days.


Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
What's a kid have to talk about anymore on Monday? It used to be you could astonish your buddies with a second by second accounting of the great over the handlebars tumble you had taken on the weekend and you'd have a great big knee scab to prove it.

This is so well written, as always.

"The only people who ever came searching for us were our friends." I remember that well. It was only two months ago when things were still like that on campus. Unfortunately things are very different this semester at my new university. Things have been and still are very eventful on campus and just off campus.

Please stop by again to visit some time soon.
And the work! Child labor! Paper routes, dog-walking, baby-sitting, lawn mowing, snow shoveling, car washing - we had to work to earn our spending money kiddos!
Thanks for giving a voice to what many of us think as we watch the angst ridden helicoptering parents seem to do today. Now I am appreciating the "walked 7 miles in the snow barefoot to school" kinds of stories more than ever.

That which does not kill me ... will make me see a therapist for years.

The kids aren't wusses. Their parents are wusses. All that kiddie body armor - meh. What's the point of childhood if you don't come home occasionally with a scraped knee? Gym class dodgeball is a bloodsport. Deal with it.
I lived a parallel childhood. The floor boards were rusted out in the back seat of one our cars. You could like down and see the asphalt, or dirt road, passing beneath. You could have touched it if you wanted. Love this post.
I recognize all of these things. My daughter is amazed at the way I grew up amid all that nothingness... Good to see you, Cartouche. ~r
This is a wonderfully winsome read. You made me smile throughout.

I think my belly still hurts from the sit-ups I performed during the “President's Physical Fitness” tests and my head never fully recovered from “industrial” playground equipment injuries.

You’ve captured so much here, and as always, left your readers thinking.

Rated and appreciated.
Yeah, I remember when my dad owned a gas station (gas wars! $0.19/gallon!) he let me ride in his Jeep without any doors on it. No seat belts either - this was the '50's!
Every word of it true. Wonderful.
I'm a maverick in my neighborhood by allowing my kids to ride their bikes to the store. Without a cell phone. Imagine! The horrors!
I love the physical scars I got in childhood!
I'm still figuring out the emotional ones!
Great writing---as always!

P.S. What's cookin'?
How did we ever survive our treacherous childhoods, I wonder? I miss them, too.

Ah, now I miss those days too.
My father was an MD, an alarmist and a hypochondriac, so all I remember from my childhood was having to take a lot of Erythromycin. I got sick anyway.
A fine, true post. My kids refuse to believe when I tell them that we only had 3 TV channels.
Loved this and it's really good to see you!
Good to read you again.
Amen! Rant on!

I miss those days, too.
Yeah, I had a dangerous childhood too. Think of what the kids these days are missing...
Yea, it's a wonder we ever survived - flopping around the backseat of cars with no seat belts.
You had a banana seat bicycle? Luxury.

Other than that, I can't quibble with anything you've said.
I miss them, too. Okay, I submit that seatbelts in cars are a good idea, but that goes for everyone, not just kids.

Kids are tougher than they're given credit for being. Teach them how to look out for themselves and avoid truly dangerous situations, teach them to look both ways before they cross the street (And yes, I think they should wear bike helmets, as should everyone), give them some good books, leggos and blocks and turn the little blighters loose. Throw them on their own resources. Encourage outdoor games without hovering parents. A skinned knee or elbow isn't fatal, and it will teach them more about what isn't a good idea than any number of "be careful, honeys".

1.) Treachorous rope swings where you had to jump for safety towards the end of the ride or wrap around the tree.
2.) Daring one another at recess to see who can land farther out from jumping out of a swing.
3.) Teing two logs together as a makeshift raft the first time the nearby creek or river really flooded and had a swift current
4.) Hanging on just below the tracks of a train trestle while the frieght train screemed by right above you.
5.) One kid throws lawn darts straight up and then you all run around trying not to get hit by one.
6.) Beebee gun fights where on a 95 degree ultra humid day you would gladly wear multiple pants and shirts in order to mute the sting of a hit (who needs paint ball?)
7.) Holding on to the back of a bumper to be dragged down a snowy icy road.
8.) Climbing to the top of a tall tree in the woods then trying to jump over to the tree next to it.
9.) Being towed on a saucer sled by a snowmobile on a snow covered field hiding old stumps, fences and other hard nasty things hidden in the drifts.
10.) Purposely trying to jump over anything with a bike or sled using a makeshift ramp.
11). Digging your own cave or tunnel in the side of the hill to pretend you were one of Hogan's Heroes.
12.) Running out into a very large corn field with freinds in all directions and tearing ears of corn off to hurl about hoping to hit someone and make then yell out- kind of like human battleship. You did it until you'd wreck an acre of corn and the farmer ran you off the property.
13. ) You gladly and eagerly rode in the trunk of a car to get in to an R-rated movie for free at the local drive in.
14.) If you lived on a lake, you could find kids who thought it was fun to try to ram each other's boats to try and capsize someone
15.) Fireworks were just another fun past time like BB guns, bow and arrows and model rockets.

As I review the list and compare it to the lives of kids today; I realize hindsight is 20-20. Some of this stuff happened because we had disconnected, didn't want to really know kinds of parents. To some degree, if you participated in anything like the above and made it to adulthood then you perhaps had a bit luck as wind at your back.

It's therefore okay that parents are more involved and consider safety a practical thing. You don't have to be a helicopter parent to be capable of helping kids to just apply better common sense to the choices they face to have fun.

The good news is that at least from what I observe, kids are a little smarter today than even 30-40 years ago to the point where they really do have a better grasp of general risk assessment and analysis.
i still drive with my knees and use my hands for important stuff in the car *and* remember (fondly or not-so) how i got every scar on my shins and knees. helmets, pffffft. ~waves from the best hiding place~ xo
This made me smile,. the good old days.r
I read this with your voice (as I imagine it) but with an Andy Rooney rant slant. I loved this line: "We were stay-at-home children, not miniature executives-to-be."

Next, I think they're going to build cribs with computers in them. Forget it, they probably already have them!
Ah yes I remember those days so well.
My sister broke her arm riding down a steep hill, which was an initiation to the neighborhood "in crowd" when she plowed into the stairs of the house at the end of the road. OUCH.
D'ya ever play chicken with a train?

I sure did.
A very humorous odyssey through the jungle of memories. It is funny to be reminded and it takes me back.
"We were grounded every night and forced to stay at home. We were stay-at-home children, not miniature executives-to-be." There's a reason kids are hyper and I think you've identified it. Funny and sad all at once.
a certain young one around here got a ps3 at age 6 and I tell him how lame the video games were in my day compared to his, and that I had to walk or bike miles to get to an arcade where they cost $.25 per game. and music video games, now ubiquitous, were basically nonexistent.
and one of my favorite games were pinballs-- a nearly extinct species in comparison to today.
You are so funny. I'd forgotten about many of these perilous childhood things. To add: clunking one's head on the bottom of their school desk when ducking and covering.
I grew up "back in the day" too! How did we ever survive it?
I miss the old playgrounds. I remember taking my kids to an old-fashioned one with a metal slide and rickety staircase that was nearly vertical. They were both woozy and scared, but they had the best time. Until noon, that is, when the metal heated up. But what's the ice cream truck for??
"Daycare consisted of our moms." HA!!

I liked the light, playful tone of this piece. Yet with a hint of genuine nostalgia. I do miss rollerskating...god, I LOVED rollerskating. In rinks, with bad pop music. And Alan Gantowski, who looked at me once and I still remember that look. Sigh. ALAN, I LOVE YOU!!
A little stroke of brilliance this. So entertaining, but as usual I am late to the party.

And today, do children have to wear a condom, helmet, knee and elbow pads just to walk out the door where I live? No. And that is one of the reasons I love it so here. These people are raising packs of children, not packs of wienies.
I hear you and the walk of yesterday has not much with the same walk today except somewhere along the way walking shoes got much better.
I will resist telling my own childhood, "You think you have it bad" stories. I will have to tell you how inventive having nothing to do makes you become. My (now early 40s) daughter who wandered the house saying "I'm so bored." was forbidden from using the word bored again. After a day or so she replaced it with, "We are not amused." R
Can I have bumper sticker rights to this?

"Nothing says childhood survival better than being hit head-on by a high-speed tetherball"

And a sudden memory of seeing a garden hose pulled across the sidewalk while skating down the block gave me the shakes as I was reading this dead-on description of my childhood. You left out the bologna or peanut butter-jelly sandwiches and Kool-aid popsicles for lunch on the steps outside the back door, but covered pretty much everything else. Oh, and I didn't know anyone with a 'built in pool' until I was well over 21. I feel a bit sorry for parents these days and am glad I have no grandchildren. I couldn't take the pressure.
I can't believe you are so familiar with my childhood. I miss those days as well.
Not too dissimilar to growing up in India in the late 80s, so this hit home even though we're a few generations apart. Great piece.

"We were stay-at-home children, not miniature executives-to-be." - Ace!
We had horizontally striped gym outfits in Jr. High. Unlike the boys, who got tee shirts and shorts, ours were a uni-piece jumper thing. Of course, girls get their growth spurts in Jr. High and the zippers on the things were lousy, so by the middle of 9th grade few girls were wearing gym outfits that fit and didn't need safety pins to stay together.

Oh, and they had to be worn with white sox. My dog regularly ate and barfed up sox and the dyes in dog food stain so, a dog-barfed sox was never really white again. My mother claimed they were, my gym teacher disagreed.