It seems to me that if today’s standards in identifying hazards to life and limb are correct I shouldn’t’t be here today - nor should a whole bunch of my generation. I came to this realization recently during a chat with my Sweetheart-for-Life’s 78-year-old kid brother.
We were kinda taking a stroll down memory lane to a time some 60 years ago when I was painting houses to put myself through college. In our two-man operation I took care of the business end while he worked with me doing the actual painting. The arrangement worked out well and we both made money.
In those days we used lead-based house paint - which has now been banned as hazardous. We mixed paint using turpentine and linseed oil, and used solvents for cleanup which meant exposure to several kinds of hazardous materials and their fumes by today’s standards . Sounds like a recipe for lead or other toxic poisoning but neither of us have ever showed any consequences.
This conversation, however, led to our talking about other activities that would now be considered hazardous to our health, dangerous or even life threatening. We never wore helmets while riding our bikes, in fact they were unheard of.
The only “safety” equipment we sometimes used was a bicycle “clip” — a metal spring-like band fastened around the right pants cuff to keep it out of the bicycle chain. Getting a pants leg tangled up in the chain not only imperiled the pants but also the rider’s control of the bike. Our balloon-tired bikes were single speed which meant we couldn’t go very fast - except downhill. Bikes were equipped with rear wheel only “coaster” brakes applied by backpedaling — which were considered quite adequate then but today are considered unsafe.
Cars had no seat belts or air bags but cars weren’t’t used as much as they are today and speeds were much lower. On the other hand the cars were made of steel and had real bumpers capable of absorbing a relatively low speed impact. The most dangerous driving was during the winter when streets and highways were covered with snow and ice — no salt trucks but fine coal cinders were spread to provide traction. We also used chains, snow tires and studded tires (which had metal studs embedded in the tread) but we don’t see these nowadays.
As teenagers we ate lots of burgers and fries along with our sugar-laced colas as we met our friends at the local hamburger joint after school or on weekends. Milk shakes and malteds, using real ice cream and whole milk, were a dietary staple. And speaking of milk I recall how my family drank “raw” (unpasteurized, fresh from the cow) milk for some years. We got it from a neighbor who owned a farm and supplied us.
My One-and-Only relates how she drank raw milk while spending summers at her aunt and uncle’s dairy farm. Unhealthy and unheard of in today’s world.
We didn’t have face masks for our football helmets when I played junior and senior high school football. Not only that but our helmets weren’t’t made of that armor plate used today. Oh, we got some bloody and occasional broken noses but the helmet wasn’t used as a weapon as it is today. Kinda think we were actually safer.
Away from school we played lots of pickup ball games which meant we didn’t have what is today considered necessary equipment. My soul-mate tells of playing coed baseball “all day long” in a vacant lot using rocks as bases with only a bat and ball and an occasional glove - no batting helmets. There was no adult supervision - the youngsters made up and enforced the ground rules themselves.
Boys all carried pocket knives - can you imagine boys carrying pocket knives to school today? Mothers sent their children out to play with instructions to “be back in time for supper” and also dispatched them — by themselves — on errands and to stores. Oh yes, according to today’s list of unhealthy and unsafe activities we shouldn’t’t have survived but we did.
OK, so why recount all this? Well, my younger readers tell me they enjoy occasionally reading about how life was way back then. Older readers may recall a simpler time that can summon a smile or a laugh by reliving those days of our youth and how we survived them. Either way it’s part of our living history. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.