How did I survive childhood?

Family legend holds that mom’s favorite baby was pulled from the beach by the tide and a bystander from another family saved me, perhaps ignoring my sister’s insistence that I was supposed to be going for the big ride.

Another family story tells of my yanking down a cuckoo clock onto my head before I was five years old. Before I was seven I had experimented with electric current by cutting an electric lamp’s cord with dad’s uninsulated pliers. I have the pliers still, over fifty years later and they have a neatly cut circle in the middle of the cutting jaws.

Age eight provided me the privilege of owning both a bicycle and a pocket knife. Thirty-two birthdays later I also received a bicycle helmet, my first one, because 98% of bicycle-related brain injuries are preventable. And 100% of pocket knife injuries are preventable by prohibiting people from carrying or owning pocket knives. Some people act amazed when I profess we didn’t hurt ourselves or others throwing our pocketknives at each others feet at school in games of mumbly-peg. 

I shot hundreds of rounds at NRA rifle practice without hearing protection. I built a go-kart, fueled it with a gasoline-alcohol mixture, and fell off it at speed in a rough asphalt parking lot, without body armor or a helmet.   

I built small bombs in our garage on an air force base, hunted squirrels with sling shots, filled my jacket completely around with M-80s to sell at school. I melted styrofoam cups with gasoline to make gelled gasoline, but didn’t know what I did it for. I built and fired tennis ball cannon from beer cans reinforced with tape and wire and fired with lighter fluid. Some people have died from injuries from far less exposure.

I shot a bicycle spoke with a slingshot (it was an accident, really!) into and up the back of my hand and rather than self-report and subject myself to the pain of a tetanus shot, I used an x-acto knife to open the path of the long subcutaneous puncture and washed it out thoroughly with Phisohex soap.

I didn’t wear safety glasses when i exploded entire rolls of toy pistol caps in a six inch mechanics vise (and perhaps ruined the vise after the twentieth or thirtieth time). I wonder if Mike Morrisette’s dad ever noticed changes we probably wrought on his vise. I connected 110 volts to carbon rods I had removed from D-cell batteries and sharpened, to create an arc lamp — it arced alright and, of course, I didn’t have safety or dark glasses on. I did, thoughtfully, have leather gloves on for this handheld experiment. But I couldn’t see anything in the garage for a few minutes afterward.

 I didn’t wear ear or eye protection when we threw lit M-80s into a hole, covered them with dirt, then reached back over the hole to recover the new army-style folding shovel. Yeah, the earth erupted and filled my eyes with flying dirt and rocks. The shovel was okay. 

 I didn’t wear eye or ear protection when I exploded 27 caliber crimped blanks on the concrete garage floor with the back of dad’s axe. I did realize, though, I might need some shin protection when I noticed the old plastic kerosene jug was leaking where it took a hit from shrapnel from the exploding copper shell on the crimped blank. 

I learned to check overhead before starting to chop on something with a hatchet. A few well-placed blows to a wall stud of our garage and I found myself recovering from being knocked out from a blow to my head. A one gallon steel tiki lamp, perched atop the wall, had fallen right onto my soft head. 

I walked the dog barefoot in the snow. I played tennis barefoot on hard courts, sometimes gratefully finding cooler surface on the painted lines. Heck, sometimes I think I grew up barefoot. 

I don’t suffer from diseases contracted through my bare feet. I’m a pretty good shot and I still have my hearing. My uncorrected vision is really good for someone my age. I still have all my fingers and toes, all my body parts are essentially original equipment, slightly reinforced but not replaced. I never contracted tetanus, although I did get hepatitus forty-five years ago from water skiing in the Mississippi River (who knew THAT danger of water skiing?). I still wince when I hear or see something moving over my head — I might should put steel toe reinforcement inside my golf hat?

I should have reviewed this list and considered the resilience of children and youth before my two children came along. I think I would have given them more time outside, more room to explore, more leeway to experiment with cool stuff.


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One response to “How did I survive childhood?

  1. Jim:
    Talk about guardian angels, lol.

    I’m pretty convinced that my lower back issues date back to playing Army at age 9 and diving out of a 12 foot high hayloft door onto the ground below when our “pillbox” took a grenade. Ahh, the folly of youth.

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