A friend of Jake’s got a minor burn, while working on an engineering project in our backyard yesterday. As his pointer finger developed a small blister, Joe provided burn cream and band aids and, in a show of support, Joe and I shared stories of the minor burns we have experienced over the years.
Surprisingly, most were in our youth.
As a kid, I experienced small burns many times while baking, both in my Easy Bake Oven, and in the real oven, which I used on my own, stretching my eight year old arms to reach the cake pan or cookie sheet deep in the hot oven.
Joe described getting minor burns while starting a fire in one of the forts in the woods that he and his preteen buddies loved to build. In this case, they had dug a deep, wide hole, covered the top with pieces of plywood and tree branches, and then sat around in the hole, summer day after summer day, shooting the breeze, and of course, starting fires.
“It’s a real miracle we didn’t die from carbon monoxide poisoning in that hole,” Joe said, thinking back.
“It’s a miracle we survived summers in the 70s at all,” I responded.
- Television: Nowadays, we worry about the risk of too much screen time. Back in the 70s, though, we had only seven or eight channels to choose from, and no internet, video games, dvds or on-demand programming. So while our screen time was limited by lack of options, we did carve out dedicated time for gems like the Banana Splits, Johnny Quest, the Partridge Family, and Underdog. But although our parents repeatedly told us to back up, back up, back up, we sat right on the floor, less than one foot away, from our radiation producing cathode ray tube television set.
- No Supervision: With nothing on TV, we went outside, all day. We roamed the entire neighborhood, unsupervised, and with no cell phones or GPS tracking, our parents had no idea where we were. They went on good faith that we’d be safe, even if we were running around in the woods (which we were), climbing trees (yes), jumping on slow moving freight trains (not me, but my friends), or if you were Joe, setting fires in a hole in the woods!
- No Seat Belts: Were cars even equipped with seat belts back then? We would sit on a grownup’s lap, or we stood up in the back seat, and we loved to climb from the back to the front to the back seat again, all while the car was in motion. If we were lucky enough to ride in a pick up truck, we rode in the open bed, sitting on a wheel well or even better, sitting on the open tailgate, swinging our legs and watching the road pass by under our feet.
- Playing in the Street: Kick The Can, Wire Ball, Box Ball, or even just having a catch, we did it all in the middle of the street! The playground, luckily, had no risk of passing cars, but there, the monkey bars and sliding board were ten or twelve feet high, and if you fell, your landing would be met only by a cushion of gravel or asphalt.
- Our Toys: Lawn Darts could impale a slow moving kid, Clackers might cause a concussion, Super Elastic Bubble Plastic produced toxic fumes, and molded plastic Legos contained the heavy metal cadmium. Saturday Night Live even did a skit in 1976, where Candice Bergen, as a news reporter, exposes a toy company for manufacturing unsafe toys and Dan Ackroyd comically defends his products, like the oh so safe, Bag O’ Glass. I am sure some of our own 70s toys provided the comedic inspiration for that bit!
- Heavy Metals Everywhere!: Our bedroom and living room walls were painted with lead paint, which was not restricted until 1978. What better places to play with those colorful and contaminated Legos?
- Eat Your Vegetables: In the 70s, a kid who didn’t eat her vegetables might still be sitting at the kitchen table, hours after dinner ended, in a battle of wills with one or both parents. 70’s parents were convinced that without canned or frozen brussel sprouts or asparagus spears, their kids would surely have stunted growth. They were not concerned, though, that we were bathing those veggies in butter and salt, and that for breakfast that morning, we had filled our bellies with sugar cereals like Cocoa Puffs or Captain Crunch. Later, at the little league field, our carefree folks would hand us a quarter, knowing that this would buy a bounty of sugar and carcinogen Red Dye #2, in the form of pixie sticks, goldfish, shoe strings, and candy buttons, all washed down with orange soda.
- Haze of Smoke: Every adult I knew smoked cigarettes. They smoked in the house, in the car, in a restaurant, and our teachers even smoked in our school, although they mainly kept it to the teacher’s lounge. A childhood friend would regularly ask her parents to not smoke when we were riding in the car and like the good parents they were, they would laugh and tell her she was being silly.
- Bugs or No Bugs: We all know that mosquitoes can carry disease. In the 70s, we combated that risk with the ever popular Mosquito Truck. That truck drove all around Oak Valley, traversing every street, and we were called to follow, on bike or on foot. We laughed and we frolicked in the greenish, sweet smelling mist, like mice following the Pesticide Pied Piper. Somehow, however, I was always covered with mosquito bites!
Amazingly, most of us got through our 1970s childhoods unscathed, but not due to skill or smarts, and mostly due to plain dumb luck.
But I do think we learned a lesson or two along the way. At a time when our parents were practicing free-range parenting, not by choice, many of us learned to be independent and confident problem solvers. And I learned, by trial and error, to NOT climb all the way to the top of the too-tall monkey bars.
Plus, if nothing else, Joe and I both learned how to treat and care for minor burns.