On a recent trip my wife and I happened upon a kiddie playground replete with swings, horizontal monkey bars, slides of various sizes, a whirl, etc.
The playground was vacant but as we walked we spied a series of warning signs alerting people to the dangers that lurked within the playground’s confines. There were nineteen separate warnings telling children “not to run or use the equipment improperly; not to climb or stand too close to a moving swing and not to jump off a moving whirl.” Other signs cautioned to use only proper footwear, only the correct grip on the equipment and only to slide with their feet up.
After reading all the warnings Bobbi and just looked at each other and shook our heads. Actually I’m surprised the signs didn’t include “Do not play or have too much fun.” Then my mind immediately flashed back to Bill Bryson’s book, “The Thunderbolt Kid, a fanciful trip through time describing what it was like growing up in the 50s and 60s.
Mr. Bryson and I roughly the same age, so when he writes about his youth, it always brings a smile to my face and makes me realize just how fortunate we were to have been kids during a time period that could arguably be described as America’s “wonder years,” a time when optimism permeated the land, the future was one of limitless promise and opportunity and common sense prevailed.
In his book Bryson made a comment about how “the people responsible for the 50s” (or words to that effect) had created a world in which everything was good for you, to wit:
“More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette” was an advertisement that embodied the times. And why not, smoking cigarettes soothed jangled nerves, sharpened minds and gave the smoker an added a degree of sophistication.
Does anyone remember fluoroscopes, those ubiquitous machines that were featured in just about every shoe store? This was surely a good thing, right? Moms could make certain their kids’ shoes fit properly all while having their young charges’ bodies bathed in those ever so benign X-rays. It’s a wonder that after Mom paid for our Buster Browns we didn’t walk out of the store glowing like an ember.
As Bryson was wont to say, Americans were indestructible back then. There was no need for seat belts, airbags, smoke detectors, bottled water (garden hoses were just fine) and we didn’t need safety caps on medicines,” but guess what, we survived although I don’t know how considering that today about two hundred governmental agencies tell us that without thousands of pages of regulations we surely can’t live happy and fulfilling lives.
We didn’t need a warning label to tell us that drinking bleach or windshield de-icing fluid wasn’t as refreshing as having a Coke on a hot summer’s day, nor did we need to be reminded that gasoline when exposed to a lighted match might actually combust or that Styrofoam packaging was not to be ingested orally (is there another way?)
Meanwhile, as Bryson also observed that there was a certain endearing innocence to that time as the following story illustrates. On April 3rd 1956 a Mrs. Julia Chase of Hagerstown Maryland was on a tour of the White House. Somehow Mrs. Chase became separated from her group and appeared to vanish into thin air.
As it turned out, Mrs. Chase roamed the hallways of the White House for more than four hours before she was found, “…disheveled, vague and not quite lucid,” after having set five small fires all around the White House.
According to the news reports of the day, when Mrs. Chase was finally located she was taken to the White House staff kitchen, given a cup of tea and released into the custody of her family—no one has heard from or about Mrs. Chase since.
Can anyone imagine what would happen if that same scenario occurred today? My guess is Seal Team Six, the Secret Service and a Washington D.C. police SWAT team would have been dispatched to “take down” the intruder, amid cries to increase the White House’s security budget. Ah yes, progress.
But even if the 50s and 60s days weren’t quite as idyllic as I recall—they were certainly much simpler. Don’t get me wrong, safety warnings are there for a reason and I’m sure their existence has done a lot of good, but c’mon, do we really need to be told not to trim shrubbery with a lawnmower?
There’s a piece written by a columnist from Indiana that’s circulated on the Internet for years—it’s a bit long to repeat here so I’ll conclude with the last line from that essay, “Common Sense was preceded in death by his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason, he is survived by his two stepbrothers, Half-Wit and Dim-Wit.”
Quote of the day: “A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools”—Douglas Adams