I’m a Generation X member, born 1971. I’m not going to talk about how spoiled and privileged, and yet challenged and cheated the younger generations are. I’d just like to offer a reflection of the things we did that would be treated as much more serious matters today.
First, we actually walked home, like a mile or more. (Our parents walked ten miles in the snow, uphill both ways). But anyway, a group of us used to walk home together, who went in the same direction. I was the youngest, as most were in my brothers class, one year ahead. That was an issue sometimes when we played at our house, but that’s not today’s topic.
I’m reminded by my self-assigned subject, of the old barn in an area between alleys behind houses on two streets. It had a concrete ledge along the long back side of the building. Everyday, we would all go across the ledge facing the barn, assigning different environs to the small patch of bushes and weeds behind us. One day, it was the seemingly eternal drop that Obi-Wan Kenobi saw behind him as he maneuvered to disable the shields of the death star.
Another day, it was a pit of crocodiles or snakes, or Niagara falls. You get the idea. One day, I was the last to notice that everyone had stopped and turned to face away from the building. (I had chronic ear infections and hearing issues.) Anyway, when I finally got clued in and turned, there was the principal of our school. He was a good man. He just talked about how this was not our property and we hadn’t asked permission to be climbing all over it. He reminded us that we could fall and get hurt, and, most importantly, that our parents would be apprised of the situation. I honestly don’t remember my parents talking to my brother and me about it. I think the threat was enough. The principal also was known for his thick paddle with air holes to get more speed as it was swung toward your butt. Anyway, we never traversed the ledge again.
Another fun game my brother and a couple freinds liked was bike tag at the car wash. We would zig zag and careen crazily through the stalls and the openings between them near the bay doors. It was dangerous, but we didn’t understand why the owner would yell at us. We never got hit by a car, but we almost ran people over a couple times.
I forgot to mention, that the way you tagged each other in bike tag, was to scrape your front bike tire against the back tire of the player you were pursuing. I remember a spectacular crash one evening when I was pursuing my friend and he had to brake suddenly becuase he miscalculated how close he was passing around a telephone pole in an effort to lose me. I scraped his tire all right, but bounced off it and the momentum carried me forward so that my front tire hit his pedal and foot.
I’m not sure what direction I went or how we ever got the tangled mass of metal separated, but miraculously, neither of us was seriously injured. My freind ended up sitting upright against the pole, looking back at me extricating my leg from the frame of my, er, his, er one/both of the bikes. We laughed it off and went home.
It was dangerous, but we had fun.
There was a creek behind my house that we used to go “wading” in. We often went barefoot, until one of our friends stepped on a piece of glass from a bottle and sent a red band downstream with their blood. Then we always wore shoes.
We rode our bikes everywhere, all over the small town of Bangor, without adult supervision. If we wanted to go the mile or so uptown to the only small business that was the pre-cursor of a convenience store, then we went.
We’d also go down to the wooded area with trails, known as the “bunny trails”. There were some really steep hills with rocks and roots and gravel and such in the way. We never did a face plant, but we could have.
There was a railroad tressel at the bottom of the hill. We would race down there when we heard the train whistle and sit watchingh the coal cars rattle by from a few feet away. It was scary, but we loved the noise, the rumbling of the ground and the enormity of it all.
We took risks, we were sometimes unsupervised, and it could definitely not happen now. I’m not a parent so, it’s not fair for me to try and judge which is better: the ’70s/80’s or now. I wouldn’t presume. Surely, there were a lot of avoidable injuries. Surely, children must be protected from predators and cannot be left alone till a more appropriate age for these times.
I wonder though, if we passed the happy medium sometime ago, and went too far with zero tolerance, school uniforms making a comeback, child seats till they’re 8, liability, no corporal punishment, yada, yada, yada.
Again, I don’t know, especially since kids are dying just for going to class. I just hope and pray for balance and good leadership.