a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, March 18, 2012

You wonder how we ever survived.....

(Photo by Katie Roupe, Observer-Reporter)
By Scott Beveridge

One of our photographers at the Observer-Reporter last week was telling two writers, including myself, she had been criticized by a reader for taking a photo of two children riding bicycles without helmets on a residential sidewalk.

“You wonder how we ever survived,” responded a 50-something colleague, recalling how we never wore such head gear while riding bikes as children.

After thinking about it, though, we laughed and then agreed we likely have a bit of brain damage from suffering many bumps and bruises during childhood accidents.

We came from an era when many parents also smoked cigarettes around their kids without any concern about the health affects of second-hand smoke.

I took the conversation to a higher extreme by saying I grew up in the 1960s surrounded by steelworkers, most of whom could belt back boilermakers with the same ease it took them to down glasses of water.

Many of our parents never batted an eyelid while stuffing as many as 10 kids in the back of a station wagon before taking off for a two-hour drive with a stinking drunk dad behind the wheel.

Needless to say we began those road trips from the Monongahela River Valley, a southwestern Pennsylvania landscape peppered with blast furnaces spewing filthy smoke into the air.

We didn’t have smoke detectors in our houses or seat belts, let alone child safety or booster seats to protect young children in cars.

Hell. Frozen pizzas back then came on disposable asbestos cooking sheets. We kids used to stand around the stove and tear those pans apart, daring them to set aflame over the kitchen stove's gas burners.

We also went to learn in Fellsburg, Pa., at Lebanon Elementary School, whose floors were tarred with asbestos tiles and walls were layered with thick coats of pea-green World War II surplus lead paint. I swear my eyes still hurt from having spent endless hours staring at those ugly walls.

Speaking of school, my mother today might be in jail, facing Children and Youth Services for the way in which she sometimes sent us hitchhiking to school when we missed the bus during junior and senior high.

Yet she never permitted my brothers or me out the front door in the morning on school days without our repeating the phrase, "Please God watch over me." If one of us forgot, to the door she ran shouting, "Get your $@*! ass back up her and say it." As a working mom in an era when that wasn't cool, I think it was a crutch she held onto while feeling helpless to protect us at her office.

Certainly I’m not advocating the return to those dangerous carefree ways of the past, even though I still refuse to wear a helmet while riding my bicycle on the trail.

I confess to worrying at times about the affects of cell phone radiation levels and forgetting that it’s illegal now in this state to text while driving.

Like a good citizen I buckle up before putting my Ford sedan in gear and also remember to change the battery once a year in the smoke detector outside my bedroom door at home.

If there are two things that two decades of chasing spot news for this newspaper have taught me are those devices almost always save lives.

But come on. Those cute kids in the photo, above, are riding with training wheels.

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