BY NORBERT RUG
If you grew up during the 50s or 60s, then you are familiar with how laissez-faire things used to be. We didn’t have very many “low calorie” foods, ate what we wanted, and we were afforded much more leeway than we should have had. There’s a pretty good reason why kids today aren’t allowed to do half the things that we did, but maybe, that’s a good thing.
Parents then were much less worried about what they gave us to play with. I’m referring to toys with choking hazards, toxic paints and sharp metal pieces. I remember playing mumblypeg. This is a game kids (mostly boys) used to play on the playground where they stand with their feet shoulder width apart while throwing a pocket knife between their own feet. The boy who gets closest to his own foot wins. Getting the knife in your foot was an automatic win. It’s a surprise that we made it out of childhood intact. Why more kids weren’t injured playing Jarts or using easy bake ovens I’ll never know
We were never forced to wear seatbelts by your parents. Hell, most vehicles didn’t have more than lap belts in the front seat. The absence of seatbelts indicated that you could sit anyplace you wanted. The most coveted seat was then the middle seat in the front. This is when front seats were bench seats.
When you sat there, you could control which radio station you listened to. I always flipped it to WKBW, 1520 “The music people.” WKBW dominated the Top 40 radio market in the Western New York area during the 1960’s. You also got the security of mom’s arm flung across your chest if your father stopped quickly. My favorite spot, riding in the car although was the “way back” as I called it. This was the cargo area behind the back seat of my parent’s station wagon.
However the very best place to ride was in the back of a pickup truck. No seat belt, no roof overhead, just sun in your face and the wind in your hair. A friend’s father even had an old school bus seat in the back of his pickup where we could sit.
Back then, parents really didn’t grasp the need for safety. Kids raced around on their bikes or roller skates without head protection, knee or elbow pads. You learned how to fall so you didn’t land and split your head open, skin your knee or break any bones.
Probably one of the biggest of the “what the hell were we thinking” moments of the ’50s and ’60s was “skitching.” Skitching is a combination of SKIing and hITCHING. In its basic form, skitching was as easy as finding a slippery, snow-covered road or parking lot, and a passing car bumper. The skitcher grabs the bumper, flexes their knees, and skis on the bottom of thier shoes through the snow. The car does the work and the skitcher enjoys the ride. Skitching is believed to have originated in urban areas in northern New York, probably cities like Buffalo with a regular snowfall (http://skiernet.com).
In the playground in the summer I remember swinging with my buddies so vigorously that the legs of the swing set would come off the ground. We would jump off the moving swing and would be flying through the air. You had to learn how to “tuck and roll” so when you landed, you would not break any bones. We also had the burns that we got going down the blazing hot metal slides during the summer. We would steal our mother’s wax paper and slide on it. Waxing the slide would make it that much faster.
There wasn’t a nice soft rubber landing area in the playgrounds back then, either it was dirt or asphalt. And of course we had the Playground merry go round. That steel disk that went in a circle powered by your legs and could whip you around and around. Hang on tight!
If you had a younger sibling, then you would be given the task of watching them after school. You didn’t require any special training to be able to babysit. As long as you were 13 and could dial the operator, then you could babysit the neighbor’s kids when they went out. It was an acceptable practice during that era.
There weren’t health foods either things like quinoa, tofu or kale weren’t readily available back then. The less time it took your mother to pack your school lunch, the better. A whole generation grew up on Skippy PB&J sandwiches on Wonder Bread, a small bag of Wise potato chips and a pack of Hostess Twinkies,
There was no escape the pervasive cloud of cigarette smoke in the 50’s and the 60’s. From airplanes to restaurants to automobiles. There weren’t any limitations on where you were able to smoke. We most likely breathed in much more secondhand smoke when we were young than most people do today in thier lifetime.
We played stickball in the streets and went swimming in the quarry on East Amherst Street. There were no structured play dates and no cell phones. Yeah, being a kid in the ’50s and ’60s wasn’t without it’s hazards but we managed to survive.