Why am I not dead?
It’s a good question given the era I grew up in.
My mom, after walking me to school one day and back, let me do so on my own. It was 1.5 miles one way crossing one of the busiest streets in Roseville — Douglas Boulevard. OK, so there we a crossing guard.
Did I mention I was in first grade?
If a mother did that today the neighbors would bypass Child Protection Services and call 9-1-1.
Keep in mind this is when people were driving cars that steered like tanks, were gasoholics downing a gallon of gas every six miles, and weighed more than the entire San Francisco 49ers defensive unit.
Get hit by one of those babies and you knew it.
They were equipped with safety features providing you were a kid.
For example if you were sitting in the front seat — or standing if you were young enough — and your mom had to come to a sudden stop she’d thrust her right arm in front of you. Looking back it’s amazing to realize how strong my mom must have been to grip the wheel of a 1957 Chevy station wagon with her left hand without benefit of power steering as she used her right arm and hand to avoid me from getting up close and personal with the windshield while trying to get the beast to come to a stop.
For clean air circulation there were roll down windows. They came in handy when mom would ferry a visiting relative around who had a two-pack a day Lucky Strike habit and insisted on smoking in the car.
The window crank arm also turned on the air conditioning. Admittedly it made carrying on a conversation while driving down the freeway at 60 mph a bit dicey.
How good was the heater? Let’s put this in perspective. We always had five car blankets complete with zipper carrying bags in the station wagon during winter.
Being able to ride in a car was fun although if you even look like you might misbehave the wrath of every adult in the station wagon would come down on you.
And if you were lucky you got dibs on the backend.
What was so cool is my dad got custom car cushions. One covered the back end and the other when the rear seat was put down. They were like the old chaise lounge pads that were 4 inches thick.
On runs to the cannery sales near downtown Sacramento — think the forerunner of Winco in a store the size of a Dollar General with the ambiance of a dingy 1950s era independent auto garage — I always got to ride in the back.
Mom would buy about $20 worth of groceries. My task on the return trip was to make sure they didn’t tip over. You’d think that would leave plenty of room for me. Guess again. Back in 1962 that much money would fill six or so big brown paper bags of groceries and you’d still get some loose change back. And the crazy thing is they didn’t even charge you for the bags.
Today you can drop $20 and barely fill a carryout bag. Of course you could spend 20 cents and buy four flimsy plastic bags that are as difficult to carry as a 50-pound sleeping kid.
It was a time when you could actually ride in the back of a pickup truck — even down the freeway — without having to worry about the CHP calling for back up. And, I kid you not, you weren’t tethered.
Cars, of course, weren’t the only things we used in such a manner back then that would give helicopter parents today and those who see the end of the world in what we considered small pleasures massive coronaries.
Small pleasures, you ask? They’re the stuff that you don’t have to spend money on and were about as high tech as a crank arm wall phone.
Cranked arm wall phones? They were back when we had party lines. Yes, there were still a few around in the early 1960s and, no, you couldn’t use them to take photos or videos. You couldn’t even use them to watch TV and scan the Internet as Al Gore had yet to invent it.
They were for one purpose and one purpose only — to make and receive phone calls. Phone calls are the things your phone can still do when you’re not communicating by texting. People back then let their fingers do the walking and not the talking.
Say all you want about not having Internet access or the ability to use a phone away from home without lugging around a roll of dimes. There were no such things as robocalls, mass texts, or emails of cats doing stupid things. Nor did people feel an urge to photograph everything they were about to eat and send you pictures.
Yes, there were telemarketers. But unlike today they were local and not calling you from Augusta in Maine simply because the long distance charges would have bankrupted the company.
Simple pleasures were things like drinking cool water out of the end of a garden hose on a hot day. It was back when they really knew how to make things out of materials that can cause cancer.
Today if someone sees you drinking out of a garden hose they act as if you’re puffing on 12 cigarettes at a time. You also get the same reaction when you are reckless and fill up a glass with tap water to drink.
Kids would entertain themselves in the summer or after school once their chores were done by letting their imagination run wild. They’d build forts in a neighborhood vacant lot or down by the creek instead of being hunkered down in front of a screen playing Fortnite.
You’d search the skies at night searching for falling stars and trying to make sense of the constellations.
And, if you were making a night of it thanks to parents that let you enjoy the treat of sleeping in the backyard with a cousin or a friend, you’d get to a point where you get lost thinking about staring at the same stars people did 2,000 years ago.
None of this is to disparage the march of time. A lot of time we talk about the good old days and they were to a degree.
But when push comes to shove this is arguably the safest time to be alive even if we have the horror of garden hoses made out of known carcinogens.