When I was a kid, how did I ever climb all those trees? Our house backed up on a park with plenty of trees, but many were elegant pines that were simply too tall–or too sticky!–to climb. But I had two favorite maples that were eminently more accessible. The smaller of the two was easy, as it was fairly young, and the branches, just hefty enough to hold my weight, were reachable. Standing on tiptoes and slinging my arms up and over, I could pull myself up, and then proceed higher from there. The other one, as I recall, was bigger, and took some real effort to clamber up the trunk to reach any branch sturdy enough to go higher. I usually stuck to the smaller tree, going up as high as I could so I could perch and watch the world go by. No ropes, no pads, no helmet, nothing but the brute strength of a pre-teen. (Is there such a thing as brute strength at that age?) Now, if our granddaughter is visiting, I’ve learned that the first place to look for her if we’re outside is up our massive maple tree in the backyard. Must be genetic! She’s gone on to greater things already, as she’s now a competitive rock climber, while still a pre-teen.
How did I ever learn to ice skate or roller skate, or ride a bike, for that matter? How many times did I crash and burn while out there with no kneepads or helmet, or any other accouterments to cushion any falls? Plenty, that’s how many! When ice skating, at least winter provided the best reason to pad up with snowpants, heavy jacket, mittens, hats. No problem falling then, we were so layered we all looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy. A worse fate awaited those who had to visit the bathroom after getting dressed. Summer roller skating was fraught with more peril, as concrete doesn’t give much when in sudden contact with hands or knees. But I’ve now been bested by a grandson who’s taken to the ice to speed skate competitively…at age 9. Better than I could ever do, even then!
How did I manage playground equipment? Remember those merry-go-rounds that could prove the physics of centrifugal force, always laying in wait to fling you off onto the asphalt? Or the slides that ended so abruptly…kerthump! I loved the teetertotters. Haven’t seen one of those in years. They provided a great opportunity to plague a friend by keeping them suspended up in the air while you hoped your weight would keep them there. Of course, sometimes that backfired, as they returned the favor, and then pushed off so you descended so rapidly you left a crater when you hit bottom. What fun! No, really! It was fun. Tetherballs could turn into weapons too, if the server had a really powerful stroke. Paying attention was crucial, so you could serve back to them. In a more gentle fashion, naturally…
My crowning glory, however, in the How-Did-I-Do-That? category was the fall I learned how to kangaroo. This has nothing to do with Australia, and everything to do with canoes. Our Girl Scout troop was on a canoe/camping trip on the Wisconsin River in September when our leader–our adult leader, nonetheless!–challenged us to a kangaroo duel. Several of us took up the offer. Little did we know… Swimsuits and bare feet were de rigeur, considering we might take a dunking. First step: empty the canoe of all but self and a paddle, and paddle out to the middle of the river. Second step: stand up on the gunwales, as far aft as possible. (I can hear you either gasping or laughing. Trust me, gasping is more appropriate!) Third step: bounce up and down gently, without feet leaving the gunwales, thus propelling the canoe forward in little hops, kangaroo-like; hence, the term. Yowza! How safe is that? And we didn’t wear lifejackets either. Safe? No. Stupid! I don’t recall falling in the river myself, but I’m sure somebody did. The photo from 1961 proves the deed. So far, no one else has taken up this sport, and I use the term lightly.
Seatbelts were a thing of the future, but, then again, no one could move faster than a mom’s arm in restraining a kid in the passenger seat, if quick braking was called for. Bike helmets were only for roller derby queens. Knee pads were worn by professional gardeners, not those of us just grubbing around in the dirt, or roller skating. Playground surfaces were asphalt, or, in special cases, wood chips. Ouch! The splinters!
Sometimes I wonder how any of us survived childhood! But we did, and I’m glad.