Well, when I was your age…


“You see, back in the olden days every kid stood up in the back seat… well, until your dad told you to sit down,” I said in explaining an old black and white photograph to a child of the new century.

“But where are the car seats for those kids?” he asked, staring at the square picture, the back seat door open to show a passel of kids standing in a 1952 Chevy.

“Ummmm they hadn’t been invented yet,” I said.

Different times

What that kid could never possibly know is that those old cars, all made in the USA, were like a tank on wheels. A simple fender bender, if it happened, was barely noticed. A dent in the bumper was a little battle scar.

Every parent drove about 30 mph and the mom kept the youngest kid in the front seat. Her right arm would automatically project over to keep the little one from bouncing forward if the car needed to brake for any reason. Every mom knew this maneuver quite well. There must have been lessons on it each time a baby was born at the hospital. There was no such thing as road rage in our part of the world, either. A fender bender might have started a new friendship as the drivers swapped family names.

“Oh, my great aunt Edna plays Canasta with your grandmother on your mother’s side!” is kind of how the thing could have played out. When we did sit down (Mom often said, with authority, “We’re getting close to town. Sit down. And no loud talking!”), it really sort of felt like we had some rich guy’s heavy duty couch in our car.

Showing my age

And while we’re being totally specific on these old details, a couch was actually called a “davenport” back in the olden days. Oh boy. I sound like I lived through the days of Prohibition and battled for women’s right to vote. I am officially old.

How did we survive? While we’re talking the olden days, we might as well reminisce about all the ways we defied sure death. Not only were there no car seats for children, there weren’t even seat belts. We rode our bikes hundreds of miles every summer, and not a single one of us had a bike helmet. If someone had told us about them, we all would have gotten out our cap guns and fired in to the air, then popped a little wheelie on our getaway ride.

We spent hours upon hours lost in the wonder of games made up for outdoor fun. Crack the whip, double dutch jump, our own wild versions of truth or dare, and every possible variation on tag that any kid could dream up. Hide and seek could have been an Olympic sport the way it was played in those days. Once, while beginning the braggart story in my head, I thought I had found the very best possible place EVER to hide: I squeezed in to a tiny spot behind the ladder leading to the straw mow.

I was the youngest by far of all the kids playing, and I was filled with glee over my victory. I was ready to accept the invisible trophy and the bragging rights that went with it. Then I heard a baseball cracking the bat. I listened closely. Heck, yeah, the cousins were starting a whole new game without me! I didn’t find the best hidey-hole spot, after all. They just chose not to find me.

Original invisibility cloak

Power of invisibility is something we dreamed of many times. When the great aunts all visited and pinched cheeks, squeezed us in to cast-iron corseted dresses as they hugged us endlessly and told us how much we had grown, is just one such example. Or when the dinner plate was filled with hominy and mush. We knew, beyond all certainty, we had to clean up our plate, no belly-aching allowed.

On really bad days, the dessert might be green Jell-o with shredded cabbage and carrots, topped with sugar-laden mayonnaise. A good dose of maple syrup can make almost anything edible. I double dog dare ya.

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