June 21, 2013

Regarding T.M. Shine’s June 16 Magazine article “The years of living dangerously”:

I wonder how any of us born in the 1960s or ’70s survived childhood.

One of my earliest memories is as a 2-year-old playing by the train tracks at the edge of my back yard. I didn’t yet know what a train was. When one blew past me, I ran in terror toward the house. But Mom had locked the door. She always remembered to keep burglars out. Keeping her toddler off the train tracks? Not so much.

In a family movie from that time, the adults are wading in Lake Superior, drinking beer and yukking it up for the camera. Meanwhile, infants in diapers crawled around the boulders on the shore. There is a shot of my brother, crying and bleeding behind the adults. He had fallen off some huge pieces of broken concrete, with the twisted rebar still hanging off it.

We used to ride our bikes on the highway — at night. No shirts, no shoes, no helmets, lights or reflectors. Mom left us in the car in the summer while she shopped for groceries and got her nails done (isn’t that a crime now?). Dad told us to get out of the house and go play in the cemetery or something.

When we were older, my brother chased me through several neighborhoods, me on my bike, him in the family van. As I felt the van bearing down on me, I jumped the curb and cut through some back yards. So did my brother, briefly getting the van stuck in someone’s garden. When the police called Dad, he told my brother not to do that anymore — at least not with his van.

Thanks for the memories!

Sean O’Brien, Fairfax Station

I think I blocked out childhood experiences similar to T.M. Shine’s while I raised my own two children in relative safety. My father was an oil company executive in Philadelphia, and every weekend he took me, my three older brothers and whatever neighborhood kids were around into the woods for hiking and other adventures. I don’t know how he got all of us into his Chrysler New Yorker, but this was before anyone wore seat belts. I remember his once encouraging me to pick up a rattlesnake tail that turned out to be still attached to the snake, which was hidden under a log.

Most shocking was a frequent winter pastime — nighttime sledding down a wooded hill and onto a frozen lake. No lights, and the only sounds were those of the cracking of the ice. He would tell us to avoid the black areas on the ice. He did not even supervise the quick trip to the bottom and the skidding over the lake, where we collided with all kinds of fallen tree limbs embedded in the ice. He waited at the top of the hill, where the glowing ember of his cigarette served as our beacon. My mother never asked what we did when we were out with him, nor did the parents of the other kids. That was probably just as well.

Phyllis Anderson, Cabin John