Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

July 1, 2012

BB guns and grapevines underscore carefree childhood of decades past

The attic was dimly lit, but I could still see the faint outline of a box tucked safely in the corner. Although carefully concealed, the shape of the package hinted at its forbidden contents.

Making a beeline for the box, the question automatically popped into my mind, “If I were my mother, where would I hide a box of lawn darts from five children?”

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I can remember a time when we were actually allowed to play with lawn darts. We’d sling them at those cheap plastic rings to score points then, tiring of the “game,” we would begin trying our luck at other targets: tire swings, trees, bees’ nests ... each other.

But then came the bad PR. Stories were rampant about children being maimed — or even killed — by badly thrown darts. It was hard to separate fact from rumor, yet it really didn’t matter. Mom confiscated the giant darts, the bees breathed easier and we were forced to look for other ways to entertain ourselves.

Heaven knows my parents and grandparents did their very best to keep me, my two older sisters and my two older brothers safe. But in those days toys were different — and so were children.

We all had BB guns, or at least the boys did. We girls could have had one if we asked, but it was simply easier to borrow our brother’s. Of course, that’s how the “no shooting your brothers in the behind” rule came into play.

Nowadays, I’m not even sure if children are allowed to own BB guns without a background check. If they are allowed to purchase the plastic weapon with faux wooden stock, my guess is it comes with a 50-page instruction manual packaged with a primer on civil lawsuits.

We also had slingshots. And, to be truthful, I never understood the point of that toy — other than to get children in trouble.

Here is a weapon designed to accurately propel a rock at a high rate of speed toward a target. What good can come from that?

Did any parent every buy the line about “shooting apples” out of the tree? What fun is that? Apples don’t squeal when their skin is bruised.

While that may sound somewhat cruel and heartless, that was never the case. I loved my brothers and sisters dearly. Still do. The point is you can’t have five children growing up together in one house without a certain degree of mischievousness.

Personally, I feel any and all bruises I gave my brothers were warranted after the hair-tied-to-a-chestnut tree incident, the drag-her-through-the-mud debacle and the endless games of “snap her on the leg with a damp hand towel.”

Now that I think about it, maybe those were the initial sparks that ultimately led to the “no shooting your brother” rule.

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Dusting off the lawn darts, I thought about how times really had changed. Back in the day we were allowed to play — really play.

Parents provided helpful warnings about toy hazards, grapevine tragedies and the inherent dangers of exploring underground caves. We listened. We took note. But then we made the decision to heed the warnings or to proceed full force ahead. My siblings and I typically chose the latter course.

We didn’t have a death wish. But we did have a strong desire to experience play, joy and adrenaline to the max. And thus forests were explored. Trees were climbed. Swampy, snake-ridden landscapes were traversed barefoot. And go-carts were ridden with a “pedal-to-the-metal” exuberance.

This time of year, we would also be playing with firecrackers and setting off the “special” fireworks (ones acquired from Down South) in the backyard. Of course, this was done under Dad’s watchful eye.

In today’s world such antics would be a recipe for a lawsuit. Back then it was just kids being kids. Any injuries sustained were attributed to the school of hard knocks. Nowadays, an injury from a toy can spur a multi-million dollar lawsuit and childhood antics lead to giant payoffs.

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It’s kind of sad that lawn darts have been blacklisted to the hazardous toy list. Children of the ’70s can attest to the fun that could be had with the game — and the satisfaction of a badly thrown dart that hits a brother’s leg. (‘‘Oops. It really was an accident Mom.”)

In today’s world, many kids of my generation would be thought of as miscreants — those doing harm intentionally. I would politely disagree. Any harm done by my siblings and I was a direct result of earlier, objectionable actions. (See above paragraphs regarding hair-tying, mud and hand-towel incidents.)

Ultimately, kids will be kids. One can attempt to stifle their play and keep them in a bubble of safety but accidents can happen no matter how much care, and how many precautions, children and their parents take.

Why not let kids enjoy their youth?

Let them chase lightning bugs. Let them swing on grapevines across ravines. Let them splash in creeks and play with fun toys.

When the heads get bumped and the knees scratched, patch them up and remind them that the battle scars will be a lasting reminder of their childhood and the carefree days of summer.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com.

 

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