Summer always brings to memory a phrase my mother would say to me and my brother.
“Remember, you boys be sure to wipe off the end of the hose before you drink from it — your dad sprayed weed killer on the lawn the other day.”
Yes, that was the world I grew up in and somehow survived.
By today’s standards, the world I experienced as a child seems like a twisted suburban version of Darwinism. With little direct supervision and the light-handedness from our parents at the time, we were left to learning lessons from our childhood experiences.
To this day, I can detect the taste of weed killer in my drink. Now, that might not sound like a life skill, but if you considered every neighbor’s garden hose a free drinking station as a kid, you’d better learn fast. As far as I’m concerned, if the zombie apocalypse arrives one day, I’m ahead of the game.
Our parents cared for us. But in my childhood, the term nanny-state had yet to be uttered. Honestly, we didn’t even know what a nanny was in the first place.
Our parents didn’t have email or smartphones, but they all seemed to operate with the same playbook. While one might be grumpier than another, there were certain universal understandings between them.
Being outside was the default for kids during the day.
If kids happened to be at your house at lunch, you fed them.
Don’t get hurt or in trouble, and be home when streetlights came on.
Believe it or not, those rules encompassed about every situation.
Each house was a local ER station, complete with Band-Aids and ice water. And when it came to eating, no one ever balked at a peanut butter sandwich because of a nut allergy. And after you ate, you said “thank you” and quickly got back outside.
We crawled beneath neighborhoods via underground storm sewers, pushing up manhole covers like spelunkers discovering vast caverns. We jumped into flash flood waters, riding them hundreds of yards without ever a concern of drowning. And we engineered plastic bats with small cutouts to allow us to shoot bottle rockets at each other with deadly accuracy.
And for the most part, our parents simply viewed these activities as within the universal parameters outlined.
It was a remarkable time. We’d fight and make up without the need to answer a therapist asking us how we felt. If hurt, the default was to walk it off — that is unless blood was evident.
To us, this world seemed remarkably normal. That is until I began telling my wife about what we did as kids. Apparently not all kids climb out of second story windows and across steeply pitched rooftops simply to take in the view. And apparently finding a bag of gunpowder did not lead most other kids to make small exploding bombs out of glass Gerber’s baby food jars.
But I do know if the zombie apocalypse ever does arrive, my childhood skills will come in handy.
Editor’s note: This column originally was published in July 2015.