This afternoon, as this Celt took a break from programming and walked the Labbies down a country asphalt road, I came upon a small creature astride a bike, hellbent on covering new territory. He was about six years old, helmeted, knees and elbows braced in protective gear. He was sweating, and crying.
"Whatsamatter?" I asked the little schnookum.
"It's too hot," he lamented. "And my mom makes me wear all this stuff. I just wanna ride my bike."
There was a time, back in the old days, when we young folk congregated, sans babyseats and helmets and seatbelts, in the back of a red Ford Galaxy station wagon. The back window, if it closed of its own free will, would, sure as shootin', have taken your head off. We hung out the car's back window as a parent gave it the gas. It was amazing. We got to where we were going, and back. And all survived.
My favorite Uncle John says, "When you guys were kids, we put you on the floor and hoped no one stepped on you. How's that for safety?"
I remember a student telling me a similar story once. Seems she was one of eight kids in an Irish-Catholic New Joisey family. "My father would pile us in the car and cruise on down the road. One time he took a curve too fast, the door I was leaning against opened, and I fell out of the car, landing on my butt. He was half a mile down the road before one of my brothers said, 'Hey Dad. Maureen fell out of the car."
I have visions of the paternal figure doing a 180 and zooming up to the spot where poor Maureen sat dazed in the gravel. I'm wondering if he said, "You're all right. C'mon. Get in." and, having scooped her up, sailed on to some other destination.
That's right. She was OK. We all are. We humans are sturdier than ya think.
But safety back then didn't include drive-in movies. My mother insisted my father take us all to see "Tom Jones" (the movie, not the swarmy singer) as she had heard it had "historical value." My brothers and I were young, garbed in p.j.s, sucking down YooHoo chocolate drinks in the back of that Ford station wagon. Yes, history was made as we took great interest in the movie's first seduction scene. My mother, good Catholic that she was, had a holy cow. My father put the car in drive and ripped the big metal audio speaker that was hanging on the driver's door from its roots. Off we went to the chastity of home. We lost the audio speaker about three blocks from the drive-in yard. I remember watching out the back of the station wagon window, hearing it clang on the road and seeing it bounce a couple of times, only to stop forlornly in the middle of the street, waiting for some truck to run it over. I remember seeing that movie later on in college and saying, "Hey, what's the big deal?" But I had experienced men by then, so all was understood. But where the heck's the YooHoo when you need it?
None of us are safe, my friends. Just go to an airport, get on a train, drive on the DC Beltway. I wonder if we try too hard to feel secure these days, instead of opening our arms wide to the world.