When I was a kid, hardly anyone wore seatbelts. The bed of a pickup truck was often packed with people. People actually sat back to back or sideways in vehicles known as station wagons. A 12-year-old could drive a tractor on the highway if he was going from one field to another.
(I once drove a tractor on the highway to Waco’s, about a mile away, because I needed a bottle of model-car paint.)
House fires were spectator sports. People would hear the fire whistle and go chasing off to see the fire. My father was an avid chaser of fires. I’m grateful that he never took me to see anything much more severe than a grease fire. It would’ve been traumatic to see some poor man, engulfed in flames, staggering off his back porch.
Then again, once there were public hangings. I missed those.
When I was 14, I received a permit that allowed me to drive as much as I wanted as long as I was accompanied by an adult. At about the same time, the State of South Carolina relieved my dad of his driving privileges for six months. I became his chauffeur. I’m pretty sure such an arrangement would be frowned upon today. At 15, when I received a restricted (daytime) license, I’m pretty sure I was one of the more experienced drivers among the 15-year-olds of my time.
My father often allowed me to ride around on the tailgate of his pickup truck. On occasion, when perhaps Daddy thought I was getting a bit big for my britches (still a flaw of mine), he would drive fast across a ditch or a terrace and intentionally pitch me off the tailgate. I never got anything worse than a skinned (skint) knee; my father consistently got a huge laugh out of my misfortune.
“Better hold on next time, Monte boy!”
Being paddled was a common experience at school. Once a math teacher named David J. Martin paddled me so hard that my knees sent his heavy desk sliding across the classroom floor. I think I may have miscalculated a multinomial or something.
A healthy minority of the faculty at Clinton High School smoked, which was obvious any time I walked by the door of the teachers’ lounge. Perhaps that’s the reason there were designated smoking areas for students.
My bicycle, a Western Flyer because it was purchased at Western Auto, had one speed. I rode it everywhere: to and from school, across town, to the movies, occasionally to the next town, which was Laurens in one direction and Joanna in the other. My nephews are grown now, but I don’t think any of them ever rode a bike beyond the boundaries of the farm.
Even when I played football, I had to get up early and feed the livestock. I’m pretty sure the next generation in our family never emptied the trash and I’m almost positive they never washed anything, be they dishes or clothes.
Sometimes I look at old race cars and think to myself, it’s a wonder anyone ever survived driving those things.
Then I recall the conditions of my boyhood and I realize it’s a wonder any of us survived, period.
We were tough. We were blissfully ignorant. We had no idea how bad we had it and what peril we were consistently and invariably in.