Syracuse, New York . . . Sioux City, Iowa . . . Joplin, Missouri . . . and a thousand
other municipalities across the country, all places where you can slide but you can’t
sled. All these places have hills and they have snow, and they have children who
own sleds who can no longer zip down their town’s hills. Insurance executives say
it’s too dangerous. Of course the fault doesn’t lie with the insurance companies but
the dunder-headed judges who somehow think that the particular city in question
caused either the hill or the snow.
One more thrill gone from childhood. ‘Tis a pity. I have a childhood friend
now living in Texas whose nose is permanently pointed toward New Mexico
because of a mishap with a barbed wire fence at the bottom of Thompson’s Hill in
Perry, Illinois. He thinks it gives him a mark of distinction and I couldn’t disagree. He
knew the hill was there, he knew it was slick, and he only momentarily forgot about
the fence. In 1960 no one would have even considered suing the owner of the hill. I
knew Thompson and he’d have rightly laughed in your face.
No, I’m not among the grouches who complain that, “When I was young they
never called off school for cold weather!” They’re thinking back to a day when there
was usually a parent at home to take the kids to school and pick them up if
necessary. We’ve asked the schools to become surrogate parents for a nation that’s
sadly losing the skill itself and when you’re mommy and daddy to 300 kids you tend
to take fewer chances.
But my how I do miss the hint of danger that used to be associated with
growing up. Superman was the rage when I was a youngster and in order to emulate
the caped hero a few of us grabbed dishtowels out of our mother’s kitchen drawers
and skedaddled down to the Presbyterian Church to try out our flying skills. Side
note: bath towels are not good for flying. They weigh you down. The perfect
Superman cape is a threadbare dishtowel that allows the wind to easily lift you
across the Mississippi River, on toward the Rockies, then allowing for a gentle
landing in the banks of the San Francisco harbor. Truth is, when we jumped off the
entryway to the church basement we didn’t go quite that far. More like the lilac bushes beside the west windows. But for that glorious half a second we were
Superman and it was a heady delight. How far can a six-year-old fly off a church
roof? As far as possible before Johnny Stauffer’s mother catches you, slaps your butt
and sends you home. Superman had it easy. All he had to deal with was the
combined evil forces of the world and kryptonite. He never met Margaret Stauffer.
An old-timer in Arenzville told me about the days when as a teenager he and
his friends would put their Ford truck on the railroad tracks west of town, take their
hands off the wheel, and ride the tracks all the way to Beardstown. He said that back
in the days before radials, the tires would slightly fold themselves over the rails and
you didn’t even have to steer. Knowing that the lawyers in Syracuse, Sioux City, and
Joplin would object to this I asked him what would happen if they saw a train
coming at them. “Then we’d get the hell off the tracks!” A simple solution that
needed no court of law to determine the wisdom.
Sometimes when you try to keep a child locked up in a cocoon you don’t
produce a butterfly, simply a larva that hasn’t learned how to fly. There are at least a
dozen cases working their way through U.S. courts brought by parents who are
suing the manufacturers of video games and cell phones. Their children’s thumbs
have become injured. Dear God. It would be a comic movie if it didn’t so nearly
resemble a tragedy.
When will we learn that the child who is protected from every possible
danger grows up to become the lady who sues McDonald’s because she spilled hot
coffee on her lap?
The folks of my old hometown have created their own webpage on which
residents and former residents (including the Texan with the broken nose) write in
to share memories and pictures of days gone by as well as what’s now happening in
Perry. It warmed my heart last week to see that a mother had posted pictures of her
kids sledding down Thompson’s Hill. Go to it, kids! Slip! Slide! Come hold cold and
just a little bit excited because you skidded along the edges of a little danger and
you’re now smarter for the experience. And one more thing . . . watch out for that