Having grown up when kids roamed freely while parents smoked Salems, wore belted vests, ate pimento cheese and adjusted console televisions, my upbringing was undoubtedly different than my children’s. Without a 24/7 supply of internet information, my hopes, dreams and fears were based on my imagination, influenced by what others told me and what I saw in movies, television, and comic books.
Ask my kids what scares them, and they’d tell you ghosts, zombies, basements, evil clowns, serial killers, and shopping mall Santas. Pretty standard. But I feared a lot more as a child, including:
- Quicksand. In the 20th Century we believed that while poking around in the woods we might inadvertently sink into a lethal pit of quicksand and meet an agonizing death. Why? Because this happened to actors in just about every television show and movie of our time, including “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “Scooby Do,” “Indiana Jones,” “Johnny Quest,” and “Gilligan’s Island.”
- Razor blades in Halloween treats. Before the advent of economical “fun sized” candies, some neighbors weren’t willing to shell-out for full-sized Zagnuts, so they handed out more economical but boring fruit — the perfect hiding place for razor blades, according to our parents. Apparently, the razor blade threat is an urban myth and the real danger was trick-or-treaters coming back to toilet paper the houses of the cheapskates who didn’t give out candy.
- Hitchhikers. Thirty years ago, hitchhiking was a relatively safe mode of transportation, but disturbing stories circulated at summer camp and slumber parties about murderous hitchers. I never saw Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and my own brother-in-law rode the D.C. slug lines without incident for years, but hitchhikers were creepy nonetheless.
- Stepping in poo. When I grew up, it was everywhere. People let their dogs roam just like the kids, and called them back if they didn’t show up on the porch in an hour or two. No one picked up dog poo, except big brothers who speared it with sticks to chase little sisters. (Trust me.) There were no signs with bag dispensers reading “Pick up after your pet!” Dog poo was a fact of life, and stepping in it was a real danger. Which leads me to the next terror …
- Getting worms. “Put on your flip flops or you’ll get worms!” my mother used to bellow between puffs of her Taryton 100. Apparently, people weren’t as conscientious about vet care back then, so getting worms was a real possibility for barefoot kids. When I didn’t heed her warnings, I was punished with few bee stings, but never got worms. Aside from the revolting thought of poo squishing between my toes, the fear of parasites feeding on my innards had me steering clear of piles.
- Any disease requiring a large brace, an iron lung, shock treatments, or a lobotomy. Sure, needles aren’t fun. But I’d take a shot in the arm any day to the diseases that we faced as kids. Vaccinations were new, so we heard real cases of polio, mumps, measles, and chickenpox and the rumors of treatments were terrifying. Plus, we all knew a kid at school who wore a humongous contraption to brace his legs or spine, and feared we’d end up with a disease too.
- Getting chopped up in an outboard motor, locked in an abandoned refrigerator, or having an arm ripped off by a passing car. Although we never knew people who had suffered these fates, grown ups told us that, if we weren’t careful, these things might happen. We couldn’t google to fact check their claims and accepted them as fact.
- People with tattoos. Today, it’s normal to see a mom pushing a stroller with roses tattooed around her bicep. But in my day, with the exception of military men, it was assumed that people with tattoos had suffered some misfortune in life that compelled them to become dangerous deviants, probably carrying switchblades.
Being a kid used to be pretty scary. But nowadays, children can safely munch their fun-sized candy bars and dream of their first (or second) tattoo, knowing that helicopter parents, pharmaceuticals, and the internet will protect them.
Now that’s scary.