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The Generation of Risk Takers
that Evolved from the ‘Stone Age’
Gregory J. Rummo
rounds on the Internet is one of those e-mails
forwarded to everybody and his mother. This one
describes the common, every-day dangers we faced
growing up as kids in the 50s and 60s. After
reading through it I couldn’t help wonder how we
managed to survive in a world that by today’s
standards would be deemed stone-age and in some
cases, downright dangerous.
The simple advantage of living in a civilized
country in the Western World provided some measure
of safety. But there are other reasons why more of
us weren’t maimed or killed before our time.
The e-mail begins with unsafe activities like
riding in cars before the advent of air bags or
seat belts or in the bed of a pick-up. With fewer
cars on the road a half century ago, it was
statistically safer to drive. But we weren’t in
such a hurry either to get to wherever it was we
We all had a little more of something called time—a
shrinking commodity that 21st century conveniences
were supposed to create more of. But the more time
we have, the faster we burn it up multitasking our
way through life. We drive at least 65 MPH while
talking on a cell phone, listening to the radio and
sipping a cup of scalding coffee. We can’t even
watch the news on television without a simultaneous
scrawl of headlines across the bottom of the
screen. The time—in three time zones—flashes in a
small box just above Wall Street’s closing prices
and slightly to the left of the local, five-day
The e-mail goes on to cite other dangers like cribs
covered with lead-based paint, no childproof lids
on medicine bottles, riding bicycles without
helmets and drinking water from the garden hose,
not from a bottle of spring water.
Cribs covered with lead paint and medicine bottles
without childproof caps didn’t present a danger
because Mom didn’t have to work. She stayed home
with us while Dad played the role of breadwinner.
We weren’t left to rot like prisoners in a crib
where, out of boredom, we’d gnaw on the
lead-painted rails. We couldn’t get into the
medicine cabinet and chow down on those pretty
colored pills because Mom always had one eye on us
(although one time I remember my mother frantically
reaching into my mouth to remove a wad of orange
flavored Aspergum that I had decided tasted pretty
Dad taught music in a New York City public school.
I never remember him grumbling about his salary. He
was thankful for his job and somehow, we managed.
Dad made enough to buy a modest house and support
Mom and me. My parents paid less than $6,000 for
our first home, a small white Cape Cod with black
shutters in the suburbs of Westchester County, NY.
Bicycles weren’t safer. They were just ridden with
both hands on the handlebars, both feet on the
pedals and both wheels on the ground. Grinding was
reserved for coffee beans and peppercorns.
Tap water was safe to drink because it wasn’t
contaminated with traces of millions of different
organic chemicals, heavy metals, radioactive
thorium and bacteria or if it was, we didn’t know.
We were too busy eating dirt to worry about
drinking out of a garden hose anyway.
“We would leave home in the morning and play all
day,” the e-mail reminisces. “As long as we were
back when the streetlights came on… We got cut and
broke bones and broke teeth and there were no
lawsuits from these accidents [because] …no one was
to blame but us. We had fights and punched each
other and got black and blue and learned to get
“We did not have Playstations, Nintendo 64, X
Boxes… 99 channels on cable, [or] video taped
movies. We had friends. We went outside and found
them. We …walked to a friend's home and knocked on
the door, or rung the bell or just walked in and
talked to them.”
We interacted with each other on a personal basis.
There was no hiding behind firewalls in chat rooms
and message boards or using e-mail to tell people
things you’d never think of saying to their face.
Personal responsibility, forgiving one another
without the thought of litigation and the absence
of victimhood, a word so new my spell check just
flagged it—such was life in America when I was a
I turned out OK and I am willing to bet you did too
despite having grown up in a risk filled,
lead-laced, laissez-faire, germ-ridden,
non-litigious, electronically deprived society.
The e-mail concludes: “[That] generation …produced
some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and
inventors ever.” It’ll be a tough act to follow for
our kids today.
Gregory J. Rummo is a syndicated columnist.
Visit his website www.GregRummo.com
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