Roy Exum: How Did We Survive?

Friday, May 22, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Sometime last week an anonymous email popped up on my computer and, as you will soon see, it is a delight. It is also somewhat of a mystery. As you read it, you’ll notice mention of two Chattanooga area companies that are more than happenstance. Mayfield ice cream was made in Athens, but Scotty Mayfield and his extended family are as “Chattanooga” as I am. Secondly, it mentions TV stations 3, 9, and 12 which scream Chattanooga’s signature after Harry Thornton, Mort Lloyd, Randy Smith, Marcia Cling, Darrell Patterson and still-beautiful Cindy Sexton.

I’ll guarantee somebody from these parts penned this jewel and, whoever you are, thanks for this warm reminder we had a lot of fun before the coronavirus, the Internet, and the cell phones that now rudely persist regardless of the conversation or the meal.

I can’t believe how the children of today seem to have twice as many diseases as we had growing up. I understand why mental anguish is at an all-time high, and I can remember when the strongest Democrats and the most-entrenched Republicans could have lunch with one another, and all laugh together. I remember when gentlemen had manners and couth, and when every female was a lady unless she gave you a strong reason to believe otherwise.

As I share what I hope will be a soon-not-to-be anonymous story, let me ask that if you know the author, pass along what a delight it was for me to read it:

* * *

TO ALL WHO SURVIVED THE 50's, 60's and 70's

First, we all survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant. They took aspirin, drank wine, and ate all kinds of sweets and unhealthy foods (by today's standards), and didn't ever need to get tested for diabetes.

Then after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with lead-based paints and bars wide enough to fit our heads through. We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, no childproofing of doors or cabinets. There weren't any safety plugs in the electric outlets and some of us learned the hard way not to stick scissors, knives, or forks into them.

As infants and children, we would ride in cars with no crumple zones to absorb accident damage, no car seats, booster seats, seat belts or air bags. Only metal dashboards to stop our heads in an accident. My mother's right arm was our only safety constraint.

I lived over a mile from elementary school, and even in the harshest cold and snow in winter, we actually walked to and from school. No buses or being chauffeured by a parent.

When we rode our bikes, we had no helmets to protect our heads, and no reflectors or any other safety equipment. Many of us rode on the handlebars, downhill! And, we didn't need any fancy 5, 10, or 15 speed bikes, one speed was all we had! Slow, unless you were going downhill!

We drank water from the kitchen faucet and garden hose and NOT from a bottle or refrigerated cooler. This was particularly risky in a town if you drank from the well water!

We fished and swam in most likely semi-polluted rivers and lakes, and we survived.

We shared one soft drink with four friends, passing the one bottle, and none of us actually got sick or died from this.

We ate loads of Hostess cupcakes and Twinkies, white bread and real butter, drank Golden Gallon whole milk chock full of fat, ate Mayfield's ice cream full of fat, ate too many rare hamburgers and too much pizza, and drank Kool-Aid made with real sugar, but we weren't overweight because we were always outside playing!

We would leave home in the morning and play all day, with no supervision, and as long as we were back home by the time the streetlights came on, there was never any panic or concern. Some parents would yell or whistle loudly when it was time to come home. Other than that, no one was able to reach us all day long. And we were just fine.

We would spend hours building our go-carts and minibikes out of scraps only to find out we had no brakes and an engine from an old lawnmower. But we adapted. After running into the bushes a few times, or wearing out the soles of our shoes, we learned to solve that problem.

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 250 channels on cable or satellite TV, no video movies or DVD's, no surround-sound or CD's, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet, Twitter or chat rooms!

Most of us didn't have air-conditioning in our homes; if we were lucky, we had a fan that only blew hot air on us, but somehow, we survived. Not even color TV, if your family even owned a TV. And, there was no remote control either. I was the remote; my parents would tell me to get up and change the channel, of which there were only three: 3, 9 and 12. Late night and early morning TV consisted of a test pattern! I still remember waiting for those Saturday morning cartoons to come on. But somehow, we survived.

We had real life FRIENDS and we went outside and found them! We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents. Some of us ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and now hear they were actually good for us, ingesting some of the minerals and other organic matter. It probably kept us from getting otherwise sick, that today's kids are very prone to. Leading us to the next situation.

We never heard of ADD, ADHD, Bi-Polar, PTSD, and never needed any Prozac, Adderall, Ritalin or any other of the alphabet of drugs they give kids today.

Boys were given BB guns for our 10th or 11th Birthdays which we proudly brought to school for "Show & Tell." Today, we'd be going to jail and expelled from school.

We were left to our own devices, and made up games, or just threw sticks and rocks at each other, and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out any eyes. Although I came close, I remember my brother and I throwing sharp-pointed metal darts at each other in our basement, and I got one stuck in my forehead. He just pulled it out and we kept on throwing. Today, a parent would call 911.

We rode bikes or walked to friends' homes and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them and their parents! Imagine that! And we knew all our neighbors, and they knew us. If we got out of line, our parents would always find out about it.

Little League and Pee Wee Football had actual tryouts, often having to walk or ride our dangerous bikes to parks miles away. And back then, not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that! Today they get a trophy just for showing up!

The idea of a parent bailing our asses out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law and the police officers! And knew their names, as they were usually friends! Now, they get sued if they arrest little Johnny who just happens to be high on drugs and robbing a convenience store. And teachers could actually discipline us without getting sued or fired.

Despite everything we endured, our generations have produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever!

The past 70 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. But we had freedom, failure, success, and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all!

Congratulations to all my friends that survived, what in today's terms would be considered a dangerous and unhealthy time.

But, what did we know, we were too busy having fun, spending quality time with our parents and friends? And, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

The real litmus test would be that, although we (people around my age) are surviving pretty well with all the technology and new rules of the new world; but could today's generation have survived in ours the way we grew up?

* * *

The Greatest Generation:  you betcha’ they were.

The Most Wonderful Generation: I’m a member.

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