Friday, November 4, 2016

I Don't Know What Kind of Free Range Chicken '70s Childhood People Remember But Mine Was Survival

See this nice playset? The chains are plastic encased, like a latex wrap, around each link so that there are no pinched fingers, no accidental scrape from a rusty spot that will develop into tetanus while your precious angel sleeps.

The tire has rubber brackets sealing the rivets that fasten the chain so that your child's thighs don't come into contact with a nasty metal edge. Farther over, to the right of this photo, is a 'horsey' swing, but it's minus the metal horsey head that sometimes became jagged along the mane from exposure to the elements.

Of extreme note is the soft and supple swing seat, the kind of bottom-hugging provided so different from the flat slats that see-sawed you off if you sat in them too quickly.

This is a safe playset. I'm sure there was some sort of play-lab situation where clip boards and white-lab coated researchers were called in to take note of possible injurious situations. This is my kids' playset and this is their life in the 2000s.

Now, my childhood, the one from the early '70s, was a different one from the things that have been written about with regard to growing up before so much child injury and safety obsession.

I read what people remember from this time, the afternoons spent uncaged and unsupervised, and the words are cast with undeniable wistfulness for the free range days of the past.

I don't think that was a good thing. Because when I sit back and place myself in the days before needing deodorant and Clearasil, it's not with the same sighs of nostalgia of these '70s remembers. I sigh, loud and in disbelief, for the number of times we were in the emergency room. Stitches, casts, ace bandage wraps, and being woken every two hours in the night after a head injury. I don't recall free range but I do recall the free fall of those days.

You'd think my question would be Why would my mother buy us plastic guns that shot out corks, bows that did indeed shoot arrows--rubber tips do nothing to tone down the sting of a target hit, bouncy balls the circumference of an electric car and that sent you face down into coffee tables, and rusty gougey untethered unsafe, backyard play sets? Why? Maybe with that last one, I might be able to understand: dirt cheap light weight cash and carry aluminum.

I was talking to a friend this morning, and as conversation goes with good friends, we went from hello how was your coffee to "OMG Do you remember the dangerous toys we had?" in three texts.

Did you have the kid coffee percolator?
OMG Yes.
How about the lawn jarts?
Sweet Baby Jesus we had them too.
How about that dangerous red bouncy ball you rode?
And the clackers that your brothers had that could crack a skull from across the street?
Yes. Both. The clackers and the brother that almost took my eye out.

I look at the safe and reassuring playset above, and think of my children on the day this structure went up. They watched from the kitchen windows while three workers hammered things into place, and after 10 questions of Can we go out yet? Is it done yet? It'll be done today, right? I gave the go ahead and my kids shoved their way out the kitchen door and had at it, not a worry in the world.

That was 15 years ago, and the playset is as safe now as it was that first day. We've had no reason to take it down either.

Contrast what my children's playset memories will be to the playset of my childhood, a metal seat and rod delight that lasted from Friday night to Saturday evening.

It was a saddle-like looking pumping station, made up of four seats. Each seat radiated out from the center and in front of the seat was a handle. You pumped, all four of you, as hard and as fast as you could and the seats would twirl around and now we know why the box was marked with a name I know I will never forget, Twirly Bird.

The first Friday afternoon, we set out to pump. Young, cautious, by Saturday afternoon we had become careless. I'll bet you thought I was going to say braver, maybe confident. Nope, we didn't respect the power of the spin, so careless is what we were. All four of us set to pumping, spinning, pumping, spinning faster, pumping, twirling, going going going spin spin spin! Until the pull became too much for a 42 pound weight of a little girl temporarily mad with spinning power and I (was there any doubt who that little girl was) went careening off my saddle seat and my small pinhead barely missed the cement block foundation of the basement of our house. I landed four feet away, on my back, staring as much as I was able, into the blue summer sky, cumulus clouds overhead, so serene and in juxtaposition to the terror I was unable to voice as I gripped the blades of grass with my fingers, desperate for them to hold me to the ground and keep me from falling in the sky above or below. I was as befuddled as a pilot in a pitch black night flying over an ocean. I could no longer discern up from down.

Next to drop like a shooting star was my brother. My little sister was tossed off like one of those white haired dummies on the shelf at a carnival. We were dropping like flies and after my brother threw up the green Kool-Aid we had had for lunch as he was sent projectile to the other side of the yard, my mother was done. She had the tenant from the floor below dismantle the Twirly Bird and she didn't tell him to take care with it, as I recall.

The Sears purchase was placed curbside, not even donated to a thrift center. My mother did not want any other child plucked into the atmosphere against their will again.

I tried to find a picture of the Twirly Bird for this post. I googled "World's most dangerous toys." I tried "World's most irresponsible toys." I searched "class action lawsuit toys." I tried "vintage but deadly toys."


The thing is, I know the Twirly Bird was real. The memory I have of complete disorientation is one no one forgets.

That Twirly Bird was real, as real as I'm sure the days of the '70s that others remember as free wheelin' exploratory fun.

Free wheelin' for them, but free hurling through space, for me.

Hurling, definition: the act of throwing or casting, usually with great force or strength. See: Twirly Bird.
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  1. I feel dizzy just reading about this alleged Twirly Bird ;)

  2. I'm pretty sure we had a Twirly Bird in our neighborhood.
    At the very least, I can confirm it was real.

  3. You are completely correct. We lived on the edge of imminent harm at all times in the 70s. And while I can appreciate the exhilaration of those days spent dancing on the edge of danger, as a mother, I would NEVER want that for my kid. What a difference a couple of decades makes, right? Feels a little hypocritical, but imma go with it.

  4. Your description was perfect. I vaguely remember the Twirly Bird. But OMG - those clackers! I didn't need a brother, I hurt my arms, my legs ... But that wonderful loud clacking noise - addictive bam bam bam!



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