When I was a boy, each day was a date with death. By today’s standards, anyway.

We used to climb trees like monkeys, and sometimes we’d fall out of them. Falling out of trees was half the fun of climbing them. It was also how we verified, once and for all, that gravity was real.

We used to swim all day in the twisting Messalonskee Stream, known mainly for its unpredictable currents and for eels said to be larger than grown men. We used to swim in ponds with squishy bottoms and we used to jump off cliffs into ice-cold quarries.

We used to go outside in the morning and not come home until dusk, and when we finally arrived, we’d be dirty, scratched and stinky.

We used to ride our bicycles everywhere, all day and into the night. These weren’t newfangled things with space-age aluminum and quantum-powered sprockets —they were mostly second-hand Huffys with bald tires and brakes that worked only some of the time. And only if you prayed a lot while going full bore down that steep rocky path behind the Waterville Armory because you were dared to.

We used to drink water straight from the hose, lapping at it like dogs and actually getting into fistfights over who got the first gulp.


We used to go sledding in winter, and the more treacherous the descent, the more fun. I probably slid 10,000 times down 100 hills in my youth, and I never once saw a kid wearing a helmet, protective goggles, elbow guards or a cup. We had our winter coats and our youthful bravado to protect us, by God — and the worst we ever suffered were a few cuts and bruises and the hot/cold torture that comes with plowing headfirst into crusty, unbroken snow.

We were brave back then, although we didn’t know it at the time. We were brave because we were allowed to be. The world hadn’t gone completely crazy yet. Children were allowed to experience the world, to encounter things that scared them and to overcome those fears. We learned that way. Sometimes learning was painful — but pain made the lessons stick.

I had a friend who died in an avalanche when he was 9 or 10 years old. You could say the poor boy might have lived had he not been allowed to play in the dirt, but I take exception to that logic. I had many friends who died in auto wrecks, too, and no one ever suggested that they should never have been allowed to ride in cars.

We used to ride in the backs of pickup trucks without compunction or fear of some god-awful court case. No seat belts, no harnesses, no protective pulley systems required by the state. We rode with the wind in our hair and with road dust in our eyes — and we liked it. Nobody thought we were daredevils or hellions; we were just young people going from one place to the other in the back of the truck instead of in the boring old front.

Every kid I knew carried some kind of a jackknife with a bottle opener, a corkscrew, a big blade and a little one. There wasn’t a single stabbing at any of the schools I attended. No kid ever put his eye out. We just opened bottles, carved apples and occasionally scratched our initials into all those trees that we climbed. “ML+BL TLA!”

We played dodge ball in gym class or at recess and, yes. I admit it — the aim of the game was to hit some other kid as hard as you could with a thick red ball and maybe knock the wind out of him. Maybe make his retainer go flying or leave an angry welt on his backside. No kid ever died playing dodge ball. I don’t think I ever even saw one cry — although damn, if we didn’t try. Dodge ball built character. Character sometimes stings a little as it’s being built.


We lived adventurous lives by the standards of today. We lived in a paradise of freedom and exploration.

Earlier this week, a great writer named Daisy Luther, who publishes a blog called “The Organic Prepper,” wrote a piece titled: “The Last Rebels: 25 Things We Did As Kids That Would Get Someone Arrested Today.” All of these things and more were listed in her blog. Walking to school alone, playing cops and robbers, camping, riding a bike with your best pal on the handlebars.

These are all things we used to do, but by and large, we don’t do anymore. Somewhere along the way, Big Brother began to insist that these kinds of pastimes are dangerous and dirty and insulting to this group or that one. Somewhere along the way, we began to believe them and what we have now is this: a society that doesn’t dare to do anything at all without proper permission, the consent of the community and state-certified safety gear.

I shared Daisy Luther’s blog with many people and what happened surprised me. What happened is that they were shocked by the long list of things we did as children and which are now verboten. Somehow they hadn’t come to realize that we’ve become a nation of racked nerves and endless fears, a society so brainwashed by years of nanny-state warnings that our initial reaction to most things is overreaction.

Kids today don’t have the wild adventures that we had, but you can’t blame them for that. The blame falls to us, because we’re the ones who let things get this way. By inviting the ever-expanding government into our personal lives, we now live in a world where children get removed from their homes because their parents let them go campingwalk home from school or play basketball by themselves in the backyard.

We have become afraid of our own shadows, and we’re passing those fears along to our children. Soon, the country will be run by a generation of people who have never climbed a tree, never swum in a creek, never learned to do anything at all without asking permission. So safe will they be in Big Brother’s cocoon, they might live to be 103.

But not a single day of it will have been lived free.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. If you have scars from falling off bicycles, rope swings or tree limbs, email him at mlaflamme@sunjournal.com.

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