Wind in your hairóa
Commentary by JoELLEN
There was a
kind of innocence about the fifties, though I know there were hidden abuses and
problems then that todayís media expose.
comfortable Thanksgiving dinner with close friends and family, we reminisced
about some earlier, less politically correct days of childhood.
I imagined my own
youth in the ancient fifties. In Californiaís San Fernando Valley, year-long
outdoor play was the norm, and I joined in hundreds of dusk and after dinner
games of Hide-and-Go-Seek and Kick the Can. We didnít imagine abductors hiding
behind every tree; we hadnít yet started eating breakfast while looking at
faces on milk cartons. Nor did we fear speeding drivers, even though most of our
games were on the street. In short, we didnít waste much time thinking about
kidnappings, drunken drivers or creepy neighbors.
There was a kind
of innocence about the fifties, though I know there were hidden abuses and
problems then that todayís media expose. Most of our concerns were about polio
and other illnesses that were devastating; my third grade friend up the street
died in a hideous way from spinal meningitis.
Actually, when I
was 9 I lived across the street from the only frightening place of my childhood:
there resided Mrs. Kaminsky with 12 Doberman Pinschers penned up in her yard. We
dared each other on Halloween to walk slowly in the pitch black in front of her
spooky house. Our concerns, as it turns out, were valid; one of the dogs escaped
and attacked my father. I still can see the black rush of fur and Daddy falling
to the ground.
I think of those
years as a relatively wholesome time, even given the temptations of adolescence.
One high school holiday, we held a party in an empty house on the market with
full permission of the sellers. They didnít even think for a second about the
possibility of drunken kids destroying the place. (We didnít, by the way.) We
also felt free to drive convertibles with the tops down, tooling down Hollywood
Boulevard or out the Pacific Coast Highway, rock and roll music blaring from the
speakers. Seat belts were nonexistent.
Over pumpkin pie
we shared memories of a time in the lives of our children, now adults, who spent
some early years together as neighbors in the Serra Retreat area of Malibu. We
lived kitty-corner from each other, and most afternoons were filled with the
sounds of anywhere from 6 to 15 kids hitting balls against the wall in fiercely
competitive hand-ball, skateboards zipping by on the way down the curve of the
hill behind the house, Big Wheels clacking, or the giggles of little girls
dressing Barbies and lining up Little People at imaginary weddings. It was a
terrific neighborhood for kids, and we all felt perfectly safe as parents
letting them roam from house to house or through the fields adjacent to Malibu
Creek. The only "no-no" was going to the beach alone or crossing under
the highway through one of those gloomy tunnels rank with urine and dog
I might add that
we still drove in the pre-seat-belt era and were blissfully unaware of the
dangers inherent in driving carloads of kids everywhere. One of the daddies used
to give the kids a special ride for funĺhe would pile them in his small yellow
Porsche 914 convertible and drive the back streets of the valley below Malibu
Canyon. The wind whipped against their happy faces. No one considered the danger
should the car turn over. The fun, Iím sure we thought, was unique and the
driver sane enough to carry it off. Now I cringe to think of those heedless
I am not
advocating regression to the fifties or seventies or any previous era. Iím
glad we have seatbelts and helmets and good laws to protect us. Things are more
dangerous. My uncle took me on the Hollywood Freeway for driving lessons: he
couldnít do that today. Traffic has increased even, Iím sure, on the sleepy
country roads of our former Malibu neighborhood. I am sure that parents today
understand the risks, so well-publicized, of some of the casual attitudes we had
twenty or forty years ago.
I assume many
parents have relocated to towns like the ones in the Wood River Valley to
facilitate a safer environment for raising kids. When we moved here in the early
eighties I could look out my East Fork window and see close Malibu childhood
friends reunited in similar fields of play. Our two families had left the hectic
California life we once shared and felt secure in our new neighborhood.
carries its own hazards, of course, and I felt, in moving here, some loss by
missing the ethnic mix I used to teach in and wanted my daughters to experience.
Surely, also, we have seen our share of premature death and serious injury from
the mountain and the highway. Kids who grow up here are not immune to the lure
of drugs and alcohol, just as in more urban areas.
choose to live, there will be issues of concern.
Again, I donít
want to turn back the clock, but I wish for all of you some sense of the
innocence and freedom my generation experienced. May you recreate, in another
form, the feeling of wind blowing through your hair in a convertible on the open
road, lifeís possibilities still shimmering ahead.