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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of December 11 - 17, 2002

Opinion Column

Wind in your hairóa reckless memory

Commentary by JoELLEN COLLINS

There was a kind of innocence about the fifties, though I know there were hidden abuses and problems then that todayís media expose.

During a 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 droppings.

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 rides.

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.

Every area 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.

Wherever parents 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.


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