How Did I Ever Survive

Now that I’m retired and generally wandering aimlessly through life, I have a chance to notice things that before had escaped my attention. I started thinking of all the little labels and warnings that seem to permeate our lives.  I don’t remember any labels or warnings about anything when I was growing up.  Everyone says that growing up in the 50s and 60s was a simpler time.  Do ya think?

Cars

As I was growing up I was driven around at various times in an eclectic assortment of cars, but they all had some things in common.  They all had steel dashboards, large steel steering wheels, no seatbelts, no airbags, no steel reinforced door panels, and no front crush zones.  They also had no pollution control devices of any kind like catalytic converters.  The gasoline contained lead and engines had to be tuned every 12,000 miles.  The now lost art of the carburetor was practiced regularly as was the art of the distributer, condenser, points, and plugs.  I still have my spark plug gapping tool as a memento of tasks no longer necessary.  A gentle wisp of blue smoke when your engine started meant that your cylinder rings were being lubricated properly.  The chassis, steering, and wheels needed to be lubricated every month and the bearing in each front wheel needed to be pulled, re-greased, and re-set at every other oil change.

Today, you buy a car, put gas in it, change the oil regularly, and have a nice life.  There’s a man on my street that owns, and regularly works on, an original ’65 Ford Mustang.  When he drives by, I don’t even have to look.  The sound of that 289 cubic inch V-8 is unmistakable.  Occasionally I will come up behind him at the end of our development and we will sit at the stoplight.  I’ll say to my wife, “can you smell that?” and she will say that “something stinks but I don’t know what it is.”  “That is the smell of the ‘60s,” and I’ll take a deep breath of nostalgia.  How did I ever survive?

Toys

I didn’t really have many toys growing up.  I was enamored with the “cowboy and Indian” scene that was common on television in those days and my toys seemed to go with those entertainment elements.  I remember having a half sized plastic Winchester 76 that was fed with plastic bullets that ejected by lever-action after each ‘shot.’  When playing outside, my most difficult problem was finding the ejected shells along the ground.  I also had a pair of half sized chrome plated plastic Colt .45 single action pistols that fit nicely in my twin quick draw holsters.  My gun belt held 24 plastic shells that also fit in my Winchester 76.  I can remember the countless hours playing and imagining with these toys.  They were easily the best toys I ever had and that’s exactly what they were, toys.  No one ever mistook my half sized toys for the real thing.  No one ever thought I was a violent child because I played with toy guns.  Somehow, after those many years of fighting the Indian wars and hunting outlaws in my backyard and woods, I managed to emerge as a normal kid.  How did I ever survive?

Consumer Information

In the 50s, there were no consumer labels on products.  If the label said there were beans in the can, well without any surprise, there actually were beans in the can.  No one knew the effects of sodium or cholesterol in the diet, and frankly, no one cared.  If it was too salty, you bought the other brand that wasn’t too salty.  If you happened to notice that you were getting a little paunchy around the middle, there was one way to handle that; get some exercise and eat a little less.  Generally, I think food was food.

Then the space age happened.  Specifically, when JFK said we should go to the moon by the end of the decade, everything changed for the worse.  Sure, we got felt-tipped pens and the microchip, but artificial orange juice [Tang] and roast beef dinners in a tube went up with the astronauts.  The processed food craze was born.  Pre-processed food began to take over the entire marketplace while the fresh fruit and vegetable areas in stores got smaller.  Then the medical community started to notice that people were getting sick.  Cholesterol levels rose rapidly and high blood pressure from sodium in these processed foods were causing some serious heart problems.

My parents never had such problems.  My mother went to the store every other day or so to pick up the things she needed for the meals she had planned for the week.  If she had put potatoes au gratin from a box on the table, I can just imagine what would have happened.

Eventually it became more profitable and far more popular to process food that could be cooked in a microwave in minutes than growing, packaging, and shipping fresh produce.  As the demand for fresh food went down, fresh produce became a gourmet item.  Now they call it ‘organic’ and charge 300% more for it.  If you ever want a good laugh, follow me into the market and watch what happens when I wander into the ‘organic’ section.  I begin yelling talking at the packages of produce as though they had just kicked me in the shins.  It’s not pretty.  The first time I saw an ‘organic’ vegetable I asked my wife, “what’s THAT supposed to mean?”  She said, “it means that it’s grown in the ground without any chemicals added.”  That was pretty much when I completely lost it.  Now I just go to the regular produce section and hope for the best.

The point where consumer information has gone over the edge seems to be in the ‘allergen’ category.  When I was young, no one was allergic to anything.  There were some things we didn’t like: beets, brussel sprouts, sauerkraut, but that was different.  In addition, it seems that consumers need to be informed, sometimes rather loudly, that the product they are about to buy has, or might have, or was produced in the same room as, a certain ingredient.  How did I ever survive without that knowledge?

Warning Labels

Today, the most offensive, the most egregious, the most dangerous ingredient that a food product can have is the lowly peanut.  Over the years, the lowly peanut has climbed to the top the child allergen list.  My whole childhood was built around the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or the peanut butter and fluff sandwich, or just about anything with peanuts involved in it.  Today, just to make sure you know what you’re doing, there’s a warning label on peanut butter jars.  If anyone in the 50s had put a label on a jar of peanut butter that said “Caution, May Contain Peanuts,” they wouldn’t have sold a single jar.  At what point did the American people become so stupid as to be completely surprised that peanut butter might actually contain peanuts?

Well, it’s not the consumer this time.  We now live in a litigation society.  Sure there were people and companies being sued when I was young, but I think the poster child for frivolous lawsuits was in 1994 in Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants where it was argued successfully that at 180–190 °F, McDonald’s coffee was defective because it was too hot.  That’s when product labeling and warnings became almost funny.  Product labels don’t really inform you of anything you don’t already know, they are there to protect the producing company from being sued by people like Mrs. Liebeck.

We were at a Panera Bread recently, had gotten our food and I went over to get some coffee.  There was a sign on the brushed aluminum container that said “Caution HOT!”  Well, I stopped and in a fit of anthropomorphic fervor, I began to yell talk to the coffee urn, “Well, no sh#t Sherlock, of course it’s hot!  That’s why it’s called HOT coffee, you twit!”  When I got back to the table, my wife said, “there was nobody else over there, who were you talking to?”  I just smiled and wondered how I ever survived this long without all these warnings.

© J T Weaver

Related Posts:    Water, Air, and Dirt    My Mother’s Birthday     Lazy

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About J T Weaver

The author of "Uphill Both Ways," a thought provoking series of stories about life, family, and growing up.
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32 Responses to How Did I Ever Survive

  1. Bob says:

    Times do change, one day at a time. Tell all of your stories and keep repeating them. As you know, or they will get lost. Life is a story for each of us. Look closely as you sit at the coffee shop and see the youth act out their story. They will have great stories similar to ours.I hope they are different and full of Love and Happiness, excitement, and more.

    Like

  2. Grandma says:

    My favorite is the instruction to remove the baby before folding the stroller.

    Like

  3. Anonymous says:

    From this blog, it would appear that we could have grown up in the same neighborhood…glad we survived! When my son (44) was born, car seat/baby carriers were non-existent…now you need a SUV to hold one.

    Like

  4. jatwood4 says:

    Great post! The one that kills me is warnings on advertisements for prescription drugs. “Here — take this to soothe your —, but watch out for suicidal thoughts and actions, beware a cough or achy muscles or stiff joints or rashes or odd behavior, don’t take with alcohol or milk or grapefruit juice or late at night or with or without food, etc.” Really makes me want to try that pill!

    Like

  5. Dagny says:

    I was chuckling as I read this. We never had packaged water in my childhood. More likely than not when we felt thirsty while playing, we drank water from someone’s garden hose… and we never minded the dirt that we swallowed either- nor did our mothers.

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    • J T Weaver says:

      My father used to say that there are 3 things in life that should always be free because they are an integral part of nature: water, dirt, and air. Somehow, not sure how or why, water is $1 a gallon, dirt is $5 a bag, and air is $.50 a minute at the gas station. Seriously, humans are so stupid!

      Thanks for reading, I’m glad you liked it.

      Like

  6. raloki says:

    Great article with so much truth but also humour in it. So many young people don’t even know how to cook these days from scratch, which is mostly how I cook, and have taught my three boys the same. I love peanut butter and cheese or peanut butter and scrambled egg sandwiches – that would probably be a no-no for the health experts. Used to live on a street that had a steep slope and rode a trolley down it, and survived, though a bit scared at the speed by the end. We also had a long swinging thing at the park that we used to get one person standing on each end and get swinging as high as possible then one would jump off the end – none of us managed to brain ourselves doing that yet when I helped with a playground project a few years ago we had all sorts of regulations of what was allowed and was safe. Used to ride on the trailer attached to the tractor on my uncle’s hilly farm too. All good memories.

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    • J T Weaver says:

      I think over the years, we have fallen to complete over-reaction to various events. Some kid stupidly gets hurt on the jungle-gym and suddenly all jungle-gyms are banned. Slowly everything is disappearing. Thanks for reading. I’ glad you liked it.

      Like

  7. Margie says:

    How nice to be reminded of what really was great about the past! I think I’ll go make a peanut butter sandwich for lunch.

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  8. So much good sense. I despair of this “dumbed” down, litigious society.I went through a pretty similar life and you’ve left me wondering – “how did I survive?”. Terrific post.

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  9. Those of us of a certain age can certainly relate to this post. In the 1950’s kids still stood in the back seat from time to time, to break the monotony of long trips. Of course it wasn’t likely that the driver was going 75 or 80 miles an hour. But times did seem simpler then.

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  10. I enjoyed reading your post and I do miss the good ol days! I grew up more in the 60’s and remember seeing things change from a nation of innocence to a nation who lost her civility and self respect…and yet the 60’s still had a certain flavor that life was good and we can do anything if we try. I remember not seeing any overweight people and when Mom saw one she would warn me to not stare as it was so rare here where I grew up and live today. I think our nation thought or assumed we all had common sense and as you mentioned if it was too slaty we knew to switch brands! Life was much more simple for sure! Thanks for sharing…your made brought back memories and good times:)

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  11. diz96 says:

    When we had no school, My mother used to open the door at dawn and say “get out!! Come back when it’s dark!” We’d run around with no shoes, shooting bottle rockets at each other, drinking cokes and icees, riding our bikes and skateboards and rollerskating without a helmet and flak jacket, and nobody was dosed up with claritin or zyrtek. If somebody tried to sell you a bottle of water they’d be laughed out of the state. If you did well in school, good for you. If you didn’t, you had to work harder, they didn’t make the material easier. Teachers would tell us to shut up and listen, and we would. Only the winner would get a trophy, so that trophy meant something.

    You survived because you figured out how. You survived because you knew that the only one who was to blame if you didn’t, was you.

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  12. msplayful says:

    Thanks for the memories. (Will Bob Hope sue me for use of his signature song?) Oh, the good old days when I went barefoot all summer long. When my grandmother would send me out to the garden to gather vegetables for dinner as she began to prepare the meat. We were poor, but we ate very well back then and I didn’t even realize it. If we didn’t have something and needed it, my grandmother made it. There were not labels on everything warning you of what could happen or what it contained – just like you said. Those labels cause undue anxiety today. I think worrying was missing in those long ago days. It was what it was.

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  13. Opalla says:

    I have enjoyed reading your post and probably because I have almost reached the same life stage (semi-retired as I call it). Not only I wonder like you how I could come this far, but I also worry about what it does to our children and their children. What kind of mentality are we shaping in this world?

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    • J T Weaver says:

      My wife and I are trying the simple life as much as possible. Eat a little less, exercise a little more, and a little less junk food. Just like our parents did. It seems to be working nicely.

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  14. Cindy Wayland says:

    I can just see you talking to hot coffee pots and organic vegetables! So funny! :oD

    My mom used to make spaghetti sauce from scratch…we kids told her we liked the school’s spaghetti sauce better than hers. What did the school use? Bottled spaghetti sauce! So mom started buying and using Ragu’….never made her own sauce again. :o(

    And, in my opinion, the microwave and processed foods made things easier for working women… Just come home, toss something in the microwave. Voila’! Dinner’s ready! But it’s probably one of those “chicken or egg” riddles — what came first — more women started working outside the home or the microwave enabled more women to work outside the home?

    And yes, I love the part of your story about allergies! People were allergic to pollen back when I was a kid, but nobody was ever allergic to anything having to do with food!!

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