I sometimes marvel that I made it through childhood without a bike helmet, safety goggles or the evaluation of my neighborhood by the Consumer Products Safety Commission.
Don’t get me wrong, there is some dangerous stuff out there today, including an assortment of Chinese goods with a generous coating of lead paint.
But if the government safety gurus had set up shop where we lived and played, there are several items that would have been immediately banned.
Sticks: A stick was the greatest and most versatile toy a boy could have. A really big stick or limb was a gun, a sword, the corner post for a fort or the support for a tent or a hut. What you could do with a stick was limited only by your imagination.
Wheels and tires: If you had one wheel, you could do something fun. But if you had two wheels and they were about the same size, you could make something really, really cool. We made an assortment of rolling stock, ranging from a would-be car to a trailer to pull behind your bicycle. We seemed to have a fascination with building things that would require one person to either push on foot or pull by pedaling a bicycle. If we made it halfway to our intended destination without losing all the wheels, it was a rousing success.
Big nails: At some point, my dad bought a really big box of nails that were about as big around as a pencil and about 5 or 6 inches long. The nails had a big head on them, which was helpful in that we weren’t very good at hammering nails. This had something to do with the fact that we were generally not hammering them with a hammer, but rather a big rock, a baseball bat or a tool not designed for hammering.
The other thing about big nails is that most times we never hammered them all the way in — just until they were sturdy and tight and then we’d bang them over sideways.
Big rocks or bricks: Someone knocked over a neighbor’s brick mailbox and all new bricks were brought in for the replacement. The neighbor gave us all of the old ones, some of which were still held together by mortar. Having real bricks was the real deal. We made a place inside a hut that was our safe, where we would keep stuff that was important if you were a kid.
A nice sized piece of lumber: One summer, a neighbor built a deck on their house and had an extra 4-by-4 board. It was about 10 feet long and it took three of us to carry it. It was sturdy enough to make a bridge across the ditch that was out in the woods. We would walk across that 4-inch-wide span and hope we wouldn’t fall and hit our head on all the rocks and bricks we had left below.
OK, I’m the first to admit that I came home, sometimes in tears, with my fair share of bumps and bruises. These came from various injuries from trying to hammer with rocks or a wheeled ride that went careening out of control.
What was great about all of these so-called dangerous items is they made us use our imagination, something you don’t get much use of sitting inside at a video game.
Harris Blackwood is community editor of The Times. His columns appear Wednesdays in the print edition only and Sundays.