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Memories of safe toys and one tall sliding board [Hudson's Corner]

For the Baltimore Messenger

On a recent trip to our childhood beach, my sister and I recalled our uber-cautious parents. We were never allowed on roller coasters or Ferris wheels, save the children's wheels with cages. We were not allowed in swimming pools until years after the Salk vaccine was introduced. And they enacted their own child-safety measures, far stricter than what the government does now. The net effect was some odd-looking toys for the Hudson sisters.

We knew we were lucky to have generous parents and grandparents who indulged us, but our toys often were talking points among our friends.

First toys usually are stuffed animals. The button eyes on ours were instantly removed. Our parents saw them as choking hazards. An early stuffed cat, for example, had only green felt patches where his eyes had once been sewn. He looked ominous. Our stuffed animals looked like something from the "The Exorcist."

Our first wheels also were monstrous. Our tricycle weighed 50 pounds and had tires as thick as snow tires. We did not know that later our father would outfit our first car with four snow tires. Yes, two on the front and two on the back. Lots of comments about those.

Our first bicycle was a green Huffy convertible that also weighed a lot and had fat tires and enormous training wheels affixed with heavy metal plates. Our second bike was not an English bike, as many others had. No. No English bikes for us. Our father envisioned our forgetting to squeeze the hand brakes or squeezing them suddenly then flying over the handlebars. Finally, I saved my money and bought one just about when others were anticipating their drivers' licenses.

Forget scooters. They were far too dangerous. Too narrow. Finally, we inherited an early-1940s model from the elderly lady across the street. Its platform was wide enough for both of us to ride simultaneously. Our father put a rubber faucet cover on its handle. Yes, our kitchen faucet had a protective covering just in case we decided to lean over and take an unladylike swig. Nightmares of broken teeth floated through our parents' heads.

When it came to swimming in the ocean, we looked a little different. Most children of the 1950s had inflatable plastic rings as light and colorful as beach balls. Not us. Even when we dug in the sand at the water's edge, we had to wear bulky canvas life preservers with straps that chafed our legs. No wonder in college we became obsessed with tubing down the Gunpowder.

Because of the polio epidemic, we were not allowed in a swimming pool until 1958. Until then, I often looked longingly at the pool where every summer the famous Esther Williams did her water ballet. I protested to the parents that Esther Williams was always in a pool and had never had polio. That was no reassurance to them, so I learned to do the crawl in the ocean in a life jacket.

Then there were the roller skates. Our first, of course, were not skates with ball bearings, but training skates with wheels that squeaked and barely moved. They had ugly, lace-up canvas that went over the tops of our shoes. The birthday I received ball bearing skates I did not wait for the sidewalk. I fastened them to my shoes and glided over our front porch until their wheels scraped off tracks of the gray paint.

Our pogo stick was certainly not the kind with the red rubber ball on an aluminum shaft. That bouncy kind the other kids used to go boing, boing, boing down the sidewalk was seen as unsafe. Ours weighed at least twice what their model weighed. It had chrome and tee-shaped handles. Its visible and heavy spring was so tight we had to jump with all of our might onto the foot rests, then pull up on the handles, and pound down again to have the slightest jump. No surprise that the pogo stick sat gathering cobwebs in the garage.

A great surprise came when we moved to Ridgewood Road. For her birthday, my sister was given a sliding board. We could not believe it. A mini-trampoline had been ruled more dangerous than an English bike, yet our parents let us have something as potentially "dangerous" as a tall sliding board. Granted, we often stuck on its not-too-slick surface as we slid down, but they did not forbid us to sit on waxed paper.

Perhaps our parents figured that with the enormous, climbing tree left behind at our old house, we needed some sort of replacement. Even the most sheltered children must learn about risk.

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