Boomers Got Cuts and Bruises

Mister Boomer recently heard a discussion about playground safety, and was immediately transported back to his boomer days at the schoolyard. The differences between conditions and attitudes during our time and today are more than striking, starting with the entire concept of keeping kids safe.

These days, every playground has some sort of ground padding, lest the children fall and hurt themselves. These days all visible nuts, bolts and screws have to be covered, lest little hands become injured. These days bare metal is often sheltered from the sun, or a substitute like plastic is used, lest children burn themselves from sun-heated metal. Contrast these things with boomer playgrounds.

First of all, there was the ground. Whether below swings, monkey bars, teeter-totters or merry-go-rounds, there were four choices of ground surface: dirt, concrete, gravel, or, on some occasions, asphalt. Not much thought was given at the time to kids falling off equipment. Most of the time, kids flew off the equipment on purpose, like jumping from a swing at peak height. The merry-go-round spinner is hardly found on playgrounds these days, probably because the whole idea was to get it spinning fast enough to throw kids off to the ground. The results were scrapes and bruises. Boomers called that fun.

In boomer days, everything at the playground was made of metal for durability. Only the swing seats were the exception, though they could be made of metal in some areas. Swing seats were generally made of wood or hard rubber. In all cases, metal heating up in the hot summer sun could burn little legs and arms exposed by wearing shorts and short sleeves. A quick “ow” and play was resumed.

Climbing the monkey bars, or attempting to climb any equipment in a manner that wasn’t intended — a common occurrence — could result in cut fingers when grasping connection points bearing nuts and bolts. Kids often tried to climb up the side posts of the swing sets, or walk up the metal slide. Mister B recalls kids grasping the underside of the metal slide and making their way up as far as they could. For Mister Boomer, the monkey bars were often to blame for a little blood on the hands after a rigorous play session. Mister Boomer’s only broken bone resulted from his five-year old self’s attempt to stand on the metal slide. A fall off the side resulted in a doctor visit and cast.

It was common for children to head back to class after recess with cuts and bruises. In most instances, the kids were not even sent to the school nurse. In summer, it was Mister B’s experience that kids would not stop play unless it was something tremendously serious. A little blood on the fingers or scraped knee was a Red Badge of Courage, not the end of the world.

Mister B can only imagine how a teacher today might react to some blood on a child after recess. And what would happen if a kid appeared in school, covered in scrapes and bruises? In many states the teacher would be required to report the situation. What was an everyday thing for boomers is now the subject of an investigation of parental or other adult physical abuse.

So, which era is better? That may depend on how you define safety, and your point of view on raising children. On the one hand, boomers were allowed to make mistakes that resulted in scrapes and cuts and the occasional concussion or broken bone. It did not freak out our parents; rather, they seemed to take it in stride as part of growing up.

Mister Boomer suspects that some blogger fifty years from now will write a similar post about the days when he got carpel tunnel syndrome from spending so much time grasping a video game console, or texting. For the most part, Mister B is glad he was allowed to get scraped and bruised. It was part of play, and a lesson that there were positives and negatives possible for every situation.

What memories of playground cuts, scrapes, bruises, sprains and broken bones do you have, boomers?

Boomers Looked for the Union Label on Labor Day

Mister Boomer has noted what Labor Day meant to him and his family through the years; a holiday that called for a family gathering with his uncles, aunts and cousins, but also a dreaded school-year eve, as school began the very next day. Yet there was another aspect to the celebration of Labor Day that was impossible to ignore — especially growing up in the midwest Rust Belt — and that is union rallies and parades on Labor Day.

It is estimated that during the Boomer Years, approximately 35-40 percent of the workforce belonged to unions. By Mister Boomer’s experience, it seemed much higher than that. Mister B’s father did not work in a union factory, but all of his uncles (except one), and a few aunts, did. In the neighborhood, far more men and women worked at union jobs than those who did not. There were a host of auto and steel workers, but also telephone company workers, postmen, truck drivers, teachers and even one neighbor in a printers’ union. In short, middle class America during the Boomer Era was well represented by unions.

No one from Mister B’s family, unionized or not, generally appeared at Labor Day union rallies, though Mister B recalls seeing reports about them on TV. On the national holiday set aside to celebrate the American worker, there was always a worker-related component to union rallies, be it safety in the workplace, wages or benefits. TV reports would show workers carrying signs promoting the selected causes for the day, and speakers, from union officials to elected politicians, took turns extolling the virtues and rights of American workers. It became an annual tradition for many politicians to attend the rallies, since union endorsement might help propel a candidate toward victory in any upcoming election. From Mister B’s vantage point, it appeared unions were at their strongest during the three decades of the Boomer Years.

Now, as then, the subject of unions draws a great deal of pride and praise on one side, and venom and distrust on the other. Mister Boomer is in no way wading into the pros and cons of unions with his humble nostalgia blog. Rather, he is pointing out his observations on the way he, and possibly millions of other boomers, lived during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

Mister Boomer never belonged to a union himself, though not for lack of trying. Union jobs meant better pay and benefits than non-union jobs — that’s the way it was. By the time Mister B was of teen employment age, two of his friends had union jobs at grocery stores. Consequently, once Mister B found a job, his friends made three times his hourly wage, plus had sick days, overtime and holiday pay. Mister Boomer saw what the union jobs meant in his area. No one would ever think his region was anything but a working class neighborhood, yet families could afford their houses and a second car, and in many cases, a vacation cottage and a boat, too.

While Mister B and his siblings were called “four eyes” for having to wear glasses, his parents had to pay for them. Kids of parents in some of the higher-paying union jobs, like his uncles, got complete vision care, and medical and dental coverage, too. Mister B’s family had no such luck.

From Mister Boomer’s vantage point, it is evident that unions played a major role in advancing the middle class and thus fueling the Boomer Generation. No matter how you feel about the role of unions in today’s workplace, Mister Boomer feels it is evident that the opportunities unions gave to the parents of the Baby Boom helped shape the generation to what it became.

Did your father or family members belong to a union in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, boomers? Did you ever attend a union rally on Labor Day?