Over the years I have enjoyed sharing with my children the fact that, despite growing up in a time before car seat belts even existed, I, and most of my Baby Boomer friends, lived to fight another day. Last week my youngest daughter, Schuyler, called and we got talking about some crazy thing she read on the internet. She found an article that stated that doctors in the 1950’s touted the benefits of smoking during pregnancy. The take away was that the woman would have smaller, easier to deliver babies. After sharing with her that I have many photos of my mother, while pregnant with me, holding a cigarette in one hand and a cocktail in the other, I started to give my “land mined full” childhood a deeper look.
My mother must not have smoked the recommended amount, because I came into this world at almost 8 pounds. The next hurdle my mother had to address was that I was a colicky little kid, right from the start. All she had to do was reach into the medicine cabinet to retrieve the bottle that almost every parent had at the ready – Paregoric. This miracle drug was available, without prescription, at the local pharmacy and claimed right on the bottle that it was recommended to “calm fretful children and teething”. It even stated the dosage for 5 day old infants was 5 drops, 2 week old infants could have 8 drops and once your child was 5 years old they garnered 25 drops. Truth be told, I remember my mother rubbing this wonderful, licorice flavored liquid into my gums whenever I lost a baby tooth. This was all well and good until the 1970’s, when it became clear that the practice of pacifying the youth of America with a patented mixture of alcohol, morphine and opium might not be the best idea. We need to remember that this was a very different time. These parents had been raised in the age of the predecessor of Bayer Aspirin – Bayer Heroin. Bayer even sold heroin cough drops. You just can’t make this stuff up.
To add insult to injury, I have many fond memories of riding my bike (without a helmet) on summer evenings when my friends and I excitedly found the Mosquito Fogging trucks and gleefully rode as close as we could (that cloud of fog was pretty hard to see through) until our hair and faces were dripping with the wonderful mixture that would keep us bug free until Saturday, when we took our once a week baths. Of course this chemical, DDT, was the synthetic nemesis and star of a radical book from the early 1960’s, Silent Spring, by scientist and writer, Rachel Carson. In time, the investigation called for by President Kennedy, as a direct result of the publication of this book, would inform us all of the dangers to our world and ourselves.
I sometimes sit back and wonder how we all made it out of the 50’s and 60’s alive. I am sure that 40 or 50 years from now our great, great grandchildren will read in horror of all the crazy things that are going on as we speak.