Someone once said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Obviously that person never spent anytime growing up on Flamingo Street.
Back then, ask any kid in our neighborhood and they’ll tell ya — many injuries came from playing with sticks and stones, but the worst injuries came from words. Five little words to be precise – “I double dog dare ya.”
Back on Flamingo Street, there were differences between an adventure and misadventure. The most important one was pain, sometimes lots of pain. Usually with an adventure there’s little or no pain, but add those five little words, any slight miscalculation, and any adventure could quickly turn into a misadventure.
When injured, we’d limp home broken, bloody, and looking for some comfort. Our parents had very different ways of providing that comfort. That’s why we always tried to find Mom first.
Sticks: The most common injury we received from playing with sticks was splinters. At any moment sword fighting could break out in our neighborhood. By the end of the day, hands full of splinters were just an occupational hazards being a Flamingo Street swashbuckler or pirate.
Lucky for us, our mom was the best at removing shards of wood from little hands. After cleaning the area with a soft warm washcloth, and sanitizing a needle over stovetop flame until red hot, she carefully started to pick around the area. Only when exposed did she used a pair of fine tweezers to gently tug at the splinter until it was out. With a kiss and a Band-Aid we were ready to fight once again.
Dad’s removal technique was quite different.
For splinters, Dad didn’t first clean our hand with a soft warm washcloth, didn’t use a sanitized needle and didn’t even use tweezers. He simply grabbed our hand, pulled out his pocketknife, and started to carve away at the splinter. It was the same pocketknife he used to clean fish a few days before. No, it wasn’t sanitary, but it did expose the splinter enough so he could pull it out with his teeth.
Rocks: It’s true, my three brothers and me, we did some crazy things while growing up at 110 Flamingo Street, but throwing rocks at each other wasn’t one of them. Even we knew getting hit upside the head by a rock was dangerous and could possible cause brain damage. So fighting with rocks was strictly against the rules.
Unfortunately, Down the Street Bully Brad and his gang never played by the rules. Hit by rocks, pushed off bikes, or just from the weekly beating, we’d limp home scraped and bloody at least twice a week. If met at the door by Mom she’d brush away our tears, clean our wound, and then give us a hug and kiss. Dad – well, he didn’t do any of that.
When we got home after our encounter with Bully Brad, if Dad saw us first, there would be no cleaning of our wound, there would be no hugs and definitely no kisses. Instead, he would say, “Don’t see any bones sticking out so you can’t be hurt all that bad.”
Then he did something that, to this day, I still don’t understand. He took us outside and rubbed some dirt into the wound. After giving us a lecture on how expensive it was to keep replacing torn shirts or pants, he sent us on our way.
I double dog dare ya: These five little words were responsible for more injures on Flamingo Street than anything else – even Bully Brad. Running and doing flips off the top of Cliff Condos, hitting a paper wasp nest with sticks, steering bikes with feet on handlebars, darts stuck in arms, and jumping out of a tree house into a pile of not so soft leaves.
These were just a few of thousands of outside misadventures we had while growing up, and it looks like Little One is a chip off the old block. She enjoys being outside playing as much as we did, but sadly at only 18 months old, she has already had a few tumbles.
Little One came over to visit yesterday, but didn’t want anything to do with her Big Papa because she was sick. She just wanted to be held by her Gigi, The Wife. I guess it’s a comfort thing. Just like when we were sick or injured back on Flamingo Street we wanted Mom and not Dad to take care of us.
Then again she could’ve remembered that injury on the playground from the day before. She fell down and skinned her hand and elbow while playing with a stick. There was no bone sticking out, so just like Mom, I wiped away her tears, and gave her a few hugs and kisses.
Then, like Dad, I rubbed some dirt on the wounds before sending her off to play once more.
Don’t know if it was the hugs, kisses, or dirt, but she felt better. And no, I didn’t give her a lecture about her torn shirt.[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, served as a firefighter for more than two decades and has been a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. His books are available at www.RickRyckeley.com.]