Sense & Sensibility
Times Change, but Danger Lives On
April 3, 2008
By Kathy Felong
I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s in an Irish working-class neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y. It’s the same neighborhood NBC political reporter Tim Russert wrote about in his 2004 best-seller about his relationship with his father, Big Russ and Me.
South Buffalo was home to factory workers, bowlers, Catholics. The houses were packed close together by today’s standards, but we still could manage a game of football on the 8 by 10 foot patch of grass in front of our stoop.
Back then, you didn’t talk about risks. Frankly, parents and kids didn’t talk about much. You hoped for the best and managed the rest. It was potential for trouble.
How much trouble? When we get together for an evening of reminiscing, we sound like a band of stuntmen, pyromaniacs and thrill-seekers. Today, my brothers and sister and I have all grown up to be responsible, service-minded, law-abiding citizens. But, back then, we were just regular kids, and we didn’t know any better.
Thus, our family legacy resembles an insurance company’s worst nightmares. The tall tales touch on aggressive driving, distracted driving, underage driving, kitchen fires, bedroom fires (bare lamp left on a mattress for no good reason), trash fires, a fire in an abandoned baby buggy… I best stop there.
My own worst infraction was a neighborhood tradition called “garage hopping.” Given the proximity of the houses—and therefore, the garages—we could climb onto the roof of one garage and leap 12 feet in the air, over barb-topped steel fences, and onto a neighboring rooftop.
It was not so much a rite of passage, as a passage of time. And we thought nothing of the danger, only the dare. The time I tripped and barely made it to the other side was the last time I looked at a garage as a springboard to adventure. (Maybe that’s why I’m the one that ended up in the insurance biz.)
And while I share the story with you, it’s not one of the cautionary tales I use with my own kids. (Some things only lessen a parent’s credibility.) Besides, there are other, more prevalent dangers to alert them to.
We still load our flesh and bone bodies into steel speed machines. We still get angry when someone cuts us off on the highway. We still live in homes that can burn and have dogs that can bite (only when provoked, of course). We still risk life and limb doing everyday things.
The difference is today we do know better.
The Information Age has made it almost impossible not to be overtly aware of safety issues—and what we can do to protect ourselves and our families. That’s a good thing. Because no matter how proactive we are, we’re still not perfect and we’re still not invincible.
But we are informed and insured. And that can help us manage “the rest” while still hoping for the best.
Kathy Felong is a former award-winning reporter and columnist, and one of the editors of Eriesense. She lives in Erie, Pa., with her husband and college-age kids. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.