Real world problems can affect our personal finances, health and well being. Long before we learned of financial meltdowns, pandemics and terrorism, as kids we had a very different set of fears. All children worry, some more than others. A yutes worry can be larger than life; the stuff of sleepless nights. Fears may be imagined, anxiety based (sports/academics) and/or environmental.
Environmental example: My late Father grew up in WWII London poverty, literally not tasting an orange or banana until he was 15. During the 1940-1941 German Blitzkrieg he endured 71 nights in the tube (subway) while listening to bombs destroying his tenement filled neighborhood above. Dad feared death by Nazis at night and schoolyard anti-Semitic bullies by day. Thankfully, Britain elected Churchill. Along with some backbone and a little luck, my Father survived.
As future generation’s worries diminished, our kid fears resulted from more imagined or suggested problems. A total opposite example from my Dad; one time (at band camp… *sorry*) I over-indulged in my secret stash of sweets, consisting of candy cigarettes, maltesers, & Razzles (the candy that turned to gum). In an almost sugar-sweat induced coma I unfortunately turned on and watched an ill-timed documentary about diabetes (very few TV choices back in the day). “Sugar causes insulin levels to spike”… yada yada yada: Bamm! I must have Diabetes! My overzealous ingestion of high fructose corn syrup will cause me to lose a foot or the whole leg! Kids on the documentary were losing limbs! Thankfully Mum found me sniffling in a pile of empty wrappers and straightened me out. An imagined fear, but in the moment, very very real.
In retrospect, as adults we express amusement at what scared us as kids. We now know better. I came up with my top 3 childhood fears and would love to read yours:
#3: Quicksand. 40 years ago it seemed westerns, TV shows and cartoons featured quicksand on a weekly schedule. Its ubiquity made kids think this was a far-reaching problem. The time sensitive drama was the go-to default for directors looking for a cheap & easy ‘special effect’ (dropping actors into giant vats of oatmeal). If a lasso appeared in the frame, you knew the close call would end well… right after the commercial break. The idea was powerful as quicksand was a horrible way to die. Although no one in suburbia ever encountered the engulfing mass, we related to the untimely demise of characters by way of random suffocating pits of despair. Then, suddenly, along with Disco, quicksand all but disappeared.
#2: Rabies. We scrutinized every dogs mouth. Seeing the slightest froth emanating from Fido was Cujo ‘level 10’. Our fear wasn’t the disease itself (we didn’t quite know what rabies was), but the treatment: The rabies shot. It was a scientific fact the cure was dispensed via a needle taller than Herve Villechaize and administered by Dr.Van Helsin.
#1 Der Struwwelpeter. In the early 1970’s U.S. discipline softened, and corporal punishment started to become outlawed in many states. However, those of us in England were still getting ‘the belt’ from quick tempered Fathers and ‘the paddle’ from strict teachers (ergo Another Brick in the Wall).
As American parenting trends crossed the Atlantic, British parents found that instead of beating up their kids, they could instead provide this 1845 German children’s book. A book that single handedly provided psychologists enough billable hours that many a therapist vacation home are now named after it.
Never heard of Struwwelpeter? Most American kids were not exposed to this 19th century kindler creep show. My guess is that Germany was a little red-faced from that whole ‘losing a couple of wars thing’, so revenge-minded Nazis translated Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann’s gruesome tales and ‘zee allied children of Europe vill never sleep again. mwhahahaha.’
Struwwelpeter was a series of stories detailing horrific ramifications of cherubs behaving badly (Berlins version of Child Psych 101.) The literary was enough to keep a yute from sleeping, but the illustrations… oh, those pictures! In today’s enlightened society, parents who show this book to their 6 year old could expect a visit from Child Protective Services.
Before you think I exaggerateth too much, put yourself in the mind of a sleepy eyed, snuggled, thumb sucking ankle-biter, ready for slumber-travels to Candy Island or Pirate Shores, as Mum reads bedtime stories from Dr. Bizarro-Freud’s book of “Merry Rhymes and Funny Pictures”.
The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb
Yup… you read that right. Conrad’s Mamma returns home to learn a nimble garden shear wielding, red-legged tailor sprang into her house and cut off her baby’s thumbs. Mamma more or less tells Conrad to man-up and appreciate the valuable life lesson. Now go clean your room Stubby.
How about a lullaby for your little pyromaniac?
The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches
Now see! oh! see, what a dreadful thing The fire has caught her apron-string; Her apron burns, her arms, her hair; She burns all over, everywhere.
So she was burnt with all her clothes, And arms and hands, and eyes and nose; Till she had nothing more to lose Except her little scarlet shoes; And nothing else but these was found Among her ashes on the ground.
It’s been said the worst kind of pain and suffering is burning to death. Can we then assume this book was also translated into Arabic?
And finally, what can be done about the child who won’t eat their food? Thankfully Herr Hoffmann provides much-needed advice to appreciative parents:
“Billy, since you didn’t eat your liver and onions, just like Augustus, you will die on Sunday.”
Side note: Why do authors name heavy-set German boys “Augustus”? (Paging Mr. Dahl, Mr. Ronald Dahl).
The book about the “gruesome consequences that befall children” has been updated over the years and is now a cult classic (Amazon has a hardcover original tome of terror for $165.)
My Mum still has our dusty anthology of bête noire which probably now smells like mothballs and dread. Maybe we should sell it on Ebay and enjoy an expensive dinner while toasting the Teutonic tots version of “Is it safe?”.
If you are still reading this random cluster of frightful nostalgia, please share your memories. Not including creepy Uncle, what were your childhood fears? It would be interesting hearing history through your younger eyes.
We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. –Plato
As featured on Ricochet.com.