The other day, Retro Wifey on Facebook shared a photo of a small child in a baby carrier from days of old. I don’t know when the picture was taken, but my guess is that the baby in the photo is now at least as old as I am. When I look at what passed for safety in the 70s, and then compare it to the current day hysteria over child safety, I’m amazed anyone from the era prior to, say, 1990, ever grew old enough to reproduce. Nowadays, kids have to wear helmets, padding, and seatbelts for everything, on pain of investigation by child welfare authorities or the police if parents don’t comply.
I grew up with parents who were religious about wearing their seatbelts. However, they were not very strict about making me wear them. Why not? Mainly because I hated the damned things and would cry, complain, and generally drive my parents (especially my mom) crazy when they made me wear them. My dad was much stricter about making me wear seatbelts, but even he was inconsistent and usually only made me wear them when he was either in a control freak mood or wanted to punish me.
In 1988, Virginia adopted a mandatory seatbelt law for front seat passengers. It was not, and is still not, a very strict law. Enforcement was secondary, so you’d have to be doing something else illegal to get yourself stopped before police would levy a $25 fine on you for not buckling up. Over 30 years later, Virginia still has a lenient seatbelt law. Cars back then were also more lax about letting people choose for themselves if they wanted to make safety first. They didn’t have all the sensors and alarms they have now– just a five second reminder that buzzed when you turned the ignition. 1988 also happened to be the year I turned 16, and I remember being quite pissed that this oppressive law was passed the year I got my license.
It took a few more years before I became “good” about voluntarily wearing a seatbelt, even after it was the law. I’m short and busty, so they always seemed to hit me in the wrong places. Then, I met Bill… who is laid back about most things, except for when it comes to car safety. I often joke that I think seatbelts are for sissies, but if I don’t wear one, Bill turns into Pat Boone. On my old blog, I used to write about this phenomenon rather frequently, mainly because Alexis got the joke and we both thought it was funny. Alexis has always been my most consistent reader, so sometimes I cater to her. We have both read a lot about Pat Boone and his family, too— an odd thing, since Pat Boone was a sex symbol way before either of us would have found him remotely appealing or relatable. He was always OLD to me, and Alexis is about 22 years younger than I am. Turns out we both read books written by members of Boone’s family, or by Pat himself.
I am at least old enough to remember Debby Boone and her 1977 hit song, “You Light Up My Life”, which was originally used in a film by the same name and sung by the late, obscure singer Kasey Cisyk. But I didn’t know who Pat Boone was until I heard him sing on a 1978 Lassie movie, which also featured songs by Debby. Then I remembered Robin Williams making jokes about him on Mork & Mindy, implying that he was strict and straight-laced.
When I was a senior in high school, I read Starving for Attention, a book written by Cherry Boone O’Neill, Pat Boone’s eldest daughter. I was taking a psychology class and had to read a book about a psychological disorder and report about it to my classmates. Cherry Boone O’Neill, who suffered from anorexia nervosa and bulimia for about ten years, was born in 1954 and happens to share the same birthday as Bill. She was a people pleaser and felt great pressure to make her parents proud. Boone often brought his four talented daughters with him on his tours, where he could keep an eye on them. Cherry felt pressure to be thin, in part, due to her father’s fame and her own show business career. So, she developed anorexia, which I’m sure also helped her feel like she regained some control over her overly supervised life as a young woman. Pat Boone was a notoriously strict father who believed very strongly in corporal punishment and laying down the law. He watched his daughters like a hawk and would not hesitate to discipline them for any infraction of his many rules.
In two of the three books written by his daughters that I’ve read, Pat Boone’s penchant for delivering painful spankings and being very strict is candidly noted. In both Debby’s and Cherry’s cases, the spankings continued until they were adults. They were particularly traumatic in Cherry’s case, since she was extremely underweight and had no padding to absorb Boone’s blows. Although Debby and Cherry have both written about their father’s spankings, in Cherry’s case, the bruises were more severe.
The other day, when I saw that picture shared by Retro Wifey, I shared it and posted “seatbelts are for sissies”. A few of my friends posted about the good old days, when kids could lie in the back of a station wagon, completely unrestrained and unencumbered. My dad used to have a bright orange Volkswagen Westfalia with ugly green plaid interior. It was a 1977 model and he drove it for several years. It had a pop top, which was fun for camping in sweltering heat and getting multiple bug bites. I remember there was a bar across the ceiling when the top wasn’t popped up. I used to swing on it like a monkey as my dad drove down the interstate. Nobody cared. Nowadays, if a child dared to do something like that, someone would be on the horn to the police in seconds. Today’s carseats are very secure, so kids can’t get away with monkey style gymnastics in a VW van. They have to be strapped down as if they are about to be executed. A kid swinging on a bar monkey style the way I used to would be caught and dealt with very quickly in all but the most provincial of locations.
Germany is probably even stricter about seatbelt use than the United States is. In fact, Bill became a seatbelt fanatic when he lived in Germany the first time and was threatened with a 40 Deutsch Mark fine. However, I have seen deja vous scenes from my childhood in Italy and Croatia, where things are evidently a little more reckless. Frankly, I would be scared not to wear a seatbelt in Italy. People drive like they’re alone in a big field there, even if there are tight switchbacks on a mountain road.
I mentioned in my shared post that Bill turns into Pat Boone when I don’t buckle up. One of my friends asked me if I could get video of Bill turning into Pat Boone. Actually, I think I would enjoy providing that. I might even get the chance, since we’re about to take a long road trip from Sweden to Germany in our new car. He does get rather stern about it… or as stern as he is capable of becoming. This is a bit crazy, since Bill spent 30 years in the Army, where one would expect easy “sternness”, especially from an officer. But Bill is one of the most easygoing, laid back, kind people I know. He would never turn into Pat Boone about most issues… except if he caught me without a seatbelt. And even then, he probably wouldn’t turn me over his knee and deliver a bruising spanking the way Pat Boone did back in the day. For one thing, it would obviously be very physically difficult for him to turn me over his knee. For another thing, as titillating as that idea might be for both of us, the fact is, it’s not actually something either of us is particularly comfortable with. Yes, we’re a little kinky, but we aren’t that kinky. I might get a lecture… it probably wouldn’t be a very serious lecture, because that would either piss me off or make me laugh.
The new car is a Volvo, so I suspect that even if Bill doesn’t turn into Pat Boone, the new car will. Volvos are notoriously “safe” cars, jam packed with safety features, alarms, and sensors determined to make sure everyone is as safe as possible, whether or not they’re feeling dangerous. Even if I were to –say– decide to ride in the back seat sitting behind Bill (something he doesn’t allow), the car would tattle on me if I misbehaved. The reason he doesn’t want me to sit behind him in the car is because it’s harder for him to make sure I’m not ditching the seatbelt. He wants me up front. If I wanted to ride in the back, he’d want me where he can glance back at me. But in the new car, it won’t matter. I bet he still won’t let me ride behind him, though. If I try to sit there, he’ll turn into Pat Boone and issue an Army style direct order to move to the middle seat. Hmm… maybe I’ll do that on purpose and film it so people can see Bill be “stern”. It’ll be good for a laugh.
So really, I guess when I say Bill turns into Pat Boone, I’m mostly kidding. The reality is, he treats me like a princess. No, not really a queen, but a princess– because if the truth be told, he takes excellent care of me. He’s very considerate, thoughtful, and protective, and only once in a great while does he morph into an Army style disciplinarian. I’m very lucky to have him in my life, even when he turns into Pat Boone… on quaaludes, maybe. Still, I can’t help but sometimes wistfully remember the days when I could readily flit about the car, completely unfettered by pesky laws, law abiding parents, and a safety geek husband.