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Horror of horrors: I was raised as a free range kid
Dennis Wyatt

My mom didn’t know it but she was raising a free range kid.

In the summers after I turned 5, I was allowed to roam the neighborhoods until dark.

I was able to go down to Dry Creek with my older brothers who were still in grammar school and play by the edge of the water with no life jacket.

As a first grader I was allowed to walk a little over a mile to school by myself although there was a crossing guard to help kids across Douglas Boulevard where there was a Texaco service station that actually did things such as repair cars and the only convenience store type item was a glass bottle soda vending machine. It was the type you opened the lid, plopped a nickel in, and then pulled your choice — usually Orange Crush, Pepsi, Squirt, or Dad’s Root Beer — hanging along a rack, yanked it through a split metal collar and then used a built-in bottle opener to get the cap off.

Based on 2018 standards my mom was a terrible parent. She’d qualify for the Children’s Protective Services 10 Most Wanted List, and would probably face a 10-year prison sentence in some states.

Not only did she not keep me sheltered from the world until I entered college where safe spaces could protect me from thoughts and views foreign to mine and comfort animals could calm my nerves when national elections don’t go my way but she actually let me drink soda.

Come to think of it, under today’s standards she would be facing up to life in prison.

The real question is how did I make it to age 62?

I was constantly bullied — I even had adults call me a four-eyed fatso — but never entertained the thought of shooting up a school although guns were much more accessible when I was growing up.

On trips to I rode in the back end of the station wagon lying among groceries or by a metal ice chest.

When I rode in the front seat of our 1957 Chevy station wagon as a second grader when mom ran errands around town if she came to a sudden stop her right arm would be extended to stop me from hitting the dashboard.

After Dad died I spent my summers as an 8 through 12 year old watching my sister who was five years younger as mom had to work six, and sometimes, seven days a week. That was until I was 13 and I was old enough to work during the summer.

Today such a scenario would give a CPS worker a massive coronary.

Save for one ill-fated season of Little League and one year of Cub Scouts — I believe my Little League coach and den mother are due for canonization as saints given they made Job seem impatient given my lack of athletic skills and coordination — I was not entertained every waking moment.

There were no sports camps, day camps, summer camps, music lessons, or whatever.

I could either hangout at home where — after I finished chores — I could read, play or just go outside in the shade and daydream. I didn’t hang out with a lot of friends but when I did I asked my mother’s permission.

She didn’t have to hover over me 24/7 but it was established early on what was expected of me. 

I didn’t watch all that much TV during the summer because quite frankly daytime programming on the four available channels was too soapy or were reruns from the 1950s. Besides there was this thing called “the outdoors”.

I admit books were my version of video games and I couldn’t get enough. I was able to feed the need by walking to the library twice a week on my own. No one called the police when they saw an 8-year-old walking the streets by himself at 1 p.m. in mid-July.

When we moved to Lincoln from Roseville I walked every day to and from school — even sometimes in the rain if my mother was unavailable to pick me up. It was nearly a 4-mile round trip that took me across a major state highway with logging trucks and semis passing every minute or so as well as across the Southern Pacific Railroad’s main north-south line where trains blasted through town at 70 mph.

We also lived a little over two blocks from the edge of Gladding, McBean & Co. — a clay products manufacturing plant known for sewer pipes, roof tile, and terra cotta architectural facades. That meant there was sometimes a lot of clay dust that you’d breathe in and would coat stuff. I never noticed it until years later when a gentleman who had moved into a home a block from the plant noted how the clay dust was awful when he first arrived. Fifty years later he is in the same house and is to his 90s. The clay dust didn’t kill him nor did it kill me.

I’ll be honest. Some bad things happened to me as a kid, none of which were my mom’s fault.

But I can say I was able to deal with them because from as far back as I can remember my mom pushed me to be independent and responsible. 

Maybe it’s because I was the third child. Who knows? But I wasn’t wrapped in bubble wrap and kept out of the sun.

She was a parent who didn’t live in fear and because of that neither do I.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.