A Final Thought: The Perils of Quicksand


By Mitch Allen

I saw a meme recently that read: “Quicksand turned out to be less of a problem than I thought it was going to be.”

That resonated with me because as a kid quicksand was everywhere. It was in the movies, on Gilligan’s Island, and in many Sunday morning Tarzan episodes. I was convinced that if my parents were going to suffer the loss of a child, it would be because I stepped in quicksand. I even practiced escaping from it. (You don’t fight it or try to swim in it; you simply relax and float.)

Perhaps quicksand was such a big concern because there was so little else to be afraid of. There were no pandemics or mass shootings. It was late 1960s deep South suburbia. Racism was so institutionalized it was not discussed; the fear of polio and eminent nuclear annihilation had passed; and while every Halloween we heard the rumor that psychopaths were putting razor blades in apples, there was never a concrete example. Plus, no kid in his right mind would eat an apple from a stranger anyway. Snow White taught us that.

The Vietnam War was raging, but it didn’t make my radar. The movies and TV shows I watched—from The Rat Patrol to Hogan’s Heroes—were set in World War II, so when the neighborhood kids and I played army, our enemy of choice were the Nazis. In 1969 I was age 7. I didn’t watch the news so I’d never heard of the Viet Cong. I didn’t know where Iowa was, let alone Cambodia, and anyplace north of Atlanta was Manhattan.

Beyond quicksand, my only other concerns involved various types of people my mother warned me about—namely hippies, communists, Yankees, and ne’r-do-wells.

Let me explain.

Hippies were a problem not because of their outlook on life, but because of their lack of personal grooming. Where I came from, you didn’t leave the house unless your hair was combed, your face was shaved, and there was no dirt under your fingernails. And most of the ladies I knew would put on lipstick before answering the telephone.

Facial hair was forbidden, as Mom would often quote her 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not cultivate on thy face what grows wild in thy a - -.” Yes, she was a Southern belle who insisted on using the correct fork, but she could be crude like that when she wanted to make a point.

Atlas Shrugged. She could quote it chapter and verse, so any notion that collective society should benefit at the expense of the individual was blasphemy.

I loved my mom. I felt lucky just to have one. Popular TV shows at the time featured men trying to raise kids without a mother, including The Andy Griffith Show, My Three Sons and Family Affair, although the fathers were blessed with an aunt, an uncle or Sebastian Cabot to help out because a real man was incapable of raising children alone.

Yankees were a problem mostly because they talked funny. A woman from Illinois once asked us kids if we wanted a pop, so my brother went and hid behind my mother’s skirt. A “pop” in our world wasn’t a Coke; it was a spanking. We all replied, “No, ma’am.”

After nearly 30 years in Northeast Ohio, I’m a Yankee myself. Not only have I lost much of my Southern accent, I am now breaking the 11th Commandment by sporting a short grey beard and—thanks to Covid—wavy locks down to my shoulders (I currently do not resemble the rendering above). My children are Yankees, too. And worse, they’re vegan. I think Mom could have come to understand vegetarianism, but not veganism. There aren’t many Southern women of her generation who could imagine life without mayonnaise. We, by the way, were a Miracle Whip family, so don’t get me started on Hellmann’s, let alone Duke’s.

Ne’r-do-wells were similar to good-for-nothins and no-counts. Unlike “the underprivileged” who had little choice in their circumstances, ne’r-do-wells actually chose to be lazy and unambitious. Whenever Mom would call someone a ne’r-do-well, I would study them closely for associated characteristics I could avoid, such as unclipped fingernails, facial stubble or a limp handshake.

Sometimes on Sunday mornings after watching said Tarzan episodes, our parents would have us practice giving them a firm handshake. These days, of course, the handshake has given way to the elbow bump. My parents didn’t see that coming.

I haven’t been practicing.


Categories: Smart Living