On the House | Safe to say: Experience is the best teacher

Posted: June 10, 2007

June is Home Safety Month, for you. For me, May means lots of e-mail and voice-mail reminders of that fact from the Home Safety Council.

I'm not making light of the effort. I just think that nothing I write will make your day-to-day lives safer.

If my simply saying something would make you take notice, you wouldn't run red lights while talking on your cell phones, or fail to signal for turns, or try to run me over every day in the crosswalk near the Haddonfield Public Library.

Experience, unfortunately, is the best teacher. Or, as my Aunt Antonia used to say, when the kid eats a cherry pepper out of the garden, he'll know not to do it again.

It was true. Water, sugar, butter or whatever they dumped down my throat, I still went screaming around the backyard, swearing in Italian so my relatives would understand my pain. The soap used to wash out my mouth after the tirade was more palatable than the pepper, as I recall after 50 or so years.

Officially, I think, we've become more conscious of safety over the last five decades.

My family would go for long rides every Sunday (gas was 25 cents a gallon), usually ending up at Howard Johnson's for fried clams or picking up dough for frying at home. I'd sit in the backseat, my mother and father would sit in the front seat, my sister between them in a car seat with a steering wheel and a horn that hung on somehow.

This was 1956, before seat belts and laws about putting infant seats in the rear of the car.

You guessed it: One Sunday, we're stopped at a light, and someone rear-ends us, and my sister's face slams into the plastic steering wheel, and my mother's head whacks the windshield.

Instead of fried clams or dough and getting to drive past John Cameron Swayze's big farmhouse, we took a licking and kept on ticking all the way to the hospital for stitches for my mother and sister.

This same sister was poked above the eye with a rake while standing in the neighbor's yard. Another sister was kicked in the face when she got too close to a pony and had to have a lot of surgery.

I've broken a leg and an arm, dropped a keg of beer on my toe (my mother dropped a wine cask on her foot), fallen down stairs, fallen up stairs, fallen off the porch roof, fallen down an attic shaft, slipped on the ice, and sliced into my thumb with pruning shears one Memorial Day. I did an interview by phone with a radio station in Colorado Springs while holding my bleeding appendage over a bucket.

My older son took a line drive in the face playing second base at a Little League game, and recently went flying off his bike when he hit a pothole in a Pasadena street on his way to work. My younger son slid face-first down a slide at a playground and chipped a new tooth.

You want me to go on?

I may not be the right person to be talking about home safety, or any other kind, for that matter. But here's what the Home Safety Council says its research has uncovered about Americans:

Less than one-quarter have handrails on both sides of the stairs or grab bars in the shower to prevent falls.

Less than one-fifth put safety locks on cabinets or have the Poison Control Hotline's number posted on or near all phones.

Almost all U.S. adults indicate having a smoke alarm installed in their home, yet only one-quarter have a fire-escape plan.

Only 39 percent of U.S. adults indicate that they require children to be seated while eating.

Of adults who indicate swimming in pools regularly, only half indicate that safety items are present where they swim (such as four-sided fencing, self-latching gates, and first-aid kits).

How does my household stack up? We always sit down while eating, since that's what the chairs around the table are for. We don't have safety locks because my children are adults, but the Poison Control number is on the refrigerator since my track record isn't so good.

We do have smoke detectors and a fire-escape plan. In fact, I have a chain ladder that hooks onto the windowsill and reaches to the ground.

We don't have a swimming pool, but if I did, the homeowners' insurance company would likely require the fencing and the self-latching gates.

Looking at the data, I feel safer than the average American. I sure do feel safer than I did as a kid - in retrospect, that is.

I just wish I could stop bumping my knee on my desk every time I get out of my chair.

"On the House" appears Sundays. Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com.

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