Mercury memories

I have a favorite childhood memory from the Sixties, back before we knew that absolutely everything is dangerous. I remember playing with mercury bubbles on the blue bathroom linoleum after a thermometer broke, chasing the bubbles, merging and separating them. It was so cool and well worth working around the glass slivers!

Friends report similar experiences. One wrote:

I did the same thing! It was such fun to collect those tiny balls together, almost like magic the way they melded into a large ball. Don't remember telling Mom that I'd broken the thermometer, just the simple pleasure of playing with the mercury.

That's probably why I can't wait for my May trip to Chicago--well, aside from Danger Baby's law school commencement and meeting his future in-laws. I can't wait to finally visit Millennium Park to see "Cloud Gate". Anish Kapoor's sculpture is like a giant reflecting blob of liquid mercury. Sounds like my childhood dream come true!

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the EPA are busy protecting today's kids from lead and cadmium in cheapo Chinese toys, and that's a good thing. Alas, in the trade-offs between safety and wonder, wonder usually loses. In the Sixties we often got small plastic maze games containing a drop of mercury as birthday party favors. In the late-Seventies a fancier elemental mercury maze toy called "Quicksilver" was popular.

Another mercury memory from the Sixties still doesn't have anything to do with the Friendship Seven astronauts. When you skinned your knee, your mom was likely to paint the scrape with a fabulous stinging, smelly, magenta, microbe-killing concoction of mercury plus bromide or sodium. Mercurochrome and Merthiolate are now known to inhibit healing, and aren't used much. There was a strange rush to having your knee painted with merthiolate. The knee scrape and the sting were often worth it to smell the pungent odor and be decorated with the gorgeous stain. Both products were pulled from drugstore shelves late in the last millennium.

Sixties moms chose up sides based on their preferences for merthiolate or mercurochrome. Later parental popularity contests pitted Bactine against Jaohnson & Johnson's First Aid Cream and Neosporin.

Kids today have a better chance of learning about mercury at the EPA's superfund cleanup site than by breaking an oral thermometer. Practical clean-up instructions can be found at this Colorado website. I sure hope kids get to visit Chicago at least.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

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