[February 8, 2024] As a teenager, I saw that America was changing, sometimes fast and flashy like a county fair carousel and also slow and sleepy like a hound dog taking a nap on the front porch. My parents would tell us kids about the “good old days” when they walked miles to school and then had to work after at a job and to help out their parents, cousins, and elderly grandparents. Formal education was not as crucial as family relations or being good Christians. Yep, those were the days.
I resisted somewhat because I didn’t like some of my cousins, going to church was “boring,” plus I wanted to get out of our house and “do my own thing,” which, looking back, was often stupid and dangerous. But hey, no one said I was the smart one in the family. But I remained a believer; I just disliked sitting in church pews for an hour. Sunday School was better because you could get funny jokes – sometimes a tad dirty if we promised not to tell – from whoever was the layperson, always a man, running it.
By the late 1960s, the hippie generation had replaced the hip hop generation of the 50s and thought of us religious folks as backward, inflexible, unaccepting, and slavish to our religious beliefs, with Neanderthal-like minds, especially if we grew up in the rural Deep South; like me. Our churches enshrined a firm belief in God, family (both father and mother), epic Biblical stories, the Ten Commandments, treating others with kindness, and protecting those same principles. That modern generation rejected anything resembling a “creepy religious society.” “Don’t trust anyone over 30” and “Stop the war” were common slogans of the era.
Like my parent’s generation of the 1930s and 40s, my generation bore little resemblance to theirs. We had a telephone that hung on the wall, running water, electricity most of the time, paved roads in town, and medical care (if you traveled an hour away). And we had television, even if we only had one good channel, which was not in color. They had none of these until the 1960s. Sure, my parents struggled but worked hard to follow the right and proper path.
We also had things in common. We all owned guns and lots of them. The 410 shotgun that my grandfather had given to my Dad when he was a kid is now my shotgun. Going hunting and fishing was a weekend activity we enjoyed nearly year-round, except when it was too cold outside. Floating down the river was something very special. Baseball was our favorite sport, and we went out to watch ball games played by the High School boys and girls; cheering for your local team was just expected.
But the most common behavior was our independence. Our parents didn’t tell us where to go or when. Just try to be home by dark and eat supper. We had one car, and we weren’t allowed to drive it – except once when I took out their Oldsmobile 450 big-block V8 engine and drove over 100 mph on the loop around Abilene. “Don’t tell me what to do.” That pretty much summed up what many of us thought but never said to our parents.
Like my Dad, no one went to college because you were expected to “get a job and be a man.” They were disappointed when I told my parents that I wanted to go to college to be an Engineer. My Dad had already mapped out my adult life. Join the railroad, and in five years, I’d be a Trainmaster, a lower officer position but tracked for higher rank. Later, I worked as a Relief Agent and Yardmaster in the railroad union Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen.
The Vietnam War was raging, and I read everything I could about it. I couldn’t see why anyone would be against stopping a Communist regime since they killed you if you didn’t convert. I saw those who dodged the draft as dirty, cowardly, lazy, and good for nothing. That’s what I thought, anyway. Later, I would meet many, and those early stereotypes turned out to be true.
Before heading to college and going against my parents’ wishes, I was still free-thinking free-acting. Of course, I paid the price for not gaining any valuable skills. I’d not yet learned that to live a good life means adopting responsibility for my future. I was more like those lazy draft dodgers than I appreciated. That changed when I joined the Army.
The Army was a vessel of old American values, which was fine with me.
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