BACK WHEN I WAS A KID

Well, it is now official. I am an old fart. I am now telling stories that begin with, “Back when I was a kid.”
With that as an introduction, let me tell you it what was like when I was a kid. Then you might have a better understanding of why I have a growing sense of having walked in during the middle of a French movie with Japanese titles.
My earliest memories date to about 1962, the year we moved from Norfolk, Virginia to Port Huron, Michigan, my dad’s next duty station. I was a bit young for remembering details about the car we drove but dad says it was a ’50 Chevy he purchased for less than $50.00 as it had been submerged during a hurricane.
My memories about that car center around a roadside repair in West Virginia that resulted in a two day camp out in a beautiful place with a stream. I also remember Columbus, Ohio. 
That was where we got stuck in traffic next to a city bus.
The stifling heat, the humidity, and the choking exhaust fumes really didn’t agree with me and I proceeded to cough lunch onto the back seat floor board much to my sister’s dismay. I know it was Columbus because from that day forward every time we traveled, and got stuck in traffic, Dad would tell me, “Lets not make this another Columbus, at least hang your head out the window.”
Our first “home” in Port Huron was an ancient old house on Ninth Street. We rented the upstairs and the memories that stand out with clarity are the sickly yellow color of the place, the landlord who spoke a very odd variation of English (Dad says they were Czech’s), and being allowed to play in the park on the corner with only the supervision of my sister, then about twelve years old.
Dad shipped out about a week after we got to Port Huron and mom didn’t drive. So we took the bus everywhere or walked even when getting groceries from a neat old store two blocks up that sold giant Polish pickles.
I loved the walk and the pickles. Then it snowed. Then the snow turned a sort of black. Then I fell down a lot. I wonder if this is why I prefer to live someplace where snow seldom does more than dust the hood of the truck?
It was the week before Christmas when the old Chevy was towed away and dad got a new car, at least it was new to us. It was a white, ’57 Chevy sedan with a very severe manifestation of an allergic reaction to road salt.
That was a great week. Dad was home and we had a car with a working heater to look for a Christmas tree in.
My best friend was a neighbor kid by the name of Clarence. His mom always had chocolate milk, something that was a very rare treat in our home, and home made cookies.
I remember that anytime a conversation came up between my folks and the neighbors, comments about Clarence’s family always seemed to contain the word “colored”. I also remember being told not to talk about Clarence when we went to visit mom’s family in Tennessee and Alabama.
Over the years, even long after Clarence’s family and mine went separate directions, there were a number of times when that admonition came to mind, especially when visiting with family deep in the heart of Dixie. This is not to say mom’s family was prejudiced, at least not in the way we have come to see southern mountain folks from this era through today’s politically correct eyes.
There was an oddly peaceful coexistence between them and the “colored folk” even though the division between the the two groups was far deeper than that of the “pathological right” and “Godless left” that seems to permeate our society today. As an example my aunt was always baking things to take to peoples home when someone was sick or a family had had a death regardless of skin color. Then that same evening she could sit on the porch and use the always offense but now politically incorrect “N” word to discuss the people that she had helped.
It was the end of an era in the rural south. There in the deep back country where running water was a big city thing, share cropping was how you made a living, and operating a still was an acceptable way of supplementing income, it was still the world of the film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B00005QATY&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrcomplete with a similar soundtrack.
I am fortunate to have experienced it as this is where I learned about the powers of self deception to justify a wrong, and the dangers of prejudice even if it is masquerading as enlightened progressive thinking. It is also where I learned it is just as easy to do the right thing for the wrong reasons as it is to do the wrong thing for the right reasons.
Simply put, these were good hard working, Christian, church going folks who would do anything for a stranger or to help someone in need. But they were missing a cog or two on an important gear and as a result were dangerously color sensitive rather than as color blind as the man they proclaimed allegiance to every Sunday morning.
But is wasn’t just the south that was changing. The entire nation was in upheaval with its customs, beliefs, and principles being scattered to the winds and trampled under foot.
Some of the changes were long over due. The civil rights marches with men like Charlton Heston and Martin Luther King joined in pursuit of a common goal marked the culmination of the vision proclaimed by the nations founders in the Declaration of Independence with the line that all men are created equal.
I was but a wet behind the ears kid during the tumultuous sixties but the cultural shifts were so dramatic in nature they could not be missed. I had the added advantage of, as my mom always said, being born ninety so many of my friends had been to old to “get in on the action” during World War II.
At the time I thought we were deprived but in retrospect am quite glad we had little exposure to television during those years. It was hard enough to see the devastation wrought in Detroit by the riots first hand, to see gaunt and dirty long haired men panhandle for food when we stopped at a roadside park, or the son of a friend of the family join us for dinner and try to tie his shoe with one hand, a souvenir from his senior trip to Vietnam, without it being in our face during supper.
By the late 1960s there was a sense that we had slipped through the looking glass. Sons and daughters of national icons turned against their nation and were lauded heroes. Flag burning, something my dad felt was akin to peeing in your cereal bowl, was deemed an expression of enlightened free speech rather than a manifestation of hatred toward the nation.
Hatred manifested in other ways during those troubled times. There was the assassination of President Kennedy, an event that got us sent home from school early, and his brother.
The poison of prejudice claimed the life of Martin Luther King and a president lied to the people on television for the first time. Of course , those were different times and the majority of the people were shocked rather than in a rush to defend.
Times have most definitely changed. We now have an African American as president but that hasn’t stopped the fanning of the flames of division by those who profit and empower themselves through prejudice.
Government has replaced God as our savior, excuses serve as justification, and freedom is now severed from the tether of responsibilty. Yep, times have changed.
I hope todays post does not present the impression of bitterness or even disgust. In actuality I am rather excited about the future and am quite optimistic.
In recent weeks I was given numerous reasons for reflection about the changes witnessed in my short time here on earth. My conclusion is that we as a nation have made tremendous strides toward overcoming the flaws of the founders and making this the nation they envisioned. 
However, at some point in the post war era we tossed the baby out with the dirty water. Now we stand at a cross roads and if we hope to continue on the path of making this nation a shining city on the hill, we must first rediscover what it is that made this nation mankinds greatest hope for self government.

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jimhinckleysamerica

Jim Hinckley's America is a grand adventure on the back roads and two lane highways. It is an odyssey seasoned with fascinating people, and memory making discoveries. As made evident by the publication of fourteen books on subjects as diverse as diverse as Ghost Towns of the Southwest, The Illustrated History of the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company, Travel Route 66, Backroads of Arizona, and The Route 66 Encyclopedia, I enjoy sharing adventures and helping people plan for their own memory making journeys.

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