Back when things really mattered

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By Tim Wright

If you are in your mid-50s to mid-60s and you are wondering, “What the hell happened?” don’t worry, you’re not alone.

What I’m referring to are the drastic changes that our generation has witnessed in our nation.

We all entered grade school in the 1950s or ’60s, standing up, right hands over our hearts, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to our country.  No one got upset, called his or her Congressman to complain of indoctrination procedures in public schools, or chose to file a lawsuit against the schools that had this daily practice. The ritual gave us reason to believe that our country and flag were special. After all, it was our country and we were being taught to respect certain things for which our flag stood.  It made sense to even first graders.

We would overhear adult conversations, reflecting upon World War II and a relative who had died at D-Day, Pearl Harbor, or from having been aboard the USS Indianapolis. We didn’t understand what they were talking about, but we still grasped the gravity of those events and that there had been sacrifice from most every single U.S. citizen in one way or another.

Respect and reverence were being instilled in our noggins, which at that age were full of mush.  We were taken to church to hear about God – the God that we could easily see was so much a part of the fabric of our country that we could read and spell out “G-O-D” on our dollar bills and change.  We trusted in God as much as our parents and grandparents, as much as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, as much as our president and our teachers … our elders.  It was a given to respect those who had been around much longer than we. We intuitively knew our place in this world.  Whether we were to “be seen and not heard” (not a bad approach to the foolishness of youth) or at least be quiet when we were supposed to be – like in school and church, we knew there were rules of behavior – and that we’d better obey them.  There wasn’t an option. It was a very simple equation:  Obey the rules or receive the punishment. It made total sense.  This “old-fashioned” approach to life worked well back then.

We attended church and received enough information to know that there were consequences to our actions – in the bigger picture of life.  We knew that our parents and grandparents could put us over their knee or get the switch out – or in my case, the barber’s leather strap – if we misbehaved.   It was a great deterrent, fear of the consequences.

I’ll never forget a scene that was branded upon my brain when I was a youth. One day in first grade, the school principal exploded into our room and pulled an unruly boy from his desk, and whipped him with the school paddle right there on the spot.  I had never been so scared in my life. I figured the headmaster was just going to go down the line and give us all “something to think about.” No. He had been watching the recalcitrant 8-year-old acting up and not paying attention to our teacher, Ms. Beatty.  The boy got his “come-uppins (comeuppance),” as my mom would say.  Corporal punishment was used and we all believed that this could happen to us. Whether this is positive or negative reinforcement, it certainly reinforced the one thing that kept us minding our teachers and parents. Being frozen with terror at the thought of how that paddle must feel on one’s backside was enough to do that! Doesn’t the Bible instruct in Proverbs, “Spare the rod and spoil the child?” (Yep, today we mostly have a bunch of spoiled brats on our hands to be sure – and, unfortunately, they’re in their 30s!)

Of course, if this were attempted today, the principal would be fired immediately, the school would be facing a lawsuit, and a fury of protests would ensue.  I can see the placards now: “STOP THE CRUELTY TO STUDENTS.” “THIS ISN’T THE ’50S!” “THOU SHALT NOT SPANK CHILDREN!” And other such nonsensical slogans from “caring” “gentle” “understanding” parents who have been deceived into believing that the Bible’s own teaching, “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is a lot of hogwash.  I suppose those are the same folks who have chosen to place their Bible on a shelf with other “great works of literature.” I mean, really, how can that book be relevant to our problems today?

I just sigh when I see these kinds of folks, and I realize that some day they may possibly “get it.” As my mom would say, “Pray for them.” It’s for certain; nothing ever changes – the foolishness of man and the wisdom of God.

Those grade-school years went by like those wires on a high-line pole, as Merle Haggard once sang.  We were introduced to evolution and taught to disregard anything the Good Book had to say about the origin of mankind. Time magazine’s cover asked, “Is God Dead?” It seemed as if a lot of folks wanted Him to be. Prayer was kicked out of schools along with any mention of God.  (My history book in the seventh or eighth or grade taught about the great religious revival of John Wesley.) There was actual mention of people humbling themselves before their Creator and accepting Jesus as their Savior in a public school textbook!

Today, I’m sure there are teachings of world religions and Christianity is lumped in with all the rest. I’m awaiting the day that some PC folks fight for the changing of the inscription on our currency. Would they simply get rid of “IN GOD WE TRUST” or attempt to get legislation passed that would include all the world religion’s leaders in the quest of being tolerant and understanding? “In Buddha some of us trust,” “In Mohammed some of us trust” and so on.

It seemed like we kicked God out and all hell did in fact break loose. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. We saw the accused assassin of JFK shot and killed on live TV.  Reality TV had begun. Babylon had entered our living rooms. Our Saturday cowboy heroes were gone. Dobie Gillis’ Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver) had long gone off in search of his next role on Gilligan’s Island,  The Honeymooners and Jackie Gleason had moved to Miami Beach. Howdy Doody had been put in an NBC storage vault, Captain Kangaroo was hanging in there by the skin of his teeth, and we were all disillusioned.  Bad guys were doing very bad things.  We needed Roy and Dale along with Gene Autry back in the saddle again.  We needed law and order. Things were beginning to fall apart all around us.  From November 1963 through January 1964, everything became a bleak gray, just like those newsreels of JFK’s funeral procession.

Then February 9, 1964, came around. Ed Sullivan, of all the unexpected heroes, came to our “rescue.” He introduced the Beatles, and life would never be the same from that generational pivot point on.




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