Thursday, April 30, 2009

Perhaps I Am A Foreigner

So I was cruising the 'net today and I saw where the State Dept. was claiming that one of the foreign countries Hillary has visited was Texas.

I do believe I am a foreigner from the USA. You see, I was born when the last of the Civil War veterans were dying. Back then kids were allowed to run free a lot. There was no such thing as a "play date". My parents told me to get out of the house and get some sun and air. If I wanted to play with friends I went out and found them.

Sometimes, instead of the kids I'd find some old men sitting in the park. Many of these old men were hard old men, veterans of the fighting with the Moros in the Philippines following the Spanish American War, others were veterans of the trench fighting in WW1. If these old men decided to whittle, the old pocketknives were razor sharp. And many of them, regardless of the guns laws, had something extra stashed away under their clothes. The stories I heard. Some even may have been true.

I was growing up when the Interstate Highway System was born. I remember how long it took to drive a hundred miles on the old roads. I grew up hearing the tales of the old Model T Fords, the car that had to back over a steep hill. You see the Model T had no fuel pump. The gas reached the carburetor by gravity feed from the gas tank, located under the windshield. Of course this also means that, in a hard crash, the gas would be all over everyone inside the car. Of course, with no seat belts, padded dashes or any other safety features, this didn't matter much, a hard crash and it would have been gasoline soaked dead bodies.

and this is the country I'm from. The country where it was expected that boys (and some girls) had .22 rifles and maybe even a single shot shotgun. Where you could see a few boys on bicycles, or even a pony or two, with those .22s and nobody thought anything of it.

I'm from a country where most of us didn't notice much if our friend's parents spoke Spanish, or if the kid had dark skin and especially curly hair. Yeah, they were different. That meant we'd get something special if we were there instead of home, come suppertime. Sure, there was some racism but most of us didn't know about it. We only found out about it later, in high school. mostly. And there was far more of some odd kind of classism. We didn't know much about that, either, the rich folks were too far away so we didn't know how they looked down on us. Again, not really until high school. While that stuff went on, we kids didn't see it. We didn't have TV until about 1954 or so and there were no cartoon channels. There was Walt Disney's show. Before Uncle Remus became a symbol of white man's racism we all thought he was just another wise old man with good stories. I suspect we could still learn things from Uncle Remus, too.

Children don't get to play like we did, they are much poorer for it. I don't see ten year old adventurers much anymore, it's sad. Instead I see a lot of overdressed kids. Do you know how long it's been since I saw a dirty-faced kid with patches on the knees of his jeans, ready to fight Hell with a cup of water? Hmmph, pretty much since I was one of those ten year olds. Today it's all some kind of Stranger Danger!

It's a shame. Kids could still hear stories of today's hard old men. There aren't many from WW2, a few more from Korea, those were the grownups of my boyhood. No kids but my grandkids will ever hear my stories, too bad. I had some adventures. But kids don't run loose any more. I don't think they are in much more danger, I think it's because few people have a bunch of kids and everyone is supposed to die of old age in the nursing home now.

When I was a boy the Polio vaccine happened after I started school. My best boyhood friend nearly died from polio, he still has a shriveled leg. I was somewhat unusual, growing up. I only had one sister and no brothers. I talk about the hard old men. I think one of the reasons we are a lot less hard today is that so many of the things that used to kill us have been vanquished. Oddly, the easier it is to live, the more we seem to be afraid of death.

When I was a boy there were no such thing as grief counselors. Somebody died, we grieved. Nobody had to tell us how. And nobody was much interested, either. My grief was my own. I grieved, then I went on.

So I do not recognize the country I grew up in. It's there somewhere, I recognize some of the hills. I sure don't recognize the wusses running it, though. What happened to the Ike Eisenhowers and Trumans? How in the heck did we go from the men who made Picket's Charge, and the men who stopped Picket's Charge to Obama and Pelosi?

I am a stranger in my own country and I don't much like this place. And the older I get, the less I like it. When I was a boy I wasn't afraid of strangers. I knew, not only would almost no adults hurt a child, ninety-five percent would die trying to save one. I wonder what that percentage is now.

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