Monday, April 05, 2004

The Good Old Days

I remember the good old days.

The United States had just won a popular war when I entered Kindergarten. The war was concluded when a Democrat president decided to use weapons of mass destruction that killed about 200,000 enemy civilians. (Historical revisionists take note: The alternative was an invasion that would have cost at least as many American lives and resulted in many more civilian casualties.)

My father bought a 1938 Ford V8 in 1940. He kept it until 1951. He didn't buy his first new car until 1956. He and my mother never owned two cars.

My father sometimes brought home live chickens, which he dispatched at the chopping block. I was allowed to watch this spectacle because it was a part of daily life called "putting food on the table." I wasn't scarred for life by the experience.

Nor were my values twisted by daily exposure to sex and violence on TV. I listened to Jack Benny, the Great Gildersleeve, Our Miss Brooks, the Lone Ranger, and Superman on the radio.

I went to three different red-brick schoolhouses as I progressed from Kindergarten through the fifth grade. Each schoolhouse was by then at least 60 years old. I was nevertheless well educated in the three Rs because my teachers didn't have to put up with rude, unruly, and inattentive students.

Every schoolroom had framed pictures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln high on the wall. (The ceilings were high in those red-brick schoolhouses so that their triple-hung windows could be opened in hot weather. The only air conditioned buildings in our small city were the movie theaters.)

Washington's Birthday was a legal holiday. So was Lincoln's.

There was one black student in my school when I was in the fourth grade. He was my best friend. It was no big deal.

When I was six or seven years old I traveled by bus to the village where my grandmother lived, a trip of 90 miles. I traveled alone. My mother put me on the bus and my grandmother met me at the other end.

My grandmother raised ten children without the benefit of welfare, social workers, au pairs, nannies, and cleaning services. She didn't have indoor plumbing or a telephone until she was 70. That was when she also got an electric stove to replace her wood stove. Her children built the bathroom and installed the stove for her.

My grandmother lived to the age of 96. In her later years I persuaded her to give me the photographs of her and my grandfather that had hung high on her living room wall for so many years. That was all she could afford to give me. It was more than enough. It was priceless.

So were the good old days.