I don't get it. There have been crooked, dirty dealing, child molesting, evil people all down through the ages. And a few bad kids. But they were not everywhere--on every bus, at the grocery store, teaching school, preaching at a local church.
When I was a kid, most us us were TRAINED. That is, we were taught how to behave properly, what to do and what not to do, how to be respectful, how to handle money, how to shoot a gun and handle an axe and a knife, how to wash and dry dishes, how to make beds and a whole lot of other stuff. We were required to do our homework. Otherwise, we were pretty much left alone.
Most older people were ?old. Some were gruff, some were kind. Some were misguided prudes or martinets. These could be problems, but they were generally not evil problems. Very few people were mean or bad to kids.
Mr. Pope Ellis, the toothless school bus driver when I was in first grade, just drove the school bus. He did not overly concern himself with discipline. If Arthur whatshisname had actually beaten me up on the bus (which he regularly threatened to do) I suspect Mr. Ellis would have just driven the bus, unless things turned really bad.
And if you were a bus rider but you decided one day not to ride the bus home but go home with another kid or go to the store or just walk home., nobody checked or cared. You were assumed to know what to do and to be able to decide for yourself or do what your parents had told you to do.
As an eight year old kid, in the summer I rode the bus alone into Nashville and went to the YMCA for swimming lessons. Back then the "Y" was strictly for men and boys only. We all swam stark naked and shared the one dressing room with old guys with gray pubic hair. I knew how to dress myself, tie my shoes (no Velcro back then), keep up with my money, go to the right bus stop and all that stuff. And I was not some kind of prodigy. There was a bunch of kids my age who did more or less the same things. None of the adult men at the "Y" leered at us or tried to touch us. We just took our swimming lessons and left.
When I was thirteen or fourteen, I began hitchhiking about ten miles to Nashville on some Saturdays to cruise around the various pawn shops and ten cent stores and department stores. I would usually eat at one of the Krystal hamburger shops downtown where burgers were seven cents and doughnuts a nickel. At breakfast, a scrambled egg, toast, jelly, milk and a doughnut ran about thirty-four cents. Getting home often involved a lot of walking because it was very hard to hitch a ride on downtown streets. I would walk a couple of miles over into East Nashville to the beginning of Gallatin Road and then have a fair chance of catching a ride. I always walked while I was thumbing because at least that way I was making progress.
In the forties and fifties, kids played unsupervised in the streets, in vacant lots and in the woods and fields. I have no doubt that kids had been doing things that way for a few centuries before the forties and fifties. We played baseball with no umpires or coaches or catcher's masks, chest protectors or batting helmets. If the space available was not big enough for a regular game, we played "one eyed cat" with only home plate and one base about where second base would be on a full field. We chose up sides and determined which side would bat first by alternating hands on a bat to see which team's representative could be the last to hold it. And without neat white lines and poles, we learned to agree on which balls were fair or foul.
We played football on unmarked fields with anywhere from two to who knows how many guys on a team. There were almost never enough for eleven on a side.
We threw rocks, climbed trees, walked on the tops of fences, climbed cliffs, scrambled through bushes and got our clothes covered up with stick-tights and cockle burrs, and rode bikes at breakneck speeds without ever giving thought to helmets (which was easy because they didn't exist).
Most boys carried pocket knives. I began carrying a pocket knife with me to school when I was six years old (and still have that first knife). The teachers knew about the knives and were not worried. If a kid took out his knife during class and played with it or carved on a desk, the teacher would take the knife away and put it in her desk. The kid did not question the authority of the teacher to do that, and the teacher had no fear that the kid would stab or cut her with the knife. That sort of stuff was strictly out of bounds because we were TRAINED.
As a teen ager I even had a small forge with a hand-cranked blower. It would easily melt hardened steel. I forged my own hunting knives, finished them and fitted them with handles. No one supervised the fire or the forging, grinding, tempering, sawing, etc. If you were TRAINED in the basics of work safety, fair play and proper behavior, you could apply them in almost any situation without needing to have someone direct your every move. Parents taught kids this way and so did most school teachers and Sunday School teachers.
I have to be honest and say that there were occasional exceptions. An elementary school mate of mine, Rip Nix, led the unsupervised life. He built an airplane from two crossed boards, some nails and a rope and launched himself down the metal roof of his father's garage. He broke his arm and learned some about gravity. But even Rip was not a lost cause. Though he was a footballer and not much for book learning, he still managed to marry June Carter before she later ended up with Johnny Cash. And he invented the pickup truck Line-A-Bed and sold out for about five million dollars.
Somehow, I believe a trained but then unsupervised childhood produces achievers. Among my relatively small circle of acquaintances in our little country high school, I know of guys with military careers, a college professor, an airline pilot, successful business owners, an artist and illustrator, a high level research biologist, a university president and the guy who developed the solid rocket booster fuel for the space shuttle.
It was not a common thing, but bringing a gun to school was not a problem either. When I was fourteen and in the eighth grade, I took an old Winchester Model 1892 hex barrel .22 pump rifle with me on the school bus, took it into our classroom and traded it to a guy named John Ford for a big German flag someone had "liberated" during World War II. No one shrieked and ran out of the room or called the cops or even the principal. It was just a trade.
Quite a few of us had our own guns and would go alone or in pairs out into the woods to hunt or do target shooting. My dad bought me (us, really) a .22 bolt action single-shot when I was eight years old and taught me how to shoot it. By the time I was nine my mother would allow me to go out along into the woods with it, but with only one round of ammunition. No matter how far away I was when I shot that round, I had to return to the house and ask my mother if I could please have another one. It sounds like a bit of a hassle, but it had the effect of making me a rather good shooter. I acquired some other guns along the way through trading. I converted one tiny .22 rifle that I bought for twenty-five cents into a bolt action pistol. When I was fourteen, I used money that I had saved from working and bought a Mossberg .22 tubular magazine bolt action rifle. Long before that, my mother would allow me to take a whole box of fifty rounds with me on my ramblings, but having a rifle that would hold up to thirty rounds was very neat. I still have that rifle.
Also at fourteen I began working summer jobs and would have to be up early, walk to the highway, catch a Trailways bus into Nashville, walk a few blocks and be at work by 7:45.
After working all day, I reversed the process and somehow made it up the long hill from the highway to our house with visions of supper in my head.
Nobody ever molested me in the bus station or on the bus. By the time I was sixteen or seventeen, I probably wouldn't even have minded if one of the pretty twenty-something office workers who rode that Trailways bus had given it a go, but that never happened.
Most boys and girls back then learned to drive pretty early. Some kids at ten years old operated tractors on farms. Large numbers of kids had "learners' permits" at age fourteen and were allowed to drive to school and to work if they had jobs. I was "slow," I suppose, since I never had a learner's permit and only got a regular driver's license when I was sixteen. Probably 99+ percent of the cars back then were stick shift, so that is what everyone learned to drive. There were no seat belts, and most cars came without turn signals. Even heaters were optional equipment, and air conditioning was unknown.,
So what is the point of telling all of this old-timey stuff and maybe even a bit of reminiscing? Well, I am assuming that if you grew up even as late as the sixties or even the early seventies, you had more or less similar experiences. I am seriously trying to figure out what happened. How could things go along for decades or centuries with safe communities, responsible, trustworthy kids who studied and worked and said "Yes, sir" and "Yes, ma'am" and didn't stab or shoot people even though they had the means, who could entertain themselves for hours playing sports or making things or just hanging out, all without supervision? Then, almost over night, within fifteen or twenty years things went to pot. We allow no knives or guns or even table cutlery at school. No screwdrivers or pliers. There are metal detectors at many schools and cops (They call them "resource officers.") at almost every school. When I was a kid you could go for weeks and never see a cop. The change has been almost as if someone turned on a switch. Kids are molested, abused and murdered. Kids beat up other kids, shoot school bus drivers and get drunk. Kids have kids. And a lot of kids can't read or think. I know governments are putting fluorides in the water and that's not good, but there must be something more than that to cause all the bad stuff that goes on these days. It's as though it's not in the water, but in the psyches of everyone.
Now I'm not dumb. I do have some ideas about things that could have caused some of these negative changes, but I would really like to hear what you think has done this to our people. There are almost no coincidences of that type. We are talking about cause and effect. It is pretty easy to observe the effect. Let's see if we can nail down the cause. And wouldn't it be great if we could find that switch and turn it off?
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