I wanted to write something light today, maybe a story from my younger years not punctuated by my father’s threats of violence or my mother’s benign neglect. In short, without the grand hand-wringing mess of angst this blog has, unfortunately, turned into.
It’s difficult to write lightly when you’re angry and depressed, but here goes.
Nah. I came up with one story just now in my head and it relates to something that happened at work.
The world has changed a lot since I was a kid. People always say that and they’re right. Others say you only think things have changed – people, as they will, generally remain the same. There’s some truth to that.
In June, I got reported for something I said at an employee luncheon. I was remembering all the stupid dangerous stuff I did as a kid, mostly putting bobby pins in wall outlets (I blew a lot of fuses, much to dad’s consternation) and using my sister as an experiment to see what exotic things I could get her to eat, such as deodorant.
I said “between God and my mother, it’s a wonder how many times I tried to kill myself as a kid.”
Of course, in light of what had gone before the VA Employee Gestapo saw fit to throw that on top of the list of charges brought against me for ‘inappropriate behavior.’ That was one of the ones that didn’t stick.
But as I recall, at the time it was no laughing matter for my mother.
|Dennis broke vases, I broke TVs. Hah!|
In fact, these incidents raised eyebrows around the neighborhood (it was the mid-1960s and most moms were stay-at-home) and, even worse, among my father’s side of the family. They never did like my mother and the feeling from my mother’s side of the family toward my father was mutual. It rarely flared, but just simmered under the surface with an occasional cutting remark over gin and tonics on Christmas Eve the worst it generally got.
Dad, to his credit, did most of his fuming in the car. It was the only time I was privy to the juicy gossip of family infighting. Otherwise, family business was treated like the mafia’s ‘family business’ and I was not a part of that family – of sainted adults.
In any case, there was one incident I actually remember that caused mom a lot of grief with dad’s relatives for some time, probably because the evidence was captured on Kodachrome.
I don’t know why I did it, but one day when mom was enjoying a cigarette, I ran up for a hug and got the lighted end dead center on my forehead. I had a little red dot, like a bidi, for weeks. As it happened right before Christmas, my little red-dotted forehead was captures on still photos and family movies.
Nothing, even my father’s ranting against her housework, hurt my mom more than criticism about her parenting. She rarely said anything about it but when she did, I could tell it hurt her terribly. My sister and I, but really mostly me, were a load to handle. I would have and still do, try the patience of a saint.
But no one came to the door with the police for any of that. I wasn’t being abused. The kids across the street we played with were being almost ritualistically beaten by their father. They paid for it later when their children cut them out of their lives.
As years went by and stories were told, it did become funny. Well, not the time I destroyed the TV, but that’s a story for another day.
Man, I was bad.
When I was around 12 and playing what passed for Little League ball in my hometown, we had a ball diamond next to a railroad overpass. One day, for some reason, our coaches were late so we climbed up on the trestle and looked down at the road the train crossed.
One of us (not me) decided it would be fun to drop pennies on cars below us. A lady called the cops and, sure enough, an officer came and called us down from the trestle.
We got a stern lecture, for sure. The cop knew us, knew we were not bad kids but also knew that if he didn’t tell us how dangerous stupid stuff like that could be, we wouldn’t learn.
He left and we all swore not to tell the coaches or our parents. And no one did.
Nowadays I wonder if we would have all gone down to the station in handcuffs, been booked on some charge and sent to juvenile court.
I guess that’s the world I mourn the most. It had nothing to do with terrorism, politics or social upheaval. There was a unsaid standard that saved legal and extralegal punishments for acts that deserved them instead of the one-size-fits-all type of legalism-cum-fascism we live under today.
It was like comparing the world of Mayberry with East Berlin. Now everyone is watching everyone looking for a ‘see something-say something’ moment which might get them a hero’s badge on TV. Historian William Manchester called the McCarthy era The Age of Suspicion, but I think he’d change his mind if he were alive today.
|Now do you remember? That’s Ralph on the left.|
How many people remember a cartoon called Wait ‘Til Your Father Gets Home, (1972-74) where Ralph, the neighbor (voiced by Jack Burns) snooped around the neighborhood looking for a Commie behind every bush?
He was a punchline. Now he’s a Real American.
Yeah, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses, I’ll be the first to admit. I remember the Vietnam protests and Kent State. And I can’t blame it all on the hysteria following 9-11; this had been brewing for some time. The change came in a way that it was almost imperceptible unless you had a memory for time.
Our society not only became more legalistic, it also became more unforgiving and less trusting. Technology brought us not only paranoia but the ability to more easily separate ourselves into warring tribles. We lost the glue that held us together as a rational people.
And once lost, we can’t get it back.