Letters to the Editor | Your Opinion | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | February 14, 2016 5:00 pm
Last Updated: February 10, 2016 at 12:55 pm
Reflections in my rear view mirror
Many years have passed since my childhood and they concealed the slow-moving changes taking place in my world. It was only when I compared my childhood to the childhood of my grandchildren that I realized the dramatic differences. The changes I am referring to have nothing to do with technology advances such as cell phones, digital cameras and iPads. The dramatic changes I see deal with lifestyle, personal values, education and family.
I am comparing the aspects of my childhood that shape and influence a child by instilling values and create the opportunities for children to live, learn, play and grow in an environment that produces a well-rounded child. Since I am a layperson, I can only write from my personal experiences and what I have witnessed over my lifetime. I lack the expertise to make judgments or draw conclusions as to what affects all these changes in our childhoods may have had on the type of adults they will turn out to be. Therefore, l present my memories for you to read and you can draw your own conclusions.
Growing up in the 50s was a blessing that would not become evident to me for many years. Spending my childhood in a small town in West Virginia created the opportunity for me to live in an environment that filled my childhood with an appreciation of nature and natural beauty that I don’t believe could be duplicated anywhere else in the world.
In addition, I was born into a large country family who lived on the borderline of being poor and middle class. They were poor in many ways, yet they placed little value in acquiring material things. They were hardworking people whose priorities were family, God and country. They had a sense of humor and believed their handshake was a binding contract. All of these pieces of the puzzle that formed my childhood shaped my family life, as well as my future, in little, almost invisible ways. After 50 years, my memories of those times are as clear as yesterday.
To understand those days — my family, my friends and the unique environment that we shared — you have to know the history of the people who created it. At that time, West Virginia had not changed a great deal since those early pioneer days and remained a rugged place to live. West Virginia was a poverty-laden state filled with hard work, meager incomes, hard winters and little opportunity. Yet, the people who lived there took all of the negatives in their lives and set them aside. They lived above them and or with them. They did not complain because, in many ways, they didn’t know any better. The everyday hardships they faced forced them to work hard just to scratch out a living and raise their families. In spite of their hardships, my family life was rich in happiness and we learned to be grateful for every little thing we had. I am referring to my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and my parents, and I will always be proud of my heritage.
In those days, the country roads that wound around, up and down those huge mountains created time-consuming and dangerous journeys. When you factor in hazards such as the snow in winter, rock slides, flash floods, slow-moving coal trucks and tractor-trailer rigs, the travel could be life-threatening, even on a trip to the grocery store.
In spite of all this, these people are still very proud to be “Ridge Runners” from West “By God” Virginia. They lived uncomplicated lives. They went to work; they attended church regularly; they took care of their families; and they freely shared anything and everything with family and friends as well. They were independent, self-reliant, proud, honest and very patriotic. They cherished their freedoms and were quick to volunteer and serve to defend them. They were grateful for the chance to live out their lives safe in the knowledge that their country would always be safe and secure. They were humble, yet they rejoiced when success came their way. These people were cut from the same mold as the pioneers who built this country and they took many risks and worked very hard to build on what little they started with.
Church was as much their social center as it was their sanctuary. Going to church offered the opportunity to talk to neighbors; to share their problems; to give and receive advice; to create and build friendships; and a time for prayer. It was a place where all men were equal, shared a common bond and understood each other’s problems. It was a house of worship, a place to pray, a place to study the Bible and a place where family values were formed. It was also a place of joy and laughter, weddings, baptisms and during funerals it was a place of sadness and tears. It was a place where extended families gathered, older generations were respected but most of all, it was a place of charity, hope, understanding and love.
The social activities available back then were as plain and simple as the lives they lived. There were card games with neighbors, eating out a local drive-in restaurant, a trip to the drive-in theater with the kids, church on Sunday and picnics in various city parks. While the parents gathered in the living room, the children went outside to play games in the yard. The best part of these activities was that they were “family” events, and they were shared with close friends as well as relatives. It was simple times like these that built bonds between family members and formed lasting friendships.
Doors were never locked. Children walked to school and neighbors looked out for all the children in the neighborhood. Every morning at school we said the Lord’s Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. Teachers paddled students when really bad behavior took place and they didn’t beat anybody to death or draw blood. It was three swats and done. It was when you got home that the real punishment came into play. Parents supported teachers and misbehavior was not to be tolerated. I got my share of swats and it was not the pain that hurt, it was the embarrassment in front of the class and having to face Mom when I got home.
Some people claim those days never existed and it is a figment of our imagination or a distant memory draped with childhood dreams. I don’t get angry with those people. I feel sorry for them. They look at their world full of gadgets and high tech entertainment and mistake that for a wonderful time in their life. Movies and television have become filled with nudity and foul language that is necessary to gain success. Religion is being mocked and ignored. Social activity is now a face staring at an iPad with thumbs pecking out meaningless streams of tweets and texts to a friend sitting next to them. To make matters worse, sexting rears its ugly head much too often.
I wish I could take them back to just one summer of my childhood and let them discover a joy they have never known. I am often asked if I could go back in time, would I go? The answer is always the same: No! I had the best the first time. Now it is my children’s and grandchildren’s turn.