Skip to comments.Vanishing Americans (St. Louis Chapter)
Posted on 05/28/2012 8:29:54 AM PDT by Pelham
"On a recent Sunday afternoon, I had the most incredible experience: I sat in a roomful of 50 men and women who had lunch, talked, reminisced, and enjoyed themselves for four hours. The incredible part was that they did all that without cell phones, without liquor, without vulgar language, without loud music, without blaring TV screens, and without wrecking the place. All of them are white. All of them are decent and disciplined. They are, therefore, atypical 21st-century Americans. They grew up in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. They are Old School. They are not cool or trendy; if they were, I would have known I had walked into the wrong room.
The occasion was a reunion of people who attended schools in the neighborhood in south St. Louis where my father lived as a boy. He organized the first such reunion in 1988. One man was so grateful for the reunions that he sent my father a four-page handwritten letter describing his memories of schoolmates in the 1920s.
This years event, the 25th annual reunion was the last because the people who do the most work are tired and beset with health concerns, and because younger people have no interest in such reunions.
All of those people grew up in two old, adjacent, working-class neighborhoods that were largely self-sufficient: Grocery stores, bakeries, meat markets, confectionaries, drug stores, a farmers market, clothing stores, hat shops, jewelry stores, medical and dental offices, barber shops, beauty shops, hardware stores, corner taverns, city parks, a swimming pool, a library, churches, schools, movie theatres, and places of employment all stood within those neighborhoods. Virtually everything they needed could be found within walking distance from where they lived. Everyone walked everywhere.
It was an area of cold-water flats and breadboxes in front of corner markets; of railroad tracks and factories near the Mississippi River; where shop-owners lived above their shops; where saloon-keepers bounced customers who used vulgar language; and where families went window-shopping on Saturday nights along a street lined with stores. Many of them did not own an automobile or a telephone.
In contrast, many modern Americans are awash in excess and have little moral fiber. The people at the reunion did it the other way around: Excess was never a part of their lives, but they had moral fiber in abundance. None of them lived on Easy Street. Many of them were poor in material comforts. But they were not poor in things that matter: Imagination, self-discipline, common sense, self-reliance, loyalty to their families, schools, churches, and neighborhood, and a determination to pull their own weight. It was customary not to ask for help. You stood or fell on your own, wrote Betty Pavlige in her book Growing Up In Soulard (1980, pp. 24-25). She grew up there in the 1920s-30s and then operated a beauty shop there for 49 years.
There was no moral relativism in their lives. Because many of them were poor, medical care was often beyond their reach, and injuries and death were no strangers to them. The stern facts of life had strong influence on our moral standards and the code of ethics that we lived by or violated with terrible feelings of risk, she wrote. Dependability was a high virtue, and we regarded a lie, even a little white lie, as one of the serious offenses. The lie even became a kind of allegory of death, because it submerged truth, covered it over and contaminated it. This was taught in our homes, and it was reinforced by consensus among the children wherever we gathered to play the schoolyard, the streets, the river. (p. 89)
They learned early in life to appreciate simple pleasures: We believed that one step below heaven on a hot summer day was to have the 5 cents to put in the Coca-Cola machine and bring out that small frosty bottle (p. 93)
For heat in the winter, they burned coal. For air-conditioning in the summer, they opened the windows.
For entertainment on weekends, they walked a few blocks to watch boat and barge traffic on the river, or played softball or baseball on vacant corner lots, or walked to any of three unpretentious movie houses to enjoy the B-Westerns of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, or Hopalong Cassidy, or listened every Saturday evening to radios Your Hit Parade.
They were not perfect, but they had enough sense to uphold form, proportion, perspective, balance, and hierarchy in their lives which is considerably more sense than many Americans have today.
My Aunt Helen attended a public school there a hundred years ago. Her 8th-grade graduation photo from 1915 shows her in a white dress with a serrated hem well below the knee, a string of pearls, white dress shoes, and a white ribbon in her hair. In one hand she holds a Certificate of Scholarship. Try to imagine that degree of refinement in any public school ceremony today. In that picture, she projects more dignity at age 14 than many women do today at age 30 or 40. In the 1920s, she worked as an elevator operator in a handsome office building in the heart of downtown St. Louis that has now stood abandoned and deteriorating for two decades.
I spoke with a lady at the reunion who graduated from a parochial school in 1949. She has wonderful memories of that parish and its beautiful, German Gothic church. But she told me it has been thoroughly modernized: All the pews were taken out and replaced with seating in the round, and services are now in English, not Latin, and include hand-clapping. She did not think favorably of those changes. I could only agree.
Attachment to a particular place is something many modern Americans will never feel or understand. But these people understood it well, half a century after they moved away when large portions of that neighborhood were demolished. My father understood it: Never lured by the modern rat race, he was content to live for 73 years within five blocks from where his boyhood home had stood. Photos from that old neighborhood were displayed at the reunion, along with class graduation pictures from the 1950s. The dress and demeanor of boys and girls in those pictures are a moral universe removed from and better than what is seen in schools today.
It was a bittersweet afternoon for me. I knew I was in a roomful of the best kind of men and women: Hard-working, reliable, down-to-earth, plain-spoken, straight-shooting men and women who never expected or asked for any special favors from anyone, and who never imagined that anyone owed them anything. And I knew that their code of moral standards and self-discipline are fast disappearing from the American landscape. Such people are a glorious contrast to the pampered, overeducated, miseducated, and ill-mannered people we see so often today. The difference is that they were teenagers once but got over it and grew up whereas modern Americans prefer to remain teenagers.
In 1997, the Reunion Committee gave my father a certificate of appreciation to express gratitude to him for his work in organizing the early school reunions.
In 2012, I gave each member of that Committee a certificate of appreciation to express my gratitude to them for their labor of love in continuing those annual reunions for a quarter-century.
I knew that this last reunion marked the end of an era for those good people. It was an honor to sit among them.
See if you remember Americans like this.
Thank you. I went to my 50 year high school reunion in
1983. That was the last one , not enough of us left now.
Today I plan to go up on top of the hill where the Memorial Service will be held at the cemetary in this small town.
There are lots of very fine young people in this town and I feel confident that they will carry on just fine when our generattion is gone.
I am 64 yrs old. America was like this prior to the 60’s ‘counter culture.’ It was a different world from today.
I miss my country.
Now I know why you chose your name. Very cool BTW.
Wars were WON UNCONDITIONALLY rather than abandoned, drawn out or negotiated. You knew your neighbors and cared about them and their kids. Families were large. Divorce and adultery were shameful. Labor unions were generally private sector and patriotic. Same sex anything was unheard of and rightfully so. Criminal misbehavior was regarded as disgraceful. Eve FDR called welfare a strictly temporary expedient and NOT a way of life.
It was a truly golden era in our nation's history and it ought to be restored.
There really was a greater infusion of moral values into young minds then than now, and the resultant early maturity showed in youthful faces. I found my MIL’s high school graduation portrait, class of 1942. She was a lovely young woman of eighteen, nothing girlish or immature about her at all, already an adult ready for real life. She went on to teach school at high school then college level for more than six decades.
In fact, more mature at that age than today’s thirtysomethings.
Counter culture had nothing to do with it, forced integration did.
Communities, and neighborhoods were instantly destroyed.
Suddenly crime and the resulting security concerns erased the casual days of permanently unlocked doors, big open windows, and keys almost never leaving the ignition of the unlocked cars.
A flood of third world immigration created by JFK/Ted/Johnson and the Democrat party fed that destruction and finished us off.
The 1965 Immigration Act was the end of America, it cannot be undone, this is not just an historical cycle that can eventually be undone, this is permanent and is going to get worse.
By the way, when you used Catholic, you didn't mean Catholic voters did you?
“Unfortunately that generation you praise, is what destroyed us”
I don’t think I’d agree with that. Members of that generation that I knew, and still know in their 90s for that matter, didn’t support those changes. But they didn’t have the ability to control social and political changes any more than we do now. Politicians betrayed their constituents just like they do today.
The ones who did the damage were a small subculture that harbors a grudge against traditional America. A lot of them worked for Ted Kennedy and wrote the bills that that fool put his name on.
They knew what they were doing, the Warren Court, the radical Congress and Senate, JFK and LBJ, the 1964 election was a 61% to 38% statement on that generation.
However, if there is one man who can take the most credit for the 1965 act, it is John F. Kennedy. Kennedy seems to have inherited the resentment his father Joseph felt as an outsider in Bostons WASP aristocracy. He voted against the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, and supported various refugee acts throughout the 1950s. In 1958 he wrote a book, A Nation of Immigrants, which attacked the quota system as illogical and without purpose, and the book served as Kennedys blueprint for immigration reform after he became president in 1960. In the summer of 1963, Kennedy sent Congress a proposal calling for the elimination of the national origins quota system. He wanted immigrants admitted on the basis of family reunification and needed skills, without regard to national origin. After his assassination in November, his brother Robert took up the cause of immigration reform, calling it JFKs legacy. In the forward to a revised edition of A Nation of Immigrants, issued in 1964 to gain support for the new law, he wrote, I know of no cause which President Kennedy championed more warmly than the improvement of our immigration policies. Sold as a memorial to JFK, there was very little opposition to what became known as the Immigration Act of 1965.
Until the young military aged WWII generation returned and started running the wars and the government for the next 40 years.
They were a disaster as leaders.
“They knew what they were doing, the Warren Court,”
Eisenhower said that the two biggest mistakes he made as President were nominating Earl Warren and William Brennan to the Supreme Court. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the theory that the Warren Court was intended by Ike’s generation. Calls for Warren’s impeachment were common and weren’t restricted to fringe groups.
“the radical Congress and Senate,”
From 1936 to 1963 the conservative coalition of southern Democrats and conservative Republicans dominated the House and Senate. Only Lyndon Johnson with his inside knowledge of Congress was able to defeat them.
“the 1964 election was a 61% to 38% statement on that generation.”
That was hardly an endorsement of anything. The 1964 election was, as Goldwater predicted it would be, a sympathy vote for the dead JFK, assassinated one year earlier.
“However, if there is one man who can take the most credit for the 1965 act, it is John F. Kennedy.”
The destructive 1965 Immigration bill was passed in 1965; JFK was dead in November 1963.
“After his assassination in November, his brother Robert took up the cause of immigration reform, calling it JFKs legacy”
Robert Kennedy became Senator from New York in 1965 and supported the immigration bill; but the bill was pushed mainly by Ted Kennedy who had occupied JFK’s old Senate seat from Massachusetts since 1962.
The first post-WWII non-victory war was Korea. It started during Truman’s administration, and that administration was a generation older than the WWII vets.
I wasn’t measuring it by who was President and the oldest of the political leadership, by the way WWII could be called the greatest stalemate of all, it was the resulting unfinished war with the German/Soviet alliance that led to decades of stalemate and defeats under weak leadership.
The fighters of WWII were already covering a wide range of ages by the early fifties, roughly age 23 to 45 let’s say, they were already having a heavy influence on leadership and politics. Vietnam and 1960s/1970s America was all theirs to run, and they ran it into the ground.
I don’t want to have to explain every little detail, this is tedious.
The Warren court was not just Earl Warren and Brennan.
If you don’t think that Congress was radical from 1936 to 1963 then you are ignorant of what happened during those most deadly leftist years to America.
Calling the massive democratic vote of 1964 sympathy is naive, the left rolled the people by convincing them that liberalism was the wave of the future, it was fair and enlightened and the people ate it up, I remember that election.
We all know the difference between JFK dying in 1963, and the legislation passed in his name, fulfilling his dream in 1965,if Nixon had won, Kennedy’s dream to replace Americans with democrat voting foreigners would never had happened.
“Vietnam and 1960s/1970s America was all theirs to run, and they ran it into the ground.”
Our Vietnam involvement began under Eisenhower in the early 50s, but Ike was opposed to getting into a ground war in Asia. Unfortunately his successors were too arrogant to heed the old General and they set disaster into motion. Kennedy managed to get the President of South Vietnam assassinated and Johnson inherited a mess that he made worse.
I often think that LBJ is the worst President of my lifetime. He set in motion domestic policies whose poison still afflicts the country. And he was aided in this by liberal Republicans, who helped him pass all the noble sounding civil rights bills that have had so many evil consequences for average Americans.
Nixon was no better. He had no interest in domestic policies and essentially continued those of Johnson, adding to them in fact. I’m sure many Republicans would be surprised to learn some of the agencies and laws that were created under Nixon, particularly in environmental law.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.