We all “played guns” when I was young. Not a thought was given by any adult that any one of us might be wielding a real gun. We popped away at each other—and the more realistic-sounding the better, sometimes two rolls of caps threaded in the trigger together—and bang-you’re-dead, no YOU’RE-dead-I-got-you-first, tearing down the sidewalk on bikes and karts, going in and out of everybody’s back yard, and no one gave even a thought to the notion that a cop might blow our 7, 8, 9, 10-year-old selves away by accident or misprision. WE kids didn’t realize we were the white, privileged exceptions. We were just kids, as we found ourselves . . . playing. OH, we would learn . . . later.
The glorification of the Confederacy was all around me growing up. The Civil War Centennial was in full swing by 1960. Before that was Daveeee Crockett and his coonskin cap. Then everybody had to have one of those cool Confederate kepi caps we saw in the movies or at the Atlanta Cyclorama. IT was in the center of town, a 374-foot painting in a circular hall at Grant Park, a panorama of the 1864 Battle of Atlanta. (There was even a body pictured on the battlefield that was altered to have the face of Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler!)
Heck, we had a ditch ’way in the back of our lot that was a real Civil War picket station, where they watched for the Yankees. Barbed wire still protruded from the trees. What else could we do but man the trench with ten-year-old Johnny-Rebs and repel those darn Yankees, armed with water balloons this time. Did we think about the implications of slavery in those times, of class rule, of theft and murder? NO. We were kids. The hats were cool. T.V. rebels were cool, and DIDN’T own slaves. I had some real Confederate money. Is there any wonder it took me so long to learn out of THAT foolishness? What about my poor friends that never learned?
I began teenage years as a clueless wanderer in the paradises and mine fields of emotions I could never name. Could I ever say that as an adolescent—an older boy developing into a young adult—that I didn’t leer or make sexist observations or untoward advances toward girls? What IN THE WORLD were these creatures? Sex education in those days was boys in one room, girls in another, and an anatomy lesson. IF you were lucky. In a Catholic grade school curriculum obsessed with anti-communism taught by penance-possessed nuns, I had two teachers in seven grade-school years that I respected; one a nun and one a lay woman. And THEY didn’t teach us—OH NO, it was TORNADO LEONARD, and her sixth-grade “morality bees” (you know, like a spelling bee) guaranteed to shrivel you up like an overcooked green bean. // I was thinking to myself one day—why didn’t WE ask the girls how THEY felt, what THEY were all about. Nothing THAT easy. Instead it was confused passion’s play and yes, boys did go too far, but how were we to know? // I sure hope THOSE years never catch up to ME. I spent some time years ago trying to find my twelfth-grade “steady” but never heard back from any of the “Jeannies” that I wrote. Poor lass—bless her heart, but I sure wish she’d have written me. I got a lotta questions. I spent years compounding the lack of sex education. Five years in an all-boys’ catholic military high school, four years in an all-men’s (really, older adolescents) college? I didn’t start down that humanist path until I was in my twenties, and recovery and rebuilding is a long unfinished journey.
Cars? You went fast.
Al-key-haul? You drank as much as fast as you could.
Is there any wonder so many of us still don’t have a clue.
Music: "Suspicious Minds" by Elvis Presley