Us old folks reminisce annoyingly about the old days. Forgive us, we can’t help it. Viewing my grandsons’ organised and electronic world, I can’t help but think about my Southern boyhood in the 1940s and early 1950s. I make no assertion about whether today is better or worse.
Amazing is the number of things that I remember that have now entirely disappeared:
Riding a wagon to town
Tobacco curing sheds
There were many brands of soft drinks, mostly gone now, but only a few types of beer. They came in bottles. Nobody imagined that either would be in cans.
The bottles could be redeemed for 2 cents each. And you got your bottle out of very cold water by hand after lifting the lid of a large drink box.
There was only one Catholic church in town.
There were probably an Episcopal Church and a synagogue but I never saw them. You were either, in descending social order, Presbyterian, Methodist, or Baptist.
I only knew one immigrant, a boy who had escaped Communism in Latvia.
The polio epidemic, was pervasive in everyone’s attention. You carried a swatter around to kill flies, who were thought to have something to do with causing polio.
We were all afraid of having to be put in ”the iron lung.”
Most streets outside the business area were unpaved, some were oiled in the summer.
We had newly invented strip malls but had not imagined a big self-contained shopping center with a parking garage.
A small black and white television with one station that broadcast only an hour or two in the evening.
Log houses and tin roofs that tinkled when it rained.
Tobacco chewing and snuff taking were commonplace and there was always a spittoon nearby.
Denim was working man’s wear. Nobody could have believed it would become a fashion statement. Farmers and workers often wore galluses.
Nobody I knew had ever heard of pizza.
Women wore skirts and dresses always when away from home. Girls would never show up at school in anything else.
Males wearing shorts or carrying an umbrella were marked as effeminate.
Our town had the tallest building in the state---17 stories.
Outside school and church boys’ lives were free and entirely unorganized. We pretty much went wherever we pleased. Nobody worried about child molesters---everyone kept an eye out for children.
We spent a lot of time in the woods with firearms. However, when we played war we only used BB guns. When we played War Between the States nobody wanted to be a Yankee and they had to be picked by lot.
Few high school boys had cars but those who did kept firearms in their vehicles and could smoke outside the school building. Much of today’s population would clutch their pearls and faint at what was normal then.
Policemen walked and knew and were known by everybody. They knew that the letter of the law should sometimes be subordinate to the spirit of the law. Most people regarded them as friends rather than adversaries.
It was the era of Jim Crow, which until 1954 we took for granted as a normal part of life. Schools were segregated and truthfully there were a lot of gratuitous incidents of cruelty by some elements. However, there was a good deal of courtesy and friendship across the colour line.
Perimeter and semi-rural neighbourhoods were not segregated, although carpetbaggers had made expensive white-only communities in town. My grandfather was on friendly terms with respectable black people in his area. I have seen him give away food to black women with children but no man out of the meager resources of his country store.
The black school children were well-behaved, studied, had dedicated teachers, and some of them went on to some success in education and business. I doubt if the education of African American children is as good now.
The South was poor, the conspicuously impoverished part of the U.S. Black people were at the bottom level in poverty, but there were so many poor white people that it did not seem a separate problem.
Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews