Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

April 12, 2014

Memories often more rosy than flowers we grew in the good old days

— — Sometimes (oftentimes) I find myself talking about the “way things used to be” and referencing that into a mindset that what we have now is not any — or as much — good. In connection, I recently noticed an interesting story about small towns. The point was that such places are wonderful and I don’t disagree.

One of those listed was Williamsburg, Virginia, and I thought if that person thinks Williamsburg is a small town then they have never been to Bishop or Jolo or Matoaka or any place like them. Remember when Gatsby said about one of his henchmen that “if Philadelphia is his idea of a small town, then he’s no use to us”? You get the idea.

Nevertheless, the concept is sound and it was a fine article overall. Yet the good old days were not always so fine for everybody. Race comes to mind, of course. There were those signs around that separated us.

It might have been at the lunch counter or it may have been up in the movie theatre balcony. It might have been at the different schools or even in the coaches on the passenger train. Of course, if you (and I was) were on the right side of the law, you might not have noticed because for you, maybe everything was fine.

Some of those other good old days might have been a little less than perfect, now that I think about it. For example, we didn’t notice quite as many folks with handicaps out in the public eye. I suspect that those high curbs with no entry access areas were a little too much to handle.

We didn’t see those push buttons for automatic doors and it would be very difficult for some persons in physical constraints to hold the door and manage a wheelchair or a pair of crutches at the same time. Certainly it would be difficult to have had to park a long distance from the door with no available handicapped parking spaces.

We got notification recently that this is Autism Awareness Month and while we have probably had such illness around for a long time, we seldom noticed them in the not-so-distant past. People with “problems” often just stayed home and those who were victims of other maladies were often kept behind closed doors and lived quietly with parents or grandparents. Out on the street, we seldom paid much attention to those kinds of things. What is it — out of sight, out of mind?

I heard myself the other day complaining that there are just too many channels on the dish. Something about “if I watched TV 24 hours a day, there is no way I could ever watch even half this stuff.” I suppose I have forgotten those years when I was a boy that we did not even have a television. What a treat it was when my parents finally brought that little portable set home with the “rabbit ears” which gave us one black-and-white channel.

Don’t get me wrong — I loved WHIS in Bluefield. It was great. Still, I remember how exciting it was when, a few years later, my uncle Elwood got on the cable and got two channels! For the first time, I was able to actually watch the National Football League instead of only being able to read about it. I had never heard of Walter Cronkite. We thought that Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were the only two newscasters. Good as they were, I found out there were more news teams available at 6:30 p.m. when a person had the technology to view them.

One of the first — no, it was definitely the first — vacation we had was in 1957 when we went to visit my Aunt Gladys/Uncle Alfred and Uncle Rudy/Aunt Hazel.

They lived on the same street in Clinton, Maryland. Daddy left work at U.S. Steel’s No. 14 mine a little early in the afternoon and we headed up the road. The old Ford pulled into Washington, D.C., at about three o’clock in the morning.

You know why, of course. It was before the interstate highway system. We went through Bluefield, Princeton, Pearisburg, Pembroke, Salem, Roanoke, Bedford, Lynchburg, and all the rest. Traffic lights. Stop signs. All of it. We had no good idea of how to get to Clinton in the middle of the night and we had to wait to find a pay phone to call Rudy when we located Washington. Did I say that was before cell phones and GPS? Before you ask, we had no problem about having to call home to check the grocery list because the whole family went to the store together.

Finally, I did love those small towns and I still do. I was born in Tazewell half a mile from where I now work. Bluefield was like New York (whatever New York was like) and on weekends, Welch was, too. Oh, the glory days of the coal fields.

Still, it was fun when we finally got two channels and drove up the Shenandoah Valley on Interstate 81 right to Clinton just a few years later. By that time, we even had an automatic transmission in the car.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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