A propensity to analyze the world and write publicly about it is in my blood. My Dad, Robert Gilbreath (Sr.) is a great writer who has written several books, including his latest, Compel. Today I'm giving him the floor for a piece that was also published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. He challenges the notion that the "good old days" really were so good....
The good old days weren't so good
Lately I've been besieged with email from fellow boomers lamenting today's world and urging us of the same age to fondly remember our childhood years--back in the 'Fifties. Maybe this is a generational thing, where the old folks always talk about how "the good old days" were better. But some of the memories these e-mailings invoke aren't so good. Some of them are terrible. These reminiscences usually begin with the question "Remember When"? Oh yes, I surely do.
Most remind us of the nights we spent catching fireflies, and putting them into a jar. Or playing kick the can until our aproned moms called us to supper. Then there's that standard remembrance of riding our friends on the handlebars of our bikes, or, more seriously, of times when drugs were unknown, and the worst thing that could happen is the teacher told your parents that you were "bad".
Back then, we knew what was right and what was wrong. We knew black from white. Things were simpler (and, from this vantage, worse). Blacks were "N's. Chinese or Japanese, or anyone from Asia, were "gooks". Homosexuals were just fun to beat up when drunk. Ahhh, the good times. And who can forget the siren call of the ambulance entering their subdivision every other weekend to take out a father who, due to smoking, drinking, or just a steady diet of beefsteak, had the inevitable heart attack. Dying at age 45 is one of the remembrances I have. Not too good.
Remember when, after dad died, mom couldn't get a credit card because all their family credit was in dad's name? Remember when the prettiest girl in school suddenly disappeared? Seems the home for unwed mothers served as a convenient forget-me-not abode. Then again, there was always that back-alley coat-hanger guy to take care of unneeded pregnancies. Or how about when we cringed under our seats at school, fearful of the inevitable nuclear holocaust, only to learn, as we grew older, that the attackers couldn't even manufacture enough toilet paper for their citizens. And these monsters were going to "take us over"?
Oh yes, I fondly remember the days when men could beat their wives with impunity, when our brothers and ourselves were drafted, called up, under penalty of law, to die in some God-forsaken place for some God-forsaken political reason long forgotten. Ahhh, the good old days. And the good old days when kids not up to par were "retarded", those in wheelchairs were "cripples". We laughed at drunks, seeing Foster Brooks on TV burping and slurring his words as a talented comedian.
Or when cars needed periodic "valve grinding", the streets were littered with spent mufflers, people thought nothing of throwing beer cans out their car windows, and dogs ran loose. One of my "fondest" memories is riding in a car, everyone holding their noses, guessing which one of us five children stepped in something a dog left. Ahhh, the good old days.
When my cohorts ask me to remember "back then", I have to control an urge to say "Yes, I remember it quite well, in fact, I stepped in it." No matter what we tell you, it was really quite worse than this.