Nicer Then?

Maybe I was just a very naive youngster but there seemed to be less mean and crude behavior back then than today. I only knew a few curse words that I’d heard at the filling station and several vulgarities I’d seen on the restroom walls at the courthouse. I thought drugs were medicines that the doctor gave you to make you well. Free love was not a topic of concern. I loved my friends, family, and dog and it was absolutely free.

War and the tragedies of war were well known at that time. I lived through those awful years of World War II with my father overseas in the army and heard each day the bad news of someone I’d known not coming back. But everyone was completely committed to supporting the national cause and to be otherwise was not an option. To be a Boy Scout was the dream of most boys including me and my hero was the Lone Ranger.

Even as a young adult I was inexperienced in the art of worldliness. At an early age I was principal of an elementary school in Fayetteville. One day I came back from another school to find a small boy sitting in my office. The teacher had sent him from the playground for me to deal with his misbehavior.

“What did you do, son?” I asked.

“I shot a bird,” he said, hanging his head down avoiding my eyes.

“You did what!” I exclaimed.

Still looking at the floor and almost in tears, he repeated, “ I shot a bird.”

I asked in a disturbed tone, “Well, did you kill it?”

The young boy looked up at me in disbelief and said, “Ahhh, Mr. Brown!”

With this, I hurried out and asked the school secretary what the child had done. She laughed and explained to me that this was a hand gesture that had a vulgar meaning. I came back to my office and handled the problem as though I had always understood the situation.

Some people probably were not as innocent in those early days as maybe just unworldly. I recall that some bootleggers bombed Baynard Stinchcomb’s house while he was county sheriff and then tried to set fire to his deputy’s house. I heard about several Ku Klux Klan demonstrations against black citizens who had taken liberties that the Klan considered belonged only to white people. Illegal drugs were not heard of, but moonshine whiskey was prevalent and drunkenness was not uncommon, resulting in frequent street fights in town, especially on Saturdays. I also was told of a couple of murders that were never solved. It was whispered that influential people were involved.