Nothing In Common (Chapters 9 & 10) unedited

Chapter 9:  Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Friendship & Mentoring


On the first day of school, every first grader was assigned a ‘big brother’ or ‘big sister’ from the 8thgrade.  These were our designated guidance counselors and caretakers during the entire term of the first year.  This was something the 8th graders took seriously and a responsibility that not every 8th grader was given.  If you were lazy or irresponsible, this honor would go to someone else.  The care of these younger children was a serious matter, and you treated the 1st grader in your charge like your younger brother or younger sister at home.


You duties entailed number one, making sure that they had a safe way to get to school.  If both of their parents worked, a rarity, you would try, if it wasn’t too far, to meet them at their house and walk them to school.  Most students lived within walking distance. By today’s standards, the 30-minute walk many of us had would seem too far away.  Back then, the walk to and from school was one of the highlights of our day.


It was on these treks, back and forth, that you oftentimes experienced your greatest adventures.  You would try to find a new, and shorter, way each time and always different from the one you had taken the day before.  In reality, there was only one way home, but we dawdled and zig-zagged, and cut between different houses, so it always seemed like our navigation was different.  Every one of us fancied ourselves as Meriwether Lewis —blazing new trails for others to follow.


When walking home with one of our ‘charges,’ it was straight home by the quickest and safest route. In the morning, for safety, we tried to take the pathway that would have the least car traffic so our younger ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ would be safe and not afraid.


Once at school, we helped them put away their coats and get their desks in order.  We also asked them if they were having any trouble with their ABC’s or numbers. If they were, we would work on those things on our way to and from school. 


Once ensuring their safety, our next most important job was to instill in them a knowledge of what would be happening over the next 8 years.  What better example could there be than 8th graders who were completing the journey, and in 9 short months would be graduating and heading off to the various high schools that served our area.


We reveled in the success of these younger charges, as they learned to read and eventually count as high as 100 before their first year would end. Often, they would paint us special pictures, depending on what we liked, and based on the stories we told them.  These became some of our most prized possessions, and over 50 years later, I still have mine prominently displayed. 


What we did, more than anything else with these little people, was share.  We shared our time, our laughter, and our concern for them, and were rewarded with love and admiration in return.  Yes love, the kind of love that needs no reason or explanation, one that is given freely and without asking, and a love once received that was so special that we couldn’t wait to give it back in return.


                                 It was a love we shared


We loved watching these little kids going through the same magical process that we did and hearing Sister Rita Marie tell the same stories, with the same inflection and emotion in her voice, as when she had told them to us so very long ago.  They also got to share, through the power of her instruction, the knowledge of what true value was in life.  She taught each one of them in a special way that was tailored for their own individual needs, emphasizing always that what was given away would come back 100 fold, and how to be a true friend. 


We reinforced the same lessons to our young charges at recess and on the way home in the afternoon. We knew they would again hear the same things from their parents over dinner that evening (does anyone remember family dinners), and the chain of connection that we shared would only solidify and get stronger.


                        We Really Were ‘Parents In Absentia’


Like the relationship between parents and their children, the accomplishments of these little ones, and their occasional misdeeds, reflected on us.  We took great pride in their victories and we suffered with them when things didn’t go well.  They struggled, they learned, and they played together, all the while knowing they would never be alone.


               It All Worked Because We Were Willing To Share


This willingness to share didn’t happen by accident or osmosis. It was handed down, and then taught, in a system run by highly principled women who knew its intrinsic value and what it would ultimately mean for all of us.  


Whenever I meet another person who went to parochial school, or in most cases any public grammar school during the 1950’s, there is an instant kinship and connection.  After 15 minutes, we usually end up finishing each other’s sentences and marveling at how identical our upbringings were.  No matter how far removed our childhoods were geographically, it made no difference. The lessons the nuns taught were universal in their message and roadmaps to a better life. 


What gets shared among young children today?  The desire for more of what they couldn’t get enough of yesterday — and will still yearn for tomorrow?  In the abject isolation of a destructive video game, or violent TV program, they withdraw further and further inside of themselves, missing much of the beauty that is only brought out by others. In the absence of cell phones, I-pads, and video games, we personallygot to know each other, and in many, if not most cases, those friendships we made are still strong today. It takes another human being to bring out the best in you, and vice-versa.


              Not A Machine Or Unfeeling Scion Of Technology


The obesity of today’s younger generation is caused by inactivity and a series of lazy and uninformed choices. It is driven by a search for temporary comfort and gratification at the expense of their health and self-esteem.


I’m sure, looking back 50 years from now, we will have discovered that diseases like Obesity, Diabetes, Autism, ADHD, and Anxiety & Depression, were all at least partially caused by an inactive, poorly nourished, and degenerative lifestyle.   


We couldn’t build a bird house, assemble a scrapbook, or put together a model airplane without the glue or adhesive that held it all together.  We faced many challenges and obstacles on our journey toward 8thgrade, but we encouraged each other, respected the rules, learned to laugh at ourselves, admonished the stragglers when needed, and most importantly — did it together.


The Glue We Had Was A Set Of Core Values That Proved Their Worth When Times Got Tough





Chapter 10: TV & The Messages It Held Inside


My generation, the Baby Boomers, was the first to be raised, at least in part, by television. The magical gray box held wonders beyond compare for a 5 year old fixated in its presence. You would marvel at the places it would take you, as it became your special nanny, while your parents were off tending to the chores in the ‘real world.’


Like all mediums of information, The T.V. was neither inherently good nor bad.  That depended on the intention of the programmers behind the camera. As young children, we experienced the final result, and in 1955 that result was almost always good.  The messages the T.V. brought were mainly those of accepted, time tested, family values, and our parents were comfortable and confident letting us watch by ourselves.


Back then, the message always ended with the good guy winning and the cowboy wearing the white hat saving the day.  The one’s wearing the black hats were always the villains, and implicitly we knew this when they first appeared on screen.  The good guy’s stuck together in our T.V. shows, and the bad guys were those who didn’t hold to the accepted social order (values) and wandered off in search of self-interest by breaking the law, creating havoc, and usually getting caught and then punished by shows end.  The message of these early shows reflected the shared values we had as a society and only served to reinforce what we were already being taught in school and at home.


I can remember my mother and father coming into the living room as I was watching re-runs of the ‘Our Gang Comedy’s’ from the 1930’s.  They were among my very favorites, and my parents would sit down with me and watch them too.  They would then relive all over again their childhoods during the Great Depression and tell me over and over how much that series meant to them when times were so tough.  The characters were called ‘The Little Rascals’ and had names like Alfalfa, Spanky, Porky and Buckwheat and always got into some kind of mischief.  They usually got caught, resulting in their acknowledging the errors of their ways, and learned a great lesson in the process. In many ways, they were as much a ‘morality tale’ as any told previously or since and a stark contrast to what the negative on-screen ‘entertainment’ provides for our kids today.


According to film historian Leonard Maltin, Our Gang put boys, girls, whites, and blacks together in a group as equals.”  To be equal, we had to agree upon and share in what makes us that way.  Back then we had no problem doing that.  


                                             As equals  


‘Our Gang’ was comprised of some upper middleclass kids, but mainly poor and black kids all playing together. In playing and seeking out common goals, they set aside any petty or surface differences in their pursuit of adventure and fun.  They may have come from different economic or social circumstances, but they realized, when playing together, that that’s all that they were. The magic and the adventure of the task at hand superseded any variation in class, color, or social standing. They had much more important things to do than worry about petty differences and spent all of their time playing, planning, and conspiring as a group.


                        They Had More Important Things To Do! 


The images on T.V. came to us in black and white, and the messages they carried inside were black and white too.  No confusion or embarrassment in trying to be ‘politically correct’ like today. Their messages were linked both spiritually and ethically to the ones we learned outside when the T.V. was turned off.


Shows like Lasssie, Rin Tin Tin, Gene Autry, The Lone Ranger, Howdy Doody, and then Superman, all came with a message that if the right choices were made, good would triumph over evil.  We felt better after watching these shows, and again our parents would often break away from what they were doing and watch them with us.


                            Another Thing We Shared Together! 


With our decoder rings and coonskin caps, we cheered for our heroes on the 11 inch screen.  We knew that they might struggle for a while, but in the end would always win the day. They let us know that the same thing applied in our personal lives as well.  I remember going to see Gene Autry in Northeast Philadelphia when I was 8 years old. Gene Autry, along with Roy Rogers, were the biggest cowboy stars of my young generation. Gene had his horse Champion, and the Son Of Champion, with him at the outdoor demonstration.  


Gene took the time to walk the entire crowd and tried his best to talk to every child who stood outside the corral.  His questions to each kid were always the same … “Are you doing good in school?” and “Are you listening to your mom and dad?’  I left that day knowing that my on-screen hero was real, and the things that he told me, and encouraged me to do on his program, were things he believed in his heart.  I also knew he had served his country bravely during World War 2 when many stars in Hollywood hadn’t.  He represented the best of all the things, and we all wanted to be like him. 


Our on-screen heroes also encouraged us to have piggy banks and to save our penny’s, explaining to us the magic of doing the right thing every day (saving) and how quickly it would add up.  They also reinforced that good things take time, and that immediate gratification was the imposter of the short-sighted. We filled our piggy banks by having paper routes and redeeming used soda bottles and didn’t ask our parents for the money, knowing that they hadn’t asked theirs.  


When that bank got so full, that it wouldn’t accept another dime, you  knew you were the wealthiest person in the world, or at least on Rockingham Road where I lived.  Your parents proudly accompanied you to the local bank where you had opened your first passbook savings account with your name on it (Mom and Dads too).  At birthdays, and holidays, you might have some relatives who wanted to ‘invest’in your future success by making your passbook even heavier with the magic it contained.


Every kid in the 1950’s knew the story of ‘The Tortoise And The Hair,’ and understood that it was by continual effort, not just a grandstanding initial burst out of the starting blocks, that true progress was made.  It was the choice of putting aside the temptations of the present, and contributing to something larger and more important, that they taught us on T.V.  We all knew that the value in saving, and planning for the future, would override any temporal persuasion and allow us to eventually accomplish much bigger things.


                  Again, These Messages We Got From Our T.V.’s 


Just think of the symbols and messages that exist on T.V. and in Video Games for kids today.  Violent action figures that continue to kill and maim, basing their success on how much damage they can do.  These violent messages reach children today at a young and impressionable age. Unless parents are conscientious and extremely vigilant, the young child is damaged severely before he or she is even given the chance to understand that the world can, and should, be a different and more uplifting place.


Occasionally, our T.V Shows would deal with tragedy and even death, but it was presented in a spirit of hope and renewal and a belief in the future.  I remember how I felt watching ‘Old Yeller’ when the dog was shot after contracting rabies while defending the boys from a wolf and had to be put down.  I was sad for days until it slowly started to sink in.  The message was that sometimes life isn’t fair, but we can be, and that doing the right thing in certain situations was the hardest thing of all.


                    And That Made It All The More Worth Doing!


Rin Tin Tin, a tan and black German Shepherd, was my personal favorite.  He was the troop mascot in a cavalry unit, and Rinty was always saving some trooper from an Indian attack or rescuing someone who was either lost or being held prisoner in the American West.  Rin Tin Tin embodied the moral message that the army and the settlers shared in common, and he proudly served to enforce these values when called upon by his master.

Rinty was both loyal and obedient, courageous and brave …traits we all tried to emulate in our everyday lives.   


He also knew the difference between right and wrong because that is what he had been taught.  We all loved and wanted to be like him and trained our own dogs to be at least partially as heroic and adventuresome as Rinty was.  As I got older, I always had German Shepherds as my personal dogs.  In real life, they share most of the qualities, and nobility of character, that Rin Tin Tin personified on screen.


In many ways, we love dogs so much because of the purity of their character.  They are totally loyal to their masters, and would in most cases die in the protection of those that they love. They often give up their own interests, in the pursuit of deferring to their masters, and want nothing more than to serve something, or someone, they see as bigger than themselves. They truly are man’s best friend!


                  And T.V. Portrayed Them Exactly That Way


Whether watching ‘Sky King,’ ‘Sgt Preston Of The Yukon,’ or ‘Daniel Boone,’ I never saw any cross-legged kid, sitting in front of the T.V., confused as to what the message was in the show he was watching. We all cheered together, laughed together, and cried together, based on the plot at hand because we all shared in the values within the message that was showing on screen.  The good guys were always good, and the bad guys always bad.  No matter how desperate the situation got in one of those shows, we always knew that good would win out in the end.  It was in this spirit, of sending a positive message of hope, that the T.V. shows during my childhood were at their best.


Imaging what a young person watching a show today, laced with sex and violence, must be thinking.  He or she can’t help but come away from that show diminished and in less control of themself than before. The only value in T.V. today is one shared by the parents.  Many parents today use television and I-pads to keep their kids occupied, and out of their ‘hair,’ while they check their emails and watch even more violent and sexually explicit programming thinking, in error, that they are spiritually immune from its negative effects. 


If you have children of your own, and no parental controls on your T.V.’s, … then shame on you.  If you allow your children to watch T.V., play video games, or with I-pads, at their friend’s houses without the same controls, then I echo the sentiment.  Children grow up fast enough as it is without having the very core of their childhood ripped away from them by these violent and destructive electronic pariahs.  In many ways, T.V. — and its electronic counterparts — are the great progenitor of the downward moral spiral that we seem to be on. 


My head is neither in the clouds nor do I live in a world of fantasy … in most ways I am a realist.  The realities of the world today I am all too familiar with, but I am unwilling to anoint them with unlimited power over our children in a capitulation that there is nothing we can do to fight back.


When young children, and teenagers, bring guns into our schools, with mass murders and suicides the result of their misguidance, what does this tell us about their state of mind and what they see when they look into the future?  As young children, we had heard the stories about Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the devastating results those two bombs caused.  We also knew they were dropped with a higher purpose, and in the end saved lives.  Invading Japan, which would have been the only other alternative, would have resulted in many more lives being lost on both sides.  We understood their purpose, and we also understood the difference between self-protection and preservation and wanton destruction and violence.


As horrible as it was to think about what those Japanese went through in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we understood why it had to be done.  I don’t think anyone, including the confused and misguided young person with the gun in their hands, understands why someone enters a place of learning and starts indiscriminately shooting at everyone and in all directions.  A person like that can’t share the same value for human life that we all like to believe we share.  A person like that has had their moral barometer and compass shattered inside them. They are running sociopathically amok — devoid of any empathy for others — or sense of right and wrong.


People like this don’t just happen. They are created in an environment of abandonment, moral confusion, and despair. In many ways, the Columbine shootings were done by someone feeling even more helpless than his unfortunate victims did on that sad and tragic day.  


The television of today puts kids in these violent and destructive situations on screen.  If they are left unsupervised, the lines between fantasy and reality can easily become blurred, and over time these negative images pile up inside of them until one day the pressure becomes so great that they snap, hurting not only innocent victims, but themselves.  


Our TV programs in the 1950’s were an extension of our parents, our teachers, and our religious instructors.  They were a positive reinforcement and the best example of what the medium could be.  As has been said many times … “Art is a reflection of the society of its time,” and our time (in the 1950’s) was reflected in the most positive and uplifting light by the things that we watched.


What eventually happened to TV is what happened to our society in general.  By not sharing the same value systems that created those great programs, we’ve allowed our world to become polarized and divided with our heels dug in. In our misguided defense of what is politically correct, we have allowed the perpetrators of wrong to sit equally, and sometimes as overlord, at the table with those who are trying to do the right thing.  


To make matters worse, through misguided legislators and organizations like the ACLU, we pass laws and give legal rights to the creators of this violent and perverted programming.  As the famous comic strip character ‘Pogo’ said in the 1950’s …


                   “We Have Met The Enemy — And He Is Us!”  


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