Monday, June 09, 2014

What Makes Us So Special?

Someone asked me recently, "What makes West Rome in the 1960s so special? You do these posts every week, and it doesn't seem like really big things ever happen."

I wholeheartedly agree.

I do these columns every week because there's something wonderful about everyday life that we all too frequently overlook. We're so focused on the big events and the life-changing moments that we forget that life is composed of a million little events, and they matter. Those little events helped to shape us into what we became.

In Our Town, Thornton Wilder's Stage Manager commented, "This is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying." These were the everyday events that shaped us into what we  became. We are the product of a thousand thousand mundane happenings; they comprise our small-city life in a time when people could be born and grow up and go to school and graduate and get a job and have a family and buy cars and houses and clothes and food and books and comics and Christmas presents and get older and retire and get sick and get better and eventually die—and never, ever have to leave Rome if we didn't want to. 

It's a time that simply doesn't exist now. Our nation and our world are no longer made up of self-sufficient communities that were capable of meeting all the needs and wants of its people. I don't think that a lot of people born in the 1980s and beyond fully realize just how different life was in the pre-internet, pre-computer, pre-credit-card era. (Can you believe that hardly any of us—or more specifically, our parents— actually had a general purpose credit card in 1964?) 

It's hard to imagine a time when most small town and cities were home to locally owned businesses that were supported by their communities; the chain store was rare in the early 1960s. We knew the names of many of the people with whom we did business. We appreciated them and respected them and built relationships with them.  When Conn's closed down, or when Mr. Candler sold his pharmacy to a major chain and closed Candler's Drugs, we were sad for our community's loss.

These columns are written to remind me—and anyone else who reads them—just what life was like in a time when most of us could watch six TV channels (three from Atlanta, three from Chattanooga), could choose from two indoor theaters and a drive-in, could shop at a half-dozen grocery stores, could do business with six department stores, could eat at a variety of locally-owned restaurants, could think of McDonald's as a New Thing in Rome, could get excited about the records we bought at Redford's and Murphy's and The Record Shop.

We bought brands that don't exist today. We listened to musical artists who, in some cases, are all but fogotten nowadays—and we listened to other musical artists who changed popular music forever. We eagerly watched television shows that had entertained us in countless reruns since then. We were enthralled by Officer Don and Mister Pix & Pixie and Bob Brandy and Bestoink Dooley. The world in which we lived no longer exists, and never will again... but it's worth remembering, I think.

So I write these columns each week. They bring back the many little things that we took for granted back then, and I hope they say a little bit about what it was like to live in the 1960s. No matter what popular culture tells us, it wasn't beatniks, or hippies, or counter-culture, or political radicalism, or protests, or drugs. All of those things existed, but they didn't define the era. All of us who lived in it... we defined the era.

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