"Why do you spend all that time doing those 'Fifty Years Ago' articles?"
That question was posed to me a few weeks ago, and it got me to thinking. I didn't have an immediate answer, but I think I have one now.
First off, I have a deep and abiding admiration for Deb Joyner Denneman, the talented and dedicated woman who assembles the West Rome High School alumni newsletter and website. I had enjoyed her work for more than a year before I decided that maybe I should offer a modest addition to its contents. So in late October, 2012, I sent in my first "Fifty Years Ago..." piece, and haven't missed a week since then. I am nothing if not persistent!
But as I worked on the column week after week, I realized that I was doing it for another reason. Preparing this column puts me back in touch with a wonderful period in my life, a time when I was just becoming more aware of the world around me and more fascinated by the entertainment media that I had taken for granted.
In preparation for each installment of this column, I read through a week's worth of Rome News-Tribune archives. As I do so, I am acutely aware that I'm reading much of this material for the second time. By the time I turned ten years old, I was a regular newspaper reader--not a surprise, since Dad was sports editor at the paper and I was proud of what he did. But it was more than family pride--I was fascinated by both The Rome News-Tribune and The Atlanta Journal (we were afternoon newspaper people--Mom and Dad never got a morning paper until the afternoon papers shifted to morning delivery). The newspapers opened my eyes to a more complete view of the world (it would be years before I would fully comprehend how that "complete view" could be manipulated by the media gatekeepers who decided what did and didn't make it into the newspaper, and how it would be reported).
Sure, I read the comics devotedly every day--I was a comics fan, both of comic strips and comic books, and I loved getting daily installments of my favorite strips--but I also read the local news, the national news, and even the ads. I felt like I was in touch with my community back then, and I saw reading the paper as one tiny step towards responsible adulthood.
Now I see those articles from a different perspective: what was news then is history now, and I know how many of these stories were resolved. Nevertheless, it's fascinating to me to see how my home town grew and developed. And that's where the ads come to play--anyone who thinks that newspapers are just news stories and articles is missing a vital window into the spirit of the community. What businesses were thriving? What businesses were struggling? What businesses were just launching, filled with hope for the future? What products were hot? What was trending? There was no internet back then--but the newspaper filled that bill quite well in those pre-internet days.
And not only do I remember many of these stories, I also remember what was going on in my home at that time. We shopped at those stores; we went to see those movies; we bought those records, as well as the televisions and record players and radios and other forms of entertainment that made us think we lived in a technological wonderland. In 1965, I thought that those stores were pretty much eternal; now, fifty years later, hardly any of the stores I frequented (or the stores who advertised in the paper) still exist. Preparing this column each week grounds me in my own past, filling in missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of my own youth.
It's only natural that, as kids, almost all of us had an incredibly egocentric view of the world. Everything existed for us, apparently, and we measured its importance by how it impacted us. Now I can look at the world from a different perspective, and see the importance of some of the things I failed to fully appreciate back then.
And of course, I get to see Dad's work every week. Not just his columns (although I read those religiously), but also the every day sports articles that kept him so busy. Rome had one paper with only three or four people working on sports, but it had almost two dozen high schools in the greater Northwest Georgia area, and Dad was expected to cover them all. Now I can appreciate what Dad did to earn a living, and can recognize where I got my love for the written word.
Writing this column also makes me appreciate the humble grandeur of what Rome was fifty years ago. Today, Rome seems to be a city struggling to redefine itself; it's no longer a place where many of the residents can spend their entire lives without having to leave the greater Rome area for any of their needs. Rome was a vibrant and flourishing community in the 1960s, and I hope that I communicate some of that through my weekly offerings.
Do I think that the movies or the comics or the Beatles were vitally important to Rome in the 1960s? Of course not--but they were vitally important to me, and this column is a look back at Rome a half-century ago as I lived it.
So I do this column not only to share a glimpse of what West Rome was a half-century ago, but also to remind myself what was going on in my world. I am reminded of those who influenced me, of the events that helped to shape me, and I am given the opportunity to revisit that time and place on a weekly basis. So even if no one else ever read these pieces, I'd keep doing them for me. I took far too much of this for granted in 1965--now I'm getting a second chance to appreciate it, and I'm enjoying every minute of it!