Yesterday, I watched one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies; “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby. As I watched, I found myself, as I often do, wishing I had been born in the early 50’s instead of the early 60’s. Much of the simplicity of the early 50’s still existed in the early 60’s, so that gave me comfort. I promised myself that I would not watch the news. I couldn’t bear to hear the sorrow anymore.
One of the many things that I loved about the movie is the clothing. I didn’t grow up with such fancy outfits, but was proud to wear gently-worn hand-me-downs that my Grandmother purchased at the church bizarre. No one ever knew the difference because most of my school friends wore the same. No one stood out. We were taught to wear the school clothes until we got home and then immediately change into play clothes. This also helped in the laundry department, as we could often wear something twice without washing. Something that is almost never done today.
We played outside from dawn to dusk on weekends and after chores on school days. The summers were spent outside with friends and neighbors. If the chores weren’t done, there was no chance of playing, which was quite embarrassing when your friends came to the front door. We even followed directions when our parents weren’t home, knowing that eventually they would find out and have our hide.
We didn’t have a television until I was almost 13 years old. We didn’t miss it either. I remember when the Nixon Watergate incident happened; my Father would go to the neighbor’s house and get an update on the happenings. We kids never knew what was going on except when we overheard our parents summing up the situation. Vietnam was never talked about among us kids unless one of them had a brother or sister in the service. We were kids and there was nothing about any of this that we needed to worry about. Our job was to go to school and play. Nothing else.
Even when we finally did get a small black and white television we weren’t allowed to watch it unless we asked permission. I remember the very first program I watched; Alex Haley’s “Roots” mini-series. That was something to see. We weren’t allowed to watch television during dinner, so we rarely saw the news.
Going to school was fun and hard work. We particularly loved holiday breaks! Not once do I remember being truly afraid at school. Well, that is, unless you count the time that we were required to line up and get the small pox vaccination. It made me cringe when I looked ahead to the front of the line and saw others almost in tears. Dang, I didn’t want to do it! Or, the times when we were required to practice emergency drills. We really had no idea what we were supposed to be practicing for, but we followed directions and sat along the cinderblock wall in the hallways crouching and covering our heads. It became routine.
Many of the boys I knew had shot guns either given to them by their Father or Grandfather before them. They would talk about hunting geese or deer each year. My own Father had a gun. He showed it to us and definitively told us, “Now you know this is not a toy and you are not to touch it or play with it in any way.” We knew what that meant. The term “grounding” was not even a word when we were kids. Parents went straight for the rear end for discipline. Anyone who had a gun knew and practiced for its sole purpose. Kids in those days didn’t have anything to imagine except what they dredged up in their own minds. Well, there were comic books, but those weren’t real and we knew it.
When my own husband went to buy his first gun, he was required by the government to have a background check. He bought it legally and holds the permits as dictated by the law. These weapons are locked up and kept safe and away from undue harm. Is there really anything further that needs done in this case? How could the government really MAKE him be more responsible? For the sake of our own boys, I am happy he IS responsible.
Only during the 3rd grade do I even remember having another student in my class that we thought had some kind of learning disability. Oh, I am sure there were others, but it sure didn’t seem like it. When I think about how little we all knew about this boy. The teacher never made an effort to tell us what TO DO with him to help him feel more a part of the class, but only what NOT TO DO. “Don’t tease him”, she would say. “Leave him alone and let him sit in the back of the room,” was also commonplace. He never came to school on days when we had a field trip, or something different to do. So typical for the day. This I do not miss.
Years later, I remember in the mid 1990’s a place called “Ridge Home” was closed. I really didn’t know the depth of the situation, but I knew of this place since I was little. Everyone knew what “Ridge Home” was. It was a mental institution where long ago many individuals with some kind of disability or mental situation were dropped off and then lived. Some of the stories were not so pleasant to hear, although one wondered if they were all true. I can only imagine now how disruptive it must have been when it was closed and all of the residents were relocated. Some had lived there their entire lives. Where did they go? We will probably never know.
The idea that anyone with some kind of cognitive or mental deficiency would be somehow monitored by the government gives me much pause. I, too, have 2 adult sons with cognitive and developmental disabilities. How much should the government be in their private lives? I do not know the answer. For anyone else with some kind of known dangerous mental health issue; how much should we know and follow about them? I think about how long and hard many parents worked before me to alleviate that discrimination. How long it has taken to finally be able to ask others to be more tolerant of my own boys in the community. I am happy for the present day on this one.
All of the awful, terribly and tragic news of late has propelled me back to April 20, 1999. Although our family is not a direct victim, I remember the day so clearly in my mind. I was in the car making my way to Joe’s elementary school to take cupcakes to share with his classmates for his birthday. I got a frantic call from my brother-in-law who worked for the school district and was close to communications. He said Joe and Jake’s school was on lockdown and I probably needed to get over there and get them out. He had heard that there was a shooting in progress at Columbine High School. At the same moment that I took this call, I was a mere 3 blocks from Columbine. Helicopters were everywhere and police cars were blaring their sirens all around me. A driver in front of me was so focused on the activity that they rear-ended the car in front of them. I swerved around them and continued to escape this scene. I was focused solely on getting to the boys.
As we finally arrived home, I quickly turned on the news. Almost immediately the tears began to roll down my face. The sheer breadth and depth of the tragedy had not even come to light. I was first and foremost happy that my own family was ok. Then, the news that the Grandfather of a little girl in Joe’s class was one of the Teachers killed. Our entire community was in shock over the gruesome loss of life; children’s lives. How could we ever recover from such horror and sorrow? No one knew. For days, I sat on the couch and watched every single news flash and update on the situation. We weren’t even directly involved. We had no idea how this would affect life as we knew it going forward. How could anything ever be worse? We could never have imagined what the future would hold, especially 13 ½ years later.
On Friday, I heard about the Sandy Hook incident on the radio as I was driving home from the grocery store. I cannot even express in words what I felt, but those old scabbed over memories re-emerged. I shut the radio off. As Joe, Jake and their mentors returned home after their day, they began to talk about it. More developments were still coming out. They were obviously shaken. They talked about how they were afraid to go to the mall, or movies or even to work. How could we have come to this point? Where another human being can illegally access guns and turn around and use them to obliterate another city or town? None of these perpetrators would have had a red flag on a background check, so that method is not effective. These were not legal gun owners using a weapon to macerate others. Is fear the answer?
Years later, our own son, Joe, would attended High School at Columbine. We could not have asked for a better school or better classmates. A sense of community had replaced the overwhelming sadness. Since then, we have spent literally years teaching our boys to be able to tolerate and acclimate in our community. Do I want to turn around and take that away from them? I think not. Should I inform them to the point that they understand how dangerous life can be? Even if they could understand I would not want them to have the kind of anxiety that this would incite.
I am not a politician, and I do not know what the answer is. I do not know if taking away more rights or adding more legislation is the answer. But, I do know that I am not unlike the rest of America. I do not like what I see. It causes me to doubt mankind. It causes me to lose trust in our entire way of life. It causes me to question my own beliefs.
It is my wish that we take the time to grieve this loss of control over our world and to grieve the loss of another human being. Precious lives. To grieve the loss of more of our freedoms as we know them. Freedoms that no one at the time that “White Christmas” was filmed ever imagined would be lost. I long for the simple times and simple worry of days gone by…when all we wished for was a white Christmas.