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Good old days maybe not so good


Mary Jane Owen

  It is a common subject among those of us who are native Henry Countians. Rarely do we meet that the subject of “the way things used to be before all these folks moved in and took over,” doesn’t come up. I admit that when stuck in traffic I’m stressed by the many cars on our byways and I do get very frustrated that old landmarks have disappeared. Every time I look at the bland buildings that have replaced many of the old beautiful homes that formerly occupied streets or roads in our cities and rural areas I feel a strong sense of nostalgia. I even lament the trees that once were points of direction and often get strange looks when I use those old familiar landmarks to give directions. In my youth, I don’t recall many road and street signs; places were identified by a family name, an old church or some interesting natural wonder. I nearly cried when the old oak tree at what is now Alexander Park was recently struck by lightening and had to be removed. That was the one shady place at the local swimming pool which was filled in some years ago when it was feared some racial mixing might be the source of trouble. Lord knows we couldn’t have THAT!

  Frankly I’ve begun to realize that those “good old days” were really not all that great. For example, in 1938 life expectancy for men was about 62, for women, a little over 64. If you study those charts, you have to understand that at the very least we now can expect to live longer, most of us anyway, since the number is currently an average of about 78+ years. Of course we all know those who live well past that age. While we are now accused of widespread obesity in this country, we had our own plagues in days of old. I remember specifically being quarantined for two summers because of outbreaks of polio, but along came vaccines. Small pox has now been completely obliterated. A more dramatic example is to visit any of our cemeteries and notice the number of infant graves. Most families in the past had at least one child to die in childbirth, a rare occasion nowadays. Let’s admit that we have come a long way with regard to health care enabling us to live longer, productive lives. We cannot regret that.

  And don’t forget that in the “good old days” nearly one-half of our population in Henry County and other Southern counties was denied a decent living. African-American families were denied a more than a minimum education; they were disenfranchised, and restricted to share cropping, hardly a living wage. Furthermore they had to bear indignities such as seeking out dirty places to get a simple drink of water or a bathroom facility. A few of us may remember the late Professor Joseph Smith, the principal of the all black Henry County Training School. One summer when I worked in Head Start, I heard him tell how he and his lovely wife, when visiting relatives in the north, had to drive miles to find a place to eat or use a bath room. Once found, they were required to access service at the back door. At the time, Professor Smith was very likely the most educated of all Henry County citizens, holding a Master’s Degree from a well-respected college in New York.

  For many of our “white” schoolmates, life was not all that easy either. I attended school with a number of children who had no shoes as well as boys who needed to work in the fields to help the family make a living hence missing a lot of school. Two or three dropped out of school in the fifth or sixth grade having reached the age of 16 when they could legally leave. Nothing about that was good, although many of these classmates made do, got good jobs at Ford or Chevrolet among some places where, by hard work, they have surpassed many of us with more education. I’ll admit it maybe was easier then than now to move up the ladder with a minimum education. 

  And how many of you grew up enjoying the pleasure of using “outhouses?” Now that was a real experience. Moreover, pressing the point, if one needed to use a “bathroom” facility at night, there was the omnipresent “chamber pot.” To use one of these successfully you had to have legs no longer than that of a child. (AND the thing had to be emptied each day, ugh!) I cringe to think of having to avail myself of that at my present age. Not a pretty picture.

  For the life of me, I cannot recall, in my youth, eating such delicacies as avocadoes, artichokes, romaine lettuce, or cheese cake, just to mention a few culinary pleasures that we now enjoy. Of course we had plenty of locally produced collards, turnip greens, salt cured ham, fat back and lots of lard for meal preparation. The latter probably accounts for the high cholesterol issues which many of us now endure. Not suggesting at all that our diet was not good, but it did lack the variety that we currently enjoy as a result of easier transportation of goods and services. The saving grace was good old sorghum syrup. What I’d give right now to have one of my Momma’s biscuits loaded with that stuff! I doubt many of you even know what that is! Pity!

  Maybe the “good old days” were joyous in many ways, but we cannot deny that we are better educated, better fed, healthier, live longer, have wider social contacts, and paved roads. Well, the traffic is a mess, but we do not have to drive all the way to Atlanta, a trip that took over an hour, to buy a nice dress, a suit of clothes or good shoes. Good medical care is abundant, and you can expect to visit relatives in the rural areas without the concern of sliding in a ditch while driving on a mud slicked road.

  As for me, I like my modern bathroom, my fridge filled with exotic stuff from foreign nations, having a choice of places to acquire my groceries, clothes, and other necessities, a choice of many entertainment and art activities, and recently released movies. I don’t miss doses of castor oil, muddy roads, fat back, non-air conditioned homes, churches and buildings, or cold rooms warmed only by a wood burning fireplace or stove. Maybe you do, but it may be time to “get over it”!




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