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Age of innocence

Things aren’t so simple as they used to be.


I remember growing up we had a boarder renting the upstairs bedroom during tobacco harvesting season, one who drove one of those old deuce and a half trucks, complete with canvas cover.

I recall as a youngster climbing into the back of the truck in the early morning before he left for work and smelling the rich aroma of cured tobacco.

I wasn’t aware back then how much tobacco meant to the economy of Southern Virginia, but there were a lot of things I wasn’t aware of growing up, and maybe that was a good thing.
I did learn a lot while reading through my encyclopedias, which opened my eyes to the world around me, and the library bookmobile helped feed my intense appetite for reading.

When I couldn’t make it to Carrington Memorial Library in South Boston, the bookmobile brought the world to me when it came and parked in my driveway.

On top of that, my parents allowed me to join several book clubs, with a number of books arriving by mail each summer, and in addition there was “Highlights for Children,” a pulp magazine for kids my age.

I eagerly awaited the arrival of my mailman and friend, Billy Watts, at the same time each Wednesday (about 3 p.m.) for my weekly dose of kid’s stories, puzzles and the adventures of Goofus and Gallant.

I spent many a lazy summer day in my hammock beneath a big shade tree in my front yard reading such authors as Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison, Damon Knight, Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.

Little did I know science fiction was rapidly becoming science fact, and the Cuban Missile Crisis soon followed in October 1962.

An elementary school student at the time, I recall civil defense drills where we crouched beneath our desks with our hands covering our heads, totally oblivious to the fact that the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war for at least a week.

My parents, as did multitudes of others, would not frighten us of the true danger of the situation although they understood what was going on.

My relative naivete was shattered for good the following year with the assassination of JFK, and much like my father could recall where he was when he heard the news of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, I recall vividly where I was when I received the initial reports from Dallas.

Standing in line with my third grade classmates before marching back to class after recess that afternoon, the news was whispered one child to another until it reached the end of the line.

The news we all dreaded came shortly thereafter when we were back in our classroom and waiting for the gentle cracking sound our PA system made when Principal Harry James flipped the switch before making that fateful announcement, “The President of the United States is dead.”

I came of age in the tumultuous 1960s, graduated from college in the carefree 1970s and went back to the future in the 1980s.

The past two decades have been full of challenges for everyone, with the United States involved in a number of armed conflicts overseas before terrorism was brought to our doorstep Sept. 11, 2001.

We were again reminded of our relative vulnerability with the Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007, with the commemoration of that dreadful day observed on Monday in a Day of Remembrance.

We were never promised a life full of nothing but good news, and there are things we cannot control, but at least we can accept what we cannot change and try to change what we can if needed.

But, doggonit, it was fun being a kid.