Youngsters Could Use a Helping of Respect
By Dot Jackson
The Charlotte Observer, April 13, 1982
In this space we quoted the other day from the Cliffside
memoir of Marc Dedmond, who wrote so appealingly about his small-town
childhood. He remembered the dark moments along with the bright. He
remembered a little boy crippling the town clock by pelting
it with a green peach. He remembered defying a “No Spitting”
sign, and setting off cherry-bombs outside the movie house.
In sum though, it was a journal of such innocence
and happiness I was moved to note, at its close, “I wonder what
the next generations will remember?”
Well, the mail has brought a nice note from Maria
Moss, of Gaffney, S.C., with this wry observation:
“You can stop wondering what the next generation
will remember,” she says. “It will be pretty much the same
that Marc Dedmond's generation remembered.” And she sends along
a clip to make the point.
It is a story about the damage wrought in Chapel
Hill by basketball-victory madness a couple of weeks back. Buildings
and vehicles were broken into, stolen from and vandalized; damages
to one grocery store could total $30,000-$40,000, the story said.
Maria is right, of course; each generation treasures
the memory of a taste or so of bad apple.
But I fear there is a difference, in Marc Dedmond's
“then” and this victory-night sort of “now.” And
a trend toward worse things. The difference is victims. Generations
gone would have gotten their britches warned memorable for theft,
for instance. And theft was such a heinous thing that somebody would
Now, it is rather the fashion, a sort of rite of
passage in circles that do not need for anything material, to make
off with the belongings of others and get by with it.
A QUESTION OF RIGHTS
Certainly, such adventures are not limited to the
well-to-do; people who do need things will sometimes shoplift and
burgle, too. In this case, it is no lark but a demonstration of “human
rights over property rights.” Which confuses me: is it not a
basic human right to hold in some security such property (like hubcaps
and bicycles) as one can honestly acquire?
In Marc Dedmond's young world, one bad little boy
was trying to see if he could hit the town clock with a peach. Other
bad little boys were trying to see if they could hit the streetlights
with a rubber band and a paper clip. Success brought its own terror
of being Caught.
Fear of God or Papa, or plain old decency, would
have stayed most little hands from popping out somebody's car window
to help one's self to the stereo.
I can't imagine a kid who had worked and paid for
this own jalopy vandalizing a car belonging to a stranger. I can't
imagine that a kid who has helped build a house, or helped keep one
in repair, would knock out a window and mess up some poor soul's domicile.
Values, in a way, are worked for.
Few of Marc's village peers probably ever dreamed
of snatching an old lady's pocketbook, much less act upon such thoughts.
They had grannies right at hand who loved them. I cannot remember
ever the things happening to old folks, at the hands
of the young, that are growing statistics now.
TIMES HAVE CHANGED
A group of women I was with a couple of days ago
were talking about the county's greenways project. Some of them live
along affected creeks and they don't like it. Years ago, when the
concept of public parkways along streams first came up, it was a nice
idea, one said. But times have changed.
“You just don't want strangers so close to
your back door,” she said. “So many things are happening.”
We think of mischief and mayhem as largely urban
problems, and largely they are. There are less-populated places, where
we walk alone as free as birds and still don't lock our doors.
But the blight, and watchfulness, are spreading.
My friend Gary Carden, the storyteller, was here
just now from his home town of Sylva. He told a story of dismay. A
neighbor lady had gone right recently to a nursing home, and in a
very short time the house was broken into and vandalized.
And then, “There was a little old place down
the hill there that I'd always loved,” Gary said. Always wanted
that place. Old man and his two sisters lived there. Had the prettiest
garden, every year; grew everything they ate. Had a little old coal
grate that was all their heat. And kerosene lamps; never had electricity.
“Well, they got so they couldn't look out for
themselves and had to go to a home. I was down there the other day.
Somebody had chopped down the front door with an ax and dragged out
the mattresses and cut 'em open, lookin' for money. There was papers
and pictures, old tintypes and things scattered all over the yard.
Receipts for a burial policy where they'd paid 40 cents a week...”
We could use a revival of innocence, I think. A
good dose of respect for property. And reverence for life.
Reprinted with permission from The Charlotte Observer. Copyright
owned by The Charlotte Observer.