Things Lost But Not Forgotten

by Mark Blackwell

It has been said that, “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.” But I think it is still in fine form and ready to be practiced at any time, especially in the dead of winter. Brown County is a wonderful place to practice nostalgia—like it was invented for that purpose.

I know that the first flatlanders to discover Brown County were delighted to find that folks were still living in log cabins at the outset of the 20th century. Brown county folks were still practicing old skills, wearing old fashions, and talking with a distinctly southern/rural dialect. And as more people up north heard about the county it became a popular destination for Sunday drives to recapture the way things used to be.

A trip to Brown County could be downright educational in a historical sort of way. A person could travel a couple of hours out of Indianapolis and be 50 years in the past. You could see horse-powered farms, sorghum mills, and one room schools. A visit to the hills o’ Brown could be a tangible example that parents could show their offspring just how things were back in Grandpa’s day.

But now I’m a grandpa and my day was 50 years ago and I find myself sitting by my woodstove on a dreary winter’s day taking inventory of the things and ways that have slipped away to the past.

Growing up back in the 1950s was not for sissies. We had
to know lots of things that kids today can’t even imagine. We had to be strong and physically fit. Today’s kids play games like soccer and tee-ball but we had full contact Red Rover and dodge ball. We didn’t have video war games on Play Stations; we had real war games played out on the back 40 and in the woods. What our parents and grandparents didn’t finish in WWII, we kids of the ’50s did.
We needed to practice for the next war. The Russkies were going to launch a sneak nuclear attack at any time.

So, we had to be ready to “duck and cover” at a moment’s notice. Who knew that a maple school desk was effective as a nuclear radiation deterrent? We didn’t have bicycle helmets and pads for our extremities, either. Those things would have been too dangerous. We had to be light and flexible enough to dismount our bikes on-the-fly and roll into the nearest ditch the instant that we saw the flash from “The Big One.”

Why I doubt that a kid today even knows what an air raid siren sounds like or how to tune a radio to the “conelrad” station for further instructions. That was pretty easy because most of the radios at the time were equipped with little Civil Defense triangles on the tuning dial. If you’re a younger kind of person reading this, “Civil Defense” was the 1950s version of Homeland Security—only more civil. They also had alerts on the television but we had to have more technical ability to operate one.

Show a modern youngster a 1954 RCA television, equipped with a Sarkes Tarzian tuner and see how long it takes them to figure out how to turn the thing on. How many of them could figure out how to tune in a station, orient the antenna, and do the fine tuning vertical and horizontal adjustments?

I’d like to know how many modern youngsters ever get so bored that they would be willing to watch a program like Life is worth Living with Bishop Fulton J. Sheen? In the ’50s we were so tough we would watch anything.

The things I liked to watch best were the westerns. Back in the 1950s and on into the ’60’s westerns dominated television. We had Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, My Friend Flicka, and about two hundred and thirty-seven others. They were good because we believed them and we believed in them.

Whatever we were taught in school was outwardly acknowledged but inwardly deemed suspect. But, when Roy or the Lone Ranger looked directly through the TV screen and had us recite the “Code of the West,” it was like Charlton Heston receiving the Ten Commandments.

When it came to the Lone Ranger’s Creed or the Code of the Pioneers, those listed imperatives were just like the TV programs they came from—black and white and no maybes. I think that heroes like Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger, along with a six year hitch in the Boy Scouts, helped form the foundation of my character. These cowboy creeds were like the Boy Scout law. They made us want to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent, not to mention an all-round straight shooter.

Did I mention I was a Boy Scout?

Well, I was—and it was tough—but it was another venue to learn some of the old ways and skills. Our troop Leader was a man, a man’s man, and a mean woman’s husband. That means that every chance he got he took the troop camping or fishing or tracking—spring, summer, fall, and winter.

I reckon that growing up when I did made me who I am and gave me the skills to deal with life in general and the world as it was. If the Russkies ever decide to invade I’m ready to “duck and cover” and take to the woods right here in good old Brown County.