Where went those innocent times?

At some point, youthful pride diminishes, to be taken over by what might pass as elderly scholarship, in allowing us the joy of holding our grandchildren and rocking them from crying to snuffling to deep sleep. I’ve embraced that. That much, I’ve accomplished.

I might have taken the comforting of my own children for granted, so many years ago, but I’m appreciative now of that confidence my daughter shows in entrusting her beautiful daughters to my care.

It was different, back when I was a young parent.

Having moved to Tulsa from a small community, I was compelled to seek out those things that I knew my children would miss out on – simple things, like walking along a creek and spotting small, wild creatures living in the water and along the bank. We tried LaFortune Park as an urban alternative to my rural upbringing.

In later years, I became increasingly concerned about the safety of my children, much to their consternation. Particularly, my daughter, whose requests went beyond wanting to have her ears pierced: she wanted to visit – The Mall. To me, at her age, it seemed to be a stretch of the bounds of parental propriety. We all want our kids to have fun. We just don’t want their very lives to be at risk.

At some point, I realized that living in a city was a completely different environment than growing up in a small community. While as a kid, I roamed the streets, sidewalks, vacant lots, abandoned houses, gas stations, parking lots, swimming pools, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, youth centers, garages, pastures, and surviving wilderness areas, without supervision – my own children were confined to our own cul-de-sac and the back yard. It wasn’t punishment. I sensed that a metropolitan childhood had to be more conservative, from a parent’s point of view.

Even at that, I could never have been prepared for the violence of today’s world.

I have argued in the past that we are exposed to heartaches of our current society through the news media, which has the ability to immediately bring into our living rooms the extreme and abhorrent behavior of our contemporaries. I cannot recall anything by way of comparison as a kid. My own children were in high school at the time of the Columbine school massacre – which is the first random act I can recall.

That isn’t exactly true – there were the killings at Kent State University when I was in high school, but those were a result of student protests and committed by armed guardsmen. There were some other incidents that preceded Columbine, but also pre-dated the widespread media coverage.

I worry for those innocent granddaughters that I rocked back to sleep the other night. Tulsa ranks embarrassingly and shockingly high in the per-capita percentage of shooting deaths. Those are largely confined to specific areas of the metro – and those who would accuse me of profiling violence in our community should review the statistics. It isn’t just my assessment: there is an outcry among those living in that geographic area to end the primarily gang-related shootings.

It was such an innocent time for me, growing up in those small towns of my youth. Without extending judgment, my parents largely gave me free rein to explore. Looking back, that degree of freedom shocks me. It is so hard to remember those simpler, innocent, times. There might have been serial killers and stalkers and rapists and child molesters, thieves and robbers, burglars, and perverts, but if we even gave them a thought, we assumed they were held captive by the boundaries of those huge metropolitan areas. In our little town, we believed we were immune – at least, back then.

We were the last of the innocent Americans, enjoying the company of our neighbors, trusting in their support and good-will, leaving ourselves open to the invasion of privacy and property that almost never occurred. It might have been the last of the good times and we didn’t even know it.

So many times I have repeated the anecdote of the broker who completed the sale of my home and who called me at my work a week or so later.

“Your front door is standing open,” she said, and immediately apologized, as we in small towns are wont to do. “I would have stopped and pulled it closed but I was running late for work. I just worry that a dog or a squirrel might get inside. You might want to run home and close the door,” she said, breathlessly. That was excitement, back then.

No mention of thieves, burglars, or vandals.

Just a worry about squirrels and dogs. I still love that story – probably even more given my many years living in Tulsa.

If only those precious granddaughters of mine could experience that simple and easy growing up in that small town environment – that history that used to be the United States of America.

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