START OF A JOURNEY – A number of folks have asked me to reprint how I grew up, and what that meant today. So, here it is, edited, I hope, to be helpful.
Everyone the world over develops prejudices and points of view as to what is normal (blinders). When you grow up in a primarily upper and middle class suburb of an almost 200,000 population city in the Midwest, prejudices might develop something like mine did….
There really were homes in my neighborhood like the one above (which is actually in Houston TX, 2009). Nowadays, though,the estates have been sold to developers over the years. President Jerry Ford’s parents lived on the corner across the street.The President was then a congressman representing our district.
Maybe you attended a school system like mine was (and largely still is). My public school system (East Grand Rapids, MI) had its own indoor swimming pool, built in the 1920s. Each year we won at least one state championship in some sport. When I last checked 30 years ago, my high school had won more state titles than any other school in the USA which competed in at least 5 sports. The last six years it has won the state football championship in its class, until losing in the regionals in 2011. It was, and still is, a jock school, and I was one, even though I also was in a very small and quite untalented band and a typical high school choir.
We were active in our church. Our church, too, was filled with folks like us. It had a bowling alley in the basement and a gym on the third floor. In later years someone told me it was the social elite of our denomination in town. I loved to sit in the right side balcony closer to the front. The chancel stained glass windows, only some of the stained glass windows in church, fascinated me, especially during sermons.
There was only one Jewish kid in my class, and he moved to live with relatives when his parents were killed in an auto accident. There was only one black in the whole high school. The rest were typical white Americans of various non church, protestant, or Roman Catholic families. All of my public high school graduating class went on to higher education for at least one semester.
We got a TV early in 1951. I had seen TV earlier in our hotel room in Boston on a trip. My parents could not lure me out of our room even for dinner. One buddy’s family even had TV in 1949 when the only station was 100 miles away in Milwaukee. Nothing but snow with a little sound.
This was just the way it was. This was normal. My father was a self-made man who grew up dirt poor in Nebraska. He made sure I got at least a taste of work. I had a morning paper route during the winter, and summer jobs at our cottage up north. Our cottage (picture below circa 2005) was typical of the association cottages. One year I ran the clay tennis courts there and even charged for lessons as the resident “pro”. Several members of the high school tennis team could not understand this injustice. How could I teach tennis since I was a such a lousy tennis player.
Didn’t everyone grow up like this? Imagine my set of cultural blinders.
I did realize that others lived differently. It was mostly academic head knowledge though. We watched TV and traveled to both coasts on trips. It was educational and fun, but we had only superficial interaction with people not like us. That seemed normal. This didn’t change at first when I went to college. My sister had gone to private boarding school and then Vassar. Five years later I entered Northwestern and the fraternity system. Still normal, and still surrounded with people sort of like us. My freshman dorm roommate sat athis desk and stared, without moving, out our window for hours at Lake Michigan. In 1956, our dorm (Bob Hall) had an unobstructed view of the beach and lake only a short distance away. He had never seen such a sight being from Kansas.
What does it sound like so far? Want to meet me back then? My blinders were still firmly in place. Then a different reality began to rear its head. I discovered that I had to study at some classes to pass. I had rarely ever studied. I was pleased to find companionable fraternity brothers who liked to drink almost as much as I did (drugs were quite rare then). This had consequences by the end of the second marking period. I was close to flunking out. Couldn’t transfer since the University of Michigan no longer wanted me on their campus. What to do?
Uncle Sam wants you! Join the army! Why not? No war was on. But the USSR and red China threatened. Assurance of mutual destruction was the military defense posture of the day. The Korean stalemate was 4 years old. Join, flee, run away. I thought it might even be fun.
Cultural blinders began to immediately get chipped at the reception center at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. This was sure not like home. Really bad mess hall food, and people not like me everywhere, often yelling at me. Most were not very friendly or polite, either. After intake testing they invited me to go to officer candidate school. which also meant signing up for 4 more years with no guarantees if I washed out. Nope.. Just survive and make it into basic training. My blinders were temporarily removed there as a measure of survival. These people were kind of interesting, though ……..