Vanishing Americans St. Louis Chapter
“On a recent Sunday afternoon, I had the most incredible experience: I sat in a roomful of 50 men and women who had lunch, talked, reminisced, and enjoyed themselves for four hours. The incredible part was that they did all that without cell phones, without liquor, without vulgar language, without loud “music,” without blaring TV screens, and without wrecking the place.
All of them are white. All of them are decent and disciplined. They are, therefore, atypical 21st-century Americans. They grew up in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. They are Old School. They are not “cool” or trendy; if they were, I would have known I had walked into the wrong room.The occasion was a reunion of people who attended schools in the neighborhood in south St. Louis where my father lived as a boy. He organized the first such reunion in 1988. One man was so grateful for the reunions that he sent my father a four-page handwritten letter describing his memories of schoolmates in the 1920s.
This year’s event, the 25th annual reunion was the last – because the people who do the most work are tired and beset with health concerns, and because younger people have no interest in such reunions.All of those people grew up in two old, adjacent, working-class neighborhoods that were largely self-sufficient: Grocery stores, bakeries, meat markets, confectionaries, drug stores, a farmer’s market, clothing stores, hat shops, jewelry stores, medical and dental offices, barber shops, beauty shops, hardware stores, corner taverns, city parks, a swimming pool, a library, churches, schools, movie theatres, and places of employment all stood within those neighborhoods. Virtually everything they needed could be found within walking distance from where they lived. Everyone walked everywhere.It was an area of cold-water flats and breadboxes in front of corner markets; of railroad tracks and factories near the Mississippi River; where shop-owners lived above their shops; where saloon-keepers bounced customers who used vulgar language; and where families went window-shopping on Saturday nights along a street lined with stores. Many of them did not own an automobile or a telephone.In contrast, many modern Americans are awash in excess and have little moral fiber. The people at the reunion did it the other way around: Excess was never a part of their lives, but they had moral fiber in abundance. None of them lived on Easy Street. Many of them were poor in material comforts. But they were not poor in things that matter: Imagination, self-discipline, common sense, self-reliance, loyalty to their families, schools, churches, and neighborhood, and a determination to pull their own weight. “It was customary not to ask for help. You stood or fell on your own,” wrote Betty Pavlige in her book Growing Up In Soulard 1980, pp. 24-25. She grew up there in the 1920s-‘30s and then operated a beauty shop there for 49 years.There was no moral relativism in their lives. Because many of them…………
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