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I beg the reader’s indulgence since this is in a large sense a personal communication more than a column for all. It will resonate with many, or some, so I post it anyway.

I am preparing to fly to Fredericksburg, Virginia, for the—God almighty—fifty-year high-school reunion of King George High School. Perhaps we all do it eventually, unless of course we don’t. It is a curious thing, I have learned at previous reunions, to meet after half a century people you last saw when they were seventeen. They seem so little changed.



Mostly wooded, on the Potomac River, Dahlgren Naval Proving Ground the biggest employer, with a fair number of kids who got up at four-thirty in the morning to help their fathers with commercial crabbing on the river.

There was nothing special about the class of 1964, or about King George High, except for those of us who were in it. Our yearbook looked like ten thousand others across America, portraits with acne removed in the photo lab, the basket ball team exactly like everybody else’s, the cheerleaders conventionally glorious, conventional adolescent good-byes in ball-point pen—but without misspelling or bad grammar.

We, largely rural kids of the small-town South, represented without knowing it a culture, an approach to existence, and a devastating principle: You can’t impose decency, honesty, good behavior, or responsibility. They are in the culture, or they are not. If they are, you don’t need laws, police, and supervison. If they are not, laws won’t much help. And this is why the US is over, at least as the country we knew.

The names in the yearbook are just names: Sonny, Rosie, Butch, Kenny, Joyce, Cecil, Ricky, Kit. Just names. But. But, but, but. With any of these people you could leave your keys in the car—we did—or the front door unlocked—we did. We had one cop in the country, Jay Powell, a state trooper, and he had little to do. The high school did not have metal detectors or police patrolling the halls. We had none of the behavior that now makes these things necessary. It wasn’t in the culture. We could have raped, killed, robbed, fathered countless illegitimate children like barnyard animals. We didn’t.

It wasn’t in the culture.

We were not obsessively law-abiding. It may be that a certain amount of beer, even a substantial amount, was consumed in contravention of the law. I may know somewhat of this, though I can’t swear to it.

Well, OK, I can swear to it. The statute of limitations has run. I remember my first encounter—don’t we all?—with the demonic grape. One summer night in my fifteenth year I and a carful of country youth went to the Blue Note, a black club somewhere on Highway 301, where clients would for a price buy grog for a nursing infant. The night was warm and humid, full of hormones and inexplicit promise, though not much judgement.

You probably remember that teen-age at-large-in-the-world feeling: lithe and loose, never having heard of “tired,” razor sharp on a long jump-shot, male, unsupervised, almost grown up, or at least close enough to make it worry. There is nothing better. It never comes again.

I had never drunk before, but wasn’t going to admit it, and so simulated the worldliness of a French rake. The others bought beer but I didn’t like the taste. I somehow got a bottle of a ghastly purple substance, later determined to be sloe gin. The others were showing off by chugging beers. So I too chugged…oh God. Oh God. Even now it hurts, a half century later. Perish forfend, a hangover so bad that I began to retch if I blinked. I was sure I was going to die. I hoped so.

And yet there was an innocence to it. It was a rite of passage, not a door to iniquity, and while we did ensozzle ourselves, we didn’t get into fights or do anything murderous, vicious, or shameful. It wasn’t in the culture.

So with our kinship with guns. The boys had them. They were mostly shotguns for deer hunting, .410s, over-and-unders, twelve gauges, and maybe a .22 Hornet for shooting varmints. If you have a field of soybeans, you don’t want whistle pigs eating them.

We were free in those days. I could walk out the main gate of Dahlgren with my Marlin .22 lever-action over my shoulder, and nobody blinked. The country store sold long-rifles (for the frightened epicenes of today, that’s ammunition) with no questions asked. There was no reason to ask questions. We didn’t shoot each other. Only savages unfit for civilization would do such a thing.

And we weren’t. It wasn’t in the culture. You don’t have to police people to keep them from doing what they aren’t going to do anyway.

There were memorable times. One frigid winter night me and this other fool—it was Rusty Reed, no relation as that would have represented too great a concentration of recessive genes—set out to shoot rats at the Colonial Beach dump. We were in my ’53 Chevy, with the lines of a satiated tick in two-tone dirt-brown. It ran on half its cylinders and remembered compression as an old man remembers the ardors of youth. But it was mine. To be on Route 301, empty of traffic, windshield gone in frost, unsupervised—it was heaven. No one knew or cared where we were. There was no reason to care.

Rusty had a twelve-gauge double-barrel with a few rounds and a .22 semi-auto rifle. I had my Marlin and a couple of boxes of long-rifles. It was colder than a witch’s tit in a brass bra. No moon. We had that glorious sense, silly but not, of young males setting out into whatever came their way, unsupervised, free.

ORDER IT NOW

The dump was isolated, in man-high frozen brown scrub, a dirt road more hole than road leading to it. I turned off the headlights and began bucking along the road, frozen puddles crackling under the tires. A ’53 Chevy driven by a country teen-ager can go places that would have sent Rommel into a sanitarium.

Rusty wanted to catch the rats off-guard, so he got out with the twelve and sat on the right fender. We reached the dump. Rats squealed and cans clinked on the piled refuse. I turned on the lights.

Blam! Blam! Rusty let fly and fell off the fender with the recoil onto his head. It was absurd. It was wonderful.

And it was wild, I guess. It was assuredly unsupervised. It wasn’t irresponsible. That wasn’t in the culture.

Machodoc Creek in the county. Virginia has a robust conception of creeks. Could have been my canoe, except mine was a Grumman aluminum.

We spent half our lives on the water, with no one watching us. We had heard rumors of life jackets, but couldn’t see their purpose.There was no damn-fool federal law saying we had to have a license certifying that we knew how to operate a canoe. Nobody ever drowned. We just weren’t real drownable. It would have taken three SEAL teams and a D9 Caterpillar to do it, and even with them the then odds would have been about even.

Sex had occurred to us, but didn’t occupy our thoughts except when we were awake. The girls were shapely, neither fat nor emaciated, without such signs of mental disturbance as anorexia and bulimia, which had not been invented. We were not sexually supervised. A large, emptyish county with lots of woods offered many places where a couple could park discreetly at night, and we did. Oh yes. In nearby Fredericksburg there was that old American standby, the drive-in theater, colloquially known as the Finger Bowl. We engaged in much experimentation, some sex, many happy memories, and few pregnancies. No rapes and, among the boys, no disrepect (as distinct from lust) for the girls. It wasn’t in the culture.

Again, an innocence. The boys watched their language around the girls, and vice versa. We weren’t gentlemanly, having no exposure to that sort of thing, didn’t wear spats, but neither were we toilet-mouthed. We just didn’t do that

Stray thought: One night I was somewhere with Fred Burrell. Being already a promising wise-acre, I scratched myself indelicately and said, “Damn. My Burrells ache.” To which he replied, “My Reed itches.” Smart-ass.

King George High School was I suppose typically American for the time. The teachers were not brilliant, but neither were they stupid. Brilliance was not needed. It was then thought that schools existed to impart knowledge. This could be done at the high-school level by following a syllabus and requiring that the students learn the material. It worked, to no one’s surprise, since it always had worked. Since the studentry were entirely white—my class, 1964 was the last such class—no reason existed for lowering academic standards.

Discipline was not rigid. It did not need to be. The country kids were more unpolished than rough. There was the class clown—I have no recollection of who that might have been—but clowning stopped well short of real misbehavior. Fights were very few. When one occurred, no one picked up a piece of rebar or kicked the guy who was down. These boys weren’t wussies. Viet Nam took a large bite. But there were things we just didn’t do.

No one would have thought of disobeying a teacher, much less shoving or threatening one. The result I think would have been instant and permanent expulsion, but it never happened—not because of fear, but because it wasn’t in the culture.

The word “motherfucker” was not the chief component of speech, even among groups of boys, and its use in school would have been thought inappropriate to people with opposable thumbs.

We didn”t know it, but we were what made lAmerica what it was, and isn’t.

The Sixties followed hard on our dispersal in 1964, and Viet Nam, in which KG suffered dead and wounded. Butch Jones, center, my buddy in school and later a SeaBee in Nam, showed up athe the Navcal Support Activity hospital in Danang to visit me after I had proved my virtuosity more as a target than a Marine. I think we both thought, “What the hell are we doing here?” It was a good question. Right, Don March, immensely talented artist, guitarist, and big-bike rider.

Come graduation, we blew every whichaway, like dandelion puffs, and became all manner of things. “Rural” doesn’t mean stupid: There were physicists, engineers, and such like rabble. We were not shiftless, semi-literate, dependent, infantile, narcissistic, vulgar, spoiled, or whining.

It wasn’t in the culture.

(Republished from Fred on Everything by permission of author or representative)
 
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  1. Currahee says:

    Bravo, El Fredo,

    Class of “63 here and it was central Wisconsin; but same culture.

    Later, same war.

    Mine was Piping Rock Cherry Flavored Vodka, pure poison; but available.

    God Bless Fred,
    -C.

  2. Rich says:

    Unbelievable, the USA actually existed once. A bit younger than Fred, I grew up mostly in the suburbs of NYC and it’s hard to believe we hunted small game, fished and left our doors unlocked, too. It started to change when I was a teenager in the late 70’s, but I remember it well. When I tell my kids about it, they don’t believe it. We put a man on the moon, once, too. America, it was a great place.

  3. pyrrhus says:

    Thanks, Fred, for the evocation of those wonderful times….My 50th reunion coming up next month.

  4. I also remember that country called America that you described so well, Fred. Kids today don’t know what they have lost and it can’t be replaced by gadgets and gizmos.

    • Replies: @guest
  5. Oldeguy says:

    On a scale of 1 to 10, a 12 point column. Thank you Fred. Mine was the Class of 1963. Leaving out the hunting ( big city urban ), the rest could have just as easily been mine. We were propagandized about the consequences of “losing” Vietnam. Nobody warned us about the consequences of losing that magnificent America that we grew up in.

  6. North Quincy High School, Class of 1965. And everything you write is as I recall. I particularly remember my senior HS physics class scoffing in disbelief when our teacher suggested that if the school’s no tolerance policy for smoking were loosened, sooner or later some idiot would sneak marijuana into the boys’ room. I think even he regarded that as over-the-top hyperbole. But four years later pot (the term back then for reefer, ganja, weed, grass, or whatever they call it now) had become an acknowledged problem in the school. By the way, the potency of the drug back then compared to today was about the same as a Shirley Temple compared to Long Island Ice Tea. Ten years later, when my sister graduated, drugs and sex were rampant, and students had never read even a single Shakespeare sonnet when they graduated; a sad reflection when compared with the five or six Shakespeare plays I and my fellow students were familiar with by the time we left high school. (Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, and Twelfth Night are the ones I immediately recall.)

    I sometimes ask myself what happened that in only four years set the country on a headlong rush to perdition. I don’t know the whole answer but part of it is that the elite of my generation happened. (And I’m sad to say I was one of them.) We were told we were the hope, pride, and joy of the nation and then went away from one sheltered unreality to even more sheltered colleges where we were fed more of the same by one another, teachers just a little older than we were, the news media, Hollywood, Madison Avenue hucksters anxious for our parents money, and worst of all, the “progressive” politicians seeking the youth vote. The best of us came home disillusioned from what they saw in the Vietnam war. We carried our various infections back to our younger siblings who were polluted in turn. Some particularly pathetic parents and teachers even tried to become one of us. I already saw an example of this in my senior year civics teacher who was a walking sump of Frankfurt School propaganda.

    Of course, the grandiosely insane social policies initiated by Earl Warren, Lyndon Johnson, the Kennedys, and all their ilk didn’t help. But my generation was ripe to embrace and forward these insane visions. They would have faltered without us.

  7. Uphill both ways in the snow.

    http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/51/51099.html

    Still looks like a nice place to live. A bit pricey though for starting families. You might want to go meet a few of your classmates Grand-kids at the football game. They might remind you of the fellows in that picture you included. You might have run away and given up, But I suspect there is still plenty of good there. You might take that Mexican step daughter and introduce her to a few of them. She could do much worse. Those old boomers left a mess behind that has constrained that freedom of youth a bit, but the kids seem determined to steer their way through it.

    Born in 63 at the tail of the boom I still grew up in a place much like you describe clear in the late 70’s & early 80’s in the woods and dirt roads of northern Michigan. The pot was about as easy to find as that Sloe gin however; all the same it didn’t seem to claim many more of us than the alcohol did.

  8. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Fred,

    I don’t think you give the dalliance in the woods with “no pregnancies ” (et. al. Dang me d’nang me “Body count”) sufficient credit for the slippery slope that it is.

    The corruption we experience is from within.

    One only need read the Old Testament (esp major prophets) removing the blinders of “done (gone) away”.

    Was it all just (size) XXX Bottom Girls (Freddy mercury sing it…. Wait what did he care about girls??? Oh. It sold records. K. And I guess 1978 doesn’t count coupe in the golden reminiscence ) to blame or “the culture”? Seems to me that we’re Au Phuc’d by our legacy?

    Modern lingo: Sorry Bro (nie?) we are all reaping the oats sewn by generations gone by.

    Enjoy. Burn baby burn. If Ferguson is any indication there’s a fire but it’s not a fire of light.

  9. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Class of 98 here. I can’t relate at all, having led a cloistered childhood as a white boy in Marion Berry’s D.C.

    Sounds nice though…

  10. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    if you old guys liked this america so much, why didn’t you do more to keep it so it would be around for us too?

    -white 27 year old

    • Replies: @Douglas
  11. Old fogey says:

    Thank you, Fred, for this column. It is good to be reminded how things used to be. I graduated from Andrew Jackson High School in Cambria Heights, NY, in 1955 (that’s in the borough of Queens). Just imagine how strange the country feels to someone as old as myself, who has just celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary. I just wiki-ed the school and found out that it has been “defunct” since 1994. Sad times indeed for us all.

  12. guest says:
    @Another Canadian

    it was not the kids who lost it. How can they lose something they never had. You guys were not paying attention and let it be sneaked away from you.

  13. retired says:

    My kid is class of 2016 in a small town. There are pockets of what you grew up with, but with booze drugs divorce and the [email protected]#$ modern school we have to be careful with our kid and who he hangs with. Then a third of the town is imported and remain aliens. But we have found an old fashioned culture around our church and with much prayer he will grow up OK.

  14. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Some parts of Northern Europe are still rather like this.

  15. What a load of wishful thinking, and right-wing propaganda. I grew up in about the same period, in a similar area, and, believe me, what this guy is peddling is utter fantasy, glossed over reality. A lot of right wingers do this, I’ve noticed over the years.

    • Replies: @Tom Not Terrific
  16. Douglas says:
    @anonymous

    They were outnumbered by those spoiled narccistic assholes who didn’t like America and are now in power.

  17. rod1963 says:

    I grew up in the high deserts of Southern California in the 60’s and 70’s, but a lot of my experiences were very close to his. As a kid we didn’t have to lock our bicycles, adults didn’t have to lock their cars or even their doors. Security doors were unknown. School up until the late 70’s was actually a nice and safe experience, we actually had lockers so no lugging a bunch of textbooks home every afternoon. No PC/MC, no sexual degenerates like trannies, gays, to worry about. Kids cussed and some drank but we mostly stayed out of trouble except for a handful of budding young drug addicts whom everyone knew were headed to prison. We weren’t addicted to cell phones, video games or Ipods. Tennis shoes weren’t a fashion statement, they were something we wore. In class we could read guns and ammo during breaks and the teacher didn’t care. That’s right no expulsion or interrogation by the local Stasi. Heck in grade school we could play cops and robbers at recess and we could draw guns and tanks on paper class without fear of punishment and drugging.

    Outside of school, well it was nothing short of wonderful. You didn’t have to lock your car or even your front door, those steel security doors that are so popular today were non-existent back then. Gun racks in pickups were still common along with Winchesters in them, jobs were plentiful and paid decently(this was before Clinton’s NAFTA and PNTR with China that changed everything for the worse). A man or woman could do a late evening stroll with no concern for their safety.

    All that is gone today thanks to a bunch of urban white Marxists who worked hard for decades to make CA a 3rd world state with a population to match.

  18. @Tired of It All

    This post made me very angry. Yeah, I was sorta “there” myself and I’m not right wing on a lot of things (I want single payer medicine) but what this post “says” is nothing.

    Challenge: Make a list of the “specific things” in Fred Reed’s article King George Days that are “fantasy.” Number them 1. 2. 3. 4. etc. (Things outside Fred Reed’s sphere back then, segregation in the South, don’t count. )

    • Replies: @Tired of It All
  19. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    What a load of wishful thinking, and right-wing propaganda.

    I was there also (small way-out rural town) and I don’t think so. The rosy gloss is as nothing compared to the warped lens of the denigraters. Why do they hate that it was better so much?

  20. @Tom Not Terrific

    1. Girls got pregnant, and then usually married. One gal did so in the eighth grade, and two others I knew of did so in high school. I am certain others did so as well, but the matters were handled more discreetly. All this in a high school of only 500 students. Sex between students “going together” was not uncommon.

    2. People did NOT leave their keys in the ignitions of their autos, and most people locked their doors when not at home.

    3. Words like motherfucker, cocksucker, nigger, spic, queer, etc., were common, along with all the other swear words.

    4. Teachers were mostly authoritarian propagandists who peddled the “American” myth, yet knew nothing of evolution, or history, as I learned in college, and kids DID talk back to them. Discipline WAS rigid and ridiculous. A kid could get suspended for hair too long, shirttail out, etc. Our vice principal was a total fascist. His mentor used to run a cadet corps at the school, complete with little brown shirts. Fortunately the mentor died before I graduated from eighth grade, so I was not subject to that particular nonsensical regimentation.

    As I said before, people gloss over the past, and, as I also said, it’s mostly right wingers who get off on these nostalgia jaunts, which amounts mostly to wishful thinking aided by poor memories. I have heard this crap for decades, and found the responses here unsurprising, given the slant of the site. Enjoy your dream world. I prefer real memories.

    • Replies: @Jus' Sayin'...
  21. fnn says:

    Here’s Francis Parker Yockey (likely speaking in the manner of a prophet, describing the new society he saw emerging ) writing in 1948:

    http://www.counter-currents.com/2010/09/a-contemporary-evaluation-of-francis-parker-yockey-part-2/

    The message of Hollywood is the total, significance of the isolated individual, stateless and rootless, outside of society and family, whose life is the pursuit of money and erotic pleasure. It is not the normal and healthy love of man and wife bound together by many children that Hollywood preaches, but a diseased erotic-for-its-own sake, the sexual love of two grains of human sand, superficial and impermanent. Before this highest of all Hollywood’s values everything else must stand aside: marriage, honor, duty, patriotism, sternness dedication to self to a higher aim. This ghastly distortion of sexual life has created the erotomaia that obsesses millions of victims in America, and which has now been brought to the Mother-soil of Europe by the American invasion.

    …Hollywood-feminism has created a woman who is no longer a woman but cannot be a man, and a man who is devirilized into an indeterminate thing. The name given to this process is “the setting free” of woman and it is done in the name of “happiness,” the magic word of the liberal-communist-democratic doctrine.

  22. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Fredo prefers being surrounded by Mexicans in ole’ Mehico.

  23. I must say, I’m somewhat horrified your first drinking experience involved chugging gin.

  24. retired says:

    I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and watched the culture go down the tubes. The leftists finally gained control and all but ruined the country. And all they can say in the comments is that America was always as bad as it is now. Bunch of nihilists.

  25. I grew up in about the same period, in a similar area, and, believe me, what this guy is peddling is utter fantasy, glossed over reality.

    It’s not fantasy if you lived it. Sorry yours didn’t work out that way. Full disclosure: It didn’t work out for me, either. I was a misfit in my homogeneous rural community, and didn’t fit in. That doesn’t mean I should engage in a culture war against said community. One just moves on. What Fred is describing is what libs would call a “sustainable community”. It’s a goal they don’t really want, but pay lip service to. Grow up, kid. I did.

    Some people just hate flyover country, like this Iowa professor . The placidity of it drives them crazy, and they won’t be happy til the vibrancy quakes through the land.

    For more on this topic, if you can handle the saccharine taste of it at times, follow Rod Dreher’s discussion on the paradox of the rural community.

  26. @Tired of It All

    (1) Anecdotes don’t count. Look at the numbers: Back then less than 20% of Negro births were illegitimate and a few percent were white. In the 1960s Patrick Moynihan suggested that these uillegfitimacy rates were a disaster for Negro society. Now about 75% of Negro births and 25% of white are illegitimate. And amost data suggest that these kids are going to be an incredible burden on society precisely because of the4ir fatherless status.

    Your other three statements are unsupported assertions and contradict my experience.

    (2) Whether or not peoiple locked doors – most didn’t in my experience – is arguable. The available crime statistics (FBI UCR and a variety of local studies) show much lower rates of all forms of property crime and violent crime then than now.

    (3) I saw a kid suspended for three days for calling a girl a bitch. You may not be familiar with George Carlin’s famous seven woprds routine but up through the 1960s these words were not used in polite middle class society and were actually legally banned from public media.

    (4) You clearly never learned how to make a rational, empirically supported argument in school. I’m guessing you were a lousy student and this colors your anecdotal perceptions. Certainly, the general inte4llectual quality of public school teachers – as measured by longitudinally comparing say SAT exam scores of education measures has declined significantly. My personal experience has included the following in recent years: a fourth grade teacher who taught a weirdly incorrect form of long division because she had no idea of the synthetic division algorithm and a history professor at UMAss Boston who proudly published an editorial in the Boston Globe confusing the roles of Samuel Adams and John Adams in the American Revolution./

  27. I grew up at that time in England – didn’t have the freedom to mooch about with a rifle over my shoulder but had our equivalent of most of the rest. Those of us who wistfully say to ourselves “What has to happen before we can return to that ‘culture’?” have to accept that the answer is “we can never go back”.

  28. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Fred is an honorary Mexican.

  29. Stan D Mute [AKA "Stan Mute"] says:

    Raised in the suburbs of Detroit in the late 70’s and early 80’s and nearly all of this rings true. One could visit a friend’s home any time and just walk in the door. Doors were locked at night, at least some of them, but alarms were unknown. We all shot guns, hunted and fished, but nobody got shot. There were a couple negroes in our high school of 1,000+ kids, but I never had one in a class with me. Never saw anyone disrespect a teacher. Never knew a girl who got pregnant although parents would discuss it after reading the paper. Everybody drank, most smoked pot on weekends, but a couple accidents and one fatality were the extent of the damage. This was a typical middle to upper middle class town with professional and managerial homeowners/parents in the upper Midwest.

    I suspect those who were angry about it were the queers and future communists radicalized in college. I do know that just minutes away on the highway was a very different world in Detroit where a very different culture prevailed. Sadly, Detroit stopped building and exporting manufactured goods and instead exported its culture.

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