The most progressive generation

Oh, how our lives have changed during the past twenty-five years. We’ve had great medical advances. Once-fatal diseases are being cured, and hope exists where once there was none.

For those who like to stay connected, life has changed considerably. The brick-like mobile phones of the early 1990s have been replaced by tiny smartphones that take pictures, send messages, play music, pay bills, and oh yes, make phone calls.

Social media sites connect us with long-lost friends, and allow us to communicate with relatives we once saw only at funerals. Online shopping has taken a bite out of traditional retail stores, and we are far more likely to buy something with the click of a mouse than we used to.

Beyond that, life in 2018 is not terribly unlike it was a generation ago. We drive on the same highways, we attend the same churches, read the same newspapers, watch and listen to the same TV and radio stations, and attend the same schools.

I have often joked that my parents had some great “when I was your age” stories, usually in an attempt to educate me about how easy I had it, compared to them. They told me about walking to school, chopping wood for heat, and milking the cow. Me? I told my kids about growing up with only three TV channels, and no remote control.

I was reminded of this over the holidays when my 87-year-old uncle Owen Norris, whom I have written about in my “Volunteer Bama Dawg” book, kept his promise and published a book about his life. It is my favorite Christmas gift.

He wrote about growing up in poverty on Sand Mountain, in Bryant, Alabama. Owen was born in Chattanooga in 1930, and his family was among many who took a chance during the Depression. Land was plentiful and cheap on the mountain, about thirty miles southwest of the big city. The soil was fertile, and big families had plenty of farm hands. Although there was no electricity, and the roads were unpaved, they were counting on a brighter future.

As Owen told me, World War II changed everything. The soldiers who survived the war returned to a better world. The postwar economic boom encouraged new businesses and industries, creating a new batch of jobs. Women who had once tended the home or helped with the farm had entered the workforce out of necessity during the war, and many families now had two paychecks coming in each week.

People were building houses, buying appliances, and installing indoor plumbing. During the Depression, it was a struggle to survive.   But by the 1950s, anything was possible, even in rural America.

Uncle Owen experienced both of these worlds. Those of us who came along a generation later only saw the better one. We would hear about the hard-times era, but for many of us it sounded like a fairytale. We saw that world in black-and-white, like an old movie. For Owen, and others of his era, it was real.

They picked cotton until their fingers ached. They slept with multiple siblings in small beds in crowded rooms, with snow blowing in through the cracks in the walls. They walked a few miles to get a gallon of buttermilk, and crossed a dangerous creek going to and from their destination. If they broke a leg, they would have to find some fortunate soul with a car to drive them to town for treatment.

Throughout Owen’s childhood, this was his world. And you know what? He was perfectly happy. To this day, he misses the closeness of his tight-knit family. Each depended on the other to get chores done. People sat on the porch, appreciated the little things, and listened to each other.

Still, when he returned from serving in Korea while in his twenties, opportunities awaited that he had never imagined. He got a job, bought a car, and drove on smooth, paved roads. The dreaded day-long journey to the city was now a quick one-hour round trip.

He was able to build a house with indoor plumbing, and thanks to the Tennessee Valley Authority, it was fully connected to electricity, heat and air. He could start his own business to better provide for his family.   He has built a long life and career and prospered beyond his wildest dreams. He was able to see his parents, in their twilight years, enjoy comfortable living at last.

Owen’s book was not just a refresher course in history for me, but a reminder of the gratitude we all should have. Those who came before us made great sacrifices, in many ways, to provide the luxuries we enjoy today. They rebuilt the nation during an amazing period of growth in the 1940s and 1950s. From my generation to yours, thank you!

About David Carroll

David Carroll is a longtime Chattanooga radio and TV broadcaster, and has anchored the evening news on WRCB-TV since 1987. He is the author of "Chattanooga Radio & Television" published by Arcadia.

One thought on “The most progressive generation

  1. Jerry Lingerfelt

    Thanks for this reminder of good times past. Good and not so good but it was a generation of those who respected each other and loved their country. This not to be political at all. I was born just 8 years after your uncle and I remember the pot bellied stove in the living room, powered by chunks of coal. I remember mother getting up very early to start the fire in the Monkey Heater, that was the heater that the water ran through so that we could have a hot bath. It was located in the kitchen and was wood fired. Also used to warm up the pot for the morning coffee. That was when we lived on Duvall street in East Ridge in the early 40’s. My grandmother’s sisters lived on farms and had the wells and outhouses and Coleman lanterns for light. All of that was prior to WWII. I didn’t have to hear the stories, I got to experience them. Yep, I am an old guy, 80 my birthday in June of this year. I had a wonderful life growing up in Chattanooga. JL


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