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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Gray Matter: A matter of perspective

Monday, June 11, 2007

"I guess it all depends on your perspective," a friend remarked recently, with a sigh of resignation.  It was near the end of one of those weighty  state of the world conversations we all engage in now and then.  A few days later,  as I was sorting through some old stuff (of which I have quantities) I found a piece I'd written a good many years ago in which I'd made that exact statement.  This started me thinking. 

  I'd been asked, in 1979,  to describe what life was really like in our town 50 years earlier.  Although I hadn't lived here in 1929, and even if I had, I would have been a bit young to have made really accurate observations, I had decided to give it a try. 

I first thought of the trains.  As in most American small towns, their regular arrivals and departures created a sort of second heartbeat which served as a backdrop for all other activity.  For example, most kids didn't have watches; they didn't need them. The warning whistle of the 5:30 Flyer gave them ample time to get home from the sand-lot ballgame in time for supper.

            For further insight I turned to back issues of the town paper.  Then, as now,  I think the writers who reprise the old news produce some of the most  popular copy in any small-town newspaper.  In 1929 there were five grocery stores (two of them general stores), two meat markets, a bakery, two drug stores, and much more. 

Twenty-eight of those establishments sponsored an ad urging everyone to attend the Senior Class Play at the Public School. Gala events, picnics, and lawn parties honoring the 19 graduates were reported. Their commencement was to be held that week with Guy M. Gillette, Cherokee attorney,  scheduled to speak.  It was he who later became Cherokee County's only U.S. Senator, and in whose honor Gillette Park is named. Holy Name's graduation ceremonies were to take place the following week.

  Junior high students, Mary Zembsch, Margaret Collins, Loren Means and Nicholas Alesch  had taken honors in the Poppy Poster competition and Norma Anderson's poster had won third place in the State Humane Society Contest.   

            Memorial Day plans were also featured.  At that time Civil War veterans, N.T. Wells and Ed Rose, were still able to participate in the services.  It was reported that Rose, Marcus township's first settler, had just celebrated his birthday on May 20, the same month and day on which he had registered his homestead papers in 1869.

              Now, back to the matter of perspective.  From that of  Mr. Rose, life in 1929 must have seemed pretty ordinary, compared to the action and adventure of 60 years earlier.  On the other hand, those graduating seniors had reached a milestone much less universal than it is today. Their lives were filled with excitement, with drama and dreams, all to be distilled forever through the golden mists of memory. 

From all of this, I have concluded that, whether it's contemporary or long ago, local or across the world, most everything truly depends on your perspective.  Don't you agree?