Age of Innocence

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Our book, as a memoir, is replete with nostalgia. Stories of youth, growing pains and local and national perspectives are detailed in story form. One incident covered, and often referred to as the end of the age of innocence, in this country, is the assassination of President Kennedy. Both Crystal and I remember in detail that tragedy, and its affects, both national and personally.

Innocence is a diverse and encompassing term. While the Kennedy tragedy was felt instantly and universally throughout the developed world, other changes were underway which would continue to affect our world in a more microcosmic and personal way. We grew up in a time when neighborhood meant something special. Mothers were generally at home and always networking. If there was trouble in the area the moms knew about it. Even as a kid, it was safe to walk around the neighborhood alone. You could trust that there was nothing questionable in the Halloween treats. It wasn’t that nothing bad ever happened, it just happened to strangers, in other places, and was then on the news.

Oak Lawn was a fairly safe community as I grew up in the sixties. When I went to college in 1972, Peoria had that same safe feel. Bradley University campus was basically a community of its own. You could walk up to anyone and start a conversation. While there I met people who became some of the best friends of my life. We still stay in touch.

My junior year I joined a service (helping people, not military) fraternity called APO. One evening I offered Sue, one of our little sisters, a ride home from an off campus event. It was a beautiful night for a drive. I asked if she minded taking a little detour. She agreed. I drove into one of my favorite places. About a block from my apartment was a very nice, fairly large, and heavily forested park called Bradley Park. I was there whenever I took a break from studying (far too often if you asked my dad). There was playground equipment, tennis courts, walking paths, an outdoor theater, several miles of roadways and even baseball fields. I often jogged through the park at night. After all, it was safe. That night, my great idea was to take Sue star gazing. It was a wonderfully clear, crisp fall night. I knew that the middle of the baseball field was the perfect place. It was wide open and totally devoid of outside lighting. I parked the car in the abandoned parking lot and said ‘Come with me, I want to show you something.’ I started walking purposely to the middle of the field. Sue seemed hesitant, but slowly followed me. I lay down in the middle of the field and started looking at the stars. Soon Sue joined me. I pointed out some of the few constellations I could still remember from Boy Scouts. We talked for few minutes, after which we walked back to the car, and I took her home.

About ten years later Crystal and I along with our two girls got together for dinner with Sue, her husband and children in a suburb of Chicago. That was the first time that she revealed to me that she was a little scared that night. She didn’t know me that well and I had taken her to the ‘middle of nowhere in the middle of the night’. Initially, I was shocked. How could she or anyone, for that matter, not trust me?

Since that time I’ve had a lot of occasion to reflect on that night and what it represented. I grew up being taught to show women, and for that matter, everyone respect. Never do anything my hero, John Wayne wouldn’t do. Of course, at nineteen, I was a gentleman, not a saint. If Sue had been so overwhelmed by the grandeur of the universe or my incredible ability to point out three or four constellations that she wanted to make out in the outfield, I probably wouldn’t have fought her off too hard. However, I never seriously thought about her point of view.

Several weeks later a girl was raped while walking across campus at night. This was big news in Peoria. My fraternity started a service to walk girls across campus after hours. While at that time I never made the connection, since that time Crystal and I have raised three girls. If any of them ever walked into an abandon field with a boy in the middle of the night, or even accepted a car ride with anyone they weren’t positive about, the real danger would have been me grounding them for life when they got home.

I’m glad and proud that my girls grew up safe and careful. However, I can’t say that I don’t miss being young, and living in my own personal age of innocence.


Don’t you just love the fall?

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