The summer of 1952 was a defining year of my life. Up until that summer I was a typical young Nebraska farm boy, full of energy, loved baseball, loved my Mother's fried chicken and gravy, loved her homemade (everything was) rhubarb gobbler, and had no worries about keeping up with the Joneses. The Joneses didn't have anything either.
Little did I know I was about to come face to face with a deadly/dreaded virus called infantile paralysis, commonly known as polio. The family doctor spent 10 days scratching his head. On the 11th day my parents carted me off to St. Joseph hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, and in a matter of two hours I found myself in an iron lung. I had bulbar polio, the version that attacks your throat and makes swallowing/breathing very difficult, thus the iron lung that assists breathing. Muscular polio visited my body, and I was paralyzed from my neck down. The battle was on, me against polio, and the stakes couldn't be higher. My life hung in the balance.
Even though my parents had a farming operation to run, one of them was with me 24 hours a day throughout the entire ordeal that ran into December. This was only possible because of their farm neighbors, who without being asked and without compensation, took it upon themselves to pitch in and keep our farming operation running. The Hansens, the Waltons, the McDonalds, the Andersons, the Roberts, the Larsons, and the Franzens — those were neighbors you could count on. It brings me to my point: Neighbors then and neighbors now.
Today, as I drive up and down the road listening to my radio, someone of some ilk is talking about those same neighbors, suggesting that I look out the corner of my eye at them, simply because they don't look, act, or think like I do. Switching on my television reveals more talking heads suggesting I look out the corner of my eye at my neighbor; wants me to call my neighbor a name. To them I say, what are you talking about?
Do you have any idea what you're saying? Do you have any idea what you're promoting, and what it's doing to neighborhoods? Do you forget what America was built on? Do you have any idea what would have happened to you had you been spewing this kind of venom in my old neighborhood?
Let me tell you what would have happened. Your microphone would find a new home, and it wouldn't be in front of your big mouth. Your next show would have an audience of one —the person looking back at you in your mirror. You may be building a listening audience and a rating, but you're tearing down a neighborhood, and by extension America, and with it everything that tens of thousands of our men and women have fought and died for. You're not promoting a shining beacon on a hill, you're creating a black hole, and brewing Jim Jones Kool-Aid.
When you look at someone out of the corner of your eye, neighbor or not, they tend to look back at you out of the corner of their eye. Restoring neighbors and neighborhoods is not rocket science, it's a simple matter of neighbors looking at neighbors in the eye and treating them like soaring eagles rather than waddling ducks.
Neighbors then were no different than the neighbors now, with one exception. They didn't take their marching orders from some talking head.
Jim Gries lives in Weeki Wachee and can be contacted at [email protected]