Sloppy Joe Society

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Subtitle: Recollections from Pre-Politically Correct America.

A welcomed respite from the drudgery of learning multiplication tables in my third grade was Thursday lunch at the school cafeteria . . . sloppy joes! Forget today’s lean beef craze; this delicacy was wonderfully greasy and delicious. Notwithstanding Michelle O’s national lunch menus, I don’t recall a single fat kid in my homeroom class.

The working-class neighborhood of my youth was multi-ethnic. In Leftist terms, it was diverse. My friends were mostly second and third generation Italian, Irish, and Polish. Of course, we called each other Dagos, Micks and Pollacks and somehow never took offense. A new kid showed up during fifth grade. He was a Lebanese Christian who immediately took to American sports. Had we been creative enough to come up with a slur for his ethnicity, we would have used it. Mercilessly.

Since the nearest city park was several blocks away, we often played in the side-streets. Just about all of us were bumped at least once by cars. A VW Beetle hit me as it braked to a stop. I jumped just before impact, bounced off the hood, went over the top, and landed on my rear end behind the car. Save for a growing bruise, I was uninjured, but figured that was a temporary condition if my mother found out. The shocked driver stopped, ran back toward me, asking all the while if I was okay. I took off through a series of alleys to my home. I thought I lost him and walked in like nothing happened. I wasn’t slick enough; he knocked on the front door and spoke with Mom. She accepted our combined versions of the incident, and that was that; no shouting, no threat of a lawsuit, no police report. I still played in the streets.

In those days, just about every adult smoked. Riding in a car full of smokers wasn’t pleasant, but we kids didn’t complain. It was just part of life. After meals, coffee and a cigarette was the norm. The considerate hostess set a little ashtray at each adult place-setting. Absent a personal ashtray, the smoker put his cigarette out in the remains of his dinner.

My mother’s washing machine was down in the basement. After the wash cycle, she inserted each article of clothing between parallel rollers to wring out excess water. Hanging up clothes on the clothes-line on weekends typically fell to me. Today, for all the teeth-gnashing by Leftists over energy conservation, I don’t remember the last time I saw laundry hanging outside to dry.

Blowing up tree stumps was the highlight of summers spent at my grandfather’s farm. Granddad would clear maybe half an acre of woodlands per year, and season the wood for burning in his primary source of home heating, two Franklin stoves. Dynamite was sold at the local farm supply and grocery store. The sticks were stacked in an open bin, just like the carrots a couple of aisles away. The store owner kept the blasting caps in a locked safe. Estimating the right number sticks for each stump was an inexact art. Granddad thought the ideal blast broke the stump into pieces small enough to be dragged away. Sometimes we used a stick or two too many; my mind’s eye still sees smoking chunks of wood flying a hundred feet or so in the air. Fun!

My school graded handwriting on report cards. Being left-handed, this was a difficult subject. I somehow once got a ‘B,” but typically did no better than a ‘C,’ and twice got a ‘D.’ The nuns didn’t regard my left-handedness as a handicap, pat me on the head, and give a gratis ‘A’ for effort. Standards are just that; my cursive writing to this day is awful.

Classmate Tommy Bramos was always in trouble. He wasn’t a bad kid; he was intelligent, funny, but hyperactive. We called him Tommy Brainless because he just didn’t know when to shut up. After a public paddling, he’d behave for a few days but soon fell back into his old habits. Leftist teachers today would have drugged Tommy by the second grade.

While raking leaves in the fall wasn’t fun, playing in the huge piles was a blast. Best of all was burning them along the concrete street curb. Burning by just a few homeowners per block was enough to blanket the neighborhood in a dense, white smoke that didn’t smell all that bad.  I don’t recall any traffic accidents from low visibility. Oh, and we didn’t need a permit. We just did it.

Yes, we built and crashed go-carts built from discarded wooden crates, and my first bicycle was a piece of rusted junk I rescued from a city dump.

Perhaps the biggest difference between America then and now is the substitution of societal limitations on behavior, with the heavy hand of Leftist social justice imposed through secular institutions and court decisions.

Society isn’t allowed to find its equilibrium anymore, to use its collective judgment to determine acceptable behavior and promote the general welfare. Society is happiest when it determines such things as public school curricula, for whom businesses may bake cakes, the definition of marriage, the status of babies in the womb, the racial makeup of neighborhoods, and local zoning laws. Social justice restrictions on private and public liberty purposely dilute the influence of the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant citizen, who is increasingly vilified as privileged and unworthy of Constitutional protections. From the same political correctness, we are to avert our eyes from islamic barbarism. No thanks.

Until stopped and reversed, top-down control of our culture will accelerate as social justice warriors find their last proscriptions on behavior and thought are never harsh enough to create the New Man of their Utopian dreams.

Public liberty, the right to self-government, isn’t slipping away; it is gone.

Instead of progressive social justice, I’ll take the sloppy joe society of my youth. Every time. Sweet dreams to all.

5 thoughts on “Sloppy Joe Society

  1. JimK

    Yeah, we played Cowboys and Indians after school, with real toy guns and bows and arrows The arrows had rubber suction tips that were soon lost.

  2. Gary Tollberg

    You’ve pretty much described my childhood in the 1950s. It was a wonderful time for the most part. During the winter we would put out a hose or two and water down the sidewalk so we could slide on it the next day. We played stick ball in the street and dodge ball in the alley. There was an older house in the neighborhood that someone swore had a ghost in it. Not too far away was a wooded area that we camped in every now and then… and a train yard that had huge piles of iron ore (I think) that we could climb up just for the heck of it. I can’t imagine how dirty we were when we would come back home. But I never remember my Mom yelling at me for being too dirty.

    Pick up baseball games at the local schoolyard using a taped up baseball. And after the game, we’d pitch in money to buy a cold Pepsi from Zanino’s (the local store)…from which everyone took a “swig”. Picking off Japanese beetles from the evergreen trees for a nickel a tree…playing curb ball…hearing the Gene Pitney’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”… God, I miss those days!

    1. Rodney Dodsworth Post author

      Sweet memories. Come home in the summer when the street lights came on.

  3. Dennis W Denton (GC VA COS)

    I can relate to this (I’m 68) particulary go-cart races an crahsing them and the burning of leaves. I lived in a wooded area and leave piles were huge, better have the hose ready when burned. One lasting childhood memory was the smell of cigarette smoke and after shave (probably Old Spice) in the bathroom after my dad got ready for work. Miss those days! Thanks for the memories. Dennis – GC-VA COS

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