Life As We Know It: January 27, 2014

      It’s customary for folks of a certain age to remember their childhoods and early adulthoods with fondness and lament the loss of the “good old days.” Any list of the way things were usually includes doors that never had to be locked, neighbors that kept an eye not only on their kids but your own, and corner grocers who extended credit and didn’t ask for a credit card because there weren’t any. No doubt you’ve got a few examples you could add to the list.

     It’s easy to recall all of that as an “Age of Innocence,” a period that for me extended roughly from the end of World War II into perhaps the mid-1960s. Perhaps it seems curious to describe those years as innocent, what with Korea and the Cold War.

     But for America’s kids, those were vague, distant concepts, even if we did have periodic “atomic bomb” drills, wherein we dove under our desks until the all-clear was given. Apparently the idea was to be vaporized in the fetal position.

     For me, growing up in the small Wyandot County community of Sycamore, the Age of Innocence involved lots of baseball, usually played in a narrow alley behind our house until darkness made it impossible to see. If we actually wanted a diamond to play on, that meant hoofing it or riding our bikes to Sycamore School a mile or so from our house -- you go past the grain elevator and make a right. Which, of course, we did willingly.

     I visited Sycamore and discovered to my shock and dismay that Sycamore School is simply gone. Vanished. A building that had once upon a time housed all 12 grades -- the elementary grade students on the first floor, the “big kids” upstairs -- had been demolished and carted away. In its place, an empty field strewn with straw.

     I share this unfortunate discovery because in my mind it serves as one more indication that I really did grow up in a wonderful time in America. Especially for a kid hooked on sports. My heroes were anybody in a Cleveland Indians uniform, but the team doesn’t matter. In your case it might have been the Detroit Tigers, or if you were cursed with a particularly cruel streak, the New York Yankees.

     Somehow it seems so unnecessary to declare the Age of Innocence dead. When we’re fighting a war without end, when thousands of our countrymen die in a terrorist attack, when gasoline costs 10 times what it did in those days, it’s all so obvious.

     But for those who cling to sports as an escape, the new reality makes it tough.

     I’m exaggerating, but only a little, to note that the National Football League’s Cincinnati Bengals were never sure in 2006 if they’d have enough players who weren’t in trouble with the law to field a team.

     Amateur athletics is hardly exempt. After acknowledging her steroid use, track star Marion Jones was stripped of the five medals -- three gold and two bronze -- she won at the Sydney summer Olympic Games in 2000.

     Hero worship is usually naïve, of course. The great athletes of my youth had their warts. They drank. They smoked. They chased women they weren’t married to. I didn’t know about any of that at the time and didn’t care to know.

     But a kid growing up today? The warts are all over the news. Will we ever again have an Age of Innocence? Will we ever again have a time when our heroes are genuine and the world is at peace? The cynical view is no. But I’ll keep hoping and praying. In the meantime, I’ll keep locking the doors.

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