The night we first locked our door I knew the world had changed… never to be the same again. And I was right.
Life on Cherry Street in Knoxville was peaceful and placid… no two ways about it. Occasionally a car would bottom out coming south down Cherry as it crossed Jefferson and make quite a racket. The ponies on their way to get hitched up to the ice cream cart at Kay’s on Magnolia would break the silence of morning with the clickety-clack of their steel shoes. They would leave an occasional odious pile to remind us they had been there….as if we didn’t know. No one cleaned it up. It was eventually washed away by a hard rain…but until then it was a constant reminder that they had come our way.
In summers, we boys played baseball from morning to dusk. Then dinner was followed by Kick-the-Can or May I. One night Mr. Valentine, in whose front yard the home base can for our game resided, bought all of us a popsicle as the pony man returned to Kay’s after a long day on the streets. A popsicle, a fudgesicle, a creamsicle or a hunkie…our choice… for everyone! “He’s rich,” I thought. He has to be; he wears a suit and tie to work…everyday.
As the summer sun set and night crept in, the cacophonous sound of the Park City choir of crickets wafted through the air. Lightening bugs came out and we put them in a jar, trying to make a night-light. It didn’t work no matter how many we collected.
This idyllic childhood was, however, interrupted in 1949 by a series of seemingly disparate yet confusingly intertwined events. First, the body of my uncle who had been killed in WW2 some five years earlier was returned from its initial burial site in St-Avold, France to be buried at Lynnhurst Cemetery. After not being told for years what actually happened to this hero of mine, his funeral was confusing and unsettling.
Also, the rumblings of another war were mixed into the veiled discussions between my Mom and Dad. Awareness of the conflict between North and South Korea emerged in my impressionable mind. As the rhetoric between the two Koreas increased, reports of the impending war went from bad to worse and tension in the internal world of my mind escalated.
A few months later I heard Jack Humphries, the paperboy on East Fifth Avenue, say that a war in Korea was certain. It was only five years since the last one, WW2, ended….or did it. What is this world all about, I wondered. What does our…my future look like? Then there was a house break-in close to our neighborhood and a murder across town causing a young boy’s world to drift further into confusion…and fear.
These events seem commonplace today. Our newscasts and newspapers, assuming you still read them, are replete with global conflicts, wars, egregious acts of violence across the globe, and malevolent acts by world leaders. Chaos abounds. Our homes are laden with door locks, dead bolts, alarm systems, video surveillance, and motion detectors. Yet we don’t feel safe. We have grown accustomed to our costly imprisonment. We have learned to live in this different world.
However, at that time and place, early in the 50’s, we had not learned to live peacefully in the midst of this upheaval. So…the day after that break in, Dad put a latch on the front door and locked it. Somehow I felt safer. But for me the world changed that night, never again to be the same.