I sometimes think that I am from a different era…one where people didn’t use so many obscenities. In reality, I am from that era, because on June 24, 1957, when I was just a 14 months old, the United States Supreme Court ruled that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees free speech and freedom of the press. Call me old fashioned, but when I hear someone screaming at their own child, using every obscenity known to man, it makes me cringe. Calling our children such horrible names, can’t possibly be a good way to teach them self esteem. The United States Supreme Court agreed, according to Roth v. United States, a case decided in 1957. Samuel Roth of New York City was convicted of mailing obscene materials. On appeal his conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court, which held that obscenity was not protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The court ruled that “material is obscene if, to the average person applying contemporary community standards, the dominant overall theme appeals to prurient interest.”
These days, we are bombarded with obscenities and profanities…everything from the f-bomb to the names we call people we don’t particularly like. Television shows use obscenities on just about every show, and our children are growing up to think that not only is it ok to call people such names, but its ok to be constantly angry…and to let everyone around you know it. It seems to me that as all the obscenities became commonplace, so did anger. And anger breeds hate, which in turn breeds things like road rage, bullying, and even murder.
Now, that we have the freedom to say the things that we do, another problem has come to light…hate speech. What is hate speech? It never used to be a thing, although it did exist…it just didn’t have a name, per se. So we have somehow come full circle, to a degree. While the Supreme Court used to say that we can’t use obscenities or profanities, and then suddenly we could, now we find ourselves with the necessity to decide if something said is “hate speech” or not, and if it is, then has the right to free speech been denied. Why is one thing different than the other? Believe me, I don’t like either kind of talk…hate or obscene, but if one is “illegal” then shouldn’t the other also be “illegal.” Or, should we have any say at all? It is a vicious circle to be sure. I guess that in reality, it is a moral issue. We have slipped so far from the moral values of our ancestors that our world almost doesn’t even resemble that of the era I was raised in, and certainly bears no resemblance to the era of our ancestors. While I can’t say exactly how to solve this dilemma, I think that maybe the best solution lies within each of us. Maybe we need to walk away from the situations that make us angry. Maybe we need to be more careful of the speech and behaviors that we show to our children. Maybe we need to teach our children that other people have a right to their opinion too, and it is not up to us to be their verbal police. Maybe we need to take offense less, and show compassion more. No matter what the ultimate solution is, there is no doubt in my mind that it begins in the human heart.
As a girl, I like many other girls became a Girl Scout. It was a group of girls having fun, while learning things and earning badges. The group was founded on March 12, 1912, and turns 105 years old today. The organization, called Girl Scouts, was founded in Savannah, Georgia by a woman named Juliette Gordon Low. She was born in 1860, and became a widow in 1905. She needed something…a cause. She had suffered through a bad marriage to a man who cheated on her and left most of his estate to his mistress. She wanted to help young women become self-sufficient…a cause borne out of her own experiences of feeling defined by the era’s roles for women, so she came up with the idea of a group that would teach young women about their worth and abilities. She first worked with a Scottish organization called Girl Guides and then founded the first American branch of the group in 1912, but she decided to break away and further develop her young women’s scouting association on her own. She soon changed the organization’s name to the Girl Scouts, and became the organization’s first president.
Low hoped to give her girls the opportunity to grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually, Low started the organization with just 18 girls in attendance at that first meeting. Low was an athlete, as well as an art lover. Her dream was to teach the girls that they could do anything. She wanted her girls to find out that they could help out in so many ways, and she definitely proved that. The Girl Scouts of America were very involved with the war effort back home during both World War I and World War II. They sold war bonds, collected peach pits for gas masks…peach pits were used as filters, worked in hospitals, and provided hands-on support to the country and the troops. Then, during the 1930s, when the Great Depression hit, the Girl Scouts again stepped up to the plate, collecting clothing and canned goods for the poor, making them quilts, providing meals for impoverished children, and helping out at hospitals.
During my time in the Girl Scouts, I can’t say that I did anything that was as life changing as the Girl Scouts of days gone by, but I did enjoy my time as a scout. We learned many skills that earned us badges to wear on our sash, and some of those skills are still things I use today. The camaraderie that I felt as a Girl Scout was amazing. Some of the best friendships of my childhood were formed in those meetings. Those are years I will never forget, and I owe it all to Juliette Gordon Low, and her inspired ideas about what girls could be. Juliette Gordon Low died of breast cancer in 1927, in her Savannah, Georgia home. She was 66 years old. It was her request that she be buried in her Girl Scout uniform, because her years with the Girl Scouts were truly the happiest hears of her life. She also requested that a telegram from the National Board of Girl Scouts of the USA be placed in her pocket. It read, “You are not only the first Girl Scout, you are the best Girl Scout of them all.”
I read an article in the Casper Star Tribune yesterday that made me think about the many changes in the railroad over the years. When my grandfather, Allen Luther Spencer was working on the railroad as a carpenter during World War II, and for years before that, it took a number of people to run a train. The freight trains during World War II typically had seven people aboard…an engineer, conductor, up to four brakemen and a fireman. With all the trains that were running…not nearly as many as we have today…the railroad supplied a lot of jobs. This was just to run the actual train. The maintenance personnel, the station managers, and others who were required to keep the trains running smoothly, added to the number of people it took to ultimately move the trains along the tracks at any given moment. The trains of that era weren’t anywhere near as long as they are these days either.
As technology became more sophisticated, fewer people were needed to run a train, and by the 1970s, the number of people on a freight train had dropped to five people, and by 1991, only the engineer and the conductor were needed to run the train. When you consider that the trains have become so long that it can take twenty minutes to get the whole train through a crossing, that seems amazing to me. I guess it is amazing to a lot of other people too, because as the railroads are trying to eliminate one of those positions as well, a lot of people are quite worried about the safety of the trains. What strikes me as funny, however, is that the concern is that if they need to disconnect a car so emergency vehicles can get through, the engineer can’t leave his post to do so. I’m sure that in the future that part will be handled too, because technology is getting to the point whereby the train really could be run without a driver, just like the model trains are.
Much like the model trains, there is a controller at a central location who can see all the trains for his area. In reality, they probably could control the train with no one on it, but how strange that would be…especially when talking about passenger trains. But then, with subways, and airport trains, we often get on the train, and never see if anyone is running it. In airports, the voice telling you of your arrival is even mechanical. I have to wonder if anyone is running those, and maybe someone out there will clarify that one for me. Someday, or even already, we will probably ride trains and never give a second thought to the fact that there is no engineer. Everything has become so technical, and we have reached a point of being so used to robotics, that we don’t even give a second thought to the aspect of someone being in control of this massive train we have just boarded…and people have said that flying is like being in a cattle truck. Turning control of our lives to someone we don’t know, or even to a robot, seems very strange, even today, but what would the people of my grandfather’s era have thought about having no one to run the train. I’m quite sure they would never have boarded at all.
My grandfather and his brother, my Uncle Ted were born 14 years apart. There were, of course, other siblings who were born in between the two brothers. Still, these two brothers would be tied together for years to come…until my Uncle Ted passed away, in fact, because they would marry girls who were sisters. About June 5, 1917, when my Uncle Ted was about 10 years old, my grandfather was drafted into World War I. I’m sure Uncle Ted felt many things…fear and worry for his brother, and yet excitement and wonder over the big adventure his older brother would be having. I’m sure his mother was feeling some of the same things, although I doubt if she was excited at all. A boy of 10 years of age probably doesn’t totally understand the dangers, just the adventure, but a mother totally understands that her baby might not be coming back.
My grandfather did come back from the war, and for a time our world had relative peace, but before all of her sons were out of the necessary age range for the draft, World War II would break out, and another of her sons would be called to fight. Uncle Ted enlisted in the Army on January 28, 1944, and so it came about that my great grandmother would have two sons fight in two separate World Wars. I know many people have had more than one son fight in a war, and I’m sure that would be awfully hard, but equally hard would be the situation where you thought the rest of your sons had dodged a bullet, no pun intended, only to find out that it wasn’t so.
Great Grandma was very proud of her soldiers, as she was of all her children, and to remember their bravery in battle in two wars, they took a number of photos. I don’t know if these were before Uncle Ted went of to war, or later on, but I do know that my grandma was feeling either worry, or relief, because war is a very hard thing on those left at home. Still, my great grandmother sent her boys off to war, and prayed that they would come back home safely, and they both did.
It will always seem strange to me that my grandfather and his brother could have fought in two separate World Wars, but that is exactly what happened. This was something I had not realized until my mom told me. I had wondered since finding this picture, why the uniforms were so different, and now I know. They were brothers who fought in two separate wars, to separate eras almost, and yet, only 14 years apart in age. Sometimes things can change so quickly in our world. We can move from one war to another seemingly overnight. We look back a short way and think, “Wow!! Just a few short years ago, this or that was the reality, and now it’s all changed!”