I remember the first Earth Day. I was in Junior High, in the downtown area of my city for the first time, my generations first step away from our neighborhood elementary schools. It was the year schools were integrated in my town. How excited we were, to be part of this first Earth Day, we were the “babies” of the “hippie” culture and were anxious to be considered part of the idea behind Earth Day-cleaning up the environment, getting back to home gardens and self-sustaining ideas. Of course at our age, our ideas were limited, as the concept of waste and growing up in a throw away society was our world.
We had just begun to think like adults, have our own ideas and concepts. This is one of the very first days I remember with my mind in an “adult” format. I will never forget it. In celebration of Earth Day, our art class went out and sat on a grassy bank in front of our school and were told to draw pictures of what downtown looked like. I am sure there were kids who were just glad to be outside, but for me, sitting on that hill drawing a picture my perception of the small city was eye-opening. I had lived there all my life, but for the first time, I REALLY looked at my city. I noticed the huge church next door with the domed roof, I looked out at the dogwood trees blooming on down the hill on our school grounds I looked back at the small chipped-rock playground where “recess” and P.E. were held.
Suddenly” my city” became more than simply “my neighborhood. There were still rows of 20’s era building lining the streets beyond the school. There were woods and grassy areas behind the area where the old brick school building set. A red brick wall divided our school grounds from the street below. s I took this all in, the world seemed like a much larger place for the first time in my 14 years of life. i noticed a possibly homeless man wandering the sidewalk beyond the school. His clothes were old and tattered and he appeared to be rather unaware of where he was or in what direction he was going. Having grown up a protected only child who spent her time shopping uptown with my mother, I had given little though to life outside my safe urban world. There were no real “malls” in my town, a few “shopping centers”. No drunks staggered down the streets where I lived. Being “Homeless” was something that happened “somewhere else”, not in my town.
We had a speaker on that first “Earth Day” that introduced us to the concepts of taking care of the world we lived in. In 1969, the world was beginning to seem much smaller and it was happening very quickly. I could not imagine, at that time, how quickly those changes would take place. There were three black and white channels on TV, huge, unsightly receptor antennas stood on top of our homes to bring them to us. Telephones had dials and curly cords. No one that I knew had a microwave, although, I imagine some of the “rich” kids” did. Most moms didn’t work unless they “had to” or at least until their kids were old enough to get off the bus and stay home alone until she got there. Now, letting even a 14 year-old come home to an empty house gives moms an uneasy feeling. I lived in a very innocent world.
There were many more Earth day celebrations in my future, all in an increasingly frightening, yet more aware world. We planted trees, cleaned up river banks, volunteered in homeless shelters. We became aware of the world around us. Sadly, the opening of the door to the fact that we MUST start taking care of our world, was the beginning of the end of the innocent world I grew up in. The old brick Junior High was torn down the next year. The hill was leveled, along with the woods and playground. An interstate now “by-passes” the tunnel through the mountain, which long separated my side of town just as the high bridge across the river separated us from the other side of town.
Integration was the rule and we were at its inception. The concept of Middle School replaced Junior High. There were several big race” riots in the remaining years old my secondary education. Surprisingly, I don’t remember having problems with people with different colored skin. I do, however, remember that though we went to “same” schools, we rarely did things with children who were of a different color form u, or from a different part of town. Earth Day songs played by John Denver Appeared. The whole concept of saving our world from pollution and saving our poor from deprivation became a project for various civic groups.
Earth Day, in 2013 is very different from the first Earth Day. The focus, has ironically returned to its roots, but it is now organized, with special events, a more modern focus. As I talk to my grandchildren, who are still young, and to my teen, who is the age I was at earth Days inception, their world is already a much bigger place. News spreads fast, violence is everywhere, most moms have to work, cable TV, cell phones, technology in general are a part of their world from the time of their birth.
Still, I feel something very important is missing from their more protected, more violent, more technological world. There is an expectation of “things”, there are less moms fixing dinner for the family as they talk about how their day went. The is a lack of innocence, a lack of closeness and dependence among each other in families that to me is simply sad. Everyone is in their room playing with their ipods, ipads, computer games or watching recorded programs from Cable TV. They are not together, not reading books to the little ones at bedtime, not growing up appreciating the bonds of family or the importance of relationships with real people.
I would like to see Earth Day become part of a new trend towards family, community, doing things because they are right or good, rather that to get extra credit in school or bragging rights at the office. I would love to spend a day, heck a lifetime with my children and grandchildren able to savor the simple things in life, like sitting on a hillside drawing pictures with a pencil and table. My daughter, now the mother of two, won a regional prize or a report with the topic, “We must learn to ‘baby’ “Mother Earth”.
Today, I feel a good topic would be, “We must learn that ‘family life’ exists beyond electronics”.