News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 10, 2012

LIZ CIANCONE: Small-town kids were naive, but not stupid

Liz Ciancone
The Tribune-Star

---- — I told my Best Friend the other day that I thought I’d write about growing up stupid. “We weren’t stupid,” said he, “we were just sheltered and naive.” He’s right. We had no idea that there were people and things in the world that would want to hurt us.

I was about 12 when a well-dressed man in downtown Yorkville (population about 900) insisted upon giving me a ride home. Recalling Mom’s dictate about never getting into a car with a strange man, I kept walking and refusing. I found out later that my would-be chauffeur was the Kendall County District Attorney. He would probably have been safe, but Momma said …

Neither my BF nor I knew anything about drugs. When news reported that drummer Gene Krupa ingested morphine, I had to ask Mom what that was. She explained that it was a drug used to kill pain, but, if used without discretion, could be addictive. I wasn’t sure what that meant either.

Our “drug” of rebellion was tobacco. A girl in my senior class used to leave school grounds on a dead run to get behind a tree and light a cigarette. We thought she was “fast” and avoided her whenever possible.

I don’t remember bullies either. We didn’t even tease Georgie Woolenweber whose mother went with him when he went out to ring doorbells on Halloween. We just ignored him.

I saw my first drunk on an eighth-grade school trip to Chicago. The bus let us off near our destination — Hull House — and we walked down Maxwell Street with all its sidewalk merchants. A drunk had established himself under one of the vendors’ tables shouting and grabbing at ankles. I was terrified. Miss Strauss explained that he was more to be pitied than censored, but I was scared.

My BF played baseball with the “First Street Tigers”, usually vs. the “Madison Street Bears” in his hometown. The game broke up if the kid who owned the baseball got mad and went home, so the others went down to the Rock River where some of the thousands of unemployed during the Great Depression were camped under the railroad bridge. We didn’t fear these men. My BF’s mother, like mine, fed those who showed up at the back door offering to work for a hot meal.

OK, maybe not stupid — maybe just naive — but it was a comfortable way to grow up. I’m thankful to be alive to remember and enjoy a care-free childhood.

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Send e-mail to opinion@tribstar.com.