Gardening Tips

Near the end of an Italian festival procession this past Saturday, the band and the church members had a short break at a home where beverages and pastries were served. After two hours, it was a welcome respite, home baked powdered sugar treats and bottled water the perfect companion to sitting down at a curb for a few minutes.

While we waited, my dad struck up a conversation with one of the society members, standing nearby sipping a beer. My dad asked if they had a larger crowd years ago, which led to a lament on this gentleman's part about the new generation.

“They don't want the same thing as their parents! They want barbecues, and hanging out with their friends! All the old traditions are lost!”

“Well sure, with television things have changed.”

“What television? It's the parents! They don't teach kids! They let them do what they want! The apple don't fall far from the tree!”

“Yes, but the tree has a lot of different branches.”

“What branches? It's all roots! If the roots are bad, them apples are rotten!”

“But roots need water....”

They went on with this line of metaphors for a good five minutes, making less and less sense until the man with the beer resorted to speaking plainly again. Once, when he was a boy, hundreds of people would have gathered in the streets to hear our music, to follow a statue of a saint through the streets, and partake in wine and snacks. Now, only a handful remain, 20 or 30 at best, and our band may well have outnumbered the people who hired us.

As he finished his beer, the man drifted into related tangents. The problem was more than parents not teaching their children about their heritage, about allowing them to stray and do the things they want to do rather than the things they need to do. He recognized that even parents and teachers who would be good disciplinarians now have their hands tied.

“If I acted up in school, the teacher would hit me!” he said, “Then he'd tell me to go home and tell my parents. I wouldn't dare tell my father that the teacher hit me, because he'd give me a whack too! Nowadays, the kids call the cops on the teachers! You can't even yell at a kid without it being ‘verbal abuse'. I told my daughter if she ever called 911, she wouldn't have no fingers!”

Eventually they were joined by one of the police officers guiding the procession, and the conversation turned to politics and retirement benefits, and how the new generation won't have any money by the time they reach their 60s. Beer rant aside, the man did have some valid points. I may be the only member of my church between the ages of 20 and 40. The majority of parishioners are elderly, with a few scattered 40-something parents bringing their young children. It seems like all the people in my age range disappeared when they went to college, never to return. I wouldn't blame it all on television like my father, but TV could be part of a rich tapestry of distractions causing one generation to veer into different directions than the preceding generation.

He was right about discipline, too. Granted, by the time I was in school teachers couldn't do more than hand out demerit slips or send me to the principal's office. But growing up, my mom only had to use the dreaded wooden spoon a few times before I developed a fear and respect that still extends today to a woman now half my size. Now, kids roam the streets freely, leaving school grounds in the middle of the day to go into town. They glare at adults, and scoff at police. And just as our town and my dad have had problems with skater punks, I'm noticing it in the town where I work as well.

I was in Subway at lunch the other day, on line behind two kids that couldn't have been more than 10 or 11. Maybe school is out for the Summer, or they just had an extended holiday weekend. All I know is that while one kept watch, the other was standing partially beyond a door marked “private”, while the staff remained oblivious. Both had skateboards, and I soon noticed the one partially in the back room was using their slop sink to wet a towel to clean blood off his knee. One of the workers walked past at this moment and the kid froze, ducking behind a bread cart. She glanced at him, frowned, and continued on her way.

The kids soon took their skateboards and departed without ordering anything, so I was able to step up to the counter and place my order, all the while wondering how the kid not only got past a locked door, but what he was wetting to clean his knee in a place that rations one napkin per order. It was perplexing. Though the bread cart in that back room was surrounded by a protective plastic sheath, I still didn't like the idea of blood being washed away in the near vicinity, and the worker doing little more than making a face. I'm still close enough to my own childhood mentality to remember that when you get away with something once, you feel it's okay in the future.

Last week, I found the porch at the beach where I usually take my lunch swarmed by skater punks leaping over picnic tables. I took my food to the shade of a tree under a bench nearby, when all of a sudden a woman swore loudly, “MOTHER******!!” I looked over to see a lady holding her head with one hand, and a skateboard in the other, glaring up at the deck where a scrawny kid leaned on the railing. “Sorry...” he mumbled, “I fell.” “You shouldn't be up there!” hissed the lady, handing back the skateboard and sitting back down in her lounge chair to resume tanning.

The kids continued skating, being loud, and cursing. The woman and her friend yelled up at them a few times to shut up, tossing out a few swears as well. Eventually the kids got bored and left, and as I finished my sandwich and walked back to my office, I realized my biggest problem with the entire scenario.

She gave the skateboard back.

I once hit a softball through a neighbor's window when I was a kid. They kept it. I once threw a football in the window of a passing car. You better believe that guy kept it. My parents have a collection of things kids have hit into our yard. This kid, skating in a dining area at a park, wiped out and sent the board flying off the deck and into a woman's head. She swore at the kid, then gave him the ‘board back. If it were me, I probably would have kept it. He hit her in the freaking head; that's the least he owes her. Don't adults confiscate things anymore? Do they fear legal retribution, or simply the strength in numbers of a group of unruly kids? Do they not want to face parents unquestioningly defending their little brats?

And that's the problem; the fear has shifted. When I was a kid, I was afraid of adults. I wouldn't go near the house with the crazy old man and the pristine lawn. I never played baseball on the same street where I broke a window. And I learned not to raid the cookie jar before dinner. But now, there are no consequences. Kids can do something wrong, and it's all a big joke. The skateboarder could barely suppress laughter as he “apologized” and took back his board from the lady he hit. His friends didn't even bother to suppress the laughter.

I wonder if I don't sound old with these ideas, if I spend too much time with the over-60 crowd. But there definitely is a problem with some trees and their branches and apples, and it extends to the whole forest. Frighteningly, what seemed like a nonsense conversation at the time makes a lot more sense in hindsight.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are not old. You are merely observing a complete shift in human social development. Not for the better sadly. I would have kept the skateboard. I can say that with some surety because I can and do confiscate things as a teacher - parents have to make contact with me if their teenager wants their item back. Yet I find my collection always increases rather than decreases.

5/29/2008 11:15 AM  

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