A chance encounter brought up some of my happiest memories, while at the same time tying into a series of conversations I have been party to about what we are missing as a society. It was a stroke of good luck.
On one of my frequent visits to City Market, I ran into Jean Thweatt (rhymes with “sweet”). A longtime educator, now retired, she was the principal at Riverview Elementary School when our kids went there. Memories of that time evoke thoughts of what is too often absent in today’s world – community.
As with much of our time with Durango School District 9-R, my family’s experience with Riverview was stellar - and I credit Thweatt as much as anyone for that. She ran a tight ship, and a happy one.
There were the usual parental concerns, of course, and there were good times when everything seemed to be working out. There were amusing moments as well – like the fifth-grade talent show when the first half-dozen acts all performed “Smoke on the Water.”
Most of all, there was a sense of a common purpose and shared experience. That was not all Thweatt’s doing, but she certainly fostered it.
The result was the sense that all concerned – parents, teachers, administrators and even the kids – were pulling together. It was the kind of feeling that our society noticeably lacks right now.
Being reminded of all that also adds perspective to current events. At least some of the social and political division around us reflects nostalgia. The phrase “make America great again” exemplifies a longing for a bygone era, a time that was somehow better.
But that demands examination. Some comparisons are obvious. The “good old days” might seem good for white males looking back. But even then, in many ways, those days were good only if one’s aspiration was to be a bully or a lout.
But whether the gauge is technology, health, fairness or standard of living, things are much better today than even a few decades ago. The cars we boomers learned to drive were death-traps. And most white adults today probably know more people of color than their grandparents ever saw.
What seems to be different is the number of things we have in common. Not that all that was shared was good.
For a couple generations before me, the common denominator was war. In my boyhood, everybody’s father was a veteran. Fewer are today.
That commonality extended to other areas. There were three television networks and even major cities had about that many stations. And those stations’ news shows were consistently similar.
That uniformity was not always good, either. But it at least provided an agreed-upon frame of reference. Compare that to today where one can watch only news that suits a particular point of view – and have that thinking continually reinforced.
So, while variety and choices are good, when and in what areas can we recreate shared experiences? Where can we find community?
It is hard to hide in a small town, so everything from grocery shopping to medical appointments present opportunities for sharing. Civic organizations, churches and clubs all offer community involvement.
But the time my wife and I spent in and around our kids’ schools remains some of the most rewarding of my life. Our “kids” are 31 and 30, but the friends they made in school and their families are part of our lives to this day.
I hope our grandchildren (two, so far) will experience an educational community like we found in 9-R. And I hope they find a leader, like Jean Thweatt, who can create that.
From 1990 to 2017, Bill Roberts was Opinion editor at The Durango Herald.