Cave City and LBJ
I always loved the Fall. It brought Halloween, with the escape from reality presented by horror flicks and the occasional thrill of seeing a new monster on-screen. And Tim loved Halloween, too. It was virtually his birthday. For him the masks and disguises were the most fun--giving him the opportunity to startle people, especially our sisters. It's hard to believe, but I think he enjoyed scaring the girls even more than I did.
When Tim and I were children, not that long ago, horror flicks weren't quite as gory as they are now. Maybe that's one of those changes that historians write about as being a "reactionary" change--one which actually sets things back. I can remember our anticipation of the movie Frankenstein: 1970 with Boris Karloff. It was a movie that featured little in the way of blood and guts, just the anticipation of a good scare to keep a kid's imagination active. We'd heard and seen the ads for the movie on TV.
I can recall our cynical but still excited conversation about it as we got into the car one day. As we climbed into the back seats and mom took the wheel, we tried to predict what theater we'd see it in when it came to town.
It was about our fifth trip in about a week to Cave City in that Fall of l966. On the radio on the way up, President Lyndon Johnson, in the midst of what was to be recorded as one of the best economic years ever--with the unemployment rate dropping to the magic 4% more than once during the year--gave a short speech and press conference announcing yet another round of escalation in Vietnam. After LBJ's statement, a brief news report featured the voice of Michigan Republican Governor George Romney, announcing he planned a personal visit there in a few weeks. He was to return from it a few days later and announce that Americans had been "brainwashed and hogwashed" about the need and success of the Vietnam War. Once this Republican opened the door to questioning of the war, liberal Democrat critics of LBJ couldn't resist running through.
But this was yet to happen as radio station WMPS in Memphis switched back from LBJ and Romney to its regular musical format. "Cave City--Home of the Cavemen" read the sign of the high school as we drove down the main drag.
Cave City had a Piggly Wiggly store. This was odd because even larger towns didn't always have a Piggly Wiggly store. It had to have been the biggest business in town. I often noticed that, no matter which direction we were traveling on the highway through Cave City, Dad always seemed to stop at the Piggly Wiggly store: it was like he had a fascination with it.
"Can't it wait, Bill?" Mom would ask edgily. "We're only fifteen minutes from home: maybe we have it there. What are you stopping for this time, anyway?"
"Oh--blow it up your stack and swivel--I need some more cigarettes," he'd reply.
A tourists' cave was used to lure out of town business in, hence the name. An underground stream, the Spring River--which was also the source of the lake property we were shortly to purchase only a few miles down the highway--ran through the cave, and housed a rare collection of a species of blind fish. These fish were also used a as a tourist lure as part of the cave tour.
But since those days, we've realized we were engaging in incredible insensitivity to Native Americans because of the cave tour--whose nature we re-examined after some years of reflection. About midway through the little roofed hallway that began the cave tour was a clear glass display case that included the bones and skulls of some Native Americans who had died in the cave or its vicinity.
To the owners and managers--natural capitalists all--it had merely added to the potential of the cave for tourists to realize that skulls were there and that people had died there--because, when people saw the skulls, they were more awed by the cave and passed the word along to still other tourists. Lying alongside those tired and exposed bones--as if no more or no less important--were painted and hand-crafted artifacts.
Apparently no one stopped to think how Native American people might feel on seeing the skull or bones of a great-grandparent lying in a glass case. But, really, how would it make anyone--any of us--feel? We'd of course want them to have their privacy. Now we can see, thanks to input from Native Americans, that this was virtually grave robbing, and certainly a display of disrespect for the original inhabitants of the area.
In defense, it could perhaps be said that the display had originally been in some way intended to commemorate the sheer bravery of the Native Americans in using that dark, cold cave as a home.
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