When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents (my father’s) and with a family of sister’s in Knoxville. Since there weren’t any other kids to play with, I ended up spending most of my time with people who were at least close to retirement. And it was pretty cool.
They’d tell me about the things that they did when they were kids, places they’d gone, people they’d met in their lives. Sometimes, when you’re very young, you don’t understand what they’re telling you. As you get older, and they fall away, sometimes you’ll remember their words like it was yesterday.
Their stories, their words, people who grew up here in East Tennessee, probably shaped me more than any parables and punishments my parents ever gave me.
I can remember a time when people were helpful. If someone fell, people showed concern instead of walking around them like they didn’t exist. If someone dropped something, someone would pick it up for them. If someone was walking with their arms full of shopping, people would open the door for them. If they saw someone stuck on the side of the road with a dead car, they’d stop, lend a hand, or, when all else failed, a ride to a gas station.
Those are values that were instilled in me. If I see someone lying on the ground, I’ll help them up. If someone drops something — even money — I’ll pick it up and chase them down to give it back. I hold the door open for anyone who can’t quite do it, and behind me for everyone close. And if I see two guys trying to push a dead van off the road, I’m certainly gonna stop and lend a hand.
East Tennessee, even Knoxville, has always been that way.
Unfortunately, we’re getting a lot of people moving here these days. Knoxville, especially, is a real-estate boom town. People are moving here in droves, eager to pick up cheap real-estate and perhaps even know their neighbors.
Local culture is changing from the open, community-based ideal that we used to enjoy to a selfish, greedy, don’t-get-involved mentality. It’s starting to feel like Washington, D.C.
I hate watching things go downhill.
Tonight, after ordering a pizza at a place which usually takes thirty minutes to prepare one, I got there to find that they’d lost my order. Now, I was starving, so I’d called ahead. I told them no bother, decided to go up the street to a restaurant.
As I left and started back home, traffic was heavy. I had to wait some time before being able to leave the parking lot. As I drove down the road, I saw two guys in their late 20’s, maybe early 30’s, pushing a van towards a gas station — with great difficulty, up a small hill. I didn’t have a place to pull over and help, so I turned around and came back.
I got out, and gave them the extra leverage they needed to push the van into the parking lot they were trying to get to.
As I got back in my car, they yelled, “God bless you, man! Thank you!”
“No problem, guys,” I yelled. “Hope it gets better.”
“Man, thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome. Take care.”
The sad thing is, at least 30 other drivers didn’t give damn. Maybe they had to be somewhere quickly. Maybe they were elderly and couldn’t lend a hand. Maybe they just didn’t see them (*cough* right).
So why was I different? Why did I have the two minutes to stop and lend a hand where no one else did?
I was born here. I grew up here. It’s what we’re supposed to do.
We should be showing the influx of people from other places what it means to be East Tennesseeans … to know our neighbors … to have friends … to walk around giving a damn about someone other than ourselves …
It saddens me that us East Tennesseeans are losing that…
Quite honestly, I’d rather get taken a couple times than turn down someone who legitimately needs help. You can sort of tell…