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The changes of a lifetime

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I got a wake-up call the other day when I had what is called a mini-stroke.

Made me realize that at 73, my days are numbered. I thought I would share with you what I remember of my life in Watertown, where I have lived my entire life, except for military service.

My mother’s brother was a Marine who served on Iwo Jima. My father’s brother rode with Patton and drove the first tank into Rome.

The family used to collect dimes and quarters to put in a book to buy war bonds. My dad was in the Civil Defense and had this big white helmet.

Of course, little kids don’t recall everything. But I still remember my phone number from our party line, 3582-J. My best friends’ numbers were 6942 and 6319, and you had to get an operator to place a call. It was a big day when we got a rotary phone.

A bus ride was 5 cents, and Mom was mad when they raised the fare to a dime. We had milk delivered to the side door, and we bought coupons to order how many quarts we needed, all pasteurized with the cream on top.

We heated with coal, and many times the furnace went out and Dad had to go in the cellar and start another fire. He really loved that new oil furnace. You can still see the remains of the old coal shoots on Newell Street.

And all those movie theaters: Olympic, Avon, Town, Palace, Liberty and Victoria. The museum with the World War 1 machine gun in the hall and the beautiful lawns out back, now just a parking lot.

Conde Hardware and Bradley’s with the walk-through from Arsenal to Court. I bought my first rifle there for $14, a Mossberg with a scope. I still have it.

Woolworth’s and Newberry’s, Boys and Men’s specialty shop and JR Millers, and all the mysteries of the Woodruff hotel. The White House Inn and those beautiful stone buildings that housed the VFW with the Sherman tank out back, and the Nun’s music conservatory, the old police station on Court Street and the Times building on Arcade Street.

They built Watertown High for $2.5 million, and now they spend $4 million just to repair the roof. And, of course, IHA and playing basketball in the old Armory.

There was very little crime, and a juvenile delinquent was a guy with a DA haircut and black leather jacket. Very few folks were on welfare, and NYAB had 3,000 workers. Black Clawson had hundreds, with Knowlton Bros. and Hall Ski Lift, and so many others.

Then I went away in the Marines with a year in Vietnam. And when I came home in 1966, everything started to change with LBJ and the Great Society and urban renewal.

Our beautiful old city was torn to shreds and nobody cared, not even me. In 1975, our magnificent country committed genocide and murdered 4 million innocent people in South East Asia, and nobody cared.

Jimmy the Jerk turned Iran over to the Muslim crazies and nobody cared. Reagan turned the tide, but only for a while until Bush 1, who raised taxes and left Saddam in power after the first Gulf War, and nobody cared.

Billy gutted the military, and nobody cared. Bush 2 got hit with 9/11, then invaded the wrong country — Iraq instead of Iran, the real source of terrorism, and nobody cared. We elected our first black president amid such high hopes, and now it is too late to care.

America’s great city has elected a communist for mayor with 75 percent of the vote, and our own governor is making war on the very best of us. And finally, after just 47 years, the Great Society has destroyed the heart and soul of America, and our beautiful land will soon be gone, the blood of my brothers wasted.

I will be gone soon, hoping, as we all do, that there is an eternity of salvation, that we will all be together with those we have loved. I want to be with my mom and dad.

But I do fear for my children that there are terrible times coming, and I will not be here to protect them. Where is the new Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Reagan; where are you?

Bart S. Bonner, a frequent letter-writer to the Times, is a lifelong resident of Watertown.

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