IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME
By David Schnittger
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, September 1, 2016 is the first anniversary of the launching of Southwest Prophecy Ministries. In commemoration of that event, I am publishing on the Front Line, today and tomorrow, articles that are autobiographical in nature.
Some stars are so popular that they go by their first names only. One of them is Cher. This is very convenient for me, because she has been married so many times I have no idea what her last name is. Anyway, a few years ago, she sang a song entitled, “If I Could Turn Back Time.” For the life of me, I can’t remember any of the words, except for the title. I say that because, as I get older, I find myself wishing the same thing. I will occasionally ask my wife what decade she would turn back time to if she had that power. We both agree that decade would be the 1950s. I was born in 1952 so obviously that decade has special significance for me. I lived in Wichita, Kansas from 1955-1961, and I would like you to join me as “I turn back time” to that special period in my life. Let me describe what life was like for me during that time.
I was the third of three boys born to the Schnittger family. My parents, Harry and Anna, grew up in St. Louis during the depression. They both knew what it was like to work throughout high school to help support the family. My father was 18 years old when Pearl Harbor occurred, so he, like millions of other young men across America, were drafted. He served in the 114th Infantry, 44th Division in France, Germany and Austria and saw nine months of continuous combat, with over 200 percent casualties in his unit. Upon returning to the U.S. he served in the National Guard for ten years while going to college on the G.I. Bill. He was the first of the Schnittger clan to ever graduate from college. My parents married in 1949 and within three years gave birth to three boys. My parents were hard-working, frugal and resilient because of their early hardships.
When I was three years old, our family moved from St. Louis to Wichita, Kansas, where my dad worked as an accountant for Beech Aircraft. My dad earned the only income we needed and we lived in a nice house in a middle class neighborhood. My brothers and I walked to our neighborhood elementary school. Our family also walked to church together, where my parents were leaders in Junior Church, in which we all participated. There was no church parking lot. Everyone walked to church. My dad was also involved in the Indian Guides, a boy’s club, and my mother was a Cub Scouts leader. My brothers and I also played on the Beech Aircraft baseball team.
My mother would read us Bible stories and classic children’s stories at night. We had one black and white TV, with which we mostly watched Saturday morning cartoons. We had one car. Whenever we needed to go somewhere, like swimming or roller skating, my mom would call a cab. Our idea of a “really good time” was visiting the local amusement park, Joy Land. We never went out to eat. My mother was a stay at home mom who did all the cooking and cleaning. We all worked together to maintain our property. We never lacked for anything!
During the summers, our mother would kick us out of the house after breakfast and we would rarely see her again until the evening meal. We went everywhere in Wichita without a care and without incident. I remember going downtown with my brothers on the public bus for a dime a day, as we roamed the stores and streets without a care. I remember a sign at the front of the bus that read, “Colored in Rear Please.” My brothers and I went directly to the back of the bus to sit down because we liked the bench. The bus driver came to the back of the bus and told us we couldn’t sit there. We were disappointed.
We would also walk for miles exploring neighborhoods and sewers, never thinking of any danger attached to our adventures. I do not remember ever seeing a policeman at our school or in our neighborhood. Who needed them? Our life in Wichita was family centered, with involvement in school and church and civic groups. That is all we knew and all we wanted.
All my friends had families like ours. No divorce. No working moms. Dads with stable full-time jobs. Intact families living in well-kept homes in nice neighborhoods. Everyone attended church. All the children were involved in either scouts or sports. On Sundays, businesses were closed, except for hospitals. If there were any restaurants in Wichita (I don’t remember any) they were closed as well. That’s just the way it was. I remember when the first McDonald’s restaurant opened in Wichita, and how strangely modern it was to buy a twelve cent hamburger. I suppose that was the first time in my life I had any “restaurant” food.
I guess you would say that the neighborhood school we attended was “segregated” because the neighborhood was segregated. The black neighborhood was on the west side of town, across the Arkansas River. All the teachers were white, but there was a black janitor named Frank Sutton. I always thought it was funny that Mr. Sutton dressed up as Santa Claus. All the students loved Mr. Sutton! I do not recall ever hearing derogatory statements from either students or teachers about people of other races. By today’s standards, some might call this a racist environment, but I can assure you that is anything but the truth. I did not even know what the word “segregated” or “racist” meant.
I am sure that life was not “perfect” in Wichita during the 1950s. After all, I was just a child and I am sure there was much in the way of crime and injustice I was not aware of. I would not say I was sheltered, for my brothers and I had a great deal of freedom. What I would say is that the culture of my neighborhood was such that “sheltering” was not necessary. Yes, we had parents and teachers that loved us and were very involved in our lives, but that did not feel like “sheltering.” It felt like responsible adults caring for irresponsible children.
I have been back to my old neighborhood a few times since I moved away in 1961. While much of the neighborhood looks substantially the same as when I left, when I walk the familiar streets, I no longer see kids playing outside like in the 1950s. I can safely say I knew every kid within one square mile of my house, and certainly every dog as well. Where are all the children? Playing video games, I guess. Maybe Pokemon Go will get them outside again. I visited Joyland recently. It closed in 2004 and vandals have made a mess of it. It looks downright haunted, it is so decrepit. What do kids do for fun in Wichita anymore?
The American culture as a whole has changed dramatically. No longer is the intact family the norm. Divorce is rampant and even marriage is considered old-fashioned in some circles. The single income family has gone the way of the buggy whip, as it now takes two or more incomes to keep pace with taxes and inflation. Businesses are more open than ever on Sunday and churches are more closed than ever as well. My elementary school, which used to teach “the three R’s” is now a school of “International Studies.” It appears we have to start teaching globalism in kindergarten. I guess I was wasting my time doing finger painting, when I should have been contemplating the path to world government.
The last time I visited my church in Wichita, they had a policeman on duty. I guess Children’s Church is considerably more dangerous than in the Dark Ages of the 1950s. I notice they also have put in a big parking lot. Apparently, walking to the church is a thing of the past. The parking lot is never very full when I show up.
Sometimes I feel like the Psalmist who wrote, “. . . Oh, that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away, and be at rest” (Psalm 55:6). If I could hitch a ride on that dove and turn back time, it would be a ride back to Wichita in the 1950s, a time when kids could be kids, when parents and teachers did their jobs, and when government left us alone. Is that asking too much?