From the late 1950s and early 1960s when life seemed so simple and good to the close of the decade when the Vietnam War, the hippie movement and a slew of other causes were grabbing headlines, life sort of turned upside down.
On April 22, 1970, I was just a few weeks from high school graduation. Canton seemed a quiet backwater in a rapidly changing world.
That was when the first Earth Day was celebrated. Back then, 20 million people around the country joined in to celebrate our planet and the need to protect our environment. From that, the movement has grown to more than 1 billion people marking the day this year with cleanups, tree plantings and other earth friendly events.
As a young child I remember my mother hanging the clean clothes on a line behind our house to dry. We didn’t get an electric dryer until I was 5 years old.
Our milk was delivered in glass bottles straight from the local dairy to our doorstep each day. There were no plastic containers at my house.
We had a small kitchen garden and a deep freezer in the basement. My mother would can and freeze fresh vegetables for us to enjoy year round.
Remember when bags at the grocery store were paper, and items such as meat and produce were wrapped in paper instead of plastic.
Of course we thought plastic would save trees, but instead the great invention caused its own set of environmental issues.
We didn’t buy the mountains of stuff back then that everyone seems to need these days. Our houses were smaller, we had fewer cars and people walked a lot, even in Canton.
We had never heard of mini-warehouses and storage units to contain our growing mound of stuff we no longer needed. Landfills weren’t filling up as fast. Rivers and streams were cleaner, and air was fresh.
Back then, our small town had everything we needed to get on with our lives. We didn’t hit the highways to Atlanta except on a rare occasion.
Canton has a movie theater, drug stores, hardware and grocery stores.
Air conditioning was almost non-existent; we ate most of our meals at home. When we were hot we got out a paper fan and made our own energy.
Then, somewhere along the line we became more affluent as a society. We had more clothes, appliances, conveniences and things.
But sometimes I wonder what we really gained. Certainly one thing was more pollution.
By the time the first Earth Day rolled around, we in America were destroying our planet. Industrial plants were spewing emissions into the air without regulations, streams and rivers were becoming polluted with contaminants, wildlife and plants were dying off, leaving our land desolate.
Earth Day was a step in the direction to start a turn-around, but so was the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency that same year.
Now, for more than 40 years, the regulatory agency has tried to bring about change that will help save our planet. But in truth, it is not working.
Many say the pollution today is less noticeable, but no less deadly to our environment.
We drink bottled water and use disposable diapers and we fill up the landfills.
We spend hours on the road each day and the emissions from our vehicles fill the air with toxic fumes.
We are a disposable society, where we throw away far more than we reuse.
Maybe some changes are beginning to blossom. Community gardens, caring for our trees, recycling and other efforts are here to stay.
We all make little changes and maybe those are enough. But somehow the bigger changes are harder to make, so we kid ourselves that what we are doing is enough. But deep down, we know that we really are not.
This Earth Day is a good time to reassess, to see if there is not something we can do without or recycle or reuse so that a tiny bit of the stress is not put on our planet.
I think my generation has perhaps been slowest to embrace the need for change. Young people know that the planet is becoming crowded and that the environment has suffered.
They are more apt to go the extra mile to make a difference. Now, it is time for us to also.
This Earth Day it is time to remember where we were and look at where we are headed, and make those changes before it is too late.
Rebecca Johnston is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.