(More) Portraits of the Editor as a Young GenXer

 

level:deepsouth is open to submissions of images from the time that Generation X was growing up in the South in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. Here are few of editor Foster Dickson from back in the day.

To see earlier photos: “Portraits of the Editor as a Young GenXer”

Generation X Deep South

Wade

by Alan Caldwell

I was fifteen years old when I first met Wade. I had heard stories about him for many years before I met him. They told tall tales about Wade around November campfires, the way earlier men told tales about Daniel Boone or Mike Fink. I have always loved stories about such men. I collect those stories the way others collect stamps or coins.

In 1968, Wade had stood fast in that humid, drenched, provincial capital as the Viet Cong crossed the Perfume River and tried to flank the Republican Army’s position. Sometimes, if the wind were right, they said Wade could still detect the burnt nylon and brimstone smell of war. They said he later escaped from a POW camp, killing a guard and a guard dog along the way. They said he never stopped watching and listening for his enemies.

Wade had stood alongside, and even carried, dozens of coffins, some flag-draped, others not: parents, aunts, uncles, a still-born son, and his wife of five years, the only amelioration he brought home from Southeast Asia. When she died, after the Agent Orange malignancy took its time consuming her lungs, Wade sold most of what he owned, retaining only the most necessary impedimenta of living. He bought 180 acres of rolling hills in rural Georgia, adjacent to another 5,000 acres of virtually inaccessible Georgia Pacific timber company property. He then purchased, and restored, a 24-foot Country Squire camper and set up housekeeping in a small clearing near a small spring that flowed endlessly, even in the driest of Septembers. Wade made the long journey to town about once a month to buy a few items, mostly canned goods, to augment his diet of venison, wild pork, rabbits, squirrels and fire-baked bread.

He visited our South Georgia club that cold, damp, November Friday afternoon in 1983 to hunt with us for a few days. He drove a World War Two II-era Willys Jeep, a top but no sides and a really cool PTO winch. When he stepped out of that sardine can with wheels, I knew the stories I had heard were true. He wasn’t a tall man. He was built in blocks and chunks, his deltoids like cannon balls, his forearms like hirsute hams. They said he could support a TH350 Chevrolet transmission in one hand and start the bolts with the other. I tried it once. Don’t bother.

He shook my hand and introduced himself, chatted with the others for a few minutes, then went to his Jeep to get ready to go hunting. He pulled on a large olive-drab military coat and then a framed backpack. He unzipped his rifle case and produced a beautiful M1 Garand. He slung the rifle over his right shoulder and started down an old logging road headed for the backwoods, a distant and grey dissolution of an almost impenetrable tangle of slash pine, turkey oak, saw-briar, and perpetually wet soil. Not long before dark, I heard a distant shot in the general direction Wade went.

When I got back to the camp, the men were gathered around the fire, some in chairs and some squatting.

I asked, “I think that was Wade that shot. Are we gonna go help him?”

They all laughed, but no one answered.

We didn’t go help Wade. We ate our grilled burgers and then went to our respective campers and tents and went to sleep. I awoke a few hours later to the sound of a steady rain. Surely Wade had returned before the rain began.

He hadn’t returned. In fact, he didn’t return the next morning, even after the rain had turned to light snow. We were packing up getting ready to head back north on Sunday afternoon, when we saw Wade coming right back up the trail he went down forty-eight hours before, a back burdened with wrapped venison, and a pair of severed antlers dangling by his side.

I lost track of Wade for many years. I later heard that the cancer took him sometime around the turn of the century. I guess some enemies you can’t hear coming. I still tell stories about Wade around November campfires.


 

Louisiana, ca. 1980

During the time that Generation X was growing up, Louisiana had a population of 4.2 million people, nearly 1.1 million of them under age 15. This means that the GenX population in the state was higher than average, about 25% as opposed to around 20% in other Southern states. 

No GenXers had yet finished high school in 1980, but to look at Table 201B in the Detailed Population Characteristics: Louisiana census report, there were about 65,000 fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds in high school in 1980, alongside 1,700 thirteen-year-olds, 224 twelve-year-olds, and 24 eleven-year-olds. (Those along with another 9,500 sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds who would have been born before 1965.)

For whatever reasons, population growth in Louisiana was almost nihil in the 1980s. Though the state population grew from 3.644 million in 1970 to 4.206 million in 1980 – a 15% increase – there were only 4.219 million in 1990. That means that growth in the 1980s only amounted to 0.5%— basically stagnant. (As a comparison of how low that number is, Louisiana’s population in 2000 was 4.468 million, which constituted growth of 6% over 1990.) 

Compared to states like Alabama and Mississippi, Louisiana had a more diverse population. In the state, 2.92 million people (69%) were white, 1.24 million (29%) were black, and just under 100,00 (2%) were Hispanic. (Asians / Pacific Islanders did not show up as group on this report.) Over 85,000 Louisiana resident were “foreign born,” and about half of them lived in New Orleans. Nearly one-quarter of the state’s immigrants were Europeans, though over 22,000 people had moved to Louisiana from Asia, more than 21,000 from Central or South America, and over 2,000 from Africa. 

Among the events in Louisiana in the early 1980s that garnered national attention were the 1980 Lake Peigneur disaster and the 1984 World’s Fair. The former event was described this way by US News:

A Texaco oil rig in the middle of the then-shallow lake punched a hole in a subterranean salt dome being mined by Diamond Crystal Salt. The oil rig began listing, causing those aboard to head for shore. They looked back to see the rig disappear into the lake and saw a whirlpool that sucked the entire lake, including 11 barges, into the vortex. It also pulled in 65 acres of lakeshore, including Bayless’ new home and much of the garden.

The latter was also described as a disaster in its own way. Despite real effort put into its planning, attendance was low, a failure attributed to the fact that it was scheduled at the same time as the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Outside of those two events, Super Bowls XII and XV, in 1978 and 1981, were played at the SuperDome, which opened in 1975.

Perhaps Louisiana’s most famous GenXer would be Shaquille O’Neal, if he were actually from Louisiana. Though he played basketball at Louisiana State University (LSU) from 1989 until 1992, Shaq was born in 1972 in New Jersey. If not Shaq, then the most famous might be any of these native New Orleanians: Harry Connick, Jr. (born in 1967), Tyler Perry (born in 1969), or recently appointed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett (born in 1972). Country singer Tim McGraw and Phil Anselmo of the metal band Pantera are also late-’60s babies from Louisiana. 


Read more: Alabama, ca. 1980 • Mississippi, ca. 1980Georgia, ca. 1980Louisiana, ca. 1980