My third Brookhaven decade began with the realization that the years and the pace of change were both passing more quickly. I met, courted and became engaged to the love of my life over a span of six weeks in 1970. She still gets a single red rose every month on the day we got married.
We wanted to make God laugh, so we told Him our plans: Buy a house, have our first child, put on a new roof, have our second child, send the kids to college in four-year succession, have our children raise perfect families while we continued to scale increasing heights on weekdays and to save the world on Saturdays and Sundays. Yeah, right.
Mother Nature wasn’t through with us either. A series of ice storms hit Brookhaven throughout the decade, shutting down our ill-equipped metro area each time. A large tract of woods, rediscovered after decades of construction, became a classroom for me and my very young son, where we learned that “once you can hear the silence, you can hear everything.” And silence was becoming a precious commodity as Atlanta and its environs exploded upward.
Old Brookhaven buildings were containing new Brookhaven businesses. The five-and-dime store had become a restaurant. The grocery store had become a bank. The flower shop had become a Waffle House. The Neeson Law Building, the Brookhaven Theatre, the corner hardware store — all in time gave way to sterile shopping areas, trendy “sports bars” for people called “yuppies” and the much-heralded Brookhaven MARTA station.
A cluster of stores called Perimeter Mall went on a building rampage, giving rise to speculation that the region near now-completed I-285 and I-85 would be the new center of the Atlanta metro area. A huge construction project in the Lake Hearn neighborhood threatened to smother us all in traffic and drought, but the neighbors outlasted the developer.
The average starting salary for a four-year college graduate in those days was $7,500 a year. Our family needs were growing. Richard Nixon and I resigned the same day in August 1974 — for vastly different reasons. The world stood still on Wednesday, April 30, 1975, as “Saigon Surrenders” made the headlines, and I remembered all those lives and limbs lost. The movie debut of “Jaws” that same year made sure that most of my generation would never leave the beach again.
The 1976 “Bicentennial Minute” TV series, Archie and Edith Bunker of “All in the Family,” the progress of racial tolerance and the satisfaction of a managerial position in a good company all helped shore us up against the social ravages of the “Me Decade” — my wife, Margie, and I told ourselves that the only reason we’d ever get divorced would be to keep up with our friends and neighbors!
Our daughter came along in 1977, just four years after the birth of our son during the Arab oil embargo. (Remember our plans? I wondered where that laughter kept coming from.) I could tell she would be the opposite of our easygoing firstborn — something about how the staff kept her away from all the other quieter babies in brand-new Northside Hospital’s nursery.
A new culture was defining itself. Sideburns on even the well-off, educated men. Flashy clothes on us all. Backyard barbecues. “Baby brigades” of mothers and strollers in the new neighborhoods. “Jesus Christ: Superstar” breaking new ground in all directions. Jimmy Carter would become our greatest ex-president.
And in the middle of it all, my growing son and I would plant a weeping cherry tree in our front yard to commemorate all the changes our family had faced to date. Its branches shelter us still, a reminder of all the seeds sown by our decisions in this crucial time. One of the principles I taught as a new Sunday school teacher was “First you make your decisions, then your decisions make you.” The harvest was coming — fast.
Tom Reilly is a 50-plus-year resident of Brookhaven and a member of the Ashford Alliance Community Association board of directors.