Helena-West Helena is experiencing growing pains but not the kind its citizens were wanting to feel.
Helena-West Helena has long since lost its small town innocence. With its boarded up windows, forbidden alleyways, neighborhoods to avoid and skyrocketing crime rate, this once proud, thriving community is slowly but surely turning into a ghost town, at least on the outside. But for those still living here, this Delta community is taking on the appearance of an inner city, not unlike Memphis, Detroit, Little Rock and other large crime-riddled communities.
Occasionally, I have the time to browse the Internet. I like to look at historical society Websites, particularly those from my old stomping grounds of Osceola and Mississippi County, about 100 miles north of Helena-West Helena. I almost weep, as I look at some old black and white photos from a kinder, gentler past.
There were photos of farm workers in the fields and teens enjoying a milk shake at a local after-school hangout. Despite the hard farm labor, there were smiles of contentment on the faces of those workers – satisfaction of a job well done and taking home a small amount of cash for the family. My tears were for the thoughts that my children and grandchildren probably will never experience those care free days of the 1950s and 60s.
Of course those days were not without fears. We lived daily through the Cold War and the ever-present threat of “The Bomb.” I was reminded of those days by an episode of “Happy Days.” Howard Cunningham decided he wanted to invest in a bomb shelter to save he and his family in case of a nuclear holocaust.
It became obvious after several comedic episodes that leaving your friends behind was not an easy thing to do. Richie said, “ Well, if they drop the bomb and we don't have a bomb shelter I won't have any friends. And if we build the bomb shelter and they don't drop the bomb, I won't have any friends either. I think it is better not to survive.”
A lesson well taught with a sense of humor.
In retrospect, some fears, like the bomb, never come to pass. However, some of our worst fears do become reality.
I never thought I would live to see the day that I did not feel safe inside my own home or on my own street. My first experience with blaring sirens during the night was during a baseball trip to St. Louis. I stayed awake most of the night in the motel with the sounds of police and ambulance sirens in my head. It has become a regular occurrence in our community these days.
People that I never thought would have even touched a gun are now lining up to buy one for protection purposes. Break-ins and robberies are frequent occurrences as evidenced by the lengthy reports that appear regularly on the pages of this very newspaper.
Page 2 of 2 - The news reported on the Memphis TV channels daily reflect life in this tiny hamlet that is a little over an hour's drive from its big city counterpart. There is fussing and fighting at city hall over petty issues and the smoke-filled political backrooms where all of the government operations really take place. Helena-West Helena frequently grabs the headlines in statewide newspapers and TV stations.
Of course there is plenty to love about Helena-West Helena and I will delve into that perhaps in a later foray down memory lane. But for the time being, I am concerned because I am seeing a lot of innocent people being hurt and their lives disrupted by crime.
Many feel helpless as they experience having possessions they worked so hard to buy taken away by thieves and little being done to rectify the problem. Innocent people are being injured and killed because of greed that leads to violent crime. In their defense, our law enforcement agencies are grossly under staffed due to a lot of factors including lack of money and resources. However, it is still difficult to excuse such a high incidence of crime in such a small town.
Helena-West Helena has really grown and reached the big leagues, I am just not sure we are in the right league.