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Jeb Monge's PrimeTime column: Prejudice and concerns are not the same things

I was asked if there was any prejudice back in the 1940s and '50s. At first I could think of none, but then I remembered a definite prejudice when I got into high school - ninth grade and on to 1957.

I was not aware of any prejudice with my buddies. We knew who was from Tracy, Greentown, the rural schools, St. Mary's and Currie, but I do not remember prejudice. I grew up with a dozen kids: boys and girls, and we naturally gravitated toward each other throughout our school years. In grade school, there were four brothers from Greentown who loved to jump onto my back and wrestle with me. They were smaller and ranged from one to four years younger than I. As soon as I got out the door for recess, they jumped me. They waited around the west side of the school, and when I came around the corner - boom - they were jumping all over me. They were so small that I threw them off of me with a flick of my wrist. Nobody ever got hurt, and all five of us thoroughly enjoyed the tussling. It only lasted a minute or two, and that was enough for them. They had had their fun and off they went to the swings, slide and monkey bars, and I went to playing softball or football with the guys. So, that is my only experience at that age with kids from Greentown.

We were aware of where each other grew up, but there was no dislike or prejudice that I knew of. I think all of us throughout our lives stick with the people we know best, and that was the way it was back then.

The biggest problem was there was no time to get to know others very well.

I just went through the Headlight's coverage of the graduating class of 2010. And I finally found my 1957 Teton! The lists of activities for the kids now, as well as back then, were impressively long. I really wonder how we all found time to be involved in so many things. Back in the '80s I was talking to a child psychiatrist, and he said that it was important for students to get many experiences before we graduate from high school. That only helped them to better identify their own unique talents and interests.

When I got to ninth grade and started dating - dating at 14, back then, was no more than walking home with a girl - I noticed my mother being concerned about whether or not the girl was Lutheran. When I moved to Minneapolis, I met one of my old classmates, and she had had the same experience with her mother.

Some of my older brothers have said the same thing. If the girl was Catholic, that was a big problem. There was nothing wrong with the Catholics. It is just that the mothers apparently projected a few years into the future and the possibility of us children getting married. In those days, getting married at 18 or 19 was common. I was not married until I was nearly 24, and the last few years my relatives kept asking me: "Are you going to be a bachelor, Jeb?"

While in the ministry, I did run into couples who intermarried, if I may use that term. There was one couple in Chicago who I was sure had done a good job of adjusting to the different religions. One day, the wife came in to see me. She was in her early 40s and was very sad. She remained in the Lutheran church and her husband in the Catholic church. She raised her children Catholic. But she said her heart was broken. She was sad that she and her husband could not worship together, and as her children were baptized, received first communion and confirmed, she could not be part of that part of their lives, and it broke her heart.

So, I can appreciate the concerns of our mothers when we began dating. They were not prejudiced but afraid for us kids, if we entered a marriage with different religious backgrounds. While I was in Brooklyn Center, the two large churches were Catholic and Lutheran - a typical Minnesota town. If I recall, the largest populations in Tracy were German and Norwegian - Lutheran and Catholic. I think all of my buddies in preschool and grade school were one or the other.

I had several Lutheran/Catholic young people coming to get married. I advised them to take adult classes in both denominations because I understood that religious feelings are some of the deepest feelings we have. I did not advise them what to do. Only that they had an adult understanding of their own faith and the faith of their fiancés.

So, that sort of "prejudice" was justified. As adults - even though we as teenagers didn't think so much at the time - they understood the ramifications of all of our decisions, and intermarriage needs to be considered ever so seriously. I have witnessed many situations where one of the individuals continues worshiping and the other dropping out and not attending to his/her own spiritual needs. That, too, is tragic.

So - another So! - there was not prejudice per se among us kids. We all knew our origins and were not judgmental about it, but when it came to dating, yes, particularly our mothers were concerned, and I think that was a healthy thing for us to consider. Every marriage has enough problems without adding different religious backgrounds to it.