By JASON THOMAS
They appeared in the shadows of Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation” of World War II, these too-old-to-be baby boomers who fought in Korea, in Vietnam.
They grew up here and went to high school here, in Southern Indiana, and went off to serve in the military — some saw combat — only to return to familiar places like Clarksville, Jeffersonville and New Albany.
Now much older, they reminisce about how things were, and how “we live in such an angry world” today; “everybody’s angry.”
You’ll find them all around you if you just look. And listen.
They’re people like Glenn Farnsley and Cornelius Carpenter and Sam Wilson, who sat at a table drinking coffee at McDonald’s on Charlestown Road in New Albany on Tuesday, their regular meeting day.
Eavesdropping has its benefits. The group kindly let a stranger join its conversation, about how everybody’s angry today, about how if one of them is lucky enough to make it to heaven “Ole St. Peter is going to take his keys and put them back in his pocket.”
About how things were, how things are and where things are going.
“I guess the real thing that happened last night was Kentucky got beat,” said Carpenter, 82, a U.S. Army and Korean War veteran from New Albany, referring to Kentucky’s 60-54 loss to Connecticut in Monday’s national championship game. “I’m kind of glad Connecticut won.”
McDonald’s is lucky to have them. Manager Becky Carothers knows that, and considers the steady stream of seniors on just about every morning her family. She’s even given them a nickname.
“I call all the guys that come in in the morning my ‘Old Farts Club,’” said Carothers, who celebrates her 13th year at the restaurant today. “I can call them that because I’m one of them.”
Sometimes the Old Farts Club includes The Greatest Generation. Even a Gen Xer is welcome. The conversation quickly turned to newspapers, how they all remembered boys on bicycles in gray outfits that would chuck newspapers anywhere and everywhere — bushes, rooftops — except the front porch.
“They used to call The Evening News the ‘Midnight Disappointment,’” said Carpenter, who grew up in Clarksville, “because you wouldn’t find it until the next morning.”
Wilson prefers holding the paper in his hands because “we get enough computer junk with Facebook and all that mess.”
All of them delivered papers as boys. It was Wilson’s first job, selling papers for a nickel apiece.
“That was good money back then,” said Wilson, 72, a U.S. Air Force veteran who was at Nha Trang Air Base during the Vietnam War. “That was good money. I made a penny or so for every one I sold. That’s when you could get into the movie theater and buy popcorn and a Coke for 25 cents.”
Places like The Grand, The Elks and The Indiana, which sparked memories of the old post office at Spring and Pearl streets in New Albany, where Wilson sold his papers and which also served as military recruiting offices.
Farnsley fondly recalled the grand old building, slathered in marble and now the site of Bicentennial Park.
“I came home on leave from the Air Force one time and went down Pearl Street and said, ‘What have these idiots done?” said Farnsley, 77. “They tore the post office down.”
Thoughts shifted to old buildings.
“The only thing that’s really left is the Elsby Building” Carpenter said, referencing New Albany’s gem. “Wonder why they haven’t torn that down.”
The nostalgia trip took a turn down Southern Indiana’s seedier past with gambling and gangsters. Silver and Market streets was home to “Little Vienna,” which was “where all the gambling went on,” Carpenter said.
“We used to come through there and mom would say, ‘Don’t look!’ because it was a honky tonk,” he said. “It was wild.”
There was the Greyhound nightclub in Clarksville, with its massive ballroom, and how gangsters would come down from Chicago and travel through Jeffersonville and New Albany. The Greyhound would later become a grocery store before its current incarnation as CC Powersports.
The big news these days is the Ohio River Bridges Project, of course, and the flap in New Albany over having to move the downtown planters, and how a redeveloped Main Street there might affect traffic.
Wilson wondered when New Albany might make Spring Street two-way again, like it used to be.
“When I bring in relatives from out of town, trying to explain how to get off the interstate and come up through downtown is really difficult,” he said.
History is alive all around you, breathing, remembering, anticipating.
Carpenter, a Jeffersonville High School graduate; Farnsley, a Georgetown High School graduate; and Wilson, a graduate of New Albany High School — they’re the Old Farts Club.
“If some of these young people around here would just listen, because these guys have been through it,” Carothers said, “they wouldn’t have to go through a lot of the crap they have to go through.”
There’s a certain club they could join ...
— Jason Thomas is an assistant editor at the News and Tribune. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 812-206-2127. Follow him on Twitter @ScoopThomas