Next year the Huntington Mall will mark the 40th anniversary of its grand opening.
Or maybe it won’t. The mall’s owners might let the occasion pass unnoticed. That’s not the point of this. The point is that the Huntington Mall has been in business for 39 years. If you can remember the Tri-State area before the mall, you’re older than the average resident.
There’s a lot in this town that’s older than you might think, and there are a lot of people who don’t remember the days before these things existed.
This summer the East End bridge (I refuse to use the official name unless I have to) turns 35. If you drove across it the evening it opened, you’re at least 50 years old.
Joan C. Edwards Stadium opened for the 1991 football season. Next year it turns 30. It opened several years before most Marshall University students were born.
Cabell Midland High School opened in fall 1994. Huntington High opened two years later. Older folks think of them as new schools. Younger people can’t remember a time when they weren’t there.
Those thoughts came in part during a walk along 4th Avenue in downtown Huntington. Every now and then someone will propose a new plan to revitalize the downtown. Most people living in this area have no memory of a vital downtown district crowded with people day and night. Revitalizing a downtown means nothing to them because they have no recollection of a busy central business district. It’s not a priority for them, and they have no reason for it to be.
My generation grew up interacting daily with veterans of two world wars and the Korean War. We had friends and siblings drafted to serve in Vietnam. Today there are high school graduates who are too young to remember the world before 9/11.
I myself didn’t grow up in Huntington, but my father did business here.
One thing I learned when I started working in town in 1978 was that fighting the battles of the past was important to the older generation of that time. It’s nice to be able to talk about the city nowadays and not hear people complain how old-money interests forced the state to build Interstate 64 south of town, not through it.
Those people never said which neighborhoods they would have sacrificed so they could have I-64 split the town in two. That would have forced them to rethink a grievance they held near and dear to their hearts.
This year the youngest Baby Boomers turn 56. In a decade or less, Boomers’ numbers in the workforce will be negligible.
As Boomers retire, we hear less about restoring Huntington and the Tri-State area to what it once was and more about what it can be.
That’s good. The problems and opportunities of the next 30 years belong to Generation X and its progeny. They won’t be burdened by memories of the past.
We old fogeys need to pass along the lessons we learned so Gen X and its successors don’t make them. They can make whole new ones.