Sunday, April 1, 2012

Good Ol' Days

Good Ol' Days
Letter to my son Jacob
Sunday, 1 April
C L I C K     T O     E N L A R G E

Picture:  800 x 465  -  Wikipaintings
Winslow Homer - Snap the Whip

Welcome to April.  We’re well into Spring and only a couple of healthy months from another summer vacation.  As a kid the first day of having the summer off was when I savored the thought of twelve weeks away from school.  What an extravagant blessing to be gone for so long.  How was it the grown ups could be so generous?  It wasn’t like them to allow a kid so much unproductive time to do as their heart pleased.  Sure enough, there had been an ulterior motive.  In the rural America of the past, when most everyone lived on a farm, summer was the busiest time.  There simply was too much to do to have their children being diverted by school.  Having kids meant additional mouths that must be fed but they were also free labor.  During the hot days of July and August it’s a guarantee I wouldn’t be frolicking in the park as a kid or eating grapes while watching TV.  I’d be out weeding the fields all day… after I cleaned out the fly infested stables.  There was equipment to repair and animals that needed tending.  I don’t know about you but being stooped over pulling weeds for hours on end in ninety degree weather is going to make me irritable.  I’d much prefer dozing in a shaded classroom. 

Now days most of us don’t live on farms.  We don’t grow our own food and sew our own clothes.  If you had baking soda you could use it to brush your teeth.  It you had a toothache a dab of kerosene on the gum might make things seem a bit better.  There wasn’t any indoor plumbing.  Hopefully the outhouse was well away from the kitchen because it can get pretty ripe in hot weather.  Show extra caution when using it after dark.  Sometimes a snake or rodent will startle you when opening the outhouse door, day or night.  We won’t even mention the spiders that like dark crannies.  Also, use your own imagination when it comes to the bucket of corncobs within reach of where you sit.  That’s summer.  What about winter?  There’s a harsh wind blowing and its bitter cold, below freezing.  You’ve got to use the outhouse.  Rain, snow. sleet – none of that matters when you have to go.  Bundle up as best you can and trudge your way to the little shack out back.  Let’s hope the leak in the roof has been fixed.

Anyone thinking those were the good old days hasn’t lived it.  Movies are about entertainment, putting people in seats with a bag of popcorn.  They will romanticize very selective portions of human existence and wish away what constituted most of the day.  There was a movie starring Gary Cooper about the real life of Sgt. York, a World War I hero.  In the film Sgt. York’s wife was played by a beautiful and charming Hollywood actress.  No wonder Cooper was so in love with her.  The real Sgt. York was just as committed to his wife but she had lost her teeth at an early age and smoked a pipe.  Sgt. York wasn’t any Gary Cooper, either.  No one’s going to buy tickets to watch tender moments shared by the honest to gosh Yorks.  There’s a limit to voyeur entertainment.

I think our memories are as selective as the movies.  There isn’t that much memory space for it to be otherwise.  What amazes me is what my mind chooses to remember.  Often my memories are of what would seem totally inconsequential moments.  Think about it.  I bet it wouldn’t take long searching your memory before you found insignificant incidents that happened many years ago.  They were little moments having no apparent value.  My childhood memories are filled with them – seagulls hanging out by the school’s trash incinerator; a particular tree lying on the ground discovered during a walk in the woods; a cupcake with green frosting in the school cafeteria.  I wouldn’t choose to save these memories but something in my mind decided they were impressive.  It’s not just childhood.  There are moments throughout life we hold onto even though they have no punch line, they deserve no crescendo.  Something about these moments must seem wondrous.  They are the items of poetry, often overlooked in our search for grand gestures, but somehow reach to our very core existence.  They share the stage with moments we select for our scrapbook. 

It’s Sunday.  You may find during the course of this day a memory suitable to linger with you for life.  On the other hand, you may have to wait until Monday, a school day, to find just such a memory.  You broke the lead in your pencil writing on a piece of paper and forty years from now that experience once again comes to mind.

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