Friday, March 28, 2014
Good Ole Days
The Judds did a song called "Grandpa" some time ago and it's been covered by many artists since, with the Isaacs doing a particularly good job. The premise of the song is a familiar one: a nostalgic look at the past and how we, as common folks, conducted ourselves in days gone by. There's nothing wrong with nostalgia, just as there's nothing wrong with sentimentality. Of course there's editors and critics and just ordinary citizens who give sentimentality a bad name, pronouncing it unfit for writing, reading, and just general human consumption. I say, "Screw you," and that sentimentality has its place in literature, music, art, and, doggone it, even commerce, if you can squeeze it in. And nostalgia is definitely a first cousin to sentimentality.
But let's get back on point and that is "the good ole days." And Grandpa.
Unfortunately, neither of my grandfathers was real keen on sitting around and reminiscing about the past. They likely didn't have the time or didn't want to use the time to chat with their curious grandson about how things used to be. Might be a darn good reason for that also. See, I doubt that things were all that great for either of them growing up. Lots of hard farm labor. From the time either of them was old enough to walk, they were old enough to work. My paternal grandfather was one of eight or nine kids - I lose track - two of whom were boys. Probably not what his dad had in mind, given that one of the reasons you had big families back in the day was to support the labor pool. The hard work must have "took," though, because I seldom saw Pa Gray when he wasn't working. During my lifetime, he was a grocer, and a farmer on the side. It was up at at 'em at 5:30 every morning, come rain or shine, open the general store, sprinkle kerosene on the floor before sweeping it, take out the trash and burn it, stock groceries, wait on customers, and browse an article or two from Progressive Farmer or Readers Digest or the Grit when the store was empty.
If that wasn't enough, when he went home in the spring and summer days for his hot, fresh lunch, he would eat between garden work, having not one, but two, gardens going at the same time. And at least four or five days a week, he would jump into his old '52 GMC and go "across the river" to the farm and check on the cattle. We're talking seven days a week. Fifty-two weeks a year.
My maternal grandfather ran a milk route. Getting milk to your refrigerator in his days was a little more involved than it is today. His job was to run his country route in his rattly stake body truck and visit all the farms that had milked any number of cows that day, pick up the heavy milk cans, and deliver them to the local milk plant for processing. Bordens, in this case. As his sons grew up and were able to help they did. Hard, back-breaking labor, weather be damned.
I say all of this not because I don't think that either of them viewed their lives as something less than the good ole days but rather because I don't personally see it that way. I'm sure that my hindsight isn't that acute however. It's just when I think of my labors, mostly behind a desk, in front of a computer, or out of an air-conditioned vehicle, what they did appears to be much tougher, and for much less compensation. Looking at it another way, which sounds harder? Hoeing 20 sixty foot rows of vegetables under the hot noon sun or walking thirty feet to retrieve something from the printer? Heaving a hundred pound milk can onto the back or pulling data for a report?
I'm not saying that we're soft. Wait. Yes I am. We're soft. And it's easy for us to romanticize the "good ole days," make a point of being nostalgic, and just generally reeking with sentiment over the past. What I think is truly valid here is that any day is a good ole day. Any day that we're blessed with the ability to enjoy life and our surroundings and other people is a good ole day. Any day when we have the ability to equal or surpass our potential as homo sapiens is a good ole day.
I'm not a grandpa, won't ever be a grandpa, but I can certainly hope to have as full of a life as my grandfathers did. Pa Shug, my maternal grandfather, passed early. However, looking at all the pictures of him grinning and holding up 40 and 50 pound catfish, I'm pretty sure he squeezed life for all it was worth. It wasn't all milk cans and dusty country roads. Pa Gray lived into his early 90s and was a grocer and gentleman farmer between 60 and 70 years. I never heard a complaint fall from his mouth. He wasn't sick a day in his life and his worst habit was chewing the end of a Roi Tan or Prince Edward cigar and maybe having a snort or two on holidays.
So Grandpa - either of them - didn't feel compelled to tell their curious grandson about the good ole days but I was at least smart enough to take note of what was going on at the time. And possessing enough kiddie wisdom to file it away in my brain for further consideration down the road.
Now, Grandma...that was a different story.